At Forward 2016, Skyword’s annual storytelling conference, brands from across the country came together yesterday to celebrate the fusion of marketing and storytelling.
Today, enterprise marketers are faced with a unique challenge—interrupt advertising continues its steep decline, and most organizations have adopted some form of content marketing to connect with customers. However, the content space is noisy. People are overwhelmed with the volume of content hitting the web every day.
So what should marketers do?
In the conference’s kick-off keynote, Skyword Founder and CEO Tom Gerace pulled back the curtain on his work with Robert McKee to develop a storytelling process that can be integrated into technology and scaled within an enterprise organization. Gerace noted that story is not content; much of the written content today is listicles, a series of “and thens.” On the other hand, storytelling conveys meaning through a sequence of events that reveals a character’s true self. And the best stories are centered around the decisions a character makes in a period of time. This creates empathy between the reader and the core protagonist.
For this reason, Skyword announced Storynomics, a new series of seminars, systems, and a storytelling framework to help brands breakthrough the noise with stories that hook, hold, and reward attention, and move people to act. As part of this release, Skyword also announced the Content Marketing Continuum, an assessment that marketers can take to understand where they are in their storytelling maturation, and how to move up the spectrum in order to build audience, drive revenue, and establish brand affinity.
In this post, we recap some of the presentations from yesterday on the power of brand storytelling.
Tim Urban, founder of the blog Wait But Why, represents the story side of the fusion taking place in business today. He covers a range of topics, all of which are developed through an immersive process to first understand why something would appeal to his audience, and then showing how that one, unique topic came to be. Urban said the marketer’s primary job comprises “idea surgery”—the process of getting an idea from your brain into someone else’s brain to change their behavior. “It’s kind of creepy,” he said.
Today, consumers don’t like when brands try and implant ideas in their brains. They block ads at an alarming rate, they distrust organizations, and they skip over TV commercials. As a marketer, this creates a sort of existential crisis where purpose comes into question. Many marketers find themselves questioning their work: Do people like it when I’m in their brain? Am I an effective idea surgeon?
For Urban, these questions continued to nag at him during his creative process, and he discovered that unless he was truly clear in what he wanted to do and tell, he couldn’t convey his message clearly in other people’s heads. Surgery became messy. He needed a research and questioning process that allowed him to narrow in with each discovery on the nugget of inspiration that would hook an audience. Today, most brands rattle off several ideas, go out and produce those stories, and hope they perform well. Urban noticed that early on in his blogging career his pieces tended to stagnate because he didn’t put in the upfront work to really understand the topics he was trying to talk about, and through this self-reflection he identified six core qualities to increase the value of every post he published.
SecurityIntelligence.com launched in 2013, generating 250,000 page views via 900 pieces in the first year. However, not every component to IBM Security’s content strategy was pulling its own weight. The site’s news block struggled to generate sustained interest.
The team knew that in order to become a more respectable news publisher, the company had to shift away from reacting to the news and start creating the news. By refocusing SecurityIntelligence.com’s strategy to publishing 30 articles per month with the IBM Security point-of-view embedded into each story, the site saw its traffic jump 47 percent. A good start, but speed and clear differentiation still needed improvement.
The IBM Security content team starting looking internally for story ideas that would matter to its audience, subsequently on-boarding 150+ contributors from both in- and out of the organization. This gave the IBM Security team the ability to parse large amount of expertise, and identify newsworthy topics, and begin optimizing publishing cadence to capitalize on consumption patterns.
Once the framework had been established, SecurityIntelligence.com was accepted into Google News, and the site saw over an 80 percent increase in traffic, a 2,400 percent increase in social shares, and a 287 percent rise in organic search. The team also shifted to a Monday and Tuesday publishing cadence that increased search views by 37 percent in one month.
With all of its success, the IBM Security team offered advice to the audience:
IBM Security also has big bets for 2016 and beyond:
Finally, Pam and Tom offered day-to-day recommendations to consider:
It’s hard to get a few people saying the same thing about anything. Try getting 84,000 people around the globe all telling the same story.
Coldwell Banker, a residential real estate franchise system with 84,000 agents in various corners of the world, needed to find a way to leverage the expertise of its local agents, allowing them to market themselves through storytelling while maintaining a consistent voice.
Through its Regional Blogging Program, the brand is able to showcase its agents’ expertise in the three main stages of home buying: purchasing, selling, and living, by publishing content relevant to local audiences’ lives. What plants are best at fighting drought in Dallas? Coldwell Banker couldn’t tell you, but a local real estate agent could.
And the program has seen great results: Pageviews to regional content are up 60 percent year over year, organic search views up 44 percent, and overall share of brand voice is up 20 percent. But perhaps the most important lesson here is that there’s no ownership in content—but a story always has an author. “Based on who’s telling it, a story can shift,” Keichinger, said. Perspective matters.
Emotionally-charged storytelling from local experts creates memorable experiences, no matter the industry. Marketers would be wise to remember that.
Ask a content manager. Ask a search engine marketer. Ask a CMO. Everyone has a different definition of what content marketing is.
Yesterday, Skyword introduced the Content Marketing Continuum (not just marketing jargon you can add to your list of marketing jargon), but a framework to move key employees within companies from bystanders to leaders in the brand storytelling space.
Are you just talking about your products, or is your marketing—your business—fueled by original, sustainable storytelling? Do you fall somewhere in between? Knowing your position on the Continuum will help you understand which steps are necessary to elevate your content efforts.
Patricia Travaline, CMO of Skyword, explained the different stages of the Continuum—Bystander, Novice, Expert, Leader, and Visionary and how brands can move up the spectrum. She also talked about Skyword’s upcoming partnership with world-renowned story craft expert, Robert McKee, to educate the marketplace on the enormous impact great brand stories can have for businesses.
“We are entering into a new information age,” said Travaline, rounding out the presentation. “We can start owning our audiences. Do you want to be part of this new information age, or hold on to outdated marketing methods?”
It takes a powerful storyteller to make a brand’s story sing. As a marketer, that means seeking out creatives who, beyond just being great at what they do, can capture your brand’s essence and elevate it to new heights. And as a freelancer, that means honing your personal brand and showcasing your work in a way that makes you stand out from the crowd.
This panel, driven by the unique insights of Bridget Burns, Tom’s of Maine’s social media strategist, Elizabeth Wellington, writer, editor, and content strategist, Molly Berry, community manager, and Braden Becker, editorial manager, spoke to the arts of both choosing a team of freelance contributors, and positioning oneself to be chosen by a dream client. The panelists offered tangible best practices for everyone in the audience—including Berry and Becker’s advice surrounding the value of blogging to gain expertise.
From a freelance perspective, blogs are an opportunity to develop and share your expertise on a given subject area. (That’s a solution for anyone wondering what comes first: expertise [the chicken] or the opportunity to develop expertise in a professional setting [the egg].) For clients, blogs provide a glimpse at a writer’s unedited work, which can be a hugely valuable perspective for those who are looking for a strong pool of writers with whom they can collaborate.
Brands rely on the expertise of talented storytellers to tell powerful, original, empathetic stories that will resonate with audiences and drive strong results. But in the rush of developing topics and the aftermath of summoning a crew of contributors so experienced in their subject matter that they almost seem too perfect, it’s easy to fall into a pattern of generating topics, assigning them, and trusting those storytellers to intuit their goals and strategies.
In this panel, Kyle Harper, freelance creative, Sree Lenhart, senior content strategist, Peter Kringdon, content specialist, and Katie Van Adzin, editorial manager, shared their experiences working on teams where collaboration is at the center of their strategy. As Harper eloquently stated, for freelance contributors, “Every project is a passion project.” When brands trust their teams with resources and details about their goals and strategy, and when they keep them in the loop with briefing calls and in topic generation, the result is a sharp content strategy that speaks to the real-time needs and interests of audiences—and is born out of that passion.
If your brand isn’t working toward a collaborative approach to strategic storytelling, making the shift could be your next best decision.
As content strategies evolve to embrace the brain’s (and the heart’s) propensity for story, storytellers and brands alike are diving deep into the science of story.
We might be familiar with terms such as plot and protagonist from other literature we’ve studied or classes we’ve taken, but in a world where we’ve been putting so much emphasis on providing snackable advice and CTAs, some of those terms might seem tough to translate. This panel, which featured Laurie Mega, senior editorial manager, Rachel Wudarczyk, senior content strategist, Jill Taksey, ADP’s senior director of content marketing, and Chuck Leddy, brand storyteller, aimed to define one key element of storytelling as it relates to content: the hero. Above all, one recurring theme in this panel was the need for contributors, creatives, and marketers to be empathetic above all else.
Whether it’s, as Leddy noted, remembering that even the villains or obstacles in a story are heroes in their own minds, or it’s creating an empathetic character that an audience both relates to and roots for, that empathy is the defining element that will make a brand story resonate and set it apart. Once audiences recognize themselves in a story, they’ll want to finish it, which will create lasting connections between brands and readers.
In Wednesday’s closing keynote presentation, Sarah Hill, CEO and Chief Storyteller for StoryUP, showed content marketers that VR is not a medium of the future. It’s happening now.
For StoryUP, VR is anything in a headset. A still photo, a CG environment, a video of all kinds. In the old way we produced content as content creators, we were outside the video. Now, we’re inside the video, placing viewers inside the story.
Right now, many content creators are using virtual reality, instead of augmented reality or a mix of the two, but the possibilities are (virtually) endless. “The next iteration of media is human media,” said Hill.
Hill reminded us that we live in an ad-weary environment. What kind of tools do we have as marketers to reach this audience? VR video, for StoryUP, is the answer.
Why is VR video better than regular video? According to a StoryUP case study, the average percentage viewed was 28.81 percent higher with 360-degree video, and double the views watched the video to completion.
The resources for VR, can be complicated to assemble. With VR, you need a storyteller, a special effect artist, spacial audio professionals, game designers, and more. We can’t do all of these things ourselves. But to get started, you don’t need a fancy camera—you can do it yourself with auto-stitch cameras.
Hill also emphasized that—despite the technology—a good story is what affects people in the end, and as a VR storyteller, you have to think about how a story arc will differ. Who is behind the camera? Who is on the tripod connecting with the audience? The story is no longer straight ahead; it’s all around you. If you’re not looking where the creator wanted you to look, you might miss the point the author wanted to highlight.
The technology is also quickly evolving, new software and hardware coming out like Liquid Cinema, which reorients viewers into where to turn next in the VR environment, or Tilt Brush, which gives users the ability to paint in space. Content creators are also starting to integrate vibration into their VR, as well as haptics, Smell-O-Vision, and many more.
Brands can use this new storytelling medium to create a sense of empathy among their audiences. “The internet is no longer flat” Hill said. “It’s morphing into the metaverse.”
Beam me up, Scotty!