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Storytelling still the key in a complicated world

In fast-moving times, brands must regularly re-assess their approach, but engaging with consumers is the vital ingredient, writes Toby Smeeton.

Right now the world isn't going quite as well as we might have hoped, particularly for marketers. Economic crises, the destruction of old business models, audiences unwilling to behave as they're told, and everyone running around telling those who'll listen that this is all very exciting.

Well, 'exciting' is one way of putting it. 'Bloody hard' is another. Why? Because the game has changed, but no one really knows what the new one looks like. This, in turn, makes it very difficult to score, and ultimately, ensure that your brand and business is one of the winners.

I have a mate who berates me for not having a three-year business plan. 'Everyone has a three-year plan, don't they?' Except me, clearly. The thing is, I'm not entirely sure that I know what the next three months look like, let alone the next three years; and if, as an agency, we don't know what's coming down the line in three years, then it seems impossible for brands to focus, prepare and deploy for the long term.

There's something Darwinian about all this, except natural selection in the marketing environment isn't slow and subtle; it's quick and brutal. Having the right attributes to take advantage of the changing environment, and being alert to the changing needs, habits and desires of consumers is crucial.

The key is to focus on what works now, not simply repeat what has worked in the past. We all know what the definition of irrational behaviour is and we certainly know that consumers no longer have 90 seconds in which to be interrupted; but what they do have is 90 seconds to be told a good story, and stories are the key.

The stories that brands tell, the good ones, resonate with consumers.

As Craig Davis put it when he was worldwide chief creative officer at JWT: 'Interrupting is what a hell of a lot of (marketing) is still designed to do. We need a bigger ambition. We need to stop interrupting what people are interested in and be what people are interested in.'

It may seem a difficult challenge for brands in this media-fragmented, multi-platform world but, by definition, producing great branded content that consumers are interested in, and that therefore engages them, is a realistic ambition.

'Branded content' is loosely defined, and means different things to different people, but the one thing that rings consistently true is that for it to work, it must have great storytelling at its heart.

A story will work, however, only when the audience is present and listening and if it holds something useful or entertaining to them.

So, the trick is to stay agile, be flexible, be everywhere with your stories, and tell ones that will resonate.

It's not about 'shouting', 'messaging' or 'broadcasting'. It's simply about engaging your audience. If a brand can get that right, the rest will look after itself.

Channel selection is no longer the issue. It's not about the app versus the magazine; the website versus the TV ad. Annoyingly for brands, it's about all channels, all of the time. Everything needs to be 'always on' because, as we know, consumers want their stories, their brand engagement, served up in the ways they dictate, not how the brand dictates, and they can change their preferences at any time.

Real customer connection through storytelling, across multiple channels, will deliver real value for brands, and it will attain a slice of that increasingly valuable part of customers' lives - time.

It does require a change of mindset, so that when a story is conceived, it's factored in how it will work - and interact with - different channels and how consumers might disseminate it.

Engaged customers can help brands in an unprecedented number of ways.

For brands, the upside is that they can extend their reach, without necessarily expanding their costs.

Understanding how a great brand story could fuel the social-media fire (in a good way), as well as entertain and engage consumers across many other channels and platforms, is vital.

From magazines and journals to blogs and apps and websites, of course, this is where content agencies' skills are best deployed, at least for now. It's about thinking of content as a series of assets, assets that can stretch and be used in lots of ways.

This, then, is the plan. A plan that will need to be reviewed in three months, not three years, and, certainly, adapted again. In the meantime, you'll be amazed just how far well-conceived, brilliantly crafted brand stories can stretch.

Toby Smeeton, Managing director, Sunday

Sunday is a bright, modern publishing agency, staffed with teams of highly experienced customer magazine and digital content specialists.

We are a full-service agency, with proven expertise in strategy, measurement, design, digital content, photoshoots, styling and commissioning, through to ad sales, production, data segmentation and delivery.

As specialists, not generalists, we believe in outstanding creativity and an integrated approach across all channels.

We have an unrivalled pedigree in delivering effective publishing solutions for a wide range of clients, and every aspect of our work is measured. At the heart of our business sit creativity and our clients' goals and our culture recognises individuality, encourages innovation and is built around passion.

Sunday was Marketing magazine's Publishing Agency of the Year 2009

Sunday's clients include Allianz, BSkyB, Boden, M&S, Royal Marsden, Serco, Strutt & Parker, The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, Toyota and Vodafone.

To find out more about Sunday, visit www.sundaypublishing.com

 


 

Toyota TodayTomorrow: Magazine, Online, iPad

Today Tomorrow magazine has become a key part of Toyota's re-engagement with its customers, helping to reignite perceptions of the marque as a challenging, exciting brand that consumers can be proud to be part of.

The magazine is strongly brand-led, to emphasise the exciting themes at the heart of Toyota, such as innovation, ingenuity and the exceptional build quality of its cars.

To broaden the reach of the magazine content, respond to the increasingly sophisticated audience expectations and best use the client's assets generated for print, Sunday created digital versions of TodayTomorrow in online (magazine.toyota.co.uk), mobile and iPad versions.

As a result, the valuable brand-building content within the magazine has found a fresh audience of non-Toyota owners - strengthened through extensive social-media linking programs - thus further promoting its brand

image beyond the marque's traditional constituency of customers.

The digital format contains valuable online-only assets, and in particular video. Designed to bring the stories and Toyota's brand to life, this content places greater emphasis on the visual experience that engages the reader and encourages their further relationship with it through appropriate channels
   

 

The results

The most recent edition of the magazine generated 400 calls to the dedicated phone line in the first week after mailing.

 


The online version had more than 2000 unique visitors in week one, with an average visit time of 6.28 minutes.


Toyota research found that 5% of purchasers cited the magazine as the source of information used for decision-making, against 5% citing above-the-line.

 

 

 

From Marketing's Branded Content supplement Feb 2012.

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