Sarah Tourville, CEO
Storytelling is as old as humanity and intrinsic to human culture. In spoken word and channeled through films, books, music, paintings, architecture and more, stories teach life lessons, build emotional connections, facilitate understanding and compel action. For marketers, the best stories convince the audience and motivate the marketer’s desired action. These stories draw in the audience, inviting them to pause the rest of the world while the story is conveyed. They’re immersive, mesmerizing and action-inspiring.
Contemporary tools for marketing through storytelling are an evolution beyond traditional mediums, such as TV, radio, print and even online video — think 360-degree video, augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR), to name a few. These experiential technologies invite the audience to become a part of the story. They drive the audience’s engagement while allowing them to control their experience.
Now is the time to embrace these new mediums. As the rate of content creation hits a boiling point, audiences are growing incredibly selective about the content formats and topics they’re willing to consider. Watching TV commercials and listening to radio interviews seems to rarely happen anymore. The acceptable delivery channels have changed.
This cultural evolution has motivated creatives and technologists (and creative technologists) to integrate immersive tools to leverage, grow and maintain attention to their narrative. Brands that recognize the value of early adoption are experimenting and finding that groundbreaking communication technologies attract attention because the technology is inherently new and interesting. More importantly, brands are also observing that new technology design actually yields sustained attention to the message.
I first noted the potential power of immersive technology for brands in 2015 when footwear company Toms took their customers on a 360-degree “virtual giving trip.” While the Toms origin story is related in a voiceover, the viewer can pan the camera around to view the thrilling moments when children in a remote village in Peru receive brand new shoes (try it — it’s amazing!). It pulled at my heartstrings and made me want to buy shoes from Toms so I could join their mission. That level of engagement can’t be fully captured in a video, photos or in an article. I knew after experiencing the “trip” that this was the way forward for brand storytelling. It was truly innovative.
Since then, brands like IKEA, Porsche, Warner Bros. and MTV have found ways to incorporate customers into their brand experiences using AR, VR and 360-degree video. And I recently worked with VR/AR influencer Cathy Hackl to launch the world’s first holographic press release. It was exhilarating to introduce this technology to PR industry professionals from across the country at the PRSA Icon conference in Austin, Texas.
I chose to partner on an opportunity of this nature because — let’s be real — the PR industry has been in need of an upgrade for some time. As someone who works with innovative companies every day, I am convinced we need to exemplify the counsel we share with them and embrace the latest ways to share news.
In this time of immersive exploration, there are a few caveats that brands must heed:
1. Without ROI, technology is just 1s and 0s.
It’s silly and counterproductive (i.e., wasteful of your company’s resources) to market with technology because the technology in itself is cool and you’ll earn attention because you used it — unless, of course, you’re promoting your new marketing technology.
Employing any technology to reach a target audience must be done with pragmatism and adherence to normal business standards of baselining, measuring, projecting and delivering a positive return on investment (ROI).
2. Brands must foster active attention.
Brands must ask themselves whether people will be passively involved in their story or if they will have the ability to participate. Will your storytelling technique empower your audience, incite action, teach, coach or educate? The outcomes can be endless, and this is where most brands must start: with the end in mind.
3. Storytelling fundamentals persist.
No matter the medium, a story should retain the standard arc of exposition, dramatic tension and outcome. Carefully balance storytelling with exposing brand elements — people are sensitive to being “pushed” a product.
A great example of balance is Nike. The brand rarely starts a story with the product itself. Instead, Nike focuses first on what they want you to feel: determined, powerful and connected to the world.
4. Humanity always comes first.
As we continue to grow, leverage and harness the power of technology, we cannot underestimate the emotional connection quality storytelling can produce. A brand could use every available medium to connect with their audience and fail because they don’t integrate basic emotions and basic human interests.
While technology gives us an opportunity to try new things and change the way stories are created, experienced and shared, it’s still the story itself that will connect with consumers.
Brands looking to grow their exposure and customer base must realize that soon it won’t be an option to use new technologies — it will be a necessity. Consumers’ attention spans will only decrease, and more and more creatives and brands will begin leveraging new storytelling tools. The key to success is to remember that technology alone cannot deliver a memorable story that drives your mission and motivates the audience to act. Thoughtful, creative design and deployment of technology will ensure that it delivers positive value.
Originally published on Forbes Agency Council.