The Next Digital Frontier is Your Brand Story
An oft-pursued thought in digital marketing circles is the rhetorical, “What’s next?” As in, what is the next big thing? Everybody wants to be an early adopter for the next game changer like Facebook, interested as much in the “bright, shiny object” potential marketing value as for its associated connotation denoting “insider” status. Yet currently, the mobile revolution and Pinterest aside, the digital world is seeing much less revolution in recent years and more incremental evolution, begging the question: So what truly is next? Many digital marketers might be disappointed in my response: It is not about technology, nor tools, and not even platforms—it is about content and story, a concept as old as man himself is, no Foursquare check-in required.
First some background: If you are an armchair Web historian, you know that the commercial Internet took off in late 1995 and 1996, leading to the dot-com boom era in 1998 – 2001. Those were gang-buster times for those in technology; halcyon days, too. Then the bubble burst and a steady retreat and quietude took place over several years until late 2004 and 2005 when Web 2.0 became a buzzword and start-ups and innovation again took root, leading us to YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and all of the social media tools we use today.
Having been intimately a part of both eras, the only real difference between how 2001 felt versus today is the stock market isn’t correcting against dubious Internet stocks. Then, as now, the overriding business sensibility felt like it was time to paddle and catch up to the crested wave, a matter of correctly deploying and using the digital marketing tools and platforms already available and doing “more, better.”
Well, one thing that all digital marketers can do more of (and better) is to tell their story in a compelling way.
We’ve all been a little too intoxicated by the fumes of digital pieces and parts, worrying about Twitter Klout scores and hashtag tracking and Facebook engagement, and various and sundry bits of minutia, not even spending one tenth of the same time on figuring out the kinds of stories we want to tell. That’s going to change based on the tea leaves I’m reading because brands and content are quickly converging and their story is becoming THE story—the protagonist—and not a supporting character. Three different criteria lead me to this thought:
- Big Brand Focus
- Third-Party Validation
- Overarching Organizational Umbrella
Big Brand Focus
The Coca-Cola Company is, perhaps, America’s most enduring marketer, one of the most globally recognized brands, and the tail that wags the dog, i.e., a leader that other brands emulate. So when they announce, via YouTube, as they did last summer, that their focus over the next decade will be on content and brand stories, I pay attention and note the potential implications. Their Pt. I and Pt. II videos (each a nice bit of storytelling) are both well worth a short time investment in viewing.
Third Party Validation
Part and parcel with big brand marketing investment is the Don Draper-esque need for ego gratification that goes with brilliant marketing. Cannes Lions, one of the preeminent creative awards for brand marketers, recently added a category for Branded Entertainment. The category rewards “…creativity in branded content…defined as: The creation of, or natural integration into, original content by a brand. The purpose of branded entertainment is to deliver marketing messages by engaging consumers via relevant content platforms rather than traditional advertising methods.”
The inaugural winning video can be seen here.
Overarching Organizational Umbrella
No good movement develops without a central pivot. Branded content has its spiritual leader in the Content Marketing Institute. Started in 2010, the Content Marketing Institute is dedicated to “teaching marketers how to own their media channels instead of having to rent them through advertising.” Their overview video below is similarly time well spent.
To me, these paths all lead to a period of time in the coming years whereby a marketer’s focus will stop working backwards in the way that Marshall McLuhan taught them. Instead of being focused on the platform before content, they’ll start with narrative and story elements that can then be delivered, frankly, any way (and anywhere) they want them to.
SOUND OFF: At Fusion, we have a team of content strategists focused on helping B2C and B2B brands tell their stories, using the appropriate technologies, not the other way around. As we head into the second half of 2012, what is your digital focus and do you think my suggestion that brand storytelling will take center stage is on point, or off base?