The trend towards ‘storytelling’ in business communications should be an absolute gift to classic PR and comms agencies. After all, it is our heartland.
For years, we’ve created content fit for the pages of the national newspapers and which can compete for space alongside just nine other stories in that day’s broadcast bulletin. We’re great at expressing ourselves through others and we’re really, really good at knowing what journalists want.
But, in this multi-channel world, where the opportunities to communicate directly with the people we seek to engage grow daily, that’s not enough. The plethora of channels available, coupled with the swelling demand for a relationship between business and society, means audiences want direct communication with brands. They want to see the ‘whites of their eyes’ and to understand, from personal experience, what a brand really is, what it stands for and whether it’s right for ‘me’. That simply can’t happen through third parties.
Don’t get me wrong. I believe, absolutely, in the power of the media to influence reputation, persuade behavioural change and deliver measurable business impact. In many cases, it is the most powerful communications tool we have. But it’s no good in isolation.
Content is consumed at such speed and in such a fragmented, ‘snapshot’ way, it’s crazy to think that, as communicators, we can influence people through a single channel, no matter how authoritative it is. We only have to consider the number of places we come into contact with original content in our own lives to realise the scale of the missed opportunities if we approach things that way.
Take my typical morning… now, I have three children of pre-school age so, admittedly, my day starts early but, before 8.30am, I have usually consumed content from; the BBC (online and Radio 2 or 4, depending on my mood, and I’m not sure if CBeebies counts, but hey, it’s in there); LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and Email (work and personal). Any of those may have linked me to content on other platforms, which I follow because something has sparked my interest. I read messages on Whatsapp (friends, family – people I like and trust); and the front pages of most of the national papers. I chat with a few commuters I see regularly on my train, often about something interesting they saw or heard recently. About twice a week, I’m offered a freebie by people standing between my train and the tube entrance and I see about 20 different poster ads on the underground trains and escalators (I’d say I’m consciously aware of taking in three or four of them). One or two people attempt to give me a flyer on the walk from the tube to the office; oh, and I may get a text from my husband about a great thing he’s spotted on his (totally different) trip to work, which we store to talk about later.
If I were any good at visualising stuff (thank goodness we have a team of design wizards at Lansons), the picture of my morning interactions would look like an early sketch of the tube map.
All that means, for any brand targeting 39-year-old (and 23 months) professional women with kids, my journey to work alone represents so many opportunities to connect with me, it’s bonkers… and that’s without me proactively going onto Google to search for something I actually want which they might have.
Add to that the people with me on the 7.11 train and we quickly start getting into ‘Matrix’ territory.
What an exciting time to be in comms.
Which is exactly why, at Lansons, we have built on the rock solid foundations of our editorial heritage to fully embrace multi-channel storytelling; and it’s transformed the way we think, create and act on behalf of clients.
At the heart of it, it is taking the trouble to know the audience, before presuming we can infiltrate their lives with anything more important than what they already have going on. And that is where planning comes in.
We put the audience front and centre. We take the time to listen, to understand who they are, what they like, who they listen to, what they’re afraid of and, critically, where they are; and suddenly, it’s like being given the keys to the city. And all those years of crafting great stories for the hardest critics in the world – the media – is coming into its own. We have found ourselves the master craftsman of content we can put straight in the hands of those people for whom it was originally intended – in the formats they want, on the subjects they’re interested in and in the places they most want to see it.
And wonderfully, we can see it too! We now have visibility on how people respond to what we create; we can measure it, adapt and engage in a way that builds a relationship, creates trust, engenders loyalty and ultimately, inspires advocacy.
We all thought digital was the messiah. Then content was ‘king’. The truth is, it’s the audience who make communications effective – because it is they who decide if it’s any good. So, while digital enables a lot of it and data gives us the raw materials, insight is the code-breaker and with that, the possibilities are endless.
Never mind the football*, storytelling’s coming home… and to my mind, it’s absolutely where it belongs.
* Still a possibility (however unlikely) at the time of writing!
Lansons are the first official PR member of the Content Marketing Association.
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