News & Views

Start with Stories

by Contagious Contributor
Too many marketers are so confused with new technology that they forget what really matters – emotions. Ami Hasan chairman of Hasan&partners and Perfect Fools, and president of the Direct and Promo & Activation juries at Eurobest, explains why he used his President's address to end the festival with a call for better stories

Let’s get one thing straight. I may have a few grey hairs but I have no desire to go back to the age of Mad Men. I truly believe that today is the golden age of marketing communications and that we have more opportunities to reach our audiences than ever before. We have so many more means to create impact for our clients, to start conversations with consumers and encourage them to be part of the story. Not just recipients, but participants and influencers.

That doesn’t mean that everything is perfect. In too many cases, we have replaced the Mad Men with the Math Men and left our storytelling past behind us. Do not replace, but add – you really need both.

The constant flurry of new technology and new platforms has created an environment where in some cases the devices we use to tell the brand story have become more important than the story itself. That’s wrong. A good story is a good story and a bad story is a bad one and it doesn’t get any better if it is delivered digitally. Or on Facebook. Or Instagram. Or Twitter. Or by a flying drone. Or any of next month’s new flavours.

Here across the Nordics we are fantastically digitally-enabled. Smartphones, tablets and always-on access… it’s all here for most demographics. Naturally, marketers want to understand how consumers are using new platforms such as Instagram and Snapchat and all the fantastic tools that are being rolled out by the likes of Facebook and Google. So they happily let tech brands into their office to sell their wares for an hour or two in a way that would never happen for the sales director of a TV station or a newspaper. It is all new and enchanting and therefore sounds magical, but it is never the whole story.

Yes, everyone wants to understand what’s changing and how these new platforms work and that’s laudable, but the effect is to allow the technology to start to lead their communications. Their focus is being skewed from the story their brand should tell to the technology they need to tell it.

It’s easy to see how that might happen. Marketers are being asked to make an incredible transition. A few years ago, a reasonable-sized brand might have run two or three campaigns a year, mostly across traditional media. Now they are being asked to adopt an always-on approach to customer queries, comments and concerns and dispense relevant content across up to 10 platforms ranging from Twitter to Facebook and everything in between. They are still expected to run the same number of big campaigns each year and they are also being relentlessly pressurised to demonstrate the value that their messaging is delivering.

All of this is possible, of course, but many marketing directors are being asked to deliver all of this with the same budget and usually with less staff than they had in the past. And same goes for agencies. It used to take just three people to create a campaign for a client, and now that same client and same campaign needs at least double the amount of people and competencies from the agency side. Not too many clients are prepared to pay for that.

Now there’s no question that we could have been a bit more efficient in the past but there are limits. So marketers have become obsessed by technology, not just the technology that the consumer sees but also the advertising technology that might help them place their messages faster and at lower cost.

When marketers get sucked into the realm of technology they forget that what matters to the consumer isn’t where the message appears or the tracking that enables the marketer to see who responded, but how compelling that message itself is. Was it an interesting story that touched their emotions? Or was it just someone trying to spam them with their product, offer or promotion?

Marketers (and their agencies, many of whom have also become obsessed with technology) need to take a step back. The best campaigns focus on a real story that touches the same emotions that have always been there. While technology is part of a toolkit that we are fortunate to have, it should be just that – part of the toolkit. Our excellence as advertisers and agencies lies in our ability to tell great stories.

The technology enables us to tell those stories in more detail, more interactive ways and more engagingly but without great content – or even worse, dull content  it is just technology. Gadgets and gimmicks aren’t that interesting. Give me ideas, inspiration, surprises and feelings or at the very least a good laugh!

We need to put the technology in perspective and focus on the content at the same time as we start to imagine how that translates across platforms.

It’s easier said than done but here’s a couple of things we should all be asking before we decide whether Facebook, Twitter or even good old TV and print are the best platform for our message: Is my product or service really enchanting enough to deserve the time I expect consumers to spend around it? You may have the best damned stove or car or speaker system in the world but most consumers spend less than 1% of their time thinking about stoves, cars or speakers systems. Consumers usually have more urgent or interesting things to think about: like family issues, gossip, the latest TV series, the dog, their next holiday or doing the laundry.

Is it fair to ask them spend time and complete semi-complicated activities such as downloads, conversions or filling out detailed forms to spend some more time with your brand? Your agency’s dev people are probably somewhat more tech savvy than your average consumer. Most people, even in developed markets, have yet to download their first app: what gives you the reason to believe they would download yours?

Just answering those questions will be a good start in looking at things from consumer’s point of view and put you on the right path to gaining love, loyalty and passion from your target. These are strong words that are sometimes used carelessly by passionate people with their tech glasses on. Combine them with great storytellers and you may just have a winner.