Once Upon A Time: Ready To Tell a Good Story About Your Brand?

Those of you who know the Cathy Taylor version of the Social Media Insider know all too well that, unlike my partner-in-crime David Berkowitz, I am mired in the past. Last week’s column -- about Facebook’s first-ever Marketing Conference -- telegraphed that loud and clear. Who else who wrote about it spent half a column talking about what AOL and MSN were doing in 2002?

Get over it, Taylor. Or maybe I shouldn’t.

Because as I was listening last week to the Facebook-envisioned shift in the marketing business from mere ads to stories, it occurred to me that I’m not the only one mired in the past. In fact, on the continuum of people in marketing and where they are in their mindset timeline, I may even be ahead of the curve.

Actually, the population that is often truly mired in the past -- and has to get over it -- are agencies and advertisers, many of whom have successfully maintained their obsession with ads instead of stories throughout the social media revolution. For those companies, a story is defined as a 30-second commercial that, just as we all learned in elementary school, has a beginning, middle and end.

But those aren’t the stories Facebook is talking about. The stories it would have you in the industry tell could be as old as your product’s origins and as new as how it ties into the latest headlines. More important, these kinds of stories are based more on the consumer vision of how and when they are ready to be marketed to, instead of the usual discrete flights and specific launch dates that punctuate most marketing planning. Of course, these kinds of stories are decidedly two-way.

The demands are different than you’re used to. As Rob Norman, CEO of GroupM, explained to me via email last week, “Effective social marketing demands adaptive organisations that are responsive to and predictive of consumer needs and not constrained by traditional campaign guard rails. Advertisers and agencies that can trust themselves and each other with these freedoms are most likely to succeed.”

Oh, crap. That long sigh you just heard is the collective, frustrated exhales of thousands of people at advertisers and agencies wondering how in the hell they can do that. Facebook is trying to help. Concurrent with last week’s confab, it released a paper with Forrester Consulting called “Building Brands for the Connected World.” It focuses on what is called “the Connected Brand,” defined as one that “continuously connects and engages with people when they want, where they want, and how they want through social media.”

The paper delineates the six steps necessary to build a connected brand. Here’s the Cliff Notes version:

1.  Articulate the brand’s social identity.

2.  Connect with your “best and most likely customers.”

3.  Engage “by making brand communications and content more personally relevant and participative.”

4.  Influence “people to share stories and messages about your brand.”

5.  Integrate “social into the brand and product experience.”

6.  Rejuvenate by “continuously monitor[ing] your brand’s health and improve the brand experience.”

Does that sound like the job of a copywriter or account supervisor or media planner to you?  Well, not as currently configured.

Surely, ad agencies have changed since the days when Don Draper -- figuratively speaking -- roamed the earth. But while there’s much to be said for Facebook’s vision, and its new Premium on Facebook ad programs, we’re still once again in the same place we’ve been over and over throughout the digital media age: a place where the skillsets, and mindsets, of agencies and advertisers don’t always match up to where digital media is, let alone where it’s going.

What makes this particularly vexing -- and compelling -- is that the parts of the agency business these changes touch keeps getting more and more, well, intimate. For a long time, changes in media meant something, mostly -- not surprisingly -- for media agencies. Learn how to buy a new medium, figure out the metrics. Creatives dutifully altered existing creative to fit new banner sizes. That’s a simplification, to be sure, but even if you were to drill deeper into the example, the basic analogy would still hold.

Says Norman, “For creative minds, social media is a whole new way of thinking. It not only involves being creative with the content being distributed, but also with the nature of the distribution mechanism itself.”

Yes, building connected brands is about as deep as transformation can get for those in marketing, requiring different approaches to creative, media, account planning, strategic planning -- basically the whole ball of wax. It’s not that other media will go away. This year’s Super Bowl advertising – at $3.5 million a pop – proves that. But even if the eternal need for a good tagline will remain, it’s pretty hard to envision how a company would build a connected brand without an interconnectedness between traditional advertising and social marketing. Among other things, you can’t build a social brand on a mass reach platform like Facebook as though the platform were a silo.

 So what does this portend for Facebook advertisers? In the near term, a much higher failure rate than they’d like as they try to build connected brands. Expect a lot of dopey attempts at relevance, that, in their attempt to be of the moment, actually become less so. Expect a lot of missed, or dropped, opportunities, where marketers aren’t equipped to pick up on cues from consumers that could really impact their brand.

Change is necessary, but it sure won’t be easy.

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2 comments about "Once Upon A Time: Ready To Tell a Good Story About Your Brand? ".
  1. Jack Krawczyk from StumbleUpon , March 8, 2012 at 4:10 p.m.
    With all of the talk as brands as publishers, I think you hit the nail on the head that we're moving through a time of transition in the ad community. What Facebook is taking a stand on, which I wholeheartedly agree with, is that consumers' expectations for what they see from brands have already moved on. Banner tune out rates are at the point where they are laughable and the brands who are winning are effectively plugging into the native advertising evolution. Perfect example is State Farm, with their recent campaign: http://www.seeyourfuturebook.com/ They understand the mechanism of social and become a destination, creating a personal story that TV never could. I, for one, could not be more excited for agencies to continue this shift!
  2. Ralph Sherman from Madison2Main , April 10, 2012 at 7:17 p.m.
    I've been thinking about this a lot Cathy. All the focus seems to be on data capture, mining and privacy--but the scary stuff is how (or if) are agencies and advertisers going to grow skills and processes to think and act differently. Maybe they have a secret plan. Great insight and prose-- as usual.