A Literacy of the Imagination

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Building Intelligence: How Data + Storytelling is the Ultimate Act of Creation

I waited a bit to post this (not really sure why), but it's from a talk I gave late last year in Sydney, Australia at the StoryLabs event run by the multi-talented Gary Hayes.

It covers off on unique methods and use cases for developing story-driven platforms that comprise various uses of data, content and media, along with considerations for revenue opportunities and scale. There's heavy emphasis on co-creation with audiences and stakeholders, and how we can enable people to participate in meaningful ways. 

Deck is below, audio podcast can be found here.

Enjoy.

from

Gunther Sonnenfeld

The Future of Advertising Isn't Advertising (As We Know It)

My good pal and The Big Pivot co-author, Sasha Grujicic, and I ran a series of discussions at the Banff World Media Festival earlier this month (June 9-11) that pulled together stakeholders on the brand, media, creative and technology sides of the business.

To kick off the day, we gave a brief preamble to the overarching theme: The future of advertising. The discussions went really well, so we decided to take some of the insights and blow this theme out for y’all in the websphere so that we could keep the thought generation flowing.

The following is a Slideshare presentation with embedded audio; it’s more of conversation format than narration (a wee bit on the rambling side, but oh well). You’ll see that we placed a lot of emphasis on the notion of what an agency service model(s) looks like in a business landscape that is flattening and whose resources are becoming more distributed.

We hope you get a lot of value out of it, and secretly, we hope you bother us about it. Cheers.

P.S. Our work with nextMedia (Banff event organizer) went so well that we are developing a new format to get the stakeholders mentioned above and investors to advance these discussions and rapidly prototype new business ideas. Stay tuned.

Attention Marketers: The Real Money is in Ecosystems

What people really think about “brands” and “ads”.

There are a host of studies that address the ways in which people are affected by ads and onslaughts of marketing messages, as well as how they feel about them. Most of the data and insights are inglorious; probably the most telling are the studies based on “native advertising”. This one from MediaBrix and Harris Interactive is a pretty good indicator of why consumers have become activists in editing and avoiding ads altogether.

Granted, many of these studies don’t even ask the right questions, or questions more oriented towards cultural behaviors or daily rituals. Choosing between the better or lesser of evils ("Would you rather go with option A, B or C in this rotation?") isn't exactly leading marketers in the direction of enlightenment.

Brand studies are even more elusive; my favorite (I’m being facetious) is this series conducted by Interbrand, which provides geographically designated results on brands in different markets based on variables that have little to do with company operations, sustainability or customer relationship metrics, and everything to do with “brand perception” based on fixed (and arguably irrelevant) variables.

The Bhutan approach to relationship metrics (specifically GNH or Gross National Happiness) is really where these survey questions should lead... But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

brand studies.png

What this says is, as an industry, marketing and advertising is still talking to itself in a giant echo chamber, and is making huge, sweeping assumptions about customer behavior when it doesn’t have to. In short, companies, via their brands, have an opportunity to ask far better questions. And this is precisely where companies will continue to make or lose money.

Marketing is intended to actually build markets.

One of the smartest things I’ve heard recently came from General Electric CMO, Beth Comstock, who unapologetically proclaimed that "Marketing is now about creating and developing new markets; not just identifying opportunities but also making them happen".

Comstock looks at GE as the world’s oldest startup, and this is the kind of thinking that has sustained GE as an innovator across industries for decades.

If you were to look more closely at the word marketing, it would seem that this approach in building markets is a given, but of course it isn’t.

Developing an ecosystem of ideas and resources (not just ads and inventory).

The big talk at the CM Summit this past week (May 18th, 2013 onward) has been around building a new kind of ad ecosystem. This ecosystem specifically refers to things like a “native advertising” or “programmatic advertising” format, which basically focuses on real-time bidding in exchanges that peddle inventory or content for cents on the dollar.

While I think these discussions are important in transitioning our broken ad models to better places, I think they also miss the bigger picture.

For one, they presuppose that innovations in developing the company-customer relationship are predicated on technological advances (read: fancier features). For another, they almost completely ignore the power of people, their communities, and the ways they are willing to participate when the terms for consumption are more equitable.

This includes our functional uses of content, data, and the contexts through which we can build customer relationships, engender trust, and monetize channels without grossly manipulating the market itself.

From a content perspective, here’s what an ecosystem would ideally look like:

content's new context.png

If we can accept the Kurzweilian precept that technology is an extension of biology, then we might be able to reframe these efforts more constructively.

What this really points to is a profound shift in priorities, one that takes us from models based on opacity, forced messaging and a reliance on commodified inventory, to models that place openness, adaptivity and conscientiousness at the heart of marketing and communications.

The Coca-Cola problem.

Many of you are probably familiar with Coke’s escalating issues with obesity. If you’re not, you should be, as this represents a classic example of how traditional marketing and communications (to include “social media”) can’t solve real world problems -- problems that are not only complex, but those which require a whole new way of doing business.

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, the idea isn’t so much that brands and their products or services need to be perfect, but the overarching idea that they do need to be more humane. This means that operations must be far more empathic in how they treat people (customers and employees), and means that companies must do their best to empower hyperlocal economies.

I will make a much stronger economic case for this in an upcoming white paper, but suffice to say that things like P/E ratios, EBIDTA, market capitalization and increasing profit margins are hardly leading indicators for a sustainable brand, or a profitable brand, for that matter. Further, it will be impossible for companies to maintain the types of margins they have now without more earnest investments in the socioeconomic environments on which they lean, directly or indirectly.

What Coke can do to align its business and brand interests.

A lot of the work I do involves creating scenarios, or imaging possibilities, so that more positive and productive futures can be realized. So, I thought I would take the Coke use case and provide a snapshot of what “newer” disciplines like data journalism and participatory storytelling can do to revitalize the socioeconomic relationship between brands and consumers. (It is also a central use case featured in the book I’m co-authoring, “The Big Pivot”)

story as a lived experience.png

The graphic should be fairly self-explanatory; it basically takes you on a journey from the moment a perceived issue erupts, and shows how a different way of extracting and cultivating a story lends to the consensual development of ideas that not only become authentic brand artifacts, but those which provide a basis for product development and job growth.

You’ll notice that we go from a phase of understanding an issue, to uncovering its intentionality, to finding the purpose behind it in actions on the ground, and ultimately, developing the true meaning of its impact in the form of actionable solutions.

Under normal circumstances, the usual suspects -- media agencies, PR companies, social media vendors, product innovators, sustainability firms, et al -- would work mostly in isolation. More critically, the idea of storytelling reverse engineers a very staid and cumbersome set of processes that doesn’t actually move the needle of the business or nurture stakeholder relations. In this case, notice how real world solutions can be crafted from mostly closed data loops to those that reflect a group or collective intelligence.

Welcome to the future, which is right now.

It is not difficult to see what is possible. We have the tools and the means. What is difficult is to shift the mindset away from a heavy reliance on automation and quantitative reasoning and towards interactions on the ground. These will allow people to become true advocates of a brand, and influencers of ideas that matter, whether they exist as messages, stories and/or pure informational utilities.

 

What All Multi-Platform, Cross- or Transmedia Initiatives Need: Data Rigor & Strong Revenue Models

As someone who builds content & analytics systems for a living and helps develop strategies for their use – particularly in various marketing capacities – it’s been a bittersweet challenge: How do we prove out value and identify what success looks like?

As co-creators and producers of multi-platform narratives, we can be equally confounded: How do we sustain those successes?

What All Multi-Platform, Cross- or Transmedia Initiatives Need: Data Rigor & Strong Revenue Models

The folks I advise, from content producers (such a branded entertainment companies) to technology ventures (such as branded applications), constantly ask me why funding is so hard to come by at times, or, how they can sustain relationships with brands that are unsure about spending “experimental” dollars on multi-platform initiatives.

My pushback is commonly this: What problem(s) are you actually trying to solve for these companies?

Is it a consumer problem? A marketing problem? A business problem? A brand problem? Does it satisfy a market need? All of the above?

Here’s another angle: What’s the true purpose of your idea?

From a storytelling perspective, the challenge is no different from any other we’ve faced in the media world for decades, only now the issues are more complex -- for one, “new” approaches to storytelling have been brought forth with the intention to liberate the media spaces we operate in and provide some sense of scale; for another, these same approaches seem to have us scrambling for new, more effective ways to source creative material, to create revenue and in some cases, to develop viable “franchises”.

And while creative approaches to storytelling continue to evolve – and methodologies around them arguably become more abundant – very little discussion has gathered around the data and analytics frameworks associated with things like audience composition, fandom, market segmentation and media attribution.

Further, few creators seem to be serving up the one thing any media buyer, studio, network or brand really needs: a revenue model, or a business plan (not just a media plan or pro formas tied to exhibitor relations, for example).

Now, I’m not at all suggesting that this is a new concept.

In fact, there are quite a number of folks who have been pushing this agenda forth for years and have even enjoyed some success in doing so. There are also a good number of ventures across the globe that have developed platform offerings to include media asset distribution, cross-channel measurement, product integration techniques and the like.

What I’m suggesting is that revenue modeling, business planning, product scalability, what have you, are no longer solely in the domain of the media, network or studio stakeholders... It’s our domain as creators.

So, if we want to sell our innovative storytelling wares to the money folks and partners that own the distribution and supply chains, we need to develop and own the disciplines regarding how we cultivate data, how we provide meaningful analytics and how we can apply them to adaptable revenue models.

And that goes for independent producers and studio, agency or network divisions alike.

Cases in point: Many of the great transmedia or multi-platform initiatives discussed over the last 10 years were either amazing “bolt-ons” to studio or network production efforts that were already well under way, or, they were wildly inventive independent film, web or TV efforts that somehow took on creative life of their own, partially adopted by fans within social media environments and/or by way of good ‘ole word-of-mouth.

Similar to problems we’ve faced in areas such as online display and rich media, the data challenge in its own right is multi-fold: click behavior alone isn’t going to cut it.

We need to dimensionalize behavior. We need to understand what the cultural triggers are behind sharing and purchasing. We need to get a lot smarter about who we engage and why we engage them. We need to contextualize what makes a good story, a good product, or a good story product.

I would assert that the respective media we serve up – whether in the form of film, TV, webisodics, games, apps, graphic novels, music, consumer goods or otherwise – must be packaged as scalable product, in and of itself, or, as platforms with indefinite scale.

Perhaps this is why stories (in the form of messages or longer-form narratives) tend to come and go, and why media assets tend to be laid to waste. But all of this can be preempted with smart, integrated planning... And a little bit of chutzpah.

Think about it: In an ideal business context (say, to build a storyworld with specific product opportunities and integrations), we, as creators and producers, want to be sitting at the same table with other writers, directors, studio heads, web developers, brand managers, merchandisers and product engineers... Yet, most often we are not.

We speak different languages and operate with different intentions, but more specifically, we’re managing different P&L sheets (or different P&A budgets).

The upshot?

Creative context equals business context.

It’s the world we live in now (the 21st century), and it’s what drives our commerce systems via social means. Let’s remove the money issue by developing solutions to address it from the onset.

So as a storyteller, constantly ask yourself these questions:

What consumer, brand or business problem am I solving?
Specifically, what’s the market need?
What am I really offering (of scale)?
What do I need to know about my audience?
How can I sustain their interest?
What can I offer them (or what can they offer each other) in return beyond the “product” itself?
How can this scale to new stories and through new media (beyond established buys)?  

Then there are the questions to ask that are specific to data and analytics:

What does engagement really look like? (remember: every situation is unique)
What constitutes fan behavior?
How do I attribute these behaviors to purchasing patterns?
What patterns are direct? What are latent?
How can my media plan or my product plan be adapted?
What are some likely scenarios?
What are some key learnings I hope to find?

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Join us in San Francisco at the StoryWorld Conference + Expo, October 31-November 2, as we tackle these issues head-on and explore myriad solution sets...

What All Multi-Platform, Cross- or Transmedia Initiatives Need: Data Rigor & Strong Revenue Models

Part 2 of my talk with @Story_Centric on the role of #data in multi-platform #storytelling | #ITVT #transmedia

ITVT hosts a video column, StoryCentric, curated by Brian Seth Hurst, CEO of The Opportunity Management Company and former second vice chair of the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences. StoryCentric focuses on the business, technology and art of interactive storytelling, and highlights new technologies and other industry developments that have the potential to fundamentally change the way we create and interact with stories and narratives -- in television and beyond.

Brian was kind enough to invite me on the show to engage in a couple of fun chats about the role of data in multi-platform storytelling (Part 1 can be found here). More recently, Brian was a producing partner with Tim Kring on the Nokia-branded ARG, Conspiracy For Good. Brian is also working on a couple of landmark deals that reflect radical changes in the way branded content is funded, created, produced and distributed... But I'll let him share that news when he feels it is appropriate ;)

Enjoy.