Archive for the ‘Engagement’ Category

MEDIA REHAB

October 16th, 2012

They tried to make me go to (media) rehab, I said NO! NO! NO!

I have just returned home after a 3 week sojourn in a Turkish haven of tranquility, where I have spent time recovering from an addiction I never knew I had. Three whole weeks with scarcely a media touch point in sight (nor sound). It was tough, but once the withdrawal symptoms wore off, I was able to approach the real world with a renewed sense of engagement and a clearer perspective. Cold turkey in Turkey, in fact.

I should explain. My family and I stayed near a small fishing village, which has never seen an English language newspaper or magazine. The internet connection in our small resort complex was as unreliable as the local transport and the nearest bar to offer wi-fi was a 40 minute boat ride away. 3G connections were similarly unreliable, as well as ridiculously expensive. We had satellite TV in our apartment but apart from the news channels, it was exclusively foreign language programming. (Incidentally, why are specialist news channels the only English language services in international hotels and resorts, when the Italian, French and  German speakers can usually get their entertainment channels, such as  RAI, TF1, RTL and ZDF?)

Pretty much the whole resort gathered around the bar’s TV screen for Mo Farah’s 5,000 metre race, but it was interrupted on Turkish TV for the bronze medal tussle in the Greco-Roman wrestling – or, as my wife described it, two very large kittens fighting in a cat basket! – but otherwise the TV screen stayed reassuringly blank.

So, like my fellow media addicts, I spent the first week fretting about the dried-up supply chain (apparently, if you arose at 6.30 am and waved your laptop in the right direction, it was occasionally possible to get 20 minutes’ worth of Facebook) and talking wistfully of times past. We would laugh as the new arrivals to our therapy group would turn ashen-faced as they realised their laptops and ipads would remain unconnected and they would have to make the Weekend Guardian they bought on the way out last them the whole fortnight. And slowly, very slowly, we flushed away the need for constant updates and wall-to-wall entertainment media and found our true selves again. Real-life conversations, interactive fun (i.e. diving off the boat jetty) and savouring the simple things of life took over. The Sky EPG, Times leader column and Twitter trending became a dim and distant memory.

However, despite the eventual success of my enforced media rehab programme, it was obvious that the cycle of addiction was not completely broken; I would still find myself watching the BBC World news cycle several times over, wave my ipad in futile attempts to get a signal and re-read the Weekend Guardian’s travel section article on singles holidays in the Ukraine.

As always, it was harder on the little ones. When we asked our son;s teenage friend Jack if he was looking forward to going home later that day, he replied “well, yes and no”. When pressed, he admitted he would miss “all of this”, gesturing vaguely at the sun-soaked holiday paradise around him, but he then qualified his remark by saying he couldn’t wait to get back to his satellite TV and wi-fi connections. Plus ca change…

 

THE RIPPLE AND THE DRILL

October 16th, 2012

I’ve learned that if you stick around long enough, fashions will always come back. My 13 year old son is taking a keen interest in my late 1990s wardrobe and record collection, which is a worrying sign in itself. Meanwhile, maybe it’s just coincidence, but I’m starting to see echoes of two phrases that infested the dozens of ‘new media’ business plans I had to wade through in my channel development role during that first dotcom boom; “if we build it, they will come” and “killer apps”.

The former was a line taken from Kevin Costner’s overblown 1990s philosophiser ‘Field of Dreams’ and if the quote appeared in any of the aforesaid business plans, they would go straight into the bin. I was much more interested in those adhering to another 1990s movie catchphrase, “show me the money!” I wonder whether some of the more recent digital disappointments, such as the Facebook share price, contain an element of that late 1990s wish fulfilment.

‘Killer apps’ is a much more interesting proposition. Back then it referred to the stand-out benefits that would drive consumer take-up. I always felt it was a bit conceptual, until real apps came along, and in a sense embodied it. The app is a killer app, or if it isn’t the app doesn’t get downloaded

Although apps are coming(quite slowly) to the main TV screen, I’ve long argued that their main influence will be on the companion screens that are now becoming a significant viewing accessory/distractor (pretty much in equal measure according the latest Thinkbox research (link – get TB approval). They provide an efficient way to access ancillary content and TV viewers are responding accordingly (1.5 million downloads of the BBC Olympics app alone).

Which is where I introduce Deloitte’s TV:Why? Report, (link – get Deloitte approval) which was unveiled at the Edinburgh TV Festival last week. It is, as always, full of well-argued, evidence-based insights into TV’s emerging role in the digital landscape. It analyses issues such as TV’s role in household entertainment, the future for connected TVs and the reasons behind  the resilience of TV advertising. The hot topic of the moment, though, and one the Deloitte report covers well, is the evolution of multi-screening. This is the landscape where the ‘killer apps’ affect (and are affected by) what is viewed via the main TV screen.

The fascinating headline from the report is that multi-screening is more about talking than interacting. Deloitte’s research suggests that most viewers will use companion screens to talk about the TV they are watching, rising to 4 out of every 5 teens and 3 out of every 4 under-24s. It is an extension of what TV viewers have always done; talk about the programmes and ads they are watching.

Meanwhile, there is far less enthusiasm for interacting with programmes. Only 4% of people strongly disagree with the statement “I can’t be bothered to interact with programmes” and only one in eight disagrees at all (compared to two out of three who agree). This has massive implications for how connected TVs are marketed and helps to explain why take-up and connectivity has been so slow.

The primacy of talk over interaction reflects the shared, communal nature of TV viewing, whereas interaction is often a personalised activity. It suggests the main impact of TV advertising is likely to be the ripple of discussion rather than the drilling down into deeper interactive experiences.

This ripple vs. drill analogy interests me, because

 

 

DELOITTE TV:WHY? REPORT

October 16th, 2012

“I can’t imagine life without television”

Only 9% of sample disagreed strongly – compared to 22% who agreed strongly.

Total agree is around 55% – total disagree around 20%

About 2x % 16-18s strongly agree compared to 55+s

 

“Watching TV is a good way of bringing the family together”

Total agree around 55% – compared to total disagree c. 12%

More than twice the % of 55+s disagree cf teenagers (16%)

Sharing in the physical space/analogue world

 

“Watching TV with others is much more enjoyable than watching alone”

C 50% agree vs 18% disagree

Young much more likely to agree

 

TV Got Worse?

For each of past 21 years UK public been polled (Deloitte?). Each year 30-40% say TV programming ‘got worse’ and only 10% say it has improved

How ties in with the importance of now?

Deloitte – 52 hours first run programming on PSBs alone every day! Estimate we don;t watch 99.95% (1460 hours p.a. vs 3million produced!)

Younger agree “the quality of TV programmes nowadays is better than ever before” but equal agree/disagree at older end of spectrum

 

Second Screening – Like TV Dinners

2 connected devices per UK citizen – laptops, smartphones, tablets. Early adopters 4 per adult

Mainly about TV – especially 121 communication and wider social networking. About TV > instead of TV. Ripple > Drill (expand analogy)

 

Frequency of communication with others via internet about the programme being watched – e.g. messaging, email, Facebook, Twitter;

-       Half of 16-24s do frequently or occasionally

-       Only 22% never use web to talk about programmes

About 2/3 agree slightly or strongly with statement “I can’t be bothered to interact with programmes”. Not much variation by age – where are the ‘killer apps’?

 

CONNECTED, CONVERGED…AND NO LONGER CONFUSED!

October 16th, 2012

Last week, I had the pleasure of presenting at the EGTA (European Group of Television Advertising) AGM in Paris. For those who don’t know EGTA, they represent commercial broadcasters across Europe (and, increasingly, Asia and Africa).  The UK’s broadcasters are woefully under-represented within EGTA membership, but the remaining 34 countries and 82 broadcasters in the house were treated to two days of thought-provoking and generally uplifting perspectives on TV’s connected future.

As convergence is happening before our very eyes – with screens syncing together in seamless harmony – so we are beginning to see just how TV’s connected future is shaping up. On the final day of EGTA’s AGM, three evangelists for the connected living room showed their wares. Bruno Peirera of The TV App Agency and Tej Rekhi from DG Mediamind provided compelling examples of how content jumps from screen to screen, making the communal personal and the personal communal. Meanwhile, Miles Lewis of Shazam, showed how broadcasters are already using their audio matching technology to promote programmes and advertisers to deepen engagement. And the simplicity of the convergence to the viewer – buy app and point smartphone at TV – is what will make experiences such as these work.

There has been a step change in the creative & digital industries over the last couple of years, with an emphasis moving from trying to replace television towards trying to work with it, by deepening engagement, furthering interactivity and enabling sharing. The key to this has been the second (and now third, fourth, fifth…) screens that have sprung up in living rooms across the land. They allow all of these enhancements to take place without disturbing the communal and immersive experience of ‘watching TV’. That is why the main role of connected TV’s – once they finally get connected – is not to channel the internet into the TV set, but rather to send TV to the internet. Once it’s there, people can do their own thing with it, on their own screen.  I’ve heard it described as red button on steroids, but this is another level to the clunky, limited red button experience.

Of course, with technologies like Shazam, the TV doesn’t even need to be connected.

Not only does this have implications for the effectiveness of individual spots, it can also change the whole nature of the break, as Miles demonstrated through Shazam’s work on this year’s Superbowl. You can see some examples here (http://shazamadvertising.com/view/mail?iID=WHVEPW5QDBWHG2W7NJVH).

It offers some powerful opportunities to broadcasters and advertisers alike, if they embrace the technology, each commercial break could be a mini-Superbowl experience. But I can’t help thinking that the advertising breaks will need to do all they can to keep their audience from Shazaming off somewhere else…at a single wave of their smartphone!

 

Effectiveness Is In The Eye Of The Beholder

March 2nd, 2012

It’s only since I began regularly blogging on media matters that I have also started to ask odd questions whenever I’m confronted with a straightforward headline. I should have been satisfied with the report from the USA’s Association of National Advertisers (ANA), announcing research amongst major advertisers showing a renewed faith in television. To quote Bill Duggan of the ANA; “This survey confirms that the death of television has been greatly exaggerated. Our findings shine a spotlight on the bullish attitude that advertisers have towards the medium, including passion for new TV and video platforms.”
It confirms something I’ve always felt about USA media, ever since I went on a media ‘fact-finding’ trip to New York in 1989 and returned disappointed – in many ways, they have always been a year or so behind us. Such a headline from UK advertisers’ body ISBA would hardly raise a yawn these days, it has become so taken for granted.
But something in the article intrigued me. The report stated that, compared to 2010, the number of advertisers judging TV ads to be more effective tripled. That seems like a massive jump to me in such a short space of time and I double checked to make sure there hadn’t been some game-changing event that had taken place in the USA without my knowledge. Not really.
So, how to explain such a leap in confidence in a medium which has probably been battered and bruised even more in the States than it has here in Limey-land? I’ve come up with three possible answers;

1.   Television really IS getting more effective over there. There is a good case that it is, but the technologies that are cited by the ANA, such as new video platforms and addressable advertising, are nowhere near mainstream enough yet to have made a noticeable difference.

 

2.   American advertisers are finally getting the tools to measure and correctly attribute TV’s contribution to effectiveness. If true, this would persuade me to re-calculate our lead over the USA to two years or more. It’s often surprised me, though, how less well-established 360 degree effectiveness evaluation is Stateside.

 

3.   It’s more of an emotional thing – they just feel more confident about praising TV. I think we sometimes forget just how ingrained the ‘TV is dead’ narrative became following the emergence of Web 2.0 until just a couple of years ago. I believe the UK industry only really began to reject it as too simplistic around 2009, which would mean (if my time-lag theory is correct) the tables would begin to turn in the US in 2010 – the low base year from which TV’s perceived effectiveness has tripled.

 

Of course, as always, it is probably a combination of all three, but if I had to select one of those alternatives as my main influence, it would have to be third. On the one hand, so much of what we do is based on emotion and ‘herd’ behaviour, why not advertisers’ sense of excitement (or ennui) in TV’s place in the media landscape? But it must also be based on an increased understanding of how effectiveness works and how to attribute TV’s contribution, especially given the sterling work recently from the IPA, ARF, PWC, Deloittes and Thinkbox. So, maybe it is the second answer as well. That seems more like it – left brain and right brain working together.
Either way, come on USA – catch up! (And how often do we get to say that?)

Keep taking the tablets

February 3rd, 2012

I attended the always lively and entertaining ‘The Year Ahead’ event hosted by Mediatel last week, where we were once again entertained, informed, inspired and challenged by the predictive powers of Ray Snoddy and Torin  Douglas, the Mitchell and Webb of media punditry. It felt a little strange this year; there was less focus on new technology than usual and rather more retrospection, especially given the momentous events from the last twelve months leading from Murdoch to Leveson.  As such, the newspaper industry was in the spotlight rather more than is customary but, despite the obvious concerns for its future, I felt there was more confidence and less defensiveness than we’ve come to expect. Part of that confidence came from the early signs that, for once, digital technology might be more of a saviour that a slayer through the emergence and rapid uptake of tablet computers.

A great deal has been written about how tablets are affecting media behaviour, but now we are seeing significant penetration levels (including the emergence of around a million multi-tablet households in the UK!) we are moving from speculation to observation. One of the points made at ‘The Year Ahead’ event was that consumers appear to be prepared to pay for content on their tablets that they would always access for free via their PC.

It is a truism (that happens to be untrue) that once people are used to getting something for free, they can never be persuaded to pay for it. The same used to be said about pay TV; why would people pay significant sums of money for TV that had never cost them a penny previously, apart from what they had been forced to pay via the BBC licence fee? In fact, even before BSkyB transformed the pay TV market through the Premier League deal in 1993, it had successfully persuaded almost three million households to pay for a very limited, nine channel pay television package dominated by archive and imported programme content. That was despite the inconvenience of having to get a satellite dish installed and a price point that invited unfavourable comparison with the value of the BBC licence fee cost.

Newspapers, though, seemed like an even less promising prospect. News has become commoditised by the internet and it is much harder to monetise digital content in this environment. Although it is accepted that digital revenues will always struggle to counter declines in newspaper circulation, mobile devices – especially tablets – do offer a ray of hope.

The always reliable Pew Centre in the USA calculates around a third of the 25 million tablet owners in the States have paid for access to newspaper content on their device, either directly or via a bundled service.  Their research (published last month) also shows that tablet owners are much more voracious consumers of news content and news access is a bigger part of their tablet consumption that social media, books or video consumption.  The money appears to be on bundled subscription offering the best way out for the struggling industry, but at least there appears to be a way out compared to the pre-iPad predictions.

This led me to wonder what is it about tablets that they can change the potential business model for a whole industry? After all, they are just a better way of accessing stuff we’ve always been able to access, and generally for free.

 

First of all, like many (most?) technological innovations, especially the expensive ones, tablets are quite a middle-aged phenomenon. I believe the average age of a tablet owner is around 42.  They are not typical early adopters of other digital technologies and, for this middle-aged, upmarket user base, cost is far less of an issue than for other demographics. (It is also the core audience for news media; later adopters might be less willing or prepared to pay for news content).

But it’s not just the profile of tablet users that is influencing the value they place on the content; there is something much more emotional going on. In many ways, tablets are the computing equivalent of the Nintendo Wii, but more personal. Their ease of use and instant gratification, as with the Wii, increases usage and engagement with the content (It’s interesting that game apps are one of the most popular categories).  For less experienced or enthusiastic online users, it can be empowering. As an entertainment device, it is associated with fun, not work.

I also think there is something emotional going on with the apps themselves. There is a sense of ownership, even with the ones that are free, whereas access to a URL feels more like renting the content. I saw exactly the same phenomenon in a research study I recently completed; people with comprehensive access to on demand TV content still preferred to have the best stuff on their DTR because they felt that was ‘theirs’.

Tablet ownership is going to grow exponentially over the next few years and it is already changing the nature of the online experience for many people. If newspapers, and other content providers, can provide content which is customised around that experience, and adds value to other media touchpoints (such as the print edition), then the tablets might be good for their health.

Are we an art or a science?

February 2nd, 2012

I’ve been giving the subject of this week’s blog a lot of thought and, although it might sound like pretentious twaddle in places, I would really appreciate any comments if it strikes a chord, hits a nerve or presses your buttons. It is about the art and science of our jobs.

I initially went to University to study economics, but gave it up after less than three weeks, persuading them that I really should have been studying psychology instead.  Economics frightened me in the same way the Daleks had caused me to hide behind the sofa just a decade before; it portrayed a world of self-interest – cold, rational, analytical, predictable and improbably perfect.

Psychology should have been much more satisfying; it was about people and even in my teens I recognised that they were much warmer, messier, irrational, complex and unpredictable than economic theory. Unfortunately, like many psychology faculties at the time, the focus was on the scientific method and many of the theorists I was drawn to would often be dismissed as charlatans, because their theories could never be scientifically tested.  Psychology so wanted to be a science, even though it was designated a Bachelor of Arts degree.  If it couldn’t be measured, it couldn’t exist, said my tutors, and who was I to disagree?

This conflict between art and science has not always been so pronounced. During the Renaissance of the 14th – 17th centuries, both art and science flourished and polymaths such as Da Vinci were commonplace. However, the subsequent ‘Age of Enlightenment’, from the late 17th century, prized reason above everything and many of the rigourous principles underpinning science, mathematics and economics were laid down. They have ensured science has been valued over art ever since.

In our world of media and marketing, we have a much shorter timeframe to look at, but I think we have been through our renaissance and are now living through our age of enlightenment. Take advertising; the world of ‘Mad Men’ depicted one where art carried the torch. The creative was the focus, the science was more peripheral and ‘research’ was still finding its feet.

Since then, we’ve had our own Age of Enlightenment, although I’m not sure how enlightened it has made us.  A combination of ‘marketing science’ – where everything can be measured and evaluated – and digital technology – unleashing a torrent of analytics – has ensured there is more than a hint of Dalek in the cold, rational, analytical, predictable and perfectly-defined world we now inhabit.  This is the world of the pre-test, the marketing formula, real-time planning , media auditing and response optimisation. In its way, it is a beautiful place, a data junkie’s nirvana, but it has never felt like home!

There are signs that things are swaying back to a new Renaissance, though.  Two connected phenomena in particular, have helped to make life interesting again;

  1. 1.       The decline in the reputation of classical economics, and the increasing applicability of behavioural economics to marketing theory and practice.
  2. 2.       The increasing understanding that emotion is behind most decision-making and it can be best elicited through creativity.

I think both of the above have begun to transform marketing and advertising, the former in quite a micro way (re-framing the context, employing media touchpoints for specific behavioural goals) whilst the latter has been at a more macro level (releasing creativity, uniting media around big, brave ideas).

So here is my question. Is media – especially media research   - ahead of or behind the curve? Is it driven by art or science?

In order to answer that question, let me ask a follow-up. How much of our work directly affects the decisions that really move the goalposts? I don’t mean reinforcing decisions that have already been taken or fine-tuning the process. How often does the work we produce -  whether for media owners, agencies or advertisers –  have a real influence on the stuff that normal consumers would mention spontaneously if you were to stop them on the street or would animatedly  talk about amongst themselves in all of those face-to-face conversations we never hear? When they enthuse about animated meerkats, genre-busting TV shows, drumming gorillas, magazines aimed at lifestyles you didn’t know existed, posters that (literally) stop the traffic or social media experiences that last longer than a wet weekend, how often can research, or planning for that matter, puff out its chest and say “Without me that might never have happened”?

I don’t want to make this sound like an attack on research or planning. I have been fortunate enough to work for, with and against some of the most knowledgeable, talented and intellectually curious people I could ever wish to meet, but this issue has bugged me throughout my career.  We have developed the perfect tools to analyse, evaluate and measure, but how often do we use them to inspire, innovate or even challenge preconceptions? I can’t think of too many examples.

 If we want to be there when the big decisions are being made, we need to merge the science with the art, the insight with the analytics, and the creative with the prosaic.  It’s possible; the data’s available in abundance and the ‘renaissance’ skills within our industry even more so. Are we bringing them together enough to really make a difference? Do we need a renaissance or are we enlightened enough?

It’s a genuine question. If you have an answer, or even an insight to offer, email me at david@medianative.tv.

Attention – this is not engagement!

February 2nd, 2012

‘Engagement’ is still one of the most overused words in media. It is a slippery snake of a concept, still without a consensus definition and ‘measured’ in a menagerie of random (and often conflicting) ways. Each medium has a different interpretation of it and those interpretations don’t travel well. We have no accepted view of how it contributes to the bottom line. We know very little about it. But we know one thing; it is not attention. We don’t ‘think about’ engagement. So why does it keep getting pushed that way?

Siegmund Freud studied neuroscience, but became frustrated by the limited explanation the physical brain could provide for the complexities of the human experience. When he proposed, more than a century ago, that “‘most of our mental life operates unconsciously and that consciousness is merely a property of one part of the mind” he was vilified by the scientific community. Yet those two hypotheses, that most of our mental functioning happens at an unconscious level and our conscious brain is relatively unimportant in the wider scheme of things, are readily (and provably) accepted by that same community today.

What hasn’t changed is the constant pressure by some within the marketing industry to keep the focus on the conscious brain. It is easy to measure, even easier to predict and understand. It’s the part of the brain we can most easily influence. Unfortunately, in most consumer decisions, including the most important they will ever make, it has very little influence itself.

So what has this got to do with engagement?

Well, over the past decade, ever since the term ‘engagement’ became one of the media industry’s mots du jour, everybody’s been pushing it towards our conscious brain. Part of the problem is the lack of a cohesive definition of what the hell it means. The Advertising Research Foundation committed huge resource to coming up with the definition we all use nowadays: Engagement is turning on a prospect to a brand idea, enhanced by the surrounding context”

The ARF definition is descriptive but hardly insightful. It tells us that engagement has three component parts – the consumer (the prospect), the content (brand idea) and the context. But it doesn’t tell us how it works.  In fact, the best definition of engagement I have ever heard has come from the neuroscientists. They define engagement as “a sense of immersion in an experience, generated by feelings of personal relevance”.

In most neuromarketing studies, including the one I commissioned at Thinkbox last year, engagement is strongly correlated with our long-term memory encoding (LTME), which is where most of our purchasing ‘heuristics’ (emotional short-cuts) are formed.  It is interesting that attention levels have no relationship with LTME at all. More relevant to this debate is this; attention and engagement have no direct relationship with each other! It is the cognitive/explicit and the emotional/implicit brains working independently of each other. As usual, we’ve put all of our focus on the part of the brain with which we are most comfortable. So, we have engagement metrics such as click-through rates, dwell time, recall, purchase intent, buzz metrics, website visits and brand preference used with abandon, all focussed on the cognitive side of our brains.

This was brought home to me when I attended the annual Media Research Group Conference a couple of weeks ago. There was a thought-provoking paper from Becky McQuade of Sky and Anne Mollen from the Cranfield School of Management attempting to define online engagement. Anne defined engagement as “a cognitive and affective commitment to an active relationship” which requires three elements

  • Utility/relevance
  • Pleasure/enjoyment
  • Dynamic and sustained cognitive process

 

My first instinct was to bristle; again, so much emphasis on the cognitive. But then, I thought, this is about online engagement, and when people are in that attentive state of mind, maybe the definition works. But, if it does, it is as a consequence of engagement, rather than as a measure of it.

Online activity is all about attention. It is task-oriented, focussed and goal-seeking. That is one of the main reasons why most forms of online display struggle to generate impact; they are too easy to ‘edit out’ (which is advertising embedded in video entertainment appears to work best of all). It is the predominant mindset, so that even the same content viewed online will be processed with far more attention and far less engagement that if it was viewed on TV.

However, attention and engagement may not be (cor)related, but they are no strangers. I have seen tons of evidence to suggest that, once the engagement has been achieved, it can more easily lead to attention and, ultimately, action. Consumers purchasing cars, furniture, computers, TV sets, games consoles and digital cameras (to name but a few) will all talk about how the TV ad created a sense of engagement and relevance with the brand, that was then nudged forward and harvested via online attention-based actions.

There used to be a significant time gap between creating the engagement and harvesting the attention, but as all media platforms become more interactive (directly or via second screens) that gap is shortening. We saw some great examples at Thinkbox of people going from initial awareness of a product to purchase during the course of a single commercial break. That means they go from engagement to attention to action in a matter of seconds.

The thing is, we still need to understand this process better, and how we can best plan for it. It alters the whole concept of ‘campaign periods’, ‘effective frequency’, ‘point of sale’ and ‘brand-building vs. response’ to name but a few. It means we have to fully understand what we really mean by the term ‘engagement’, rather than just throwing it around as one of those ‘boardroom bingo’ phrases. Most importantly of all, it means getting the measurement right, rather than use proxy metrics that are really measuring something else entirely. We may prefer to measure attention, but unless we understand what has generated it, it will continue to slip from our grasp.

 

The Power of Storytelling- The Invisible Influencer

August 10th, 2011

Researching an article I am writing for ADMAP, looking at why storytelling is such an important element of brand marketing, I was struck by the huge amount of research into storytelling’s ability to influence us, educate us, affect our behaviour and improve our memory and understanding. These are, of course, critical to advertising effectiveness and it is no surprise that those media that can create long-form narrative-led brand communications perform best in driving the bottom line.

There is an ancient Indian proverb that sums this up brilliantly;

“Tell me a fact, I may believe it. Tell me a truth, I may believe it. but if you tell me a story, it will live in my heart forever”

Those last two words – heart and forever – sum up the power of storytelling in that it affects our emotions and our long-term memory; and, of course, that is where brands live – in our emotions and in our memory!

There has been a surge of interest recently in the concept of ‘Transmedia Storytelling’ and many major multinationals now employ storytelling experts. The irony is that too much attention in the past few years has been on the ‘transmedia’ side of the equation and not nearly enough on the storytelling aspect.

Part of the reason for that is that marketing appears to have ignored the phenomenon in terms of trying to understand its importance. When I drowned myself in the available research on the power of storytelling, I was struck by the dearth of material that emanated from the marketing community. I had to look to the worlds of education, social anthropology, psychology, sociology, organisational theory and theology for the evidence; fortunately there was plenty of it around.

Storytelling has a proven and significant impact on engagement, emotion, communication, comprehension, critical thinking, language, social behaviour and memory. There is plenty of evidence to show that we are born with a narrative understanding of the world around us and that babies relate to narrative far better than any other form of communication. It is innate, fundamental and long lasting.

So, why doesn’t the marketing community take it more seriously? Is it because, culturally, stories are seen as frivolous, emotive and belonging purely to the world of fiction? Is it because we are still tied to the rational, mechanistic, fact-based view of ourselves even in the face of so much counter evidence?

Whatever the reason, if we are to truly understand and exploit the power of story to influence the consumer, we need to research it from a marketing context. Then we can all live happily ever after!