The Storytelling Problem

“We think in pictures. We remember in stories.”

Cindy Krum, Mobile Marketing: Finding Your Customers No Matter Where They Are

Thanks to the respiratory flu and plenty of over-the-counter medication, I’ve had an unplanned opportunity over the past two weeks to slow down and reflect on this blog. I used this time to really question what value I could deliver to you, the reader, through this blog. My big hairy audacious question, while under the influence of Dayquil, became: How could I move beyond “just another WordPress blog” to provide helpful content – content that would improve your day job – over the next 14 days?

In my fever-induced stupor I concluded that as an economist at heart, what I could bring to the table would be the discussion of production and consumption (my Twitter handle is @produceconsume) of the value created, delivered, and consumed through emerging media.

Emerging Media & The Market (IMC 619), as you’ll remember, is the focus of the fantastic class I am currently taking through West Virginia University’s Integrated Marketing Communication (IMC) Master’s program. In our first lesson, we learned that emerging media tactics are now key components of the IMC approach, complementing ongoing efforts by focusing on creating sustainable engagement that allows us to

1. Talk to & connect with consumers
2. Create conversation
3. Amplify the discussion
4. Stimulate sharing
5. Redirect negative comments
6. Drive brand recommendations

And in order to achieve this desired engagement, we have a menagerie of digital tools that we can pick and choose from to deliver the most important aspect of new media content – INFORMATION.

More times than not the discussion of emerging media centers on the latest and greatest techno tools. What are they? How do we access customers via these tools? How do consumers use them? What technology powers the tools? In fact, it’s very easy to become overwhelmed by or even lost in these conversations. Many panic fearing they can’t use them all or that they’ll use the wrong technology or that it will be outdated before they get the hang of it.

Granted these conversations are both exciting and equally full of anxiety and consequently receive quite a bit of press. How do we use smart phone apps to engage TV viewers on the second screen? How do we use gamification to impact health behavior? Or how do we use short films to tell incredibly gripping (and viral) stories? But the excitement can stop dead in its tracks if we don’t have a compelling story to tell and we *gasp* don’t know how to tell it.

And thus this becomes the focus of this post… the problem with storytelling, or perhaps, the storytelling problem.

Held up at home with Kleenex in one hand and hand sanitizer in the other, I used my “down time” this past week to follow Social Media Week via Livestream and Twitter. For those of you unfamiliar with Social Media Week, #smw12 (the chosen 2012 global Twitter hashtag) describes its purpose as:

Reflecting the global impact of social media – and its role as a catalyst in driving cultural, economic, political and social change in developed and emerging markets – Social Media Week is one of the world’s most unique global platforms, offering a series of interconnected activities and conversations around the world on emerging trends in social and mobile media across all major industries.

While there was an incredible diversity of presentations – from What Real Time Marketing Really Takes to Who Owns this Sh#t Anyway to Leveraging Gamification to Drive Engagement – every Livestream presentation I joined online (and out of germ-sharing range) shared a recurrent theme – the power of storytelling. Expert presenters emphasized time and time again how important it is to tell a good story, or better yet, a great story. While they used new words like “curation” and “transmedia” to discuss technique and process (we’ll talk about these over the next few days), the fundamental need for great storytelling – that need for cultural connection since the beginning of time – used words we’re all familiar with and need to re-engage in our own marketing communication efforts.

Perhaps storytelling is a lost art. Or perhaps listening is the lost art. Or perhaps both are true and the lack of patience is the story killer.

We’ve become so focused on productivity and consumption that “art” feels like a waste of time. Even though break-through creativity is demanded now more than ever to raise the brand voice above the incredible amount of noise that we hear daily, we seem to dismiss the time, effort, and energy (and yes, people power) it takes to create the art of the story. We want results yesterday. We want ROI now. We must produce faster. But as human beings, you know, the consumers critical to the production and consumption process, are we processing differently? Are we no longer impacted by stories? If you were to return to Social Media Week and watch even a handful of the presentations, the answer would be a resounding “No!”

We as a people still process information in basically as we have since the beginning of time. We think in pictures. We remember in stories.

Storytelling in Real Life

With each post I’ll add a favorite example of story as told in real life. For this post, I’ve chosen General Electric (GE) Stories: Healthcare. While viewing this story, think of how GE has created a story, a deeply impactful story that connects some of the mystery of what GE does with the real lives of the people that GE and its employees impact through their work.

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A little info on the upcoming WVU IMC INTEGRATE 2012 Conference. It will give you a quick feel for the Integrated Marketing Communication graduate degree that I am pursuing.

Dr. Bob West @westr retweeted this photo from Tonight’s Forecast: Dark blog explaining social media in donuts. Mmmmmm….donuts.

What Does It Take To Be a Social Strategist? [INFOGRAPHIC]

As I am one for not presenting a problem in one hand without a solution in the other, here’s a great follow up to my last post and my search for the right skill set/role/responsibilities for businesses using emerging media as part of their integrated marketing strategy. Let me know what you think…

What Does It Take To Be a Social Strategist? [INFOGRAPHIC].

Emerging Media: Evolving Business Models

This week in IMC 619 aka Emerging Media & the Market Professor Post challenged our class to “Explore the articles on the A List Apart website for an insider’s view on creative Web design.”  What a challenge!

In the interest of full disclosure, I am not a designer, programmer or anything of the like, and I don’t play one on TV.  I know there are individuals far more talented than I that can efficiently develop and maintain Web sites, internal data communications infrastructure, and can design beautiful graphics that will leave customers speechless.  I humbly bow to them all.

I am the entrepreneur that has owned and operated my own business, the financial manager that understands the nuances of cash flow, asset management, and the junior organizational psychologist that understands people development, environment, and culture. I understand how my customers search for and buy my products and services.  I know how to discover what’s important to them and how to successfully deliver that value.  I know how to develop sustainable customer relationships through all media – emerging and traditional – and coach other internal customers and stakeholders to do the same. I understand how business models work and how every customer touch point impacts the company’s financial performance. But this no longer seems to be enough.

In my recent job search (I am 3 months unemployed at the time of this post) I have become increasingly dismayed at the few employment opportunities for “Marketing” that exist now on Career Builder, Indeed.com, and the like. Most businesses are looking for a strategic business thinker that can develop a strategic marketing plan including market share projections, ROI expectations, along with the usual strong verbal and written communications skills, presentation, customer service, business, and negotiation skills necessary to succeed in a rapidly-changing environment. And that would be okay if that’s all they wanted in one person. But it’s not.

Often these same Marketing position descriptions include experience in Web-based software development, including programming experience with Microsoft’s .NET technologies, including C#, as well as expertise with relational databases and SQL. And don’t forget critical 5 years plus experience with Adobe CS5, CSS, Java, as well as the ability to effectively communicate graphically (read: accomplished graphic designer with programming expertise).

Is this realistic? Can a left-brained IT programmer and a right-brained graphic artist and a centrist-brained marketing professional be the same person?  Or are too many organizations still relying on outdated business models that have lost their relevancy, attempting to cram additional responsibilities onto one function because it’s simpler than re-thinking their org chart?

Who would have thought that less than 10 years ago many businesses had no line items for content management development, customer relationship management, and Web site development in their budgets?  And these same organizations hadn’t a clue as to what a new organizational chart should look like if they incorporated a Web site into their business model.  And who knew how to manipulate a business model that could capitalize on open source, multi-sided platforms, the long tail or (gasp) free and freemiums as a business opportunity?

Perhaps I shouldn’t be so critical.  Change is difficult.  And innovation is not for the weak of heart.  Who would have thought that in 2010 the average organization spends 20% of its marketing budget on content marketing?

So what can we take away from all of this?  How does it apply in real life?

In real life we need to understand that Web sites and other forms of emerging media have dramatically impacted our business models whether we engage these tools in marketing or choose to simply push them aside.  Business models need some attention.  How we create, deliver, and capture value has changed.  To be viable in this changing environment and to capitalize on the new low-cost tools available to us, we need to address these changes today.

One of my favorite tools for re-thinking business models is Business Model Generation. No, I don’t receive any royalties for recommending this book, nor am I related to any of the great minds behind the concept (although I wish I were one).  This tool breaks the 9 building blocks of any business model into 9 segments: customer segments, value propositions, channels, customer relationships, revenue streams, key resources, key activities, key partnerships, and cost structure.  But rather than droning on, I have incorporated a Slideshare (love that emerging media) into this post so you can get a better feel for the tool.

Why did I diverge from the design and development of Web site discussion in our class this week for this post?  I didn’t. Web sites must be an integral part of your business model.  You must know how your customers use your Web site, what they want from their interaction, and where value can be created and exchanged.  And just as a successful business model must know the Web site’s role in its business enterprise, the same business must understand the role of people and the very real and hard look they must take when effectively designing their organizational structure.

Sales, promotion, public relations, webinars, online video conferencing, geolocation, social media… what will or more importantly what can your business model look like moving forward?

Emerging Media: Invisible Media

The beautiful thing about social networks is their invisible walls.

The ugly thing about social networks is their invisible walls.

While many of us are thrilled to live where we live and engage in high-level intellectual sparring with individuals across the globe, some of us still don’t seem to get out of our own ego-centric way to embrace the engagement.

Some embrace these invisible walls, stretching their hands and minds across continents.  And, some, well, they just seem to drop their trousers and press their cheeks against it.

This week in IMC 619, aka Emerging Media & the Market, our class continued our discussion about emerging media and the multiple market segments each medium serves.  We specifically analyzed Fortune 500 Web sites and their ability, or inability, to connect with minority customer segments.  We quickly concluded that while some organizations had made considerable leaps forward in their ability to connect with minorities, many were putting no more effort into the process than a mere language translation (often only offered in Spanish) of their Web site.

Why?  Aren’t we living in a highly diverse country?  Don’t we value our customers?  Haven’t we “come a long way baby”?

After all, this great melting pot we call the U.S. is not only melting, but melting at an accelerated rate. According to the 2010 U.S. Census, Hispanics now constitute 16% of the nation’s total population of 308.7 million. They are the majority minority, ahead of Census projections.

So, beyond statistics, why does this matter?  It matters because many English-speaking, U.S. based companies, are still missing opportunities to effectively connect with viable customer segments.  And, while for years we have discussed lack of knowledge about the cultures as a barrier for effective marketing (which is still by and large true), the reality is that many companies are afraid to market to minority customers due to retribution from Anglo-Americans (for lack of a better term).

Jennifer, one of my fellow students, shared a blog post written in 2011 in response to a Facebook accident that shows this short-sightedness in real life. For those of you not familiar with the incident, Coca-Cola, due to a coding glitch, accidentally posted on Facebook in Portuguese to an English-speaking audience.  And because Facebook is one of those social networks with invisible walls, this error allowed many to show their ugly faces and display their xenophobia.

Side note: I had not heard the word xenophobia before it was used in class this week. And now that SOPA is stalled (and hopefully dead), I was able to find it on Wikipedia.    

So, I would remind English-speaking Anglos that when we make assumptions about “our social media” and assume that everything is us, not them, we might want to not be so bold to assume.  In his post, Creamer points to an interesting ComScore factoid sharing that “An estimated 80% of Facebook’s active users are outside the U.S., with (Portuguese-speaking) Brazil and India growing at a rate of 23% and 11%, respectively, between February and May 2011, according to ComScore.” And, being the good grad school student, I found another quick link or two that may be of interest to you as you think about these invisible walls:

Facebook stats: http://www.facebook.com/press/info.php?statistics

Facebook users as a percentage of country population: http://www.zdnet.com/blog/facebook/top-10-countries-in-facebook-adoption-december-2011/6836

You Tube views by non-English speaking audience:http://socialtimes.com/youtube-views-non-english-speaking-audience_b83277

Learning…in real life

What good are theories if we don’t know how they apply to real life? What good are new emerging media tools if we don’t know how to use them?  And what good is this blog if you can’t read it and immediately use it in real life?

Stay tuned as I explore these questions and others in Integrated Marketing Communication In Real Life aka IMC IRL.

Over the next 9 weeks I’ll post weekly, if not more frequently, sharing the hot topics burning up the discussion boards in IMC 619: Emerging Media & The Market graduate course at WVU.

To give you a quick feel for IMC 619, here are the course learning outcomes extracted straight from the syllabus:

  1. Identify the role emerging media plays in an IMC campaign.
  2. Compare, contrast and experience the emerging media organizations are using to build relationships with consumers.
  3. Recognize the ethical issues involved in using emerging media as a marketing communications tool.
  4. Understand how marketers are using emerging media to reach youth and minorities.
  5. Define the role of creativity and design in emerging media.

If any of these issues seem interesting to you, I encourage you to follow along, participate, and discuss.  I promise that while we will discuss theory and throw in the occasional 3-syllable word, we will always discuss marketing communication in real terms for real people in real life.

Enjoy!

Emerging Media…Emerging Challenges, Emerging Opportunities

With each new innovation or new process introduced to our society or even slight modification of what currently exists we as individuals and as collectives find ourselves simultaneously facing both challenges and opportunities.

Many of us may be familiar with the Chinese symbol of “crisis” which by linguistics scholars has been translated to mean both “danger” and “opportunity.”  If you have ever attended a management seminar, read a motivational book, or even scanned an article on marketing communication, you have probably run across this strong and memorable rhetorical device. Even the translation of the Chinese symbols to the English language itself (credited to Victor H. Mair, Professor, Chinese Language and Literature, University of Pennsylvania) has been called into question.

Change can create challenge, opportunity, chaos, danger, anxiety, and optimism. It is the complex system of change in real life that will be the running theme of this blog and its core subject – emerging media.

Emerging media has created an entirely new chapter in the marketing communication lexicon.  (As if the human language needs more words.)  We now have the new morphemes of “e-“ and “v-“ – prefixes that can be used to preface common words to indicate “electronic” and “video” channels of communication delivery.  And we have a new language within the emerging media itself. We have created text speak and interesting grammatical shortcuts when confining our dialogue to 140 characters or less.

And while we could wonder down this very interesting road of linguistics, I would offer that we need to start at where we are now…understanding and defining what we know now of emerging media.
Wordle: Emerging Media

As you can see from the word cloud above, understanding emerging media involves understanding more than merely the disruptive technology that makes it possible.  We must understand how emerging media is being used, by whom, and for what purpose.  We need to understand both the content that’s created and shared as well as the context within which it is received, delivered, and shared.  And we need to understand how it is translated and interpreted by all that use it or are impacted by its use in our social circles, communities, and our cultures.

And while you and I may not agree on which emerging media is best suited for what purpose, one thing we can agree upon is that as individuals we will all approach emerging media differently.  It’s both the challenge and the opportunity for consumers and marketers alike.

Out of great respect for a man that found opportunity to share his vision for the future in the middle of danger – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. – I will close with the words of his contemporary, the late U.S. President John F. Kennedy (1917-1963).  The quote is from President Kennedy’s remarks at the Convocation of the United Negro College Fund, Indianapolis, Indiana, April 12, 1959:

“The Chinese use two brush strokes to write the word ‘crisis.’ One brush stroke stands for danger; the other for opportunity.  In a crisis, be aware of the danger – but recognize the opportunity.”

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