November 30, 2017

The future of marketing is immersive

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This is a final post with learnings from my trip to The Future of Storytelling (FOST) Summit in New York. My thanks for inspirations offered by Don Hahn, Melissa Kelly, Andrew Peters and my friend and virtual reality savant David Polinchock.

Imagine that I told you the story of Snow White. But I’d do it in a fragmented way. I would tell you some parts over Twitter. A bit in a 90-second YouTube video. Some more on a highway billboard as you drove to work. To add to the complexity, we wouldn’t make an appointment to talk. I’d shout out at random, unannounced moments in your week.

With this approach, you’d probably miss a large part of the story. You might think it was a tale about mining conditions for dwarfs. About a narcissistic queen and her mirror. A murderous huntsman. A young woman that sings to animals. Or, worst case, a lady serial-killer selling apples.


The above may sound like ineffective storytelling. But it is a reality for every brand and corporate communication professional. There is a complex, often layered story to tell. But it must live in rushed videos, limited character tweets and glossy websites which no one reads anymore.

Despite best efforts, only very few customers, stock market analysts and even employees ever hear a company’s full story. Snow White hits the radar. The apple may stick too. But most of us miss out on Sleepy’s goofiness or the Queen’s complicated relationship with the huntsman.

This is problematic because a brand’s personality is all about this nuance. Without these colourful touches, every story it tells sounds the same and becomes a commodity. This, in turn, makes even more people tune out.

The performing arts have solved the above storytelling problem for thousands of years. Their solution still works today. If they want an audience to hear a story, they don’t push it across 50 channels. They concentrate it in its purest form and ask the audience to come to them.

I am increasingly of the belief that this can also work for brands. That marketers can break the self-destructive cycle of forcing their messages on an ever more elusive and disinterested audience. That, like the arts, they can invite their audience to join them willingly by investing in immersive media and experiences. By telling stories which people want to hear.

These can take many forms. Physical spaces. Virtual/augmented reality environments. Long-form copy (aka. books). Podcasts. ARG’s. Story-worlds. Or the often ignored, but oh-so-immersive silver screen of cinema. I probably missed a few.

Unfortunately, these immersive experiences won’t fit the reach addicted communication formats that force us to dumb down stories into 30-second or 140-character formats.

They require us to replace our message-centric communication models with an audience-centric approach. Stop focusing on the stories we want to tell, but craft the stories our audience wants/needs to hear. Quit chasing hypothetical GRP’s, but embrace and move smaller, real audiences. Rely on them to tell our story to the world.

We need to start crafting (immersive) experiences that are meaningful, memorable and shareable. As this is a standard that most of the current marketing and communication initiatives fail to achieve, marketers and agencies need to raise the bar. Play a new game.

This mind-shift will take effort. Audience-centricity, meaning and the careful crafting of experiences don’t always fit in the hectic world of campaigns and KPIs. Advertising has become a machine and the world I describe above, doesn’t really fit the mould.

But I firmly believe that the brands that dare to be different will gradually, and sustainably overcome many of the communication challenges they face today.

Instead of hunting audiences, I see a world in which customers willingly give their time. Immerse themselves in real, imaginary or virtual brand environments because they want to experience them. And once they have been touched, they tell their friends about it.

After all, who of us wouldn’t want their brand’s story to be as familiar as Snow White?

If you’re a (marketing) executive and you find this message resonates, do get in touch. I’m currently still shaping my thoughts on this topic, so perhaps we can experiment and co-create in 2018.

Also check out my other two lessons from the Future of Storytelling:

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