Post by Tom Kirkham, International Account Director, Kite Hill PR
Our very final session of this amazing week was planned as an analysis of the benefits of video as a platform for immersive storytelling, but became a far more wide-ranging discussion around brands usage of technology to tell stories.
The discussion panel featured Katie Creaser, VP at Affect, Microsoft’s Chandra Stevens and Duy Linh Tu of Columbia Graduate School of Journalism Technologies, with PRWeek’s Sean Czarnecki on moderation duties.
After reminiscing about their favorite video experiences over the years, the panel began by discussing what needs to happen for emerging video technologies to reach critical mass.
Creaser began: “The world of marketing and comms is getting more challenging. We’re looking for ways for the cream to rise to the top as the market gets more competitive - emerging technologies represent new ways for brands to get the wins they need.”
“From a hardware perspective, things like VR are getting more streamlined,” explained Stevens. “We’ve been working with brands to embed the technology into what they’re doing and help turn consumers into fans. We’re looking at how technology can fill gaps in the customer journey and keep consumers engaged more holistically.”
“You have to put the story before the technology,” Creaser continued. “Figure out the goals first, the content and the narrative, and then decide the medium that will deliver the greatest impact.” Linh Tu picked up on this point. “When you had the first PDAs, you had to learn an entire new language - it wasn’t in our nature to do this. Machines shouldn’t be forcing us to behave a certain way.”
“As journalists, we have to figure out new ways to make money; our use of new technology has at times been a knee-jerk reaction to this," he continued. "But we’re not good technologists, just as most technologists are terrible storytellers! You also have to understand technology, not just in of itself, but in relation to different demographics, geographies, backgrounds."
“We’ve been looking at ways to create universal destinations for brands' fans, so that fans come to one place to get the best rich-media experience, the best engagement experience, the best community experience." “The problem is that too often the conversation we’re having with brands is about them wanting to use a specific technology rather than focusing primarily on delivering a great experience for consumers,” responded Creaser.
Czarnecki moved the debate on to the issue of branded content and its position within the marketing mix. Linh Tu was first to respond, arguing that, “Too many brands don’t know how to tell a story. Consumers are sophisticated and can smell BS when it comes to a commercial. We are getting very good at tuning out this content.”
“Journalists are poor advertisers but they’re good at storytelling and distilling things down to important facts. There’s less distinction between traditional journalism and branded content - this is a new way for journalists to sell their expertise.”
“PR professionals are probably not extending enough into native content or advertising and paid opportunities,” noted Creaser. “Earned media is getting harder to gain traction in. Making smart branded content recommendations to clients could be a real asset for us, but we need to better understand how it works and the technology behind it.”
Stevens explained how technology is getting better and better at understanding how people are engaging with content. “We can capture where people’s eyes are moving, how attracted they are or engaged with an experience, and amalgamate all of this data.” Czarnecki asked how granular the data ought to be in order to be of value to brands. Stevens replied that, “It’s about the specific use cases. We need to respect people’s privacy, and we do a lot of data aggregation as a consequence, but we can also personalise where people are happy for brands to have their details.”
Returning to the subject of VR, Linh Tu noted that, “Using technology like this is getting simpler and simpler for consumers. But brands still have to understand when they should deploy it - e.g. Doing 360 video at the election debates is a pretty pointless experience. It’s about identifying what’s appropriate and what’s not, and not making foolish decisions because we’re enamored with a particular technology.”
“Brands have to be realistic as well as understanding the purpose of the content,” explained Creaser. “To expect that one video is going to close a B2B salein 24 hours is crazy. Video is not a tool for direct sales conversion in this context. We have to be clearer in agreeing what success looks like and setting brand expectations. The measurement might not be sales - it might be brand reputation.”
“The customer journey shouldn’t be described as a sales funnel anymore - it’s an ongoing journey with stops and starts in it,” added Stevens. “Brands can use data and machine-learning to better understand why the stops are occurring and come up with appropriate strategies for re-starting the journey.”
“We have a suite of tools - a range of things we can do at any particular moment,” interjected Linh Tu. “The mistake is that we don’t ever pause with new technology - there’s a danger in thinking that anything new should automatically replace the old.”
“Being able to bridge the gap between company vision, branding and technology is so important to CMOs right now,” said Stevens. Creaser picked up on this: “You wouldn’t normally launch a marketing initiative without first thinking it through, yet that’s exactly what’s happening with some tech platforms like Facebook live. Brands don’t think through the consequences and then they’re disappointed with the engagement. We have to be smart about what we initiate so that it has an impact that we can measure.”
“There are industries where specific tech platforms simply do not work. Everyone needs a digital strategy, but everyone’s strategy might look different - it’s about learning to say no to some things and yes to others,” concluded Creaser.
Linh Tu left us with a pithy reflection on the relationship between content marketing and technology and the need for quality content to take precedence, stating that, “The algorithm isn’t the answer. Good content will find a home, while no amount of algorithm changing will turn a dud into a superstar.”