It might come across as the flavor of the day, but storytelling as marketing inspiration and a course of content development action is here to stay.
A year ago this week, I wrote a column called, Why Your Brand Needs to Become a Content King. It was the start of 2013, and Coca-Cola had just released its Bears Film, an animated short produced by Ridley Scott that went on to rack up millions of views online.
The project was a harbinger of things to come: 12 months of exceptional video campaigns, from Dove's Real Beauty Sketches to Heineken's Departure Roulette, Burt's Bees' #6SecondClassics, online films by Volvo, Jaguar, and Infiniti, and Chipotle's now-legendary The Scarecrow.
Many won awards and broke records for garnering the most ever views and shares online. Just weeks into 2013, "we need more branded content" seemed to be the phrase on every digital marketer's lips.
At some point over the course of the year, however, our perspective changed. Branded content was still top of mind, but we'd started to take a closer look at what constituted "content," as opposed to a commercial spot or ad. We began to ask ourselves what made great custom content great, and found the answer lay in story. All at once, storytelling became synonymous with everything from content marketing to business presentations.
As a concept, it was a content development catchall, the supposed answer to every marketing problem. It permeated virtually every conversation about connecting with audiences online. Storytelling was the new digital media darling. And we were keen to welcome it with open arms.
Not everyone was thrilled. "Why take a key element of human nature and slap an industry label on it?" opined an agency executive in The Guardian. "Have you ever heard of a 'storytelling department' anywhere? So, why now?"
It was - and still is - a valid question. It isn't as if we didn't already know that story mattered, or that we'd failed to harness it for marketing purposes until now. We did, however, come to see storytelling in a new way.
Last year was a year of stellar branded content, but it was also the year that saw Vine launched on Twitter, and video come to Instagram. Netflix made history when it won an Emmy for a Web-only series, and Amazon started picking up new streaming series of its own for Prime Instant Video. Toshiba and Intel continued to produce webisodes as quirky and entertaining as any mainstream movie.
So you see, the evolution of our interest in storytelling is two-fold. Marketers have at their disposal a new arsenal of tools and platforms ideally suited to creating branded content. And consumers are more willing than ever to see branded content as being on par with the traditional entertainment they know and love.
The year to come is bound to produce more high-profile branded content worthy of audience attention and industry accolades. Daily time spent with digital media is fast surpassing the time we spend watching TV, and mobile video viewing is on the rise, creating opportunities for marketers to effectively deliver their content. Big brand campaigns aside, one has to think we'll also see better content across the map. As marketers continue to find their footing with social video, short films, and webisodes, an emphasis on good brand stories will give them an edge.
It might come across as the flavor of the day, but storytelling as marketing inspiration and a course of content development action is here to stay. Combine it with custom content the likes of what we saw in 2013, and I'd say we're all in for a very good year.
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Tessa Wegert is a business reporter and former media strategist specializing in digital. In addition to writing for ClickZ since 2002, she has contributed to such publications as USA Today, Marketing Magazine, Mashable, and The Globe and Mail. Tessa manages marketing and communications for Enlighten, one of the first full-service digital marketing strategy agencies servicing such brands as Bioré, Food Network, illy, and Hunter Douglas. She has been working in online media since 1999.
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