Storytelling and the importance of seduction


Olivia Hall, General Manager, Sydney

The other day, a friend of mine at another digital agency told me; “I’m just bored of so much new stuff.” I almost fell off my chair. But I know what he means.

Beyond the gadget geeks (us) and those that work in innovative creative tech and digital companies (also us), there’s only so much time and headspace that people will give to trying new creative technologies
without a proven return. Marketers the world over are frantically up-skilling, learning new ways to work, new ways to think and restructuring to put technology front and centre of everything.

But let’s just say for a moment that for the real-life customer, there is an element of ‘next new thing’ fatigue. Too many things that they’ve heard about, downloaded, bought and discarded because the return wasn’t there. So many ‘next big things’ fall by the wayside after the first wave of early adopter excitement that we’re also teaching people to wait for critical mass, general adoption and the finished, polished product. So if the novelty factor is wearing off the novelty factor, then how do we make sure that the brilliant idea we have for a client is one of the few that bubble up into real life?

I believe that the solution and competitive advantage won’t be found by solely honing our focus on creative technology; the winners will be the ones who have creative technology nailed but remember to put the story back on top.

When we’re breaking exciting new ground, doing something that’s never been done before and pushing the boundaries of creative technology ever further with our clients, there’s a tendency to focus on solving the ‘hard’ problems. So we diligently identify the areas of the project that will pose the greatest risk to the product performing and ensure we prototype, test and refine the hell out of it to make sure we nail the elements that we didn’t know how to do. The whole industry is becoming awesome at it; there are new processes, agency structures and roles focused just on this. Never-done-before is the new norm when it comes to creative agency outputs.

But what about the ‘soft’ problem of changing people’s behaviour by pulling the levers that we know will resonate with them? All the things that marketers and creative agencies have been perfecting for decades.

Let’s assume that the ‘hard’ challenges have been overcome and we have a piece of creative technology that has huge potential to bring the brand and customer together and provide value for both. It’s a great idea driven by a real consumer need or desire, a brilliant but invisible technical solution, effortless user experience, and perfectly-crafted design. When it comes to launch however, we have to assume that the customer simply does not care. They are totally ambivalent to all our efforts and techie brilliance. Telling them what we’ve made is not going to excite or seduce them.

If the creative technology idea is driven by a business need rather than a consumer need then obviously incentivising or outright coercion will probably be the way to go. In which case your communications might as well focus on the functional change and get straight to the point. But what about those creative technologies where the idea deserves to be loved and has the potential to pull people in, adding value to them, not just the brand? It’s about enticement and seduction.

We need to dig back into the customer insight that prompted the idea in the first place and sell the need for it with all the tricks in our emotional, storytelling, beautifully crafted, advertising armoury. We still need to tell people about our products and services in a way that delight, entertain and emotionally touch customers if we want to entice them in. It’s what we’ve been doing for years – we just have to make sure we don’t find ourselves blinded by how amazing the tech is and get tempted to tell people about that instead. Real life people who don’t go to SXSW don’t care.

As an industry, we talk about fail-fast cultures, MVPs, beta testing, and consumers who understand and accept a world of rapid prototyping. We talk and position access to early versions of products as an advantage. Let’s not kid ourselves though – the majority of people would rather that they only ever saw a curated collection of creative technologies that will become essential to them – those that had already achieved critical mass of content or adoption and were glitch-free. It’s a high bar and a hard sell at a functional level. But it’s far less daunting if you switch back to ‘left brain’ and appeal to people on an emotional level instead. I’d be willing to bet that if anyone had bothered to put the sexy into smartwatches they’d be huge by now, even without having the functional benefits sorted.

So it’ll come as no surprise that in a social and business community, where quoting from Mashable and TechCrunch makes you smart, it warms my heart to see Pharrell Williams earning a Cyber Lion for Happy. Yes, the production and interface was brilliant, seamless and beautiful, but it’s the real butterflies-in-your-tummy, visceral reaction that makes digital moments like this stand out so far from the crowd.

We won’t know for sure until years from now when we look back fondly through the lenses of our Google Glasses, but the agencies and marketers that manage to balance the focus between solving the ‘hard’ new things and preserving the old ‘soft’ things are the ones that will win.

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