Welcome back to Marketing Land’s coverage of Advertising Week 2013! Doug Ray, President, CARAT GLOBAL, kicked off the morning of Day 3 at the Times Square Hard Rock Café, setting the scene for the upcoming discussion of how brand storytelling has evolved over the years, and where we’re at presently.
On stage with him were Joshua Hirsch, CTO, PUBLICIS KAPLAN THALER, Michael Bayle, SVP Global Programmatic, XAD INC., Harry Kargman, CEO, KARGO, and J.B. Raftus, CMO, GSD&M. Read on for a record of their dialog, complete with insider takeaways and tips for effective brand storytelling in a digital age. (This is 90% word-for-word transcript, 10% paraphrased.)
Doug: Yesterday, there was quite a bit of discussion about the explosion of data and how we need to bring disparate data sets together –how first and third party data is bringing value to consumers and the engagement they’re doing with brands. That data combined with emerging platforms is changing the way we’re telling stories today. We’re moving from a one-directional story told in a 30 second television commercial to multi-dimensional two-way story telling via social media. What are you doing to take advantage of this new way of storytelling?
Josh: Well, you mentioned emerging technologies and platforms – the other part of that is emerging behavior. What this data and the technology allows everyone to do in terms of storytelling is see how people are taking the story and what consumers are doing with it. What’s working? What’s not? Then it’s about being willing to change the story – go in the direction people are moving in – let consumers be a part of creating that story. I think that’s the opportunity now, and to optimize what you’re doing… but it also requires some sort of reactivity, nimbleness… you have to be able to react to that kind of data.
Harry: Unlike a lot of mobile companies in this space, we focus a lot of the publisher first. What makes it so interesting for us as we try to tell these stories around brand advertising is we’re enabled by the publisher to integrate our technology with the fabric of their sites and apps. This allows us to work with brand advertisers and build brand channels directly in the pages of the site. In the digital world, you can take old content, republish it, and tell a story by aggregating and curating the content.
Doug: There’s this idea of value creation for the consumer – you’re actually giving them content that addresses certain needs or provides utility.
Mike: Having had spent some time as one of those publishers at Yahoo and ESPN, it’s been interesting to see the convergence between mobile and advertising. Location is critically different in the mobile environment compared to the desktop environment. If you’re on a desktop, marketers can assume you’re at home (or at work). You’re stationary. But in mobile, you’re out and about. Having brands able to touch consumers out and about is the new sex appeal. To be able to be within reach of consumers’ attention is exciting for us. Location is what we focus on – we think that’s the new big data.
J.B.: As a brand creative agency, we’re at the top of the storytelling funnel. One thing we’re doing is having a look at it in the broader context. Before the explosion, there was real purpose and then the platform. Start with a purpose of the brand and once you get that nailed and well articulated, everything falls from that. But now it’s not just purpose and platform. It’s also context and need state. That doesn’t just give you two more things to do, it gives you infinite more things to do. You have to tell the brand story in so many more ways than we ever had to before. It’s a blessing and a curse – you’re given this new gift of being able to reach people in new ways and need states, but you have to create the right content for those need states and contexts. We’re transforming to be able to tell stories in deeper ways.
Doug: I want to touch on context… that’s a new thing we need to take into account. But at the same time we have data that allows us to deliver messages through ad exchanges. You can argue we can follow the consumer and understand their intent with programmatic targeting and demographics, so… does context really matter?
Mike: Context matters. Think about targeting people in Central Park. At 8 AM, that person might be a Wall Street jogger. At noon, it might be a nanny.
Harry: One of the key metrics in a KY campaign we ran with Johnson & Johnson was the number of downloads of this KY app. What we found was that J&J brought out the best of the programmatic cores with their algorithm to finely-tune targeting and only drive the most relevant people to that app. They outperformed us in terms of total downloads. But an ever more important metric was how many people returned to the app once they downloaded it and used it regularly. There, we outperformed J&J 10X, because we had a tailored message seated on a page with contextually relevant information—and when people searched for that channel, they wound up actually reading the content because it applied to their interests. And in fact, these people were way more tightly targeted because of that contextual element. That context of where they found and downloaded the app produced users that were much more active in terms of opening the app and returning to use it, and that was a much more valuable user in the long term than someone who downloaded the app and never used it.
Doug: So, if we’re targeting a Wall Street Runner in the morning and a nanny in the afternoon, it’s important to create the right content and context that allow that messaging to work harder. We need to create much more content than we ever had to before. Historically, clients and CMOs look to a certain group of agencies to be able to create their content. Are we in a different era of content creation in terms of responsibility of partners? Who are CMOs looking to now? How have you seen this change the way you think about content creation in terms of external partners?
J.B.: The need for content is fast outpacing the ability of us to create it – to get it together. Context is the ultimate gift for storytelling. If you know how someone is consuming something and the context, you can write a more compelling story. But that ability for us to have the need state and the context of the consumer understood is happening so much faster than our ability to fill the pipelines. It’s a race to catch up.
Josh: It’s another issue that there’s been a lot of helping clients understand the kind of content they should be producing – what assets they have what can already be delivered, and how willing they are… at one point we were working with Skittles, which had 3 million Facebook fans they weren’t doing much with. We activated what they already had in terms of commercial content and just started posting on Facebook every day, and they grew another 10 million fans in one year. Another client wanted to create a web destination to push out content, but the connection to the brand was a little thin. We had to help them understand the value of it. It required securing a lot of third party content generator.
Doug: One thing I see being a challenge for clients is there are so many different “storytellers” and partners (external, internal, agency) that there’s a need more than ever for a content strategy, and to understand what holds the content together. What’s that ecosystem like? How do consumers navigate that content? It’s two things, it’s (1) purpose… how do you ensure that all the content that’s being created on behalf of the brand flows from a central strategy or brand purpose? … and (2) thinking about that holistic ecosystem, mapping that ecosystem, taking responsibility for how consumers navigate through it.
J.B.: It’s the responsibility of all the parties – I don’t think it’s held in one discipline. It’s a responsibility of everyone participating in telling the brand story. In terms of purpose, it’s not about a brand’s products or services, it’s the difference those products and services make in the lives of consumers. That’s something that’s part of a brand’s DNA – it’s not something that can be created, it’s something that just needs to be brought to the forefront. When you can get that purpose really well articulated and everyone gets behind it, that’s when everything can flow together. If that isn’t well articulated or you don’t believe in it and it changes every year, like an advertising campaign, then suddenly no one knows what to hang on to because you’re in a constant state of reinvention. I do believe that this new world of multiple storytelling across multiple devices and multiple platforms raises the bar of our ability in the beginning to define the brand’s purpose so that everyone who participates in it knows what the story is leading up to.
Josh: To your point about approaching it like a campaign – that’s right, it’s a different sort of muscle, it’s not a short-lived campaign. You have to be willing to and make sure your client is willing to commit to something long-term here.
Doug: Is there a barrier in terms of what we’re measuring? When you’re thinking about purpose of a brand and the inherent nature of the brand – the value position – it gets into the equality of the brand. That’s a longer term metric vs. immediate sales, short term ROI… shorter term campaigns focus on specific product benefit, competitive vs. competition vs. something that’s underpinned by purpose… Are we measuring the wrong things, and creating challenges for measuring storytelling and things that measure brand over time?
J.B.: Yes. We’re measuring the wrong things. We measure the easy things, the things we know. But there’s a reason for that – CMOs’ tenures are short, and they have the same pressures of shareholders and all sorts of things that are driven by those short-term metrics. I won’t say we don’t measure the bigger things, too, but I don’t believe yet that they’re valued as well as some of the shorter-term things. I think that it will catch up – eventually people will believe that those brands that have higher values relative to their revenues are those who take care of the brand and measure the long-term aspect.
Doug: I’m gonna go back to Harry here… one of the things I personally see is when brands create content that’s informative, educational, valuable… and associate with it – that’s when we see a significant increase in purchase intent associated with that brand. It’s because of the gratitude effect – they don’t see that content as advertising. If we can understand the impact of that… and how you take that content experience and scale it. We can scale television. How do we scale some of the content experiences you’re creating?
Harry: That’s the mission of what we’re trying to achieve as a company. The way to scale it, bluntly, is it’s a question of the technology hooks you have in the actual places. If you think of it as, “Okay, we could take a single brand or take the entire segment of the industry…” you can get that same sort of technology hook into every cyber app, so you instead of taking one brand creative can take one brand creative and run that same story within the appropriate subsection of every single site and app people are excited about. That way it can switch from one channel to the next – and you get this uniform campaign that tells the brand story wherever your users go. That’s incredibly powerful. It’s what we want to achieve but it’s also very hard. The alternative is a non-contextually relevant ad buy that’s primarily data-driven, [i.e.] I’m trying to target this woman, I don’t care where she is online [don’t care about context]… if the world goes in that direction, that person sitting on the contextually relevant page with the utility and context brings much more value than someone sitting on a page that has nothing to do with that category. That’s the challenge with the way that data is driven together with measurement – if it’s all about CTR, the page it’s on doesn’t matter. If there’s more – if you can measure more about the fact that you’re bringing brand utility to the right contextually-relevant place and you can measure that and say, “Yes, it’s a 10X increase in terms of people coming back and being more prone to purchase because they have the value!” then you have something that makes all of the content generators truly valuable. The challenge is how do you measure that? The how do you prove out that the person with the contextually relevant message is much more prone to purchase than the person targeted by demographics?
Doug: That comes back to the concept of what we are measuring… and I want to ask a little bit about those open and closed ecosystems – when we think about technology media companies, they’re developing their own closed ecosystem and would love brands to leverage every tool they have to create brand stories. But we know consumers often migrate seamlessly across these ecosystems. Does the lack of openness in these ecosystems create further challenges?
Mike: Without question. What’s unique for mobile is it’s very fertile. A lot of the sense of enclosure you can get with platforms on a desktop, a lot of those obstacles don’t exist in mobile. A lot of wonderful mechanisms that have been led by sites like Google and its ad technologies are much more frenzied o mobile, and it’s anyone’s bet to see who might win. It’s exciting to see what’s going to happen. I think it will be a combination of open and closed.
Doug: How do open or closed platforms inhibit or enhance the storytelling?
Josh: It can enhance it because based on mobile device we can assume some demographics… “Okay, you’re on an Apple iPhone so I can presume you’re between this and this age, you make around this much money,” etc. At the same time, you can get their device ID and zero-in on them with very specific ads – if they’re in the grocery store in the cracker aisle, you can send them a message saying, “Psst… look four feet to your left [at my cracker brand]… those are the crackers you should buy,” and so on. The closed platforms and the differentiation are going to require the time you have to implement in different places and different ways. The biggest challenge is showing clients how much work has to go into it, how valuable it is… but that it’s also harder to prove.
Doug: More complexity. Interestingly, as we think about technology creating more complexities in the ecosystem, brand storytelling is becoming more complex as well. Between linear television, a story told on a mobile device, or a Facebook fan page… how do we start to think about the big picture? As we think about all of the intentional consumer interactions with that story (is it always on, or is it more of an episodic portion of a story that may revolve around a campaign), do we need someone now that is looking at the holistic big picture of how the consumer will engage in the decision journey? Is that something that’s more important now than ever, and who’ responsibility is that?
Harry: As a brand advertisers, you care about getting in front of that user as much as you possibly can. You want to ratio your spent or at least try to get some ratio of your spend against where people are spending their time. What happens is television over-indexes, print over-indexes… in terms of time spent with print and dollars going into it, it’s far more dollars. Mobile is totally under-indexed. The reason for that is that in essence, because the entire world has grown up around the fact that digital can be measured much more intimately than TV, it’s easy for a CMO to say, “If I spend $1 million on TV, based on Nielsen ratings, I know this is my potential reach.” But you can’t prove the value of those impressions. There’s no guarantee, that’s no proof, but there is correlation. On desktop Internet, there’s the promise of potentially measuring down to, “Hey, this person walked in and bought X because of campaign Z.” The challenge is that’s what people have come to expect in terms of metrics. But holding mobile to such a high standard has basically hamstrung the growth. If you used the same loosey-goosey-esque metrics in terms of conversions, I think it could be much more interesting, and you’d see that shift in knowledge. But that hasn’t taken place. That’s an interesting opportunity for brands to explore over time—if you can’t measure everything down to the purchase, how do you actually take a deep breath and make that investment so you can get to a well-diversified media program.
Doug: Measuring what we can versus measuring what we should. That’s critical. CMOs, CEOs are being held accountable to sales. At the end of the day, we all work with marketers and help them sell more products. Therefore, they’re going to measure their ability to use communications to sell more products. We have to think differently about how we understand the impact, direct and indirect… longer-term measurements and short-term measurements and their impact on sales. I’m sure in some respects, traditional metrics modeling was great when we had it, but it’s doing us a disservice as we move into this age of integrated marketing metrics now. We have to look at a different way of measuring that value.
Mike: The intrusion of digital is allowing us to do that. If you look at 20 years ago, consumer behavior was looking at the TV and thumbing through a magazine. That’s been replaced by a tablet. Thirty-five years ago, people would dial a rotary phone while looking at the TV. Now, it’s a smartphone. Same behaviors, new technology.
Harry: Measurement itself is a lost art. When you’re targeting and measuring, you’re only as good as the creative you put on the page. If you put a crappy campaign up and measure it and wonder where the ROI is, it’s obvious there’s a reason why. [Because your campaign stinks.] If you run an ad and there’s no call to action, what do you expect people to do? The problem is it comes down to what is the message you’re putting there. If you’re targeting people based on location and you’re not also offering incentive, putting a great deal in front of them… what do you expect they’ll do? [Nothing.]
Doug: Yes, but not everything needs a hard CTA. Two-thirds of people who see a TV commercial will search for that brand online, so whether or not there’s a CTA… people will do something.
Josh: You have to think about, “Does this make sense to be in these places?” This comes back to the right message, a valuable message.
Doug: Let’s get to some specifics. We’re talking about great versus not great work. Who’s getting it right today? What brands are getting storytelling really right in this ecosystem, this holistic marketing place?
Josh: Red Bull. They don’t consider themselves an energy drink company. They consider themselves a media company. They generate a ton of content, they don’t just sponsor events, they create events. Their content library is massive.
Harry: I think universally, every brand that’s willing to take risks… and speed to market. Look at Oreo – they took a popular event [the Super Bowl] and turned it into an advertising event [with the blackout, “You can still dunk in the dark”]. The speed and the risk they took to do that made that truly unique. Or McDonalds, in terms of driving social media and allowing consumers to submit content on their own [with hashtag photo events]… that’s risk-taking. That’s amazing. When you look at it across the board, even Red Bull , the fact that they put a guy in space! That guy could have died! That’s the biggest risk ever! Ultimately, it’s about going out on a limb for conservative brands… taking those risks, being fast to market, to hook into your sentiment and ride that wave. Their sales show why they’re there. [Author’s note: High-5 for managing to use “their,” “they’re,” and “there” in one sentence. #grammarnerd.]
Mike: It’s about tapping into innovation with your consumer. It’s not just about content consumption, it’s about content creation, especially when it comes to mobile. Instagram and Vine make users content creators, so they’re storytelling alongside their brand.
J.B.: The couple I’m impress with are Target – their ability to tell stories across touch-points and need states of the consumer, it’s really well curated and intentional. I don’t think they’ve ever touched a consumer where the consumer is like, “Why are you telling me that now?” Another one is Coke. They’ve found their purpose. Their purpose is centered around happiness. When you find that purpose and it’s simple and it’s believed by everyone who is part of the storytelling process, the creative gets better. We’re saying something to people that’s relevant.
Doug: Going back to Oreo… I see a lot of experimenting in social. Are there certain platforms that enable us to experiment more and learn more about how we can leverage better storytelling? Is social the rich t place to start doing that?
Harry: The challenge with social is it’s very easy to be drowned out. If the story you tell is boring, you’re toast, But if you can tell the story and you have the right creative in social, for what it can cost you, the benefits are extraordinary. The value with social is it forces brands to become nimble and innovate, because they understand that they can’t come up with a formula they can use over and over. I think it’s the first medium that will force marketer and brands to think about channels differently. For them to be successful to complete in social and have that DNA, that can lead back to TV and print and the rest – I think that we’re in a creative renaissance for creative organization. That’s the interesting think about social.
Doug: Okay, last question. Big bets for your company for the future of content?
J.B.: It raises the bar on creativity. If the story sucks, then consumers won’t engage, they won’t click through. It all falls out of that. We’ll make our big bet on purpose and the idea.
Mike: People want to shop in person. The Internet makes shopping more convenient, but people will always want to shop in person.
Harry: We’re making the bet that the convergence of content and advertising does well is going to be groundbreaking in terms of success once you can measure that. One of the big bets were making is… we invest a ton of time and effort in building our next-gen video player for mobile devices… if we can get that taken up buy a lot of media companies – run video spots and run creative on top of them in mobile on-the-go and integrate them to location, brand messaging, rich media on top of traditional 14 second spots… truly it’s a new way to connect with a consumer on those devices. So, the convergence of video and rich media on top of it.
Josh: Mine’s in terms of internal operations, that we can be in the position to react when necessary, and take advantage of those really short windows when someone can be affected.
Doug: So what I heard today: Take risks. Be bold. Understand the purpose of the brand so that can be permeated through every action we take. To have the big picture in mind, and to understand the ecosystem, regardless of platform. Also, leveraging compelling idea-based content. And then measuring that… measuring the things we should measure as opposed to the things we can measure today.
Big thanks to this panel of whip-smart fellas. Terrific insight!