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The Art of Online Storytelling - the Warner Bros. Way
Image Credit  David Morris Creative Commons license

The Art of Online Storytelling - the Warner Bros. Way

“You can tell a great story, market it and people will see it. But most of the time, you’re not only going to have to get to someone, you’re going to have to engage with them and get them to pass that on, and technology is facilitating that, really.” 

Content marketers have no shortage of goals for what they can realistically achieve with their blogging, video, audio and social media activity, but being able to create something that’s shareable is a good place to start.  

Brands and their marketers need to build off tales which can spread far beyond the intended recipient and into their friendship circles, families, colleagues and so forth. Successful storytelling relies partly on ‘shareability’ factor for promotion, and you’ll find a subscriber of this rule in Martin Trickey, group head of digital at Warner Bros. and author of the above quote.

For Martin and his fellow professionals, one of the prime tasks is to ensure productions can follow a business model, and it all starts with getting good content a good audience.  

Being direct

In the lead up to Martin’s session on storytelling at the Chief Digital Officer Forum in London - an event dedicated to what’s been described as ‘the toughest job of them all’ - he elaborates on some of the changes that consumers have helped implement in recent years.

“People have been telling stories to each other since they’ve been able to communicate. The difficulty for organisations has been, initially, before any technology was available, that everything was word of mouth. 

“As technology has changed, the continuum of storytelling opportunities has changed from audio to radio, broadcast and cinema - when it was one-to-many. The point with technology now is that it’s swinging back round to the one-to-one again.”

Indeed, it’s no secret that brands are having to tell their stories from a different kind of perspective. People are no longer satisfied with tales and experiences they can’t relate to. Social platforms like Facebook and Twitter have done wonders for distributing content at pace, but also for bringing producers back in touch with their number one priority: the consumer.

“Organisations, it seems to me, are now having to tell stories from the point of view of the individual rather than the brand. And I get the sense that the stories people are interested in are the personal ones: things that have happened to characters they can understand. 

“That is the essence of where we are now,” adds Trickey.

Gauging a response

The fundamentals of making a good story, though, have barely changed since Martin was in charge of cross-platform productions at the BBC up until 2012, and in earlier roles at the corporation. 

Plenty of content marketers stress the importance of being able to trigger an emotion, which, according to Martin, can pay off in certain scenarios.

“If you’re trying to make comedy, it’s got to be funny; you’ve got to make people laugh... Horror is another one. If you’re trying to scare someone, it’s the same thing; you’ve succeeded. 

“With other things, I don’t know if it’s an emotion you’re trying to tap into - you’re probably trying to tap into an action. Your content will be successful if you get people to engage and tell someone else about it.  

“You need to succeed in engaging people and you need to succeed in activating them as well. Otherwise it won't matter how good your content is. If no one’s seen it, you’ve sort of failed.”

Shareability also hinges on a solid strategy for outlining what should happen after a piece of content goes live.

Part of Martin’s digital leadership role at Warner Bros. involves scouting networks and communities that can help the group deliver its content to the right audiences. Strategy and forward thinking is imperative for content promotion, especially given the ever-expanding pool of sources that consumers can derive information from.

“Where it’s becoming more interesting is in the audience behaviour. It’s the fact they no longer have to consume video and audio stories from the same suppliers,” Trickey adds.  

“You’re getting it from individuals: bloggers on YouTube. You’re getting it from brands, who are creating branded content, or branded stories. You’re getting it from interested parties; people at home, as everyone’s become a producer and everyone’s become an expert.” 

The fact that everyone has access to a media creation platform means that consumers have a greater understanding of how content is produced, and with that territory comes a degree of expectancy to deliver. In a sense, we’re marketing and distributing content in a time when people are fully aware of what they like to see, which means producers must use the data and technology at their disposal to answer their needs. 

Close to the edge

Where brands can fall foul is in the creation of seemingly ‘edgy’ content to resonate with a larger audience. With a potential crowd of millions, there is a huge temptation for brands to go off the tracks in the quest for the online viewership they desire. Controversial pieces can propel the author from small-time producer to viral hit with the click of an upload button, but it’s a fine line to tread, as Martin is well aware.
 
“We often look at the content matter and think, ‘Is this the sort of thing that’s going to be shared?’. Because people share things for lots of different reasons. For example, if someone tells you a joke and you laugh but you know you shouldn’t; it’s slightly off colour, and you feel slightly awkward about it. 

“Edgy content can work if you find enough people that are willing to share it, and it sits on the right line of acceptable. It might be brilliant; it might be funny. But it might be that bit too edgy to get into that shareable space… Is it funny, but is it too risky that you’re going to offend an awful lot of people? Because we’re not really in the business of doing that.”

So, where do brands go from here? Their content needs to be shareable, personal and available on the most suitable distribution channels, but what is the overarching advice? 

According to Martin, there are plenty of lessons to be learnt from the case study of Nate Silver - the American statistician and writer who managed to predict 49 of the 50 state winners in the 2008 presidential election among other incomprehensible feats. 

“I went to see him talk and he got asked ‘How did you manage to predict everything you predicted?’, and he said that he kept trying things out, made loads of mistakes with assumptions and how he did things - he got it wrong, and then he tried again. It’s to err and err and err but less and less and less. 

“It’s being able to try things at a low-risk level, which you can do in digital, and giving it a whirl.”

Continue the conversation

Got a question or comment – tweet Richard @RichToweyPI or comment on Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIN.

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Richard Towey

Richard Towey

Richard serves as head of content at PerformanceIN. After many years spent covering developments from the automotive, sports, travel and finance sectors, he eventually turned his full attention to reporting on stories from the fast-evolving world of digital marketing. Richard now heads up the editorial team at PerformanceIN: the performance marketing industry's leading publication.  

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