Every Brand Needs To Be A News Agency, Not An Ad Agency

Marketing Community at Microsoft
Bob Bejan, Marketing Community at Microsoft

Marketing is a constantly evolving machine that if not well oiled, will crash and burn. No longer is it all the rage to be the most seen billboard in Times Square, and gone are the days when (not so) sneaky product placement in movies and TV shows drummed up millions of dollars seemingly overnight.

Instead, we’re now deep in what Bob Bejan, general manager of communication strategy at Microsoft, calls a “fourth industrial revolution.”

Speaking in a keynote at the Textile Exchange Sustainability on Wednesday, October 5, Bejan was adamant that those brands who do not embrace the change in communication and how storytelling is taking over on social media and the internet, will surely be left far behind.

Bejan said it’s no longer about crafting the perfect ad, but rather starting a story,“It’s a narrative architecture that has enough structure to be clear, but is undone enough or porous enough that your audience can pour into it and make it their own, you’ve got to let people be a part of it.”

Bejan continued, “The currency of relationships in the digital age is collaboration.”

These days, brands should be considering themselves rather as a content or news agency, not an ad agency.

Instead of simply putting ads and content (in the form of random social media posts) in front of their audiences, brands should instead put out content that firstly aims to start a story, then listen and respond based on their customers reactions, thus, constantly evolving the story.

As a brand, how do you start your story telling?

Bejan mentions 6 steps to succeeding in today’s storytelling world which are: know your story, know your audience, everything counts, build from insights, keep listening and don’t be afraid to optimize.

To know your company’s story is at the front and center. The key is to get specific about your mission, what you hope to accomplish, and why you’re in business the most important.

“It’s lazy to say you want to talk to consumers,” Bejan said. “You have to know who you want to talk to. Who is that first set of people to help you drive your message?”

“You get no second chance because the audience is paying attention in a way they never have before,” Bejan said. Today’s consumer, specifically millennials know when a brand is not being authentic and once they figure that out, the chances of you ever getting their business are close to zero, so everything counts. “If you’re explaining yourself, you’re losing. You’ve got to be able to tell that story clearly.”

Next, build from insights meaning that you need to gather feedback from your consumers. This is a vital part of the storytelling process as it lets you know exactly what your consumer cares about and what they want. Without this, you’ll be targeting every one, yet reaching no one.

As Bejan puts it, not paying attention to feedback is like peanut butter, “spreading across everything and resonating with no one.”

The next part of the process is that companies have to keep listening.

“The days of campaign-like thinking are dead. They’re ineffective.” Bejan said. While those 30 second spots on tv are still well sought after, it’s no longer enough to leave your ad hanging. Following it up with an online call to action is important in today’s world.

Finally, as Bejan says, brands and retailers need not be afraid to optimize. Doing what you think is right for your business may not be the best move forward. Instead, if you’re doing a good job at listening and building your consumer relationship, then optimization is the next step.

Bejan gives the example of AT&T whose average response time used to be 47 days to get messages to consumers based on feedback. This was due to a lengthy process of passing it through many channels including the execs and legal teams. With a bit of optimization, AT&T was able to get their response time down to 48 hours, which greatly improved their consumer relationship, and bottom line.

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