Friday 30 September 2016

Contextualizing Stories: Key Takeaways from xPotomac 2014

Context is key to successful storytelling, no matter the industry.

This was a core theme at the recent xPotomac conference – an intimate digital gathering in DC focused on the media technologies most likely to impact businesses and marketing.

It’s clear that our world is changing; wearable technology revenue is expected to hit $19 billion in the next four years; the sensors both on and around us are increasing exponentially, and 42 percent of online adults now use social media.  All of this leads to a treasure trove of actionable data that companies can use to personalize – or contextualize – storytelling.

Rackspace’s Robert Scoble offered this example at xPotomac: Imagine a wine connoisseur walks into your winery. With wearable computers, you can see 1) that she subscribes to your email list, 2) a log of her previous orders, and 3) an archive of the feedback she shared on your social channels. This clear profile of her preferences provides context for tailoring your communications and interactions, and enables you to provide unparalleled, customized service. (Why waste the customer’s time on $40 bottle tastings when you know she prefers the reserve bottles?)

With so many competing interests online, this type of anticipatory or contextual interaction is increasingly important for stories to resonate with our target audiences. Today’s shifting digital landscape has ramifications across industries, but our xPotomac speakers proved that the need for more contextual storytelling is ubiquitous.

  • Corporate: Lauren Vargas is the Head of Social Media and Community at a large health insurance company. Like most large enterprises, they once had a disjointed digital footprint and struggled to make connections internally. With the knowledge that social media could no longer happen in a vacuum, she plotted her company’s digital assets against the Gartner Digital Marketing Transit Map and identified the touch points for storytelling across business functions, along with internal and external communications.  By improving data sharing across these touch points, her company was able to better streamline and contextualize the customer experience on the front-end of their digital platforms. They also put a priority on gathering feedback across internal and external channels, and flowing that context back into their communities. In the end, they were able to build a more coherent, engaging, and responsive brand experience for online users.
  • Media: Strategist Toby Bloomberg highlighted some of the current storytelling stressors within the media industry, where their product is their content. She explained that media companies are not only competing with each other for attention, but with individual journalists as well. In this day and age, media must give part of themselves, understand their communities and make their stories more personal, from the journalist and to the reader, in order to get audiences to what Toby called the “now I care” moment.
  • Non-profit: Though non-profits are generally assumed to have the most compelling stories, Danielle Brigida of the National Wildlife Foundation and Allyson Kapin of Women Who Tech explained that non-profits have been hit hard by the recession and are facing declines in email response rates. Thus, they are being forced to find new revenue streams and adjust their communications – while keeping expenses as low as possible. Since donors increasingly want to contribute to specific campaigns and programs, non-profits are now working to make their issues more personal for donors and show how an issue directly impacts the donors’ lives.

At Edelman Digital, our business is online storytelling. We’ve put a great deal of focus on creative storytelling – finding the original angle or story that lifts and resonates with audiences. The presentations at xPotomac were a welcome reminder that context is one way we must evolve the storytelling cycle. Capitalizing on available data and research to contextualize storytelling for clients or brands will help their stories rise to the top and, thus, #ShowUpDifferently.

This post was written by Marcia Newbert and Mike Schaffer.

Image credit: humbertomoreno

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