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Letting others tell your stories for you

01/07/2010

Whether marketing tools are being used for commercial or non-profit aims, one of the ‘given’ rules of the last few years is that society (ie; our target audiences) is just too sophisticated to take anything we say at face value.

Whether our message is ‘buy these’, ‘donate here’ or simply ‘trust us’, the amount of rational and emotional evidence required to prove to the audience why they should act has increased significantly.  By evidence, I don’t mean pages and pages of statistics and testimony (although some are useful).  What we do need to provide is sufficient context to make our messages credible on a level which audiences understand and actually feel.  If they feel it, they are more likely to engage with it.

This last part is nothing new to those in the advertising industry who have been trying to stimulate emotional response to marketing messages for years.  But, coupled with society’s increasing sophistication, it’s much harder to achieve cut-through when every organisation knows that this is the direction to take.

One option which we know works is to tell stories about what we can and have achieved in order to build credibility.  The number of videos on YouTube showing incredible charity projects or cutting-edge commercial ideas is testament to how much audiences like this tactic.

That said, there are now so many videos and campaigns that the issue of achieving cut-through to the intended audience is relevant even through these fast-moving digital channels.

As a result, creative marketers and campaigners are looking for ways to keep the benefits of ‘story-telling’ but maximise impact by doing things a little differently.  I think this is where we will see lots more campaigns heading in 2010/2011.  The subtle difference is the organisation turning the storytelling over to a member of the audience rather than controlling it themselves.

In some instances this can literally mean giving the audience the camera and in others, using considered planning and ‘directing’ of messages so that it appears the story is being told independently of the organisation.

Two of my favourite, relevant examples come from T-mobile in the commercial corner and the Motor Neurone Disease Association (MNDA) from the not-for-profit sector.

In 2009/early 2010, T-mobile ‘steered’ their viral campaign around Josh and his band, based on the question of “what would you do if you had unlimited texts?”.  Josh’s answer was to text all the musicians he knew and start a superband.  So, film crews followed Josh (a genuine member of the public) and his band around the UK, meeting up with numerous musicians (mostly members of the public) to play songs and show what a group of people can do together when they spread the word.  The final video ended up showing all 1,100 people who took part and eventually spawned a single which can be downloaded from itunes.

Personally, I’m not a fan of T-mobile but this isn’t the point.  The campaign appeared to be audience-led and in actual fact was to a certain extent, as the agency team didn’t expect interest to be so high they would end up recording a single!

It’s a brave decision to let the audience, driven by social media and TV, drive your campaign direction but specific Myspace pages, countless blogs, trade coverage and hundreds of thousands of online video views speak volumes.  It also worked commercially for T-mobile as their sales increased.

Secondly, I like MNDA’s latest awareness campaign which follows similar principles.  The campaign, “incurable optimism” is effectively led by a young husband and father, Patrick, who has MND.  His incurable optimist blog enables him to tell his story every day and to encourage readers to learn more about MND and engage others in their networks.

As an artist and inventor, Patrick has undertaken to paint 100 portraits before he dies from his condition and is looking for nominations from the public for ‘incurable optimists’ that he can immortalise on canvass.  Engaging the audience as well as educating and entertaining them.

The charity is involved in facilitating Patrick telling his stories (and those of his friends and family) but is very much in the background.  Links to Facebook profiles, twitter handles and other activity seek to drive further interaction and I hope they’re successful.

So, things we should try to emulate form these examples:

– let the subjects of our stories tell the story (or at least tell the story with our help)
– integrate the media channels and platforms to the story reaches as wide an audience as possible
– find some mechanism for the audience to get involved
– emphasising the positive aspects of human nature, while not overt, seems to be well-received

What do you think?

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