Laura Hamilton: Brands and storytelling in a digital age

Content marketing is all the buzz in 2017 and we've all heard the ubiquitous and somewhat overused term, 'content is king'.

The Freer Consultancy and Tanami helped Keith Brewery launch its Snake Venom beer. Picture: Contributed
The Freer Consultancy and Tanami helped Keith Brewery launch its Snake Venom beer. Picture: Contributed

In our hyper-connected society, we consume information more quickly and vociferously than ever before but also increasingly in a more cynical and critical manner.

The upshot of this is that content is a really tricky subject for most organisations and even the most clued up companies don’t always get it right.

It’s not just under-resourced, smaller companies that struggle with content; even big brands screw up and make costly mistakes. Pepsi’s recent ad with Kendall Jenner was pulled after criticism that it trivialised demonstrations about social justice and suggested that handing out cans of Pepsi could solve major global problems.

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Mark Adams, head of innovation at media phenomenon Vice, visited DigitasLBi’s Edinburgh office last month to talk about millennials, brand and content. Vice started in 1994 and is now a bigger platform than MTV and BuzzFeed combined.

Adams pointed out that being a millennial, also known as Generation Y, is a mindset – it has less to do with youth and more to do with approach. There’s no mainstream culture any more – we all have something we’re geeky about and clever brands tap into that passion. Millennials don’t have as much brand loyalty as previous generations so brands have to work in smarter ways to keep hold of their customers and community.

In previous decades, content and strategy was decided in the boardroom and there was a long lead time before it got to market. Today, everything is 24/7, customers react in real time and organisations need to be on the pulse.

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Not infrequently, brands panic and overproduce content that’s inauthentic and unsurprisingly doesn’t resonate with its intended audience.

Adams calls this “non-tent” or “nonsense content”. Not only is it a waste of money but it hurts and weakens your brand by making it look at best neurotic and clueless, and at worst, fake — which is what happened to Pepsi.

There’s a reason Vice brought film director Spike Jonze on board as its creative director because the strategy it is deploying is one that’s as old as the hills: storytelling. Not only do brands have to constantly think about how their content aligns with their values, but also what story they are trying to tell. Adams advocates empathising with your community; we have to find out what they’re interested in, and, most importantly, what they need. And then the brands need to fulfil that need.

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One of the social enterprises we have been working with recently, The Turing Trust, is holding its inaugural Turing Talks event at the National Museum of Scotland tomorrow in Edinburgh. One of their keynote speakers is Microsoft’s chief storyteller, Steve Clayton, who pioneered Microsoft Story Labs, a platform that educates customers on the US giant’s technology and global tech trends.

The Turing Trust is building an amazing story of its own, founded by a direct descendant of so-called father of computing Alan Turing.

Storytelling and empathising with your community on a human level is something all Scottish organisations — from large corporates to SMEs, startups and social enterprises — should think about and apply to their own content strategy.

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We supported Keith Brewery, a Moray-based craft brewer to launch Snake Venom, the strongest fortified beer in the world, earlier this year. We teamed up with Edinburgh-based social filmmaking company Tanami to produce a video that has been viewed over one million times across multiple media outlets.

While it’s still the case that the pen is mightier than the sword, combining moving images with the right media platform is perhaps the most compelling play in our brave new digital world.

Laura Hamilton, digital media consultant, the Freer Consultancy