Looking Back To The Future

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According to Cisco, in 2018 alone we will produce a whopping 1,812 exabytes (billion gigabytes) of data. This equates to 362 times the amount of data that was gathered between 2003 and the beginning of time (according to IBM, this was only 5 exabytes).

So, it is indeed true that it is getting somewhat more difficult to cut through all the noise, especially as much of the noise is garbage.

As communication professionals, there are several choices. Accept that the lunatics have taken over the asylum and run, work with or become a lunatic, get a machine to sort it out or recognise that there is nothing new here, we just need to learn to apply some old rules to the new order.

There are a lot of old rules so, in no particular order and incomplete, here are a few:

In 1894, the French Philosopher Guillaume Ferrero published an article  called the theory of ‘The Principle of Least Effort’. Zipf, Poole and Mann espoused similar theories throughout the 20th Century proving that invention has many fathers (another relevant old rule!). However, we digress.

It states that it is in our nature to choose the path of least effort to complete tasks and that we will cease all our efforts once minimally acceptable results are found. Yes, we are lazy and many new technologies are designed to pander to this, even exacerbate it.

Originally, the people who spent most time thinking about this were Librarians. The organisation of a Library is the science of ensuring people found exactly what they needed, not what roughly did the job.

The principle of least effort can explain the mutilation of the English language online (LOL), our willingness to believe Fake News, the influence of Influencers, the power of Reviews and indeed, the success of Google.

We do have higher levels of thought, but we are rapidly being trained not to use them and the first challenge in rising above the garbage is to provide a solution that requires minimal effort.

Whilst your branded content can eventually take the customer on a journey, you have first got to get their attention. This perhaps explains the use of Influencers, Sport, Causes and Games to represent your brand. They get you noticed. However, sometimes this is, in itself, done in a lazy way. It needs to be relevant and authentic, but often is neither.

Not all brands can afford this short cut, so you will need something that will get the lazy attention of your audience. What you need is an idea, perhaps a story and a headline – there are no short cuts.

There is a format that plays into the principle of least effort and is in fact, a short-cut – video. Video is the perfect format for lazy people. You can stop, pause, start, replay and share it with ease, anywhere. You don’t need to read, write or even concentrate that much.

There are other lazy formats (audio, radio, podcasts), which are unsurprisingly doing rather well.

So, consumers were lazy back in 1894 and are getting lazier.

As they get lazier, we need to work harder to reach them and to get their attention. A brilliant example was Pirelli’s hugely successful print ad featuring Carl Lewis at the height of his success back in 1994.

(Image courtesy of Pirelli)

So, everyone keeps telling you to tell a story in your Branded Content but, how do you do that?

You need to go on a journey to find the secret. However, you fear change and leaving the normalcy of everyday life. However, a mentor arrives to guide you and you venture into the unknown. The journey is full of perils and you face many trials. You meet new people you love and those that try to block your way. But, you confront your fears and are elevated to a higher level and you find the answer and you take it back to your workplace and change the world.

In 1949, Joseph Campbell wrote a book called “The Hero With a Thousand Faces”. In the Hero’s Journey, Campbell outlines a universal motif of adventure and transformation that runs through all of the world’s mythic traditions. In other words, there is a formula for a great story!

The diagram below is a summary of the Hero’s Journey and it will surprise no one, after a bit of thought, that George Lucas described Campbell as ‘my Yoda’.

(Image courtesy of the Joseph Campbell Foundation)

If you are not familiar with Star Wars (this might help), or try The Matrix, Hobbit, Harry Potter, Shrek, Lord of the Rings, The Lion King, Spiderman or The Wizard of Oz.

Then try The Chivas Regal films (‘Here’s to Twinkle’ and ‘Here’s to Big Bear’) or the BMW Films. In less than ten minutes, you can’t do the whole journey, but all of these appear to use elements of The Hero’s Journey.

Look at the Directors of the Chivas/BMW Films; John Frankenheimer, Ang Lee, Wong Kar Wai, Guy Ritchie, Alejandro González Iñárritu, John Woo, Joe Carnahan. They are masters of storytelling.

Whilst claiming that storytelling is a formula is simplistic, it is still a worthwhile exercise to understand The Hero’s Journey and try and apply it. Too many ‘stories’ are, by definition, not stories!

Story: a narrative, either true or fictitious, in prose or verse, designed to interest, amuse, or instruct the hearer or reader.

Richard Saul Wurman is in the ‘Understanding Business’. He coined the phrase ‘Information Architecture’. He has published several books, including Information Anxiety (1989) and Information Anxiety 2 (2000).

He is the founder of TED talks.

His books cover the problem of too much information, how we create understanding, and the beauty of what may be a lost art form: conversation.

In summary, we are in the ‘Information Age’, but we have forgotten what Information is and it is generally just data or worse. Much of the Information we can access, we cannot understand and as the volume of Information explodes, our capacity to process it remains the same.

He argues that ‘there is still only one method for transmitting thought’, for communicating information in a manner that somewhat captures the spirit of the mind: the medium of Conversation. Conversation can be a mirror of the mind, a petri dish for ideas.

It enables us to communicate our thoughts in a manner that closely models the way they occur in our minds.

‘The implicit and explicit goal of all conversation is understanding, conversations are an understanding machine, an imminently satisfying forum for the exchange of information’.

A daily example is the different outcomes from email correspondence and a conversation. In theory quite similar, in practice totally different. So, Conversation is a really good way to communicate with our customers. So, why isn’t that a critical objective of Marketing?

Much of the way businesses communicate with customers involves removing the potential for Conversations e.g. automated phone systems (Interactive Voice Response Systems!), chatbots (Artificial Conversational Entities!).

Equally, the channels and formats we choose to communicate with do not allow conversation. You can’t have a conversation with a banner or press ad. The call to action will probably send you to a website, where, generally speaking, you can’t have or are discouraged from having a conversation. Of course, many forms of communication can start a conversation amongst consumers – word of mouth.

You can have a form of conversation on social media, but it isn’t exactly encouraged. It isn’t explicitly encouraged. I don’t ever remember an advertisement that actually said, ‘come and have a conversation with us’.

Branded Content has a huge potential to engage with the audience and start a conversation with the brand.

Let’s make the ‘call to action’ for Branded Content a conversation!

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