Storytelling is Dead: Reach Consumers Through Experiences

The following is a guest contributed post from Paul Kontonis, CMO of WHOSAY

To put a fine point on it, the era of advertising and brand storytelling — the way we’ve traditionally known it, anyway — has gone by the wayside.

Mastercard Chief Marketing & Communications Offer Raja Rajamannar explained the shift in those words at October’s Association of National Advertisers (ANA) Masters of Marketing Conference in Orlando.

As he detailed, consumer behavior and media consumption has become a conflict between the advertiser and the audience. Consumers are demanding uninterrupted experiences with media, and they’re going to great lengths to get them. As of 2016, there were 200 million daily active users of ad-blocking software. And the figure’s only gone up since then at a double-digit rate per quarter.

Meanwhile, Netflix streams over a billion hours of content per week and all of that is ad-free and the number is climbing there, too.

“When consumers are telling you so loudly, ‘I don’t want your stupid ads! I care about my experience,’ holding on to the old paradigm and saying, ‘let’s put an advertisement… I think it’s a little obsolete,” said Rajamannar at ANA. “… the way to reach consumer and engage them is through experiences. And what we’re actually finding, that’s hugely beneficial for us, is to engage consumers, make them our brand ambassadors and what we call a storymaking.”

“So I keep saying storytelling is dead, it’s all about storymaking in the future.”

In part, that “storymaking” Rajamannar refers to finds itself exploring digital means to engage consumers. Influencers, augmented reality, virtual reality, chatbots — all of these are employed by Mastercard to interact with consumers in new and unique ways that refuse to interrupt established media consumption.

There is no shortage of screens available to look away from advertising, so this forces brands to rethink how to connect and engage. Emotional connections are proven to elicit reactions from consumers. And a personal link to a brand needs more than a interruptive and non-creative ad that marketers used without a second thought.

Brands shouldn’t force themselves into only one method, either.

Consumers’ affinity for a certain influencer or celebrity on a personal level hands marketers an opportunity to connect directly in their social media feed. Instead of asking audiences to look up from the phone, brands are looking at them directly from the device via an influencer campaign. They’re not disrupting what consumers are viewing. Rather, they’re inviting them to live their own brand experience through the trusted relationship they already have with the influencer.

Brand lenses on platforms like Snapchat and Instagram allow for users to interact with content on their own terms. Whether it’s a movie like Jigsaw, a sports drink like Gatorade, or a beloved show like “Stranger Things,” these properties are making ad buys that don’t shove a 30-second spot in viewers’ faces. They’re giving consumers the means to play (in a sense) with the brand and then genuinely share that experience.

Voice-activated speakers set their own stage for brand experiences, too. Savvy marketers make it easy for consumers to tell Google Home or Amazon Alexa that THEIR brand is the prefered purchase — or in the case of a retailer like Target, method of purchase. The process quickly becomes rote for the consumer and they’re hooked because of how simple it is. That experience is the “storymaking” Rajamannar referred to.

The customer has always been right and now that applies to the way brands connect with them as well. If they don’t want traditional ads, then stop trying to force them to watch. Your traditional storytelling may be dead. However, there’s nothing stopping marketers from giving consumers the tools to tell an impactful, positive story about their brand.