Storytelling: the Single Currency for Media & Marketing

Content is quickly becoming the official currency of the media and marketing worlds, displacing the traditional “interruption” model of paid advertising and even the “annoyance” model of the majority of online promotion. This convergence to a single currency is disrupting and challenging many of the beliefs and methodologies that have underpinned each industry for decades.

Shared Perspective
The University of Missouri’s Strategic Communication Department (advertising, marketing and PR) recently hosted an event where students, faculty and guests from the marketing field shared perspectives on this disruption. The central theme from the discussions was clear. Marketers are behaving like media, and media organizations are behaving like marketers. In fact, marketers are becoming publishers and creating their own media properties. And media is now starting to tailor its content creation abilities for marketers.

Marketers have long known that people prefer content that’s personally relevant to them, but historically, few have endeavored to produce this kind of content. Many people are now bypassing traditional media outlets in favor of blogs, social media, on-demand programming and the like. As the model of one-to-many mass communication withers, marketers are being forced to consider the audience’s preference in their content creation.

New media outlets and technologies have given marketers the opportunity to offer content that people want and need — news and entertainment that may be overtly sponsored or that may simply involve content of interest to customers and prospective customers. Traditional news organizations are also applying the lessons of data and analytics to identify story types and forms audiences want in order to generate larger, more loyal audiences.

Better Storytelling
At its best, content — or storytelling — is not a slick endorsement of a brand or product. It provides solid, authentic information an individual can use in his or her life presented in an accessible and interesting way. But modern storytelling is requiring a constant stream of insights around audience preferences and an endemic understanding of how technology is influencing how stories get shared.

This is forcing marketers, media and academia to innovate. This means that the next generation of content creators will need enhanced writing and storytelling capabilities, even in an age of 140-character messages and texts. They must be empowered with contemporary philosophies, methodologies and skills for success.

The Proof Reported
Recent marketing industry news served as the perfect capstone to the conversations at University of Missouri. The chorus of insights offers a fascinating perspective of where storytelling is headed.

Digiday Editor-in-Chief Brian Morrisey wrote, “Aggregation and the page-view-driven digital ad system are disrupting the relationship between marketer and media.” He explained how some journalists are moving away from a “story-centric worldview.” The stories are becoming fuel for other stories and are getting repurposed, just as Paid Content repurposed Digiday’s story.

These changes in the media model may be the best explanation for why many print and broadcast news organizations are finding it hard to adjust. The newspapers that are poised to survive this convergence are embracing how digital is influencing news reporting and distribution. One may argue whether this is quality storytelling, but the fact remains that media and marketers are keen to understand the interdependent nature of story in the very social, digital space.

Data Driving the Story
Data associated with audience behavior is defining this new model for the media and the marketer. Morrisey’s piece also points out how Business Insider has successfully harnessed “fast data,” or the residual information produced by consumer behavior, to more efficiently produce relevant stories and to effectively lower the “cost of production per page view.” This fast data reveals how audiences cluster in ecosystems.

By analyzing and mapping the interactions between audiences, news sites and social media, digital publishers are optimizing their storytelling. As these publishers aggressively work to lower this critical media metric, it opens the door for even more marketers to enter the media creation space, efficiently producing a far more objective form of quality content and capturing their own appropriate share of the audience.

Deep, Focused Pockets
Who should subsidize storytelling? For generations, the process has been quite familiar. Marketers bring the bag of money to the table and hand it to the media. The media has been quite confident in its ability to generate the appropriate audience. But as media’s ability to generate that audience profitably erodes, it’s in need of more content, which is threatening quality. Lowering the barrier has not just opened the door for marketers, it is now forcing them to seek direct access to higher quality content creators.

Marketers should focus on quality, not quantity, said Content Marketing Institute’s Joe Pulizzi in this piece. Pulizzi’s right, but his thinking doesn’t necessarily account for where the marketer is in its evolution as storyteller. The reality here is that whether you’re a marketer, or you’re the media, we’re all striving for more and better content. But because the vast majority of marketers aren’t deriving their very existence from content creation, they may have a competitive advantage in quality. Marketers will have to learn how to remove themselves as the main character of the story for this to work.

The Blueprint
Since its founding in 1908 as the world’s first journalism school, University of Missouri has offered advertising (now Strategic Communication) and the famous Missouri Method of “learn by doing.” This means students work at real media and agency arms of the school: NBC affiliate KOMU, NPR affiliate KBIA, the Columbia Missourian and three strategic communication agencies. Those agencies are Mojo Ad, specializing in the youth and young adult (YAYA) market for big brands; AdZou, serving clients both large and small; and YAYA Connection, providing content, insights and information about the YAYA market.

Learning by doing offers up opportunities for the media and marketing communities to collaborate with academia and help students better prepare for this new age of storytelling.

  • As storytelling becomes an even more important foundational skill in strategic communication, there are opportunities to more closely integrate the agency’s planning experience into the journalism curriculum. The objective is to help the marketer think more like the media and the media to think more like a marketer.
  • As content marketing helps define how marketers are the media, there is also opportunity for more cooperative integration between academia, marketing and media.
  • Lastly, there is an opportunity to better map the journalism curriculum to the converging industries it’s serving.

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David Germano
David Germano

David is the VP of Content Marketing for Empower Media Marketing, and runs Empower's Content Marketing division, Magnetic Content Studios. For more than 14 years, David has been helping brands develop sustained content marketing strategies and operate like media to build their own audiences. David is often speaking on the topic, and is a guest contributor to Content Marketing Institute.