Storytelling: The Single Currency for Media & Marketing.

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

Shared Perspective

The University of Missouri’s Strategic Communication Department (advertising, marketing and PR) once 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 tried to produce it. Many are bypassing traditional media outlets in favor of blogs, social media, on-demand programming, etc. Marketers are now 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 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 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 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. It means that the next generation of content creators will need enhanced writing and storytelling capabilities, even in an age of 140-character messages. They must be empowered with contemporary philosophies, methodologies and skills for success.

The Proof Reported

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 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 like 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 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 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.