Tracy in Texas day 4: branding entertainment and story-telling

By Posted in - Uncategorized on April 13th, 2011 0 Comments

It just goes to show, doesn’t it, that the luxury of being away from work for a week and having thinking space also provides the luxury of time to blog? Return to the UK, and all time disappears and the blog suffers. As much as I communicate to my clients and attendees at conferences I speak at that it is important to maintain a regular blog if you are going down that route, I too struggle to find the time sometimes to keep it going. And so, now, I am only just returning to the remaining blog posts from my trip to this year’s SXSW conference to reflect on some of the discussions I participated in and listened to there. I’d like to suggest that the gap was deliberate – allowing myself pondering time – but actually it’s purely because I’ve been busy since I got back from the US. (You guys really keep me on my toes running workshops, speaking at conferences, writing strategies and the like!)

So, in this blog I’m going to reflect a little on how brands can be involved with the creation of entertaining content online. This is inspired by a panel discussion I attended called ‘Branded entertainment: do brands hurt good storytelling?’

What really makes people tick in social media spaces? What is the content that people keep returning to? I often reflect on this in workshops I run for clients. What we see when we look at the most popular videos on YouTube or successful social media campaigns are often strong stories, engaging personalities (think Old Spice campaign) or the element of ‘entertainment’ running through those campaigns. Think of the ‘Compare the Meerkat’ campaign, for example, where a whole world and story, with a cast of characters and a life of its own has been created in order to promote an insurance comparison site… When we think about it, it’s not really all that different to the Nescafe adverts of the 1980s and 90s.

So, how can education organisations engage in story telling and entertainment online? One of the views I often hear from universities I work with is the view that universities are ‘serious’ organisations, in the business of education and innovation, not entertainment. So, how can we create stories and ongoing entertainment online in a way that sits well with our brands?

For a long time now I have been suggesting to organisations that demands of the digital age mean that we must now show people what we do, instead of just telling them. For a university or college that means allowing people to really get inside your organisation: literally, virtually and, importantly, culturally. Story telling online might just enable us to do this. It might be the vice-chancellor’s video blog, through a student’s regular updates on audioboo, or an entire drama series or online ‘fly on the wall’ documentary (universities are interesting places, full of incredible characters and a world of stories – why shouldn’t we capture them in a way that television series like ‘Airport’ and ‘Lakesiders’ have done for other organisations and places?). I confess, I haven’t entirely thought this through but there are some thoughts and approaches emerging in my little grey cells about what this could mean and could ultimately become for a university.

The alternative, of course, is not to create our own stories but to work with content creators, many of whom need investment to keep their content going, to ‘sponsor’ in some way content that they are producing online that is already resonating with our target audiences. This model works on television, so why shouldn’t it work online too? The ‘Charlie is so cool like’ videos are viewed by millions of people (over 120,000,000 views on YouTube). I can’t help thinking that a lot of the audience for these videos might well be intelligent teenagers (like Charlie himself) – a key target audience group for universities. Would it be so wrong for a university to sponsor his content? Not control it, just sponsor it? It’s a kind of brand association, I guess…

As always, I don’t have all the answers but plenty of thoughts developing on this. I really welcome yours in the comments below…

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