content creation and the power of stories

Storytelling.  One of the many brilliant sessions at the recent Birmingham localgovcamp event demonstrated the need for us all to tell better stories.  Are you sitting comfortably? Then Matt will begin ...*

by Matt Bond 

I’ve been left pretty, nay, very inspired recently as I’ve begun to delve deeper into the world of content creation and in particular the role of stories in our lives both personally and as professional communicators.

Storytelling is one of the oldest forms of communication known to man  - it is at the centre of all families, communities and cultures – and so it really shouldn’t come as any great surprise that the art of the story should be at the very centre of all our communications.

Coca Cola has recognised this in the two fantastic, in-depth films below, which detail the global company’s Content Creation Vision until the year 2020. (Obviously the fact this timeframe clashes with expected ‘graph-of-doom’ cuts in local government funding are a happy accident, but one that shouldn’t be overlooked).

It is these two films that have really hit home to me how important the power of a story is. The better the story the more likely it is to be enjoyed, to be shared, and therefore the longer it will exist. At Cornwall Council, where we’re currently developing our social media and content plans, I’m going to ensure that stories are a central part of our conversations going forward.

There are literally loads of learning points and stepping board ideas I took away from watching the two films and while some of it is quite internal for the Coca Cola brand and the profit-driven private sector, much is fully transferable into the wider world of local government.

Part One is below. Scroll down after reading for Part Two.

I don’t want to give too much away before you watch the films yourself but some of the key points I took away are:

1) Coca Cola’s move from ‘Creative Excellence’ to ‘Content Excellence’ is an acknowledgement that it’s what’s inside the message that counts and that gets people talking, not necessarily the tool or tools used to deliver it.

2)  I love the concept of ‘Liquid Linked’ content. “To create ideas and elements of content so contagious they cannot be controlled” and move freely (Liquid) but that do not become separate stories and stay in tune with “business objectives, brand and consumer interests” (Linked). Part Two of the films gives more details on how to control the Liquid flow.

3) No-one now has the ‘Smarts’ on ideas. Coca Cola admit that consumer-generated stories now outnumber Coca Cola-generated stories on most of their brands – how compelling is that?

4) We need to switch from ‘one-way’ to ‘dynamic’ storytelling to achieve content excellence. To quote from the film, dynamic storytelling is: “The development of incremental elements of a brand idea that get dispersed systematically across multiple channels of conversation for the purposes of creating a unified and co-ordinated brand experience. The role of content excellence therefore is to behave like a ruthless editor to prevent these stories just becoming noise”. Again, compelling stuff.

5) ”Data will become the new soil, soil in which our ideas will grow, and data whisperers will become the new Messiahs”. Essentially, this statement puts a new and exciting twist on the concept and importance of discovering the influencers and advocates in your communities, harnessing their information and encouraging them to tell and share their/your stories for you.

6) Coca Cola recognise that as a company they tend to start converstaions and then move along to the next one far too early. They recognise a need to fuel the conversation they’re having in the long term, and the need to measure the positive buzz and impact those efforts create. They recommend greater investment in online tool netbase for this. There’s a lesson there for us in doing our best to develop content and stories that have long-term ambitions.

If after watching the films you’re inspired to find out who it is narrating, I’ll save you the trouble as it is Coca Cola Vice President of Global Advertising Strategy and Creative Excellence Jonathan Mildenhall. You can follow him on Twitter @Mildenhall and his blog is at http://jonathanmildenhall.tumblr.com/ Needless to say I’ve been checking in quite regularly as part of my new learning journey.

So; how do I feel this ethos can be Liquid Linked to us communicators? Well crucially, I don’t think there’s anything inherently new in the message, it’s more about reminding the brain to focus on the purity and the catalyst of your campaign, project, production or press release – its STORY.

Think about why you’re telling it, who is telling it, what am I (as the listener) going to take away from it, what is the moral, why should I tell my own friends this story? All important questions.

As well as a compulsion to hear great stories, humans also have a desire to tell their own stories, to make the memories, experiences and emotions of their lives come to life and hopefully inspire others. It is key to the role of a modern comms professional that we do our utmost to root out these compelling stories and help them spread their wings throughout the digital and traditional audience.

There is a story to tell in everything that we as individuals and as large organisations do. Just look around your office at the depth of talent you can plug into as a storytelling resource, to share great wisdom and experiences.

Further afield, imagine the stories that your environmental wardens, your countryside ranger, your social worker, your Chief Executive, your recycling operative etc etc all have to tell and all that have validity in this context.

I’m pretty sure that if you approached them, the vast majority would only be too willing to have you act as a vessel for their story, whether that be through the medium of print, audio, images, video; whatever.

Lastly, kudos to Coca Cola for actually releasing their vision in this open way. The fact I’m writing about it now shows that its idea of dynamic, Liquid Linked storytelling actually works.

So, what’s the moral of this rather rambling short story? If you’re not already; really start to open your eyes, ears and minds to the stories that surround you every single day, start to harness them, tell them and help others to learn from them. Crucially, start to work the notion of story in its purest form into your comms and content plans, strategies and projects. As long as it remains linked to your project or organisation’s overall aims.

I think it’s now ‘Once Upon a Time’ that all of us become the tellers of our organisation’s stories.

What did you take away from watching the Coca Cola Content Vision? Please let me know in the comment box below.

*a cultural reference to the bbc programme 'listen with mother'.  which will be lost on anyone born after 1982. 

Matt Bond is a communications specialist at Cornwall Council He blogs here.

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