How Storytelling Evolves In A World With More Screens And Data

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joefullman"Data-Driven Thinking" is written by members of the media community and contains fresh ideas on the digital revolution in media.

Today’s column is written by Joe Fullman, director of digital strategy at Arnold Worldwide.

A strategic approach to mobile is about more than mobile apps, adaptive design principles and display campaigns with teeny tiny banners. We are living in the era of the multidevice media consumer and the mobile opportunity is much larger than the sum of its parts.

Mobile devices have bound our digital lives to the physical world since the very first generation of Treos and BlackBerrys. We interact with our mobile phones around 150 times per day, and in 2013, for the first time, Americans spent more time on their mobile devices than their computers, per eMarketer.

However, this is as much a reflection of America’s half-century love affair with television as it is our pernicious infatuation with Candy Crush. According to research by Google and Ipsos, 77% of the average US adult’s roughly four hours of TV per day is split with a "companion device," and 81% of Americans use mobile phones while watching TV.

This statistic underlines the most important opportunity mobile presents to marketers: pushing seamless branded experiences across channels. Mobile devices, not laptops, are the dominant companion devices when we watch TV – a lighter and faster choice when the call to action in a commercial grabs our fancy. In our homes or at work, mobile is the gateway to spontaneous searches and purchases.

Yet, too many brands still treat digital as a collection of individual "campaigns" to deliver traffic to content living on brand.com without any regard to the different ways we interact with our screens.

Even with the multiplicity of new opportunities (and new considerations) the price of entry hasn’t really changed. Powerful creative is still what works, and brands won’t find success if they don’t have a tight story to tell. These stories will be built on solid insights about the customer journey combined with first-party and syndicated data about channel preferences.

Smart brands are maximizing the opportunity to extend their story across multiple devices with content MADE FOR use across channels -- with each facet optimized to its native channel.

In fact, multiscreen activation requires even more attention to content strategy. The thrust of the story needs to be versatile enough to live across different channels and formats without compromising the believability and authenticity that define the brand. Things that work on a 50-inch LCD TV don’t always work on a 3.5-inch touch screen.

Maximizing the opportunity to play across these channels also requires the data to push the various facets of a story out to the right audience. This may include a platform like AdTheorent to deliver mobile RTB, or Drawbridge to extend the reach of stories across channels.

Publishers' Part

The situation is similar on the publisher side, with everyone from movie studios and record companies to tech giants getting into the game. Content owners are hard at work optimizing content and technology to convert audiences from single screen to multiscreen consumption.

Digital publishers were once the only multiscreen game in town, but many have fallen behind in an environment defined by access to premium syndicated content rather than text and utility. Yahoo is a prime example of a company struggling to compete in this new environment. Despite major strides like the launch of the Screen App and subsequent agreement with Starcom, Yahoo has for some time been at risk of becoming "landlocked."

Yet Yahoo isn’t the only company struggling to present compelling multiscreen opportunities to brands. Indeed, very few publishers have managed to crack the code – even if they have the content, as players like Hulu, Crackle and Vevo do. The problem is that the opportunity is as much about creative storytelling as it is about communications planning. Agency structures – which are still often set up to support brands by function or channel – are not equipped to produce cross-channel work, and so publishers have little incentive to offer package media products that leverage cross-channel storytelling

This can be a vicious cycle. Since the publisher is not incented to create off-the-shelf options for multiscreen storytelling, the resulting lack of such options slows advertiser adoption.

Consequently, the best-laid experience designs rarely succeed in the "game of telephone" that occurs when brands, creative agencies, and media agencies work together to bring a campaign to market. To be sure this is more of a problem with creative agencies than media agencies – but the system won’t work until a singular, authentic, and unified vision can stretch across channels without too much backward engineering.

Do It Now

Because few brands are doing it well, now is the time to be brave.

In order to tell stories across channels, brands will need to do it on their own. The advertising opportunities themselves haven’t evolved as quickly the platforms. Publishers have all the pieces; but they just haven’t put them together yet.

Brands intent on making the most of multiscreen strategy need to bring creative, targeting data, a buying platform and an integrated media plan together on their own. It’s a complex set of issues to manage no matter where you sit in the marketing ecosystem, but the prize is big and the answer starts with mobile.

Follow Joe Fullman (@joefullman), Arnold (@Arnoldworldwide) and AdExchanger (@adexchanger) on Twitter.

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