Opinion

Forget the platform, your story should be the only thing that matters

In the age of the internet, one thing has been lost within complexity of endless platforms and engagement strategies: the ability to tell a story. Ross Lambert, director of content strategy at Howorth Communications / Ogilvy PR Australia explains.

Marketing and communications looks like it was an easy job in the pre-internet age.

There were only a few ways you could communicate with customers and nowhere near as many brands competing for market share.

No wonder everyone was out on long lunches. They clearly had too much free time – and budget – on their hands.

All you needed was one brilliant idea to get noticed.

Today you’re lucky if someone has time for a coffee. There’s an endless number of platforms designed to reach your fragmented audience, each with its own set of engagement strategies. Everyone and their dog is using a bucket of wanky buzzwords to talk about the issues that matter to your brand.

Back to basics

The industry is drowning in complexity and confusion. And I worry we’re forgetting the one thing that makes what we do great. This happens to be one of the few similarities with effective marketing from the prehistoric pre-internet age.

All you need is one brilliant idea to get noticed.

I wanted to make this point after attending a conference recently where a panellist suggested the platform – TV, radio, online, print and so on – is just as important as the story.

I strongly disagree.

Picking the right platforms does matter. With so many to choose from, there’s a massive opportunity to retell your story across them in different ways to drive positive brand engagement. This brings a host of benefits.

But in terms of priorities, the platform should never be top of the list. That spot should always be reserved for the story because no platform will help if you don’t have a good story to tell.

A tale of two presidents

Donald Trump is a case in point. As US President, he has incredible audience access through a wide range of platforms to tell and promote his story.

Unfortunately, he isn’t telling a particularly good one, and ranks down alongside Gerald Ford in the presidential popularity stakes.

It’s true that Ford had far fewer platforms available back in the 1970s. But his lack of popularity had much more to do with presiding over the worst domestic economy since the Great Depression and pardoning predecessor Richard Nixon. It was the story that hurt him, not the platforms. It’s the same for The Donald.

Starting at the start

So, although there’s much greater complexity today, an important basic truth remains the same. Effective marketing and communications starts with having a good story to tell. One that has an impact on your audience. Once you’ve got this difficult part right, it’s much easier to create the right assets and develop strategies to reach your audience using a mix of platforms.

Our industry is too quick to focus on how we’re going to make the most of data from a new marketing platform, winning coverage in high-profile publications and targeting consumers through the latest Apple, Facebook or Google creation.

All too often the quality of the story is being overlooked in this dynamic environment of confused excitement. When it gets shoehorned into strategies later as an afterthought, effectiveness is limited and marketers can’t understand why.

It’s the stories we tell that make an impression because a good story will adapt for any platform. A great story will even outlast some of them.

Ross Lambert is director of content strategy at Howorth Communications / Ogilvy PR Australia.

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