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Storybuilding: how customer involvement leads to happily-ever-after

Once upon a time, a panel of experts trekked far across New York, to Times Square, to tell the good people of Advertising Week the importance of storybuilding.

“Stories are the fastest way from the ears to the heart,” said Matt Williams, EVP/GM of The Martin Agency and panel moderator, during the Beyond Storytelling: Storybuilding session.

The panelists–House actor Peter Jacobson, Gawker executive director of content Ray Wert, Google Creative Labs executive creator director Kevin Proudfoot, and Universal Republic Music’s VP of digital Theda Sandiford–kicked off the session by deciphering the difference between storytelling and storybuilding. Unlike storytelling, which is a one-way street, storybuilding is a dialogue between a brand and its customers that requires a level of feedback from both sides.

“[There’s] a huge Internet world in response to what you do,” Jacobson said.

There are two extreme ends of the storybuilding spectrum: completely user-generated content and one-way dialogues. Using solely user-generated content can cause a brand to lose control of its overall message and lead to a “storybuilding anarchy”; but excluding consumers from the conversation entirely prevents the brand from obtaining important feedback, Williams said.

According to Williams, companies that want to build a successful storybuilding strategy first need a “nimble infrastructure”–one that constantly monitors customer feedback and is capable of changing a campaign in accordance with customers’ needs. Williams also encouraged companies to put out “Easter eggs”  (concepts that grab people’s attention) to keep customers engaged by feeding them topics to discuss.

Gawker’s Wert noted that creating equal opportunities for content ownership and ensuring that the best conversations remain at the surface are also key components when it comes to “harness[ing] the masses.”

“[The] launch of a campaign is the beginning, not the end, because you’re giving people something to work with,” Williams says.

Williams acknowledged that while it’s important for companies to monitor all customer feedback, it’s also important for them to identify and filter which messages the company will disregard, which ones they’ll respond to, and which ones they’ll put into action.

Yet brands face a few risks when they encourage customers’ input, such as harsh criticism. However, bad press can still be better than no press at all, as conflict can often get consumers fired up and talking about a brand.

“People love negativity. I wish it wasn’t so,” Universal Republic Music’s Sandiford said. “When a conversation thread goes negative, people love to talk about it.”

Google Creative Labs’ Proudfoot noted that customer feedback can also turn the spotlight back on the brand and what it’s doing, rather than focusing on how the consumers are actually interacting with the brand’s services. “We’re always at our best when it’s about the people and what they’re doing,” Proudfoot said.

Balancing storybuilding and branding begins with a focus on those core brand attributes. Proudfoot said starting with the brand’s authentic message is the way to go, as it requires less management and less fabrication.

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