Whether you call it the attention economy, or the content economy, the fact of the matter is that the decline of traditional media and the proliferation of social media has made customer attention a scarce commodity. Companies looking to stand out can’t sit back and hope they’ll be found, nor can they trust solely in paid ad buys to reach their intended customer. From a 6-second Vine to longer ‘Hero’ videos on YouTube, smart brands produce engaging, meaningful, and sharable content to help their customers find them.

At Dx3 Canada this year, I had the good fortune to attend a session led by Sid Lee’s Joseph Barbieri on some of the challenges that brands face standing out in a content economy. Barbieri, Sid Lee’s Managing Director of Content & Media Partnerships, stated during his “Case for Content” session that in any given market, customers consider 4 out of 5 products or companies homogeneous. Only 1 out of 10 are considered unique.

These are tough odds to overcome for any company, even those taking the content economy seriously. Content creation might now be a necessary business asset for brands, but it’s not enough to simply publish content to stand out. Brands must be effective storytellers to become that 1 out of 10 company.

“there is no digital storytelling – digital is only a channel.”

Leslie Ehm, President of Combustion, laid out some ground rules for brands in her “Storytelling for Humans” session at Dx3. Ehm took special care to emphasize that digital marketers should not approach content creation as something especially different from traditional storytelling, stating that “there is no digital storytelling – digital is only a channel.” Ehm went on to explain to the audience how traditional plot archetypes (Boy Gets Girl, Rags to Riches, The Underdog, etc.) can still be used in digital channels, stopping to pound home one key storytelling mantra: make the customer the hero, not your product or brand.

Ehm says this is a lesson even large brands like Band-Aid can forget. By trying to make an adhesive strip the hero of its story, rather than the mother that places it on her young child’s knee (additional lesson: moms are always heroes), Ehm argues that Johnson & Johnson misses a huge opportunity to form a meaningful relationship with its customer.

open canvas project video content

But traditional storytelling doesn’t necessitate a close-minded approach. Barbieri used Absolute Vodka as an example of a brand smartly using digital channels to extend its customer relationship by turning its content making process into content itself. Part contest, part publicity stunt, The Open Canvas Project transformed city blocks in Brooklyn and San Francisco with works from 28 different local artists. Absolute’s digital content, however, focused on the creative process behind the event itself, featuring interviews with the artists, to mine as much value as possible out of the real-world event and create additional opportunities to connect with customers. Absolute merged traditional splashy event-driven marketing with a traditional storytelling approach (think of this as the VH1: Behind the Music archetype) to craft compelling digital content.

Great storytelling doesn’t happen by accident. It requires a strong understanding of your brand and message, as well as the proper presentation to ensure it resonates. What tools and techniques are your company using to stand out in the content economy? Post a comment and let us know!