In a not so distant past, linear storytelling was the pervasive marketing communication tactic used to reach consumers. Brand storytellers and traditional marketing agencies built fortresses on 30-second stories expecting people to simply listen and sit until the end. It worked, no doubt about it. We enjoyed it. We bought the idea, and their products, too. We had no choice.
First off, let’s revisit what linear storytelling means. It can be visualized as a chronologically arranged plot of a story. It starts from A, goes to B, and ends at C. End of story. Most TVCs run this way.
Non-linear storytelling, on the other hand, is the opposite of linear. It can start and end at any point. In the digital world, it could mean interactivity or interchangeability of As, Bs, and Cs in the buying stage. There’s no arrangement. It is liquid, free-flowing, and takes a choice of shape based on how the story is formed.
Being linear is no longer a winning recipe. The digital landscape disrupted the one-directional brand storytelling method every traditional marketer practiced for decades. Online media refocused the lens on how stories must be crafted in a world where consumers can choose what they want to hear, see, and share at any point in time. The audience is in control.
As a digital marketer, I get this non-linear phenomenon (that’s why I am in this industry to begin with), but sometimes I still get stuck in the old ways of doing things. I still feel anxious on how to pivot from that jaded mindset to creating more engaging content—stories that are fit for online media consumption.
Fluid Audience Demands Non-Linear Content
You are now in a world where brand’s lifeline equates to precious yet hard-to-capture social signals. Your target market is demanding personalized experiences before you can convince them to share, like, +1 or retweet your content. Aside from the challenges of crafting compelling content, non-linearity is key to get your cohesive message across. The different types of content such as curated content, infographic, text article, and HTML5 interactive graphic do not automatically qualify as non-linear content.
The concept on nonlinear content has been around for quite sometime. As an example, I guess you can still remember the TV series, Breaking Bad, right? When Walter White Jr. discovered his dad got lung cancer, he created a charity website for his ailing father in one of the episodes, which turned out to be a real site you could actually donate to National Cancer Coalition before the donation button was deactivated. If you visit savewalterwhite.com now, it is still live though. In October 2012, more than 1 million TV fans visited NCC and donation exceeded $125,000 according to AMC TV. Think of the non-linearity of concept done here, where a TV series (traditional medium) used owned media (website), and social media (Twitter) to push a good cause and improve its TV rating.
So, how’s the savewalterwhite.com’s metrics so far? See below.
Non-Linearity Facilitates Brand Discovery
The availability of your brand and content via different online platforms facilitates brand discovery more now than ever.
- Geofencing delivers your products to customers within a defined radius via mobile apps.
- Slideshare provides you a connected and ready audience from Facebook and Twitter to discover what you’re doing and other social behaviors related to your brand. Count in Reddit, StumbleUpon and LinkedIn as powerful platforms for your brand to proliferate.
- Search engines are now more sophisticated and brand-focused. Branding, content marketing, and UX design began to take center stage, but with a twist—non-linearity. Search is a linear process that requires non-linear content.
Connecting varying content to serve your restless audience is the way to nudge the search engines to rank your content. Full-circle coverage of your brand using different media is what feeds the search engines, which leads to your brand discovery.
While non-linearity facilitates brand discovery, optimization of your content shouldn’t be neglected. As an example, Application Store Optimization (ASO) is another factor to invest in to improve your mobile applications distribution. Mobile apps are discovered differently, though there are still similarities with normal web content optimization.
Cross-Channel Cohesive Messaging is Vital
Solid brand message is crucial, otherwise your brand might get lost in the noise of different channels. Coca-Cola, no doubt, is the Godzilla of content marketing, having turned its content excellence into “liquid and linked” ideas. These ideas provoke conversations where the brand acts and reacts accordingly in dispersing dynamic content storytelling that is device agnostic.
Take Jonathan Mildenhall’s Keynote on MIPTV 2012. Yes, this keynote is two years old, but still applicable today. Shown here is how content marketing is being crafted using branded entertainment (Dolce & Gabbana), Facebook game app (Fanta), and long-form documentary (Coke Zero).
Big ideas and user-generated content (UGC) weaved with clear brand communication across many channels are similar to striking oil for storytellers. I can not stress enough the relevance of being in-the-know and in-the-now by utilizing available technologies to drive consumers towards your brands.
Just recently, another Youtube video went viral via Twitter and Facebook. If we look closely at Why Starbucks Spells Your Name Wrong campaign, it is “killing it” at 7.7 million views (as of September 24, 2014) by leveraging video, experiential storytelling, user participation, and social media. It encourages viewers to comment on their best Starbucks stories. It is a good concept on how offline experiences/stories can connect to online storytelling and engagement.
Rethink Buying Cycle: Consumers Are Coming From All Fronts
The sequential buying behavior from awareness to purchase is now multi-touch point these days. Consumers move from one stage to another without regard to linearity. They bounce back and forth in any point of the buying cycle. Case in point again — Google Analytics attribution model and multi-channel funnel are basically driven by this consumer activity where one can already track (at least) where and what channel conversions happen.
Consumer journey and emotional brand engagement are important elements in a successful content strategy. Non-linear content about closing the gap between online and offline content strategy. As such, the need to interlink online and offline marketing campaigns is extremely important, and deserves a much deeper discussion than I am able to discuss here.
Take note that campaign execution doesn’t always need to be on the higher spectrum of your marketing budget. Even a simple social media campaign can turn into a non-linear brand experience. For example, we at Propelrr are doing a Facebook photo contest campaign for The North Face Philippines. The brand strategy is harping on consumer experiential triggers. We make our target market aware of the new line of jackets, bring them to visit physical stores, experience the brand offline by taking photos while raining, and then give them a chance to win a prize. Again, think of your customer journey both online and offline and connect those two experiences.
Certainly, the challenge to produce engaging content across platforms is more important than ever in this fragmented digital space.
Emphasis on Solid Data Gathering and Analysis is Key to Success
Data analysis beyond session-based analytics is needed for insights that propel bigger ideas and ensure real engagement between a brand and its consumers. Google’s move towards Universal Analytics via its measurement protocol is a clear step towards blurring the offline and online divide. Tracking users’ activities and able to unify their sessions across different devices is now achievable. Actually, since 2010 or even earlier, Avinash Kaushik has already been talking about non-line campaign tracking. Check out the video below.
Brand Wins From SEOs
We have already seen the natural fall-off of SEOs cutting corners to beat the system over the past four years with the introduction of Panda and Penguin.
As such, we must revisit what branding is ll about and appreciate how compelling editorials can unleash the power of natural citations and mentions. We’ve begun to unravel the beauty of real marketing in the digital world from just being tech-savvy and tools-driven professionals whose main objective is focused only on search engine results pages (SERPs). We gradually understood the immense power of storytelling that a cornerstone of marketing for decades. We cope with it. We thrive. We finally understand how to use it to make the brands we represent really thrive.
The real elements to become a better SEO relies on how solid we are on both strategy and tactics in our marketing approach. Having an overarching brand objective that guides our tactical activities has always been the way to go. Wearing the hat of a brand practitioner can give us more leverage in sharing the stories of brands to gain more “votes” from visitors and search engine robots alike.
But – do note it is not enough to simply feed the search engines varied content that is disconnected and dissociated with the overall brand objectives. Non-linear is not the same as unorganized.
SEOs that are analytical, creative, and technical by default are powerful enough to win the digital brand wars if given the right marketing direction. If there’s what you call “Full-stack Programmers,” then there should also be “Full-stack SEOs” . SEOs must be real marketers and brand crafters.
Non-linear content does not equate to only having varied content types. It requires multiple touch points for brands to engage consumers at any given stage of the purchase funnel. It demands solid brand messaging across all platforms in order to succeed. It also challenges us to think through our marketing campaigns to see how we can monitor these non-linear content providing economic value to brands we handle.
Featured Image: Ozerina Anna via Shutterstock
Other images are owned by author.