I had the opportunity to attend a talk by the brilliant JesperAstrom at Hyper Island, with a thought-provoking discussion on whether or not social networks are propagating our natural biases by serving up to us only stuff which we ‘like’ based on their advanced algorithms, and then filtering out all the rest which it assumes we don’t fancy. Now, doesn’t this create a problem for marketers? How are you to reach people who are already not attuned to your brand, or even not aware of it? How do you break into new markets? Some of you may answer ‘advertise’, but the issue here is not putting the content in front of the reader, it’s making him or her take action by ripping away the veil of biasness.
So, that got me thinking, when content marketers talk about content pollution and cutting through the noise or clutter with compelling content in order to create awareness, should we examine this issue from the perspective of cutting through the inherent biases in all of us? It’s like the analogy of a hawker center in Singapore, where you’ll find many stalls on offer (the clutter) but you always find yourself going back to around five to seven ones on a regular basis out of habit. Our bias, I once read somewhere, is a natural and powerful tool for survival as it makes our lives more efficient and allows us to channel those energies towards other productive ventures.
What can a hawker center teach marketers about cutting through the bias and getting new customers? It’s tough if you’re trying to lure someone out of his or her usual content consumption habits, because that particular person is already attuned internally (as a result of bias) to jump at consuming particular pieces of content crafted in certain ways from certain brands/ publishers. Well, here’s a leaf we can take out of the hawker book. Occasionally, you’ll notice that you might be tempted to try one or two new stalls when you get bored of the usual. And if you find that you like the food there, you’ll add it to your repertoire. What grabs your attention to try new stalls? For me, I find that the key to discovery is novelty. You’ll need to give your target audience a new experience or make them realise something about you that they never thought before. For our hawkers, it could be something as simple as rebranding the stall or adding a twist to a dish that others don’t. From a brand perspective, if you can create and communicate this experience of novelty, you stand a higher chance of cutting through the bias.
If we tie this back to the marketing problem raised earlier, how can we apply this to our communications? From a digital storytelling perspective, as a first step, I see it as examining the narrative that we’re currently telling and really asking ourselves, how novel is it? Imagine you’re a B2B technology brand and your narratives revolve around efficiency, productivity and sustainability. How novel, then, are you, from other technology providers within the space? Or if you’re a beauty brand, your narrative is most likely to evolve around radiance, attractiveness and confidence – are these also narratives which your competitors are using? Have a think about that and whether this storyline can help you cut through the bias of your unreachable audience, because in all honesty – whatever your brand message or positioning is – your audience is probably not getting it because of the similarity in narrative. Sure, you can tell the story from a thousand different angles and examples, but how is it novel to grab attention?
In my opinion, finding these novel narratives are the part of a communications strategy that requires a substantial amount of input and investment. But remember that this is never a case of holding one brainstorm per year and sticking with that narrative throughout. You also need to gauge audience response and that’s where we need to adopt an iterative storytelling approach. Evaluate the performance of the content and go back to the drawing board if you need to. Use A/B testing to see the impact of different narratives. And continuously refine as you go along because your narrative never stands still – it has to respond to current events and trends.
From a business ROI perspective, taking the approach of addressing bias makes more sense to me than simply thinking about how to get content in front of the audience. The latter hopes and assumes that the content will be clicked on, while the former attempts to enact behavioural change which will lead to the taking of a potential action, bringing the target closer to the point of sale in the buyer journey.