The new best practices for digital brand storytelling

People have been telling stories for thousands of years, and the elements of what makes a good story have changed precious little in that time. Through the stories we tell, we not only entertain and connect with others, but we also convey information about our own beliefs, tastes and aspirations. Brands use stories in the […]

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People have been telling stories for thousands of years, and the elements of what makes a good story have changed precious little in that time. Through the stories we tell, we not only entertain and connect with others, but we also convey information about our own beliefs, tastes and aspirations.

Brands use stories in the exact same way, and the best marketers understand how important stories are when it comes to demonstrating the how, what and why of a brand’s offering. Although the components of a good story remain as they’ve always been, the process of telling a story in the digital age has evolved considerably as new advertising technologies have emerged.

It’s incumbent upon marketers to ensure their use of new technology adheres to the principles and ground rules of good storytelling and advertising. Rather than common, linear storylines, we can now build complex story frameworks, capturing the right user’s attention, in the right place, at the right time, on the right device, with the right array of messages. Stories are no longer stuck on one set of rails but are capable of more and more unique variations. What follows is an overview of the new components of modern brand storytelling in the digital age.

Stories should be real time

When stories are told around a campfire, the best storytellers adapt to their audiences’ reactions and new information they might provide during the story. Today’s digital brand stories must do the same, and emerging automation tools make this possible. Automation enables data to be analyzed and executed well within the blink of an eye, leading to instantaneous ads that can make use of a variety of data sources.

One pivotal way real-time advertising can support creativity and storytelling is through dynamic ads, which help improve efficiency and optimization, as well as personalization. In short, a dynamic ad allows for the delivery of multiple variants of the same ad through automation, making it possible for the same ad to say different things depending on who it is being delivered to. A travel company, for instance, could take live data on flight options and then send relevant holiday packages and pricing to users depending on their travel interests, browsing activity, location and more.

Reporting should inform your stories

Reporting and attribution are often viewed as being on the opposite end of advertising’s creativity spectrum from storytelling. But in reality, reporting has become a critical component of the brand storytelling process.

Data from accurate reporting on user interactions with an ad can be used for intelligent retargeting and can help execute complex and adaptable campaigns. User interactions logged in an ad server can be used to build real-time segments, which can then be actioned and correlated with creative to build the story. It is the relationship between the analytics, data and creative that builds the fundamental story framework.

Your stories must be built for reach

As advertising technology enables access to more and more channels, advertisers can extend their scope and speak to more users. With new channels and media comes the potential for more interesting and emotional storytelling, and advertisers have a responsibility to adapt their messaging to make the best use of these different platforms.

Modern brand storytelling must be built to follow users as they hop across multiple devices during their daily internet browsing. Reaching the same user across mobile, tablet, laptop and desktop become an ever-present challenge, particularly when understanding their preference for using each device. With purchases, for example, one user might favor their mobile phone via an app, whereas another may prefer their laptop. Understanding these preferences is a challenge that must be met for the sake of efficient retargeting, frequency capping and to measure a user’s interaction with the ad. Cross-device is also required for successful sequential messaging across difference devices, a mainstay of modern storytelling.

Don’t neglect relevance and reaction

Relevance and reaction have always been cornerstones of good storytelling, and they are even more important in the digital age as far as consumer expectations go. Regarding relevance, data is bringing about a renaissance that has the potential to bring ads and users closer together. In fact, the key driver behind the digital advertising revolution has been the gift of personalization. Advertisers are no longer shouting into the void, but can instead tell stories to users that they can safely assume have at least some interest in their offering.

Meanwhile, every good story should elicit a reaction, and marketers must ensure the stories they tell are designed to elicit the right ones. While marketers can use data to find the right audience and ensure ads are reaching as many users as possible, their ads need to form an emotional connection with the audience to move them to action.

Technology can and should help facilitate the continuous interplay between user and advertiser as a brand narrative unfolds. In this regard, technology neither replaces or hampers the modern brand storyteller. Leveraged correctly, technology can make the story all the more powerful.

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Chevron storytelling uses purposeful immersive experiences to engage stakeholders

While a brand like Chevron may not seem an obvious choice for immersive experiences, they found success using AR and VR to explain key Chevron narratives.

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Frozen in place, alert and quietly breathing the eight-foot Perentie lizard sizes me up. The only discernible movement is an opaque eyelid gliding over a dark reptilian gaze. I don’t THINK it will eat me for breakfast. Suddenly it’s long, forked tongue darts out into the air just barely missing my nose, as the lizard loses interest and looks for his breakfast elsewhere. The Perentie is one of the largest lizards in the world and can only be found on a remote Island, off the Pilbara coast of Western Australia.

However, instead of requiring the 20-hour flight from the US, I was able to experience this beautiful creature in my own backyard with the help of augmented reality.

Chevron’s AR experience featured 3D, animated creatures native to Barrow Island, like the Perentie lizard.

The Perentie lizard along with two other rare and wondrous creatures, the Euro or Wallaroo and the Flatback Turtle, was part of Chevron’s latest immersive augmented reality experience that launched at the 27th World Gas Conference in Washington, D.C. The goal was to share details on Chevron’s Gorgon Project, a new and technologically-advanced liquefied natural gas (LNG) plant located on Barrow Island, a Class A Nature Reserve. According to Tina Robison, Senior Advisor for Policy, Government and Public Affairs at Chevron, the biggest reason they decided to use AR was to make the impossible possible. “There will never be an opportunity to bring people to Barrow Island and show them what we do there or the priority we place on protecting this nature reserve. So we brought Barrow Island to DC.”

Chevron not the typical brand for immersive storytelling

“Chevron is a conservative brand,” admits Robison. “Shareholder return is important, but we also want to leave a small footprint in the places we do business.” While a brand like Chevron may not seem like an obvious choice for immersive experiences, Chevron’s digital center of excellence has had success using AR and VR as a mechanism to tell partners, policymakers and industry insider’s key Chevron narratives by transporting these audiences to their remote operations. The latest AR experience documenting The Gorgon Project was a huge hit at the World Gas Conference with both Chevron CEO and Chairman of the Board, Mike Wirth and the US Secretary of Energy, Rick Perry, spending time on the exhibit hall floor engaging with the experience.

US Secretary of Energy, Rick Perry, explores Chevron’s AR experience at the World Gas Conference in Washington, DC. From the left:  Colin Parfitt, President of Supply & Trading for Chevron, Rick Perry and Mark Nelson, Chevron Vice President for Midstream, Strategy & Policy.

The Gorgon Project AR experience was delivered using Apple iPad Pros and a trigger placed in the center of circular tables within Chevron’s conference exhibit booth. Attendees could pick up the iPad and immediately begin to engage with the 3D content displayed digitally over the marker on each table. The experience included three areas of exploration or chapters. Chapter one explains Chevron’s unique quarantine management system that focuses on protecting the nature reserve and the environment. Chapter two teaches users about the unique wildlife found exclusively on the island and chapter three describes how the liquid natural gas is shipped from Barrow Island to global customers.

Chapter 3 of the AR experience allowed users to learn more about the facility on Barrow Island and the process of sourcing and shipping liquid natural gas around the globe.

When asked about success metrics, Robison listed off a few key measurements of success: How many people engaged with the experience? How long did they stay? How many questions did they ask? How easy was it to use and understand? By these standards the experience was a home run, engaging hundreds of conference attendees during the four-day conference. However, the Barrow Island story was chosen specifically so it could be leveraged in other areas of the business, not just for policymakers or even those attending the conference. According to Robison, “the Gorgon Project AR experience also gives employees a tool to have conversations with family and friends and the Australian business unit is able to show some pride in the great work they are doing.” Chevron also worked in partnership with The Washington Post to share the AR experience beyond the conference by distributing it through the publisher’s app. The execution was the first advertiser-led AR activation for the Post.

Immersive storytelling just the start for Chevron

While this is the first AR project for Chevron, they are not new to the power of immersive storytelling. Last year Chevron launched a 360 VR experience that documented life on one of their most remote oil rigs off the Gulf of Mexico.

The extreme conditions on the rig – upwards of 115 degrees and 100% humidity, the remote location–280 miles off the coast of New Orleans, deep in the heart of international water, and safety concerns around the film crew’s electrical equipment made the project a logistics nightmare according to Dave Snyder, SVP and executive creative Director at design and innovation agency Firstborn. Snyder’s creative team at Firstborn conceived and developed both The Gorgon Project AR experience and the 360 VR virtual rig experience in close partnership with Chevron. Snyder admits he was surprised and delighted by Chevron’s commitment to innovation, “Anytime we get to do a cool, bleeding-edge, innovation type project, I get really excited. Immersive is the last little realm of neat stuff in digital. Chevron was unbelievably supportive.”

Snyder’s VR production crew took a two-hour helicopter journey into the Gulf of Mexico to capture the rig in 360.

Chevron’s commitment to innovation starts at the top with a CEO that is dedicated to being a leader in the space. According to Robison, this was an essential ingredient for getting internal support for a new, immersive storytelling approach, “One of our key internal priorities is being on the cutting edge of innovation. Our new chairman and CEO, Michael Wirth, is focused on digital innovation and he wants us to lead the industry in this space, and I think that helped us be successful with this immersive experience.”

Snyder agrees that aligning company-wide goals and objectives is required for a company to be truly innovative. “How do you try and sell in innovation? Unless your company is really bought into it and changes the internal structures, and KPI’s and how people get their bonuses it’s going to be really hard for companies to innovate. Great immersive projects create innovation halos over a brand — that’s a positive. I think that’s very important.”

While Chevron is currently leveraging AR and VR for storytelling, Robison believes this could be the gateway to innovation across the entire business. “What’s really cool is seeing our executives engaging with AR content and thinking about how they can use this in operations environments. Can we look at piping differently? Can we look at how our projects flow together so that we can make better decisions and move product faster? So not only was it an opportunity to tell our story but a way to experiment to see how we can use this to be innovative across our business strategy.”

Chevron CEO and Chairman of the Board, Michael Wirth, took time to engage with the AR experience while walking the exhibit floor at the World Gas Conference.

Key elements for successful immersive experience

To create a truly memorable and valuable experience, Snyder believes the most important element is the purpose for both the brand and the audience. The audience needs to be able to sense that purpose when interacting with the experience. For both the AR and 360 VR experiences created for Chevron, the experience took the user to a place they would have otherwise never been allowed to go. Instead of having partners and policymakers sit through a six-minute video on The Gorgon Project, Chevron opted to create a memorable, interactive experience that would allow the user the freedom to explore in their own way. “The tech can’t be the story. It’s not that Chevron did VR. That’s not a story. It’s that Chevron took you to a place you could have never gone. The tech needs to elevate or enhance the story you are telling.”

Along with developing a purpose-driven experience, there are a few other recommendations to help ensure success. Robison suggests using small, internal teams and allowing them enough time to test and learn. For The Gorgon Project AR experience, she leveraged a team of five key players and the project took about one year from start to finish.

Chevron’s team built out a simulation of the conference exhibit floor in a warehouse to serve as a testing environment for the AR experience. This resulted in crucial adjustments that improved the user experience.

Robison also suggests keeping the story very simple, constantly putting yourself in the shoes of the user and editing out anything that isn’t absolutely necessary. When asked what she wanted the audience to feel, Robison sums it up this way, “That energy and the environment can co-exist. It’s not one or the other. Chevron is working very hard to make sure that happens. And we respect the places that we work and we’re committed to ensuring safe and reliable operations and protection of those places. I think the AR experience does that.”

MarTech readers can experience both The Gorgon AR project in The Washington Post app and the virtual rig 360 VR project within the New York Times’ T-Brand studio or learn more about these projects directly from Chevron’s website.

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