Anjali Ramachandran argues that in order to capture the sustained attention of a customer base, businesses need to move past project-based thinking and instead focus on format
Reading Time 6 minutes
Part of running a successful business is identifying a need, an audience, and then explaining why your product or service is essential. But communicating why your business is better than your competitors’ in a way that is compelling and relevant is often where many struggle.
Anjali Ramachandran is a Director at Storythings, an audience research and content production agency. The company works with its clients to understand their audiences and find new and compelling ways to engage them. Ramachandran argues that the key to successfully engaging your audience is understanding their habits and then utilising those insights to create a long-term communications strategy.
The four components that Storythings believes are essential to successful engagement are a holistic understanding of your audience, a long-term communication strategy, the implementation of format thinking, and authentic storytelling.
Knowing your audience
One of the essential requirements of speaking to your audience is knowing who they are and when and where they’ll be engaging with you. If you are running ads on Instagram but your audience uses LinkedIn, or if you run a TV advert at 9pm but your audience listens to radio in the morning, it could mean you are wasting a large chunk of your marketing budget. It is for this reason that one of the first steps Ramachandran takes when working with a client is getting to grips with the audience data.
‘We start by looking at audience behaviour online, which changes so rapidly these days as new technologies and platforms emerge. We go through reports like Ofcom Media Nations and the Reuters Digital Institute report to see how audience behaviours might be changing. Seeded in anecdotal conversations, last year, we undertook some in-house research that explored how people’s attention patterns have been changing since the pandemic.
Whilst this research, titled ‘Scroll Stoppers’, only gave a snapshot of one of the many characteristics of audience behaviour, it allowed Storythings to discuss with their audience the importance of audience attention patterns. Due to the overwhelming interest in the research, Storythings also launched a newsletter that explores different elements of audience behaviour.
Long-term vs short-term engagement
Marketing strategies are usually devised with a particular goal in mind. This may be drawing attention to a particular event, product, or service, meaning they have a start and an end date. Ramachandran argues this may be easier to digest but it does not lend itself to sustained and impactful engagement.
‘One of the biggest challenges we face is getting our clients to invest in a different way of thinking. Campaigns, or project-based marketing, are easier to deal with psychologically because they are a smaller financial investment, and if they don’t work, the business can just move on. Long-term strategies, or format thinking as we call it, does require more investment but the rewards are far greater, and it actually saves you money in the long term.’
Format development is the structure of the communications that Storythings uses to plan engagement. They define the format as the structure that organises the story and the content within the medium – the medium being a podcast or an article, for example. Ramachandran says that the goal of the format is to build familiarity and repetition so that people start to recognise and understand the content.
One example of this is Vogue magazine’s 73 questions. This is where an interviewer follows a celebrity and asks them 73 questions in quick succession. The video interview is the medium and the structure is the format. The celebrity changes weekly, but the format is what builds the familiarity and repetition that keeps viewers coming back for more as they know what to expect.
Storythings has implemented this with their newsletters, one of the most commonly used methods of communication across all businesses. Where Storythings differs, however, is the very intentional use of a format. There are three newsletters that all serve a different function:
- Storythings Newsletter – the company’s curated newsletter which features 10 stories every week to give readers creative inspiration. This newsletter aims to sustain the relationship between audience and business.
- Attention Matters – this newsletter is about audience behaviour and changing audience attention patterns. This is aimed at those within the industry, providing tips and tricks to create engaging content.
- Formats Unpacked – this newsletter highlights a format, unpacks the magic in it and what made it so successful. This is aimed at fans of media. The newsletter aims to widen the reach of Storythings and bring in new subscribers.
The Storythings newsletter led to one of the agency’s biggest clients after the CEO of a business subscribed and found the content captivating. The immediate purpose of a newsletter, or any other format, is not to convert sales tomorrow, but to let your audience know that you’re there.
If your brand has a human voice, people are more likely to take notice when you say something, subscribe to your communications channels, and ultimately buy your product or service when the need arises, as they see a high value in it by virtue of its personality.
‘There will always be, at some level, a need for paid marketing, but with storytelling you can lower your marketing costs in the long term as your audience will listen to what you say. SMEs should show themselves when engaging with their audiences. When you’re writing a newsletter, write it in a clear tone of voice, one that allows your customer’s opinions to be heard in their own voices instead of an anonymous voiceover. People don’t buy from faceless logos, they buy from other people.’
Ramachandran uses well-made podcasts as an example of good storytelling. She states that with podcasts you want your audience to listen to the whole season, if not multiple seasons, but to do this you need them to know what they’re about to get. Building familiarity and repetition within the format piques the interest of your audience. And it is only a long-term strategy of format thinking that can guarantee consistency and improvement, as you learn something each time you produce an episode
Once your listeners know what to expect from your content, they will stick around and keep coming back for it, as long as it’s created with their needs in mind. As you weave a narrative into it, they keep coming back for more, ultimately converting them into customers of your product or service.
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