Microsoft marketer: storytelling creates great experiences
A view from Paul Davies

Microsoft marketing director: Focus on storytelling and world-building to create great experiences

Experience is the key social currency of young audiences, and it's not only entertainment brands that should incorporate that into their strategy.

"How was it for you?"

That’s the most common refrain I've heard amongst marketers at the start of the year,  comparing notes on Christmas trading and predictions for this year's first quarter, alongside revving their own personal engines to get back to the usual pace of work.

After all, marketers are a friendly bunch, and most of us are well networked, wanting to share highs and lows, and help one another out in non-competing sectors.

Well, it seemed to have been a tough trading quarter for most marketers, unless you are in the food category as the British Retail Consortium reported a decline in non-food items of almost 5%.

Car sales were down for the first time in six years. House prices are, at best, holding, but according to some reports showing signals of slipping. Holiday sales growth is falling.

And even our very own British saviour of Christmas trading, John Lewis, reported a profit warning – despite increased revenues.

For many marketers, the Q4 period is the most critical, and if you lose the quarter, it defines the rest of the year as an uphill challenge. It’s less a tale of two halves, and more a tale of one quarter.

Unpicking marketing performance can be notoriously tricky, as there are always many factors and signals to take into account. 

The Q4 period is the most critical, and if you lose the quarter, it defines the rest of the year as an uphill challenge

Not least the impact of Black Friday further encouraging consumers to seek out the best deals and delay buying until they have found them. As a result, we are now seeing an extended Black Friday period which is longer than ever before.

Then there’s the Brexit effect creating worry and uncertainty. And while we are seeing consumers still respond to advertising with strong intent to buy, it’s the final conversion to purchase that is under siege.

Further to all this, there is a deeper effect at play too, which is consumers’ desire to have meaningful experiences over owning physical product (just look at the rise of streaming services like Spotify and Netflix over CD or DVD ownership to see the extent to which consumers have much less of a need for tangible ownership).

We are now seeing many consumers opting to spend their disposable income on the creation of long-term memories, to replace the short-term dopamine hit of an immediate purchase.

It is scientifically proven that gaining social "Likes" generates the same dopamine hit as a shopping purchase

The experience economy is in great health, and booming.

The insatiable thirst to publish great Instagram content to receive "Likes" is an influence. The social currency of younger audiences is made up of where they’ve been and what they’ve done, and has less to do with what they own.

Plus, it is scientifically proven that gaining social "Likes" generates the same dopamine hit as a shopping purchase. And so maybe we are seeing a new generation swapping Nikes for "Likes"?

There is a new value set among emerging generations of consumers who place greater value on shared experience than on commoditised product. This explains the explosion of new interactive entertainment forms.

Take Secret Cinema as one example that has successfully hit mainstream scale, after 10 years of development and growth from underground cult to scalable success.

Or consider Star Wars: The Last Jedi. It is no coincidence that alongside one of the biggest movie releases of the year, Disney chose to create an interactive, virtual reality experience at a retail pop-up at Westfield.

You too can take on the Empire – just don a VR headset and haptic vest, grab your blaster and go! A family of four can have a shared experience at £30 each. That’s £120 for 20 minutes of fun.

Sounds expensive (and about 300 times more expensive than my babysitter’s hourly charge), but it is proof that the new experience economy is hot property.

But it’s not just about entertainment: Lufthansa are getting in on the act too, with tissue dispensers at departure gates for those tearful goodbyes with loved ones as they leave to board long distance flights.

Or kiosks in their business lounges for busy executives to record and send bedtime stories to their kids whilst they await their next business trip taking them away from home.

But what does this all mean for marketing? We need to hone our creativity and skills in creating and crafting unforgettable experiences for customers and generating more emotional reactions which in turn create longer term memories.

We should focus on storytelling and world-building, and being creative in experimenting with the intersection where digital activities meet tangible experience.

Above all else, it’s about putting the customer first. Easy to say, but easy to forget in the always-on, hyper-connected world of fast paced decision-making.

When we do this, we can raise our sights again and confidently ask our customers: "So, how was it was it for you?"

Paul Davies is consumer marketing director at Microsoft and a member of Campaign’s Power 100