Brand Culture in The Conversation Age: Relating Something is foremost Relating to Someone

Article by Pascal Beucler, SVP & Chief Strategy Officer, Global, MSLGROUP


At the ICCO Global Summit which took place in Oxford, UK, earlier this fall, I was invited to discuss why Branded Content and Entertainment are a new boundary, and a sweet spot to hit, for PR (People Relations) professionals. This talk was based on my experience last June, at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity, as a juror (and the only PR person!) in the newly created Entertainment Jury.

The basic point is: if it is true that ample narrative formats elevate brand content into the cultural mainstream, therefore becoming the next boundary for storytellers, can PR take advantage of it?

Cutting through and turning consumers into fans.

Entertainment is where branded content, storytelling and events/experiential converge, helping brands to creatively engage with people and communities, cut through and turn consumers into fans.

There’s a clear disenchantment with intrusive advertising formats, particularly among the most influential and sought-after demographic: Millennials.

Engaging content is what’s engaging Millennials: whether a viral video, a television series, or a top experiential event, this is what’s capturing their attention and interest.

The age of convergence is now.

I’d recommend to focus on four dimensions, illustrated – IMHO – by some of the most remarkable projects we’ve reviewed during the Festival.

  • Technological Convergence: big data, mobile apps, voice recognition, VR, AR are everywhere, and it changes everything, for it unleashes the power of emotional connections, creating meaningful relationships.
  • Mobile Convergence: what was prophesied long ago is a loud reality today, as our ubiquitous and versatile smartphone is our most vital link to our world, and to the world around us.
  • Societal Convergence: whether on gender equity, education, family crisis, coming out, racism, poverty, brands do not hesitate to be part of the global conversation, getting rid of taboos. Good content is better content to share, for purpose-driven organizations looking for social impact.
  • Collaborative Convergence: empowering people (consumers, but also employees) is what helps generate innovation, through co-creation, crowdsourcing, collaboration. Far more than just a trendy wave, it’s a massive tsunami.

Great content is the currency for Engagement.

Relevance, virality, social amplification, emotional connections and, at the end of the day, sales stimulation come with content, whether branded, native or experiential: this is our priority playfield, as PR professionals.

A content that should never be intrusive, but always be suggestive, contextual and fully relevant to the brand. And thus effective: from Conversation to Reputation and Commerce, results must be visible, tangible, measurable.

Only a good story will create a great relationship.

So what is such a story? In my view, it’s a story which needs to be human but exceptional, fact-based but emotional, unique but universal. Only such a story will have the power to create great relationships between corporations, brands and people.

Let’s keep in mind here what etymology teaches us. “Relatio” in Latin gives two meanings:

  • one around narrativity: telling a story, that’s relating something, narrating, giving an account of something – and at the heart of it is the art & science of relating.
  • one around relationship: relate to, that’s feeling in sympathy with, identify with, be connected to someone about something.

Only a good story has the power to bring people together – whether physically or virtually – and to create the kind of emotional context and connections which will help creatively engage the audience in a great conversation.

I believe that only the narrative way, through a well-told story, can create fruitful relationships with people and communities, by opposition to the classical, discursive, top down, “vertical” advertising way.

In other words, relating something is foremost relating to someone, and the relationship is what makes the attempt a success, or a failure.

We do live in a People Relations (PR) world… where the story matters, and needs to move people, deeply. The Art & Science of Storyteling is definitely in our DNA, and our core chanllenge in this new age of ample formats.

Being relatable, human, approachable, bold, “real”, giving people a voice: this could very much be where the future of great brands lies.

We – PR people – are here to help them lead the change!