Digital Essays: Alan Parker, GolinHarris - Tell a continuous story

Marketing needs to switch from one-off campaigns to continuous, real-time narratives.

The future of marketing will be focused on ideas that produce one thing - great content, and lots of it. As comms professionals, this is what we need to crack. The continued consumer migration to digital channels will require brands to change not just the channels they use, but the way they market. They will need to shift from one-off campaigns to continuous and real-time stories that contain multiple narratives. Why? Because 87 per cent of people in the UK spend an average of 15 hours per week online. Because in 2011 alone, more than 1.8 trillion gigabytes of information were created or replicated online. That's the equivalent of 200 billion HD movies. This is what brands have to compete with to get what is best described as 'share of engagement'.

Some brands are already competing in this space and doing it really well. In October, Red Bull dropped a man from space to break the sound barrier. This is the brand that has ripped up the marketing handbook and rewritten it as a series of tweets, status updates, video clips and amazing digital experiences. Why? Because it knows that this is the future of marketing, especially for its audience. There are certainly marketing lessons here that others could learn from.

Red Bull has pursued a single-minded strategy of extreme sports sponsorship that has given it an abundance of one thing - great content. With this content, it tells the story of Red Bull every day, and we're all part of it. Red Bull's Facebook page has more fans than Australia has people. So it's safe to say that there are a lot of people that are part of its story.

Competing in this digital world means creating great content. The idea that 'content is king' is as strong today, but with the addition that 'community is queen'. This relationship between brand story (content) and community (the audience) is not the type of one-sided relationship we associate with traditional marketing. It is more equal and collaborative, with content and community existing in a mutually beneficial relationship. Content needs to be compelling, continuous and real-time in order to engage the community. This creates a virtuous cycle where the community shares brand content, exposing more people to it. The result is that more people opt into the brand's story through likes, shares and follows.

This continuous, real-time story starts to take shape as a joint product of the brand and audience. The experts in this space know exactly when to introduce the next narrative. Taking one of our clients as an example, Magnum can talk about fashion, film, design, art and gaming over a 12-month period. This is all through the lens of the brand essence centred on pleasure, which positions the brand as the authority on 'pleasure plus' - pleasure plus film, pleasure plus fashion, and so on.

At GolinHarris, we see this every day through The Bridge, our real-time marketing centre. We often have clients come in to see The Bridge in operation and ask what makes it special. Our simple response is to ask what is more powerful: someone seeing a piece of traditional advertising and telling the person next to them that they love it, or someone experiencing a continuous and real-time brand story and telling their 1,000 Twitter followers 'love this'?

In 2013, successful brands will be those that learn to harness the power of communities through a continuous and real-time story. To achieve this, they must do three things: tell their story in a compelling way with great content, and lots of it; move from campaign-led approaches to continuous and real-time ones; and weave together many narratives using the brand essence as the backdrop to their story.

Views in brief

Pinterest: the online equivalent of a teenage girl's bedroom wall or useful corporate resource?

It's more of a consumer experience - an expression of great content curation. In the 1990s, brands talked about getting on teenagers' bedroom walls. Today, they talk about getting on their Facebook walls and Pinterest boards.

What is the best example of user-generated content this year?

Someone using Pinterest boards to build their entire CV and related experience.

How can Facebook likes be turned into pounds?

Fan pages are monetising, with click-to-buy options and payment gateways.

Alan Parker is head of digital at GolinHarris.

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