Storylines Tour NYC: The page-turning event, wrapped

Thursday, May 4 was a big day for Contentful and composable content. Not only did we release the documentary film “The New Art of Storytelling,” we kicked off Storylines Tour 2023 in New York City.

This tour, which also includes stops in Paris, London, Silicon Valley, and Berlin, between now and October, convened with practitioners sharing their experiences and ideas on the power of storytelling in an increasingly complex, dynamic, and multichannel landscape.

How do they bring it all together in a consistent, compelling, and memorable way? Through a good story — and great content. How you deliver that content is the secret to storytelling at scale — and the heart of Storylines.

Meet the professor of video games

To engage audiences in the story — and make them a part of it — requires an intimate understanding of customer communities. Dr. Kris Alexander the “professor of video games” at Toronto Metropolitan University, drives this point home in our documentary as well as his keynote at Storylines. To get the full effect of his compelling perspective and the thoroughly engaging way he lands his points, you’ll just have to join us in person…

But you don’t have to feel the buzz in the room to get the benefit of the impressive experience and learning shared in New York. Our customers and partners took center stage for the event, including Audible, BigCommerce, Career Certified, Commerce Layer, Google, KFC, Kin + Carta, Kraft Heinz, TaskRabbit, Twilio Segment, TransPerfect, Uniform, Vercel, and Wunderman Thompson.

What are their secrets to success? How are these big brands transforming into digital storytelling organizations? What are the new, clever (and fun) ways brands can engage with customers and build lasting relationships? They brought the goods and started what promises to be an ongoing conversation. 

Interacting authentically with stories that matter

Our own Dina Apostolou, VP of Content and Experiences at Contentful, started the day by framing the way stories connect and resonate with us all.

For her, the volunteer time she spends with the American Cancer Society learning about and helping to promote the personal stories of cancer survivors demonstrates not only the power that storytelling has, but its importance. These survival stories are often what give others with cancer the inspiration and motivation they need to keep going — to see it through to their own recoveries.

This is a big reason why Dina has been so influential in Contentful’s focus on storytelling. We, like our customers, are working to ensure that the way we develop content and use storytelling to engage our audiences helps us build relationships and communicate effectively. It’s a collective journey we’re all on together.

Our own Dina Apostolou, VP of Content and Experiences at Contentful, started the day by framing the way stories connect and resonate with us all.

Becoming an organization that tells stories that stick

Justin Thomas, Head of Digital Experiences at Kraft Heinz, took the stage next to share how (and why) ordinary organizations must become “storytelling organizations” to become consistently iconic rather than relics of times past.

According to Justin, this change is the secret (tomato) sauce to making customer experiences that are truly memorable. This transition — an exercise in change management — is a multi-stage process. It starts with denial, moves to conflict, and eventually leads to capitalizing.

The challenge Justin faced was getting the business to recognize that keeping the company — and its brands — current meant engaging customers in different, digital-centric ways. For Kraft Heinz to move beyond denial and conflict to capitalize on digital storytelling, Justin and other leaders needed to garner internal buy-in. The key was to evoke a sense of urgency, motivation, and even excitement for this change. 

“Change is inevitable. It's happening. It will continue to happen. We cannot stop it. It is just gonna come at us. But growth, growth is optional. You can opt into growing during change.”

— Justin Thomas, Head of Digital Experiences, Kraft Heinz

Kraft Heinz used the four tenets of storytelling to communicate and demonstrate how storytelling with the right technology would drive brand growth, which include:

  • Know your audience: This is made possible with analytic tools that collect and quantify customer demographics, behavior, touchpoints, and more.

  • Build a strong character: This speaks to creating content that’s tied to a brand’s mission and values.

  • Be consistent: This means developing and communicating a story that aligns with related content.

  • Connect with meaning: This means meeting customers in the spaces they frequent most.

Placing these tenets of storytelling at the center of operations would enable Kraft Heinz to become a proactive rather than reactive company, better positioned to address changing markets and new customer demands.

Justin concluded by emphasizing that Kraft Heinz’s story was best described as a “journey,” which, like most, was lengthy. He offered a few key recommendations for attendees on how to shorten their own transition, such as bringing in a team to help with change management, planning the process before sharing it publicly with internal teams, and continually ensuring side projects connect to big rocks.

“Change is inevitable. It's happening. It will continue to happen. We cannot stop it. It is just gonna come at us. But growth, growth is optional. You can opt into growing during change.”

Designing a story that's accessible and enjoyable for everyone 

In understanding that meaningful experiences motivate customers to take action, Wunderman Thompson is a Contentful Solution Partner that prioritizes accessible design — which can fall by the wayside with tight budgets and deadlines in sight. 

“Accessibility can be a gateway to creativity and humanity.”

— Josh Loebner, Global Head of Inclusive Design, Wunderman Thompson

To help Storylines attendees champion inclusivity across their organizations, Jim Vogel Executive Director, Marketing Technology and Experience at Wunderman Thompson, shared some tips on how to reposition accessible design from a “nice to have” to a “must have.” He began by recommending that companies explore the benefits of accessibility. 

Benefits of accessible design include: 

  • Introducing your brand to an additional 1.3 billion potential customers.

  • Meeting with local- or industry-enforced accessibility standards. 

  • Increasing creativity.

Adam offered the following tips for approaching accessible design with composable technology:

  • Build a tech stack that includes tools that consider accessibility. 

  • Invest in accessibility training across teams.

  • Scan sites and digital experiences early and often. 

  • Automate processes to monitor accessibility over time.

Before concluding the session, Adam introduced attendees to Wunderman Thompson’s new tool, Brand Guardian, which is now available in the Contentful Marketplace. This tool addresses bullets one and four by offering quality control and streamlining workflows with AI. We get the feeling it’ll bring a lot of meaning to the lives of digital teams leading the accessibility crusade. 

Lifting and shifting a single story to build unique experiences

Understanding your audience is critical to delivering an authentic message and building a connection. Key elements of that are accessibility, but also personalization, and localization. It goes back to thinking about the context — meeting your customer where they are, at the right time, with the right message, delivered in the right way.

For TaskRabbit, a two-sided marketplace app that pairs skilled “Taskers” with “Projects” to be done, creating personalized, localized content is foundational to keeping users active on the platform. With a customer base that’s spread across nine countries, Nikhita Sagar, Lead Product Manager with TaskRabbit, explained that a discerning content strategy and a custom-built stack — which includes Contentful, Twilio Segment, Optimizely, Iterable, AppsFlyer, and Mixpanel — is their fuel for tailored digital experiences. 

Nikita dug into this content strategy a bit more, peppering in actionable tips for the audience. She recommended building personalization strategies around cohorts rather than individual users (keep it simple!). Not only is this approach a lighter lift for content creators, but it also provides some leeway for customers to receive recommendations or content that are interesting and unique to them but not in an overly on-the-nose, big-brother way.

Nikita also recommended being modest when selecting “North Stars.” She recommends that companies align internal teams on the same goals and KPIs. This makes standardizing measurements and moving towards success much easier – it also makes the celebration that follows success much sweeter and more communal. 

Making digital magic to spark a lifetime of brand affinity

With the afternoon quickly rolling into the evening, Kris returned to the stage to moderate a customer panel — in his distinctly energizing way. When it comes to standing out in a crowded digital landscape (competing for attention), brands must develop new methods of creativity to spark wonder in customers — the type of spark that ignites a relationship that withstands the test of time, extending into the future.

Some of the brands that are leaning into this are Audible, Google, and KFC. All offer very different products, but all are using the power of content, narrative, and a good bit of whimsy to coax customers to reimagine their products and ushers them into the community by saying, “you belong.” 

According to Abby McInerney, Director of Global Brand Creative at Audible, customers come to Audible because they want to feel a sense of accomplishment, not just listen to something. Ultimately, they leave changed — as much by what they heard as by having made the time to hear it.

“Social is really the place where we engage one-on-one with our members. We have a channel called ‘Hear for it,’ and it's wonderful to see them really engage with it,” Abby shared.

Google takes a slightly different — but equally compelling — approach to communicating that message of belonging. The company champions its products by developing deep post-purchase content to empower customers to do more with the product and fall deeper in love with the brand. 

“We build out multiple narratives for each product — everything from Q&As led by the product engineers who built the product to experts in certain fields or small business owners that use it in their day-to-day lives. We're trying to give a range of unique information across markets,” Taruna Sood, Global Manager, Direct-To-Consumer Digital Marketing, Devices & Services, Google said, detailing the thought and curation that goes into each output.

Ashely Travis, Senior Director, Digital Experience & Product at KFC, explored the importance of extending this message of belonging to internal team members as well. “We have really high standards of doing right by our people. We invest a lot in education for team members, we give back by helping franchisees tied to diverse backgrounds and cultures get started,” she shared. 

By the time their chat was over, the speakers had nearly convinced Kris he belonged in their customer community, too. In fact, he was nearly ready to get a bucket of chicken tattooed on himself. Die-hard KFC fanatic? Time will tell!

With the afternoon quickly rolling into the evening, Kris returned to the stage to moderate a customer panel — which really brought his keynote on “impactful synergy” full circle.

Closing one chapter and moving to the next

The day’s sessions found the room humming with conversation and thick with ideas and inspiration. The end of the agenda was by no means the end of the discussion, which continued on well into the night and far beyond. Storylines New York was but one chapter in the Storylines Tour — and only the start of a discussion we know is already proving well productive.

Looking to get in on the fun and hone new storytelling skills for the betterment of your business? Join us at an upcoming Storylines Tour event near you. We’ll continue to build on the overarching themes with new insights and ideas from different speakers and sessions in each city.  

Use the links below to explore these details and save your seat!

📍 Paris, May 25

📍 London, June 29

📍Silicon Valley, Oct. 5

📍 Berlin, Oct. 19 

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