As we’re ramping up for our Future of Content panel, Oz and L&T will be running a series of Q&As with our panelists as well as stories considering various facets of the Future of Content. This week, we got to sit down with Mike Knowlton, Founder and President of Murmur, a next generation storytelling studio. He’s also Co-Founder of StoryCode, a global community of interactive and immersive media makers. Knowlton has an extensive background in tech and all things media, but for our panel, we’ll be tapping into his deep understanding of mobile.
Mike is the creator of StoryDeck, which he explains as Tinder for storytelling, and if you’re lucky enough to go to the Samsung Accelerator on Tuesday the 28th you can try out a StoryDeck that Murmur is making especially for the event. In the following interview, we discuss mobile experiences, VR, AR, exploding watermelons and whether or not CMOs can get agile.
Cat: What are the major technological changes we’re going to see in the next five years regarding content creation, consumption, and delivery?
Mike: Now, and for the immediate future, the hot topic in the interactive storytelling space is virtual reality. Personally, I don’t think that it’s going to live up to the hype. Augmented reality is something that is definitely going to gain some traction, and I think it might provide a better user experience than virtual reality.
Users can experience AR on their mobile devices without any additional equipment. Until we have computers that ship with goggles, the mass public isn’t really going to have the tools to experience the virtual reality content that’s created for it, unless a publisher or a marketer has some type of live event where they drive users to experience installation-type stuff.
CB: So, what is going to live up to the hype?
MK: We call it “the rise of live,” which we can break it down into two things.
One would be live video. Even recently, with the shooting in Dallas, we’re seeing a complete revolution in the way that news is being broadcast and people are consuming news.
However, we’re also seeing things like BuzzFeed’s exploding watermelon live Facebook video – that is how marketers are using live on social. I think it’ll take off, but marketers need to be careful about how they do that, because you can’t edit and fix videos, so it’s going to be easier to make mistakes.
There’s also the rise of live experiences, where brands will do pop-up stuff. There’s this pent-up demand. People are so over-saturated on digital that they want to experience something live – that’s why music festivals are popular right now. It gives brands an opportunity to do cool things with technology, whether that’s doing a virtual reality installation at a pop-up store or whatever, this kind of rise of live events is something that we’ll see more of as well.
CB:What about mobile?
MK: We focus on that at Murmur because the average user basically uses five apps on their phone.
The app economy is dead, but people are still on their phones all the time, and that’s where they’re getting access to content. So, how do you reach them?
Content creators release material on Facebook and Instagram, but they lose people if the experience cannot actually be had on that platform. People probably aren’t’ downloading your app, so we need to create mobile web experiences. These can be embedded into Facebook, or wherever the user is.
These very basic, super simple experiences are fast and quick. There’s no barrier. You play it and it works.
CB: Facebook is going to remain relevant for at least a few years. What should we know about what they are prioritizing?
MK: Facebook Stories are being prioritized for sure. However, they are limited to a special club of brands that buy into the program with Facebook. You can see them on a Washington Post or New York Times post where you click a piece of content, and it loads into a long form, storytelling type of interface that is not linking out to a website.
It’s like an embedded article view. It’s super slick and really powerful, and it feels like you’re still on Facebook, so that’s something that’s really effective. And Facebook is certainly prioritizing it because they’re generating revenue from the deals that they’re making with those brands.
The upside is that the user experience is really awesome. The downside is that you’ve got to buy into the program and the small businessperson’s not going to be able to use a Facebook story for their floral shop. You know what I mean?
CB: I do. How are all these new developments going to change the way we sell ads?
MK: That process of figuring out how to integrate brand attributes into a narrative experience in a way that doesn’t feel like advertising – that took a while to figure out. It’s going to take some time for the creators and marketers to work together and figure it out.
CB: You mention a narrative experience. What’s the difference between a brand story and a commercial?
MK: When viewers see a commercial, they see someone talking at them; when viewers see a brand story they feel like the brand is talking with them. Whether that’s through some interactive or crowd-sourced way, or just a video that touches the person, and they can connect with it, it’s the difference between being talked at and being talked with.
CB: Do you think all these new technologies will fundamentally change the way we tell stories?
MK: No. The platform may require you to use different storytelling techniques. The kind of techniques that you use may depend upon the platform and the technology that’s being implemented. But the fundamentals of a good story, one with a beginning, middle, and an end, that has conflict and resolution, are constant.
CB: What about content distribution and consumption – which are two sides of the same coin. How are those going to change in this new technological landscape?
MK: Right now, we have no idea what the VR landscape is going to look like. Who is going to own those distribution pipelines and all that stuff.
YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat — those channels are already set, but these newer technologies, there’s a land rush to claim the distribution for those, and they haven’t really been fleshed out yet, so we don’t know where people are going to go for VR or AR content.
CB: That must make you feel pretty confident about developing the mobile web experiences, huh?
MK: Yeah, it does. It’s an agnostic platform. If you’re not thinking first about how your content is going to be consumed on a phone, you’re making a big mistake.
CB: What are we going to see in terms of measurement and data from these new experiences?
MK: We’re going to need to figure out how to embed measurements into these new technologies. In VR, there’s very little to no data being captured, or it’s not being shared. There are ways to do it, but there have been no kind of formal processes for that yet.
For technologies that are using platforms like mobile web, we can kind of hook into existing analytics tools very easily for those types of projects. Many of our clients at Murmur already have Google Analytics or Parse.ly accounts, so we can hook into that stuff easily.
The more interesting part, though, is that we can control the interactivity of these experiences and we can collect new types of data.
For instance, in StoryDeck we create the questions that we’re asking, and then we can track the swipes on an individual basis, so we can start to get more insights than just, “How many users clicked the call to action? How many users clicked the start button?” All that stuff can be customized to the experience.
I think from a data and measurement perspective, as long as you’re not applying a one size fits all to all of your efforts, you’re good to go. Each implementation and platform need a different measurement plan.
CB: That reminds me of personalizing the experiences themselves. Will we continue to create one experience for everybody, or are we going to be creating slightly different experiences for people depending on their demographic and the tools they’re using to experience the content?
MK: I think maybe the cynical answer to that would be: Certainly. Yes. Facebook knows so much about me right now that it’s crazy. However, I really question whether people are going to react to that in a positive or a negative way.
When Facebook does stuff or shows me stuff that I know is a result of all the data they have about me, it really freaks me out, and it pisses me off, and I wonder if that sort of concern will be raised for marketers to just sort of take this approach.
An alternative to that is a way where you can create a personalized experience of the piece of content through the interactions of a user. A lot of the work that we’re doing at Murmur is about changing subsequent content that we give you based upon how you interact with our experience upfront. This could be something like a video experience that asks you a couple questions after you’ve seen a couple of intro things and then changes the videos that are played afterwards.
That’s a way that just feels more integrated and personalized than some Wizard of Oz behind a door telling me what I should see and then giving me an experience that magically knows that I’m a fly fisherman and I love indie rock, but I never told it that, right?
And people realize that. People realize that when they visited a website for untuckit.com yesterday, and then they go to Facebook, and they see UNTUCKit ads. They remember that, and that’s freaky, and that’s weird, and people don’t like that. It’s very obvious.
That’s that whole thing of talking at you versus talking with you. That’s advertising mindset.
CB: So now that we got really big picture; what would you say to small and medium sized marketers and brands in the audience to help them stay ahead of the curve? What are the tools and skillsets they may need in the next five years?
MK: CMO’s need to develop Agile mindsets, and they need to create a culture of experimentation, and innovation comes out of that. That’s harder to do than it is to implement. It’s really easy to say, “Oh yeah, I’m innovative.” But to actually instill processes in your department and in your organization that support making mistakes, that support putting stuff out before it’s really fully cooked, and understanding that that’s the way that we’re going to work here is difficult.
That, to me, is an area that CMO’s can really focus on, and if they do that then they’re going to have a team that’s responsive, can create content really quickly and can course correct as they’re rolling it out. They need to be really immediate. I think that will become more and more important over the coming years.