I listened to a futurist and a storyteller on Saturday and yet there wasn’t a crystal ball or a tarot card in sight. I was at the TAAN conference in Copenhagen where a room of hard bitten, cynical advertising people were transfixed by a Danish ex-teacher turned storyteller and an economist who didn’t predict the credit crunch. Like so much in communication context and audience is everything. If either of these two had tried to make an appointment to see me in Glasgow or Belfast and had made the mistake of telling me what they did before hand they wouldn’t have got me for five minutes far less had my undivided attention for half a day. Yet it would have been my loss as both were fascinating and relevant.
Svend-Erik Engh was riveting. He’s made a career out of advising people and organisations how to tell stories properly. He discovered that as a teacher it wasn’t so much the content as the delivery that made the difference to his pupils ability to retain what he’d taught them. Sound familiar? So much of what we do is all about telling the story in the most captivating way; whether that story is the start of a half price sale, a position you need filled or that the big bad wolf is coming after Grandma. The art of telling a story is basically what we in advertising do, yeah sure we dress it up with bells and whistles and account execs but fundamentally it is exactly the same as what the Brothers Grimm did. Svend-Erik Engh’s understanding of this is the basis of his workshops. His explanation of the techniques used and the almost universal flow of the story was insightful and his reminder that the telling of the story is as important as the story itself was timely.
The Futurist was called Carsten Beck and he works for the Copenhagen Institute for Future Studies. They’re quite a high powered and influential think-tank that study economic patterns, research and behaviour and create models of what could happen in specific economic fields. Their crystal ball gazing is based on fact and an understanding of consumer behaviour and many of his ideas are used by large household name organisations to plan their future strategy. Their vision of the future is of one where the consumer is king, where companies need to listen as much as talk and who need to understand that a failure to deliver on promises will simply result in failure. Now, this of course could have been said at any time in any industry for the last 50 years. The big difference today is the power the consumer has compared to the past. If you treat your customers badly today don’t be surprised to see a Facebook page about it or a video discussing your short comings on You Tube. It’s difficult to come back from that so it’s better to make sure it doesn’t happen in the first place.
Of course all of us can predict the future to one extent or another. Without a doubt consumers will want better products and better service and we’ll need to find new and compelling ways to bring these products and services to their attention. Lesson one from Copenhagen was that whatever the future holds there will be a greater than ever need for creative, insightful, strategic advertising and if we don’t adapt to the changing world we’ll have no future in this business.