Last week, I flew to Las Vegas for the Consumer Electronics Show, a gathering of over 170,000 technology enthusiasts, executives, marketers, analysts, and reporters who joined to experience the latest in global technological innovation. As I divided my time between panels, keynotes and product exhibits, one of the obvious themes that emerged was that of storytelling, and how to do it better.

Considering we are in the golden age of TV right now, and consumers have more entry points than ever for brand engagement (thank you, Internet of Things), the fact that everyone is talking about good storytelling right now seems appropriate.

To be a good storyteller, marketers are challenged with putting engaging, authentic stories in front of consumers at the right time and place. As Google President of Americas Operations Margo Georgiadis stated during a panel session at CES, storytelling must begin with the user, not the brand. Georgiadis discussed how the marketing campaign behind Unilever’s “All Things Hair” YouTube channel began with the user. Unilever saw that women were looking for videos about how to fix hair frustrations or create new hairstyles, so the company created its own content channel. In “All Things Hair” videos, popular YouTube vloggers offer how-to’s with Unilever haircare products.

NBCUniversal is also taking a new spin on storytelling with one of its marketing strategies for the 2016 Olympics. During the MediaLink keynote, CEO Steve Burke explained that the company will send twelve individuals to the 2016 Olympics in Rio this year, and they will share their experiences on Buzzfeed. This strategy will likely help drive engagement with a younger audience segment, by offering a new, authentic perspective of the games via a popular channel for Millennials and iGens.

The Buzzfeed coverage of the Olympics is also an example of collaboration across NBCUniversal assets. Good storytelling requires collaboration—across assets, departments, and media channels. Brands will be challenged to seek out and find the right collaborators to develop the best stories, discover new channels for reaching specific audience segments, and offer multiple points of entry into a story. Sometimes the best storytelling comes from unlikely partnerships.

Why all this talk of authentic, relevant, and collaborative storytelling at a technology conference? New technologies are pushing storytelling forward, offering new tools to enhance the story, as well as new media channels. As more and more connected devices emerge under the Internet of Things (ioT) umbrella, more potential marketing channels emerge. For instance, Samsung’s Family Hub smart fridge allows consumers to stream music from providers like Pandora, share photos, and even order groceries from its touchscreen display. Imagine the kind of highly relevant marketing certain CPG brands could conduct via that refrigerator! Products like this just keep adding to the many available marketing channels, driving advertisers to be more aware of emerging technologies and more nimble than ever.

Perhaps the hottest topic at CES 2016, virtual reality is already starting to emerge in marketing efforts and may become the most significant force transforming storytelling over the next decade. Virtual reality was present at last year’s CES, too, but this year, as the technology took greater steps forward, marketers and content creators were very vocal about the possibilities for enhancing storytelling through VR. Johnson & Johnson CMO Alison Lewis echoed other executives at the event when she said of VR, “If it helps me tell the story of our brand, then it’s a great thing that we’ll embrace.”

The virtual reality component adds many new layers to the experience of a story, providing deeper sensory dimensions that bring the story to life. I had an opportunity to try out the Goosebumps virtual reality experience as part of a private press event hosted by Technicolor. The Goosebumps Virtual Reality Adventure was a marketing installation at cinema lobbies in select cities leading up to the release of the Goosebumps film. The experience immersed users into a scene from the movie in which Jack Black races around town after one of his creates escapes. After putting on headphones and the Samsung Galaxy Gear VR headset, I found myself sitting in the car next to a very realistic CGI version of Jack Black taking us on a high-speed adventure. I could look up, down, and all around to see what was happening around me, including the giant creature closing in.  Immersive motion chairs by D-BOX provided movement carefully orchestrated with the music and sounds of the scene, which helped make the car ride feel incredibly real.

Of course, virtual reality marketing doesn’t have to be this elaborate or cost-intensive. Mintel Comperemedia has tracked numerous promotions for 360-video from auto manufacturers: BMW used 360-degree video to help consumers get a better idea of what it would feel like to sit inside the Mini Cooper.

Great marketers are always thinking about how they can be better storytellers. Having a good story is only the first step—great storytelling requires the right story, told in the right way, to the right audience. CES 2016 showcased many new avenues for storytelling afforded by new technologies. Being present where and when consumers want to see a brand is the continuing challenge for marketers, as they await the “holy grail” of tracking that will enable them to track consumer behavior across all of the devices that capture their time. Eventually, though, new technologies will address that issue, opening up further improved methods for marketers to hone their stories.

Emily Groch is Mintel Comperemedia’s Director of Insights, Telecommunications. She provides omni-channel marketing analysis and competitive insights to wireless, TV, internet, over-the-top, and home security service providers across the U.S. and Canada.

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