Storytelling Must Get To The Emotional Centre Of The Consumer World – Femi Odugbemi


Femi Odugbemi, Executive Producer/CEO, Zuri 24 Media recently had an Instagram Live chat with Joshua Ajayi, Publisher/Editor-in-Chief, Brand Communicator where he spoke on the theme, “The Future of Media Content, Engagement And Storytelling Beyond COVID-19.”

Award-wining Odugbemi is a renowned documentary filmmaker, screenwriter, cinematographer, director, producer and photographer. He was the Head judge of African Magic Viewers’ Choice Awards (AMVCA) held recently. He is also the Academy Director (West Africa) for MultiChoice Talent Factory.

His Instagram Live chat was engaging and insightful as he looked at industry sundry issues amid and beyond COVID-19 and the trends that will shape the future of media content, engagement and storytelling, find excerpt:

Impact of COVID-19 Pandemic On Media And Video Production Industries

No doubt, the impact of COVID-19 pandemic on the economy is huge. It also has serious impact on the creative industry because of the nature of our work. For instance, I was making a TV series with over a 100 people working on it every day. All of a sudden we suspended it.  This shows that it is impossible to make the creative industry work in a social distancing situation. 

Though, there are a lot of people who are making their daily bread from the creative industry on daily basis, what they have to do now is to have a rethink and look at how they can make opportunity out of the crisis.

Also, people in the creative industry need to create great contents that can connect with people who are in need of entertainment now that everyone is at home. They need to employ storytelling to inform the people about what they need to know.

From an impact perspective, the creative industry is hugely affected because many artists were unprepared for a day like this. Many show off their lifestyles and new acquires on Instagram once they get a bit of money. That whole concept of saving for the raining day has often been missing in the entertainment industry. So, in a way, it is incredibly hard hit by the fact that suddenly there is nothing to rely on.

But I don’t think the industry is the only one that is affected. I think many industries are going to have a rethink of their business models, whether it is manufacturing or service industries. Clearly, COVID-19 has pushed a reset for the world and clearly nothing will be the same again.

However, what we need to figure out and understand is how much it is affecting the people and the consumers psychologically.  The new world is going to be technologically driven and what many people do at present may not be relevant any more.  A lot of systems and values will change which will force us to undergo a rethink.

We all need to understand that we are not entering a new world; we are already in a new world and in this new world, we all get a chance to recalibrate and look at what we do from a three dimensional angle and say, how else can I do what I do? How do I deliver what I do if social distancing continues?

Obviously there is going to be a major impact on some major industries especially tourism and travel because we have to rethink basically how we seat on the airplane. Airport also will never be the same again. So, how do we balance the security of lives biologically and with security in terms of terrorism? There is just so much about the new world and I think the questions are going to be a lot. It will be up to us like the Chinese say that the crisis is also an opportunity, and the first thing will must decide to do is not to do what we are doing the way we are doing it.

Impact Of COVID-19 On Content Creation In the Media

I think something interesting is going to happen. What you call traditional media will no longer exist. I don’t mean that TV stations, radio stations, newspapers or all the offline media will disappear. I mean none of it will exist in a parallel universe. It will actually be in a loop. Whatever you are doing online goes offline and comes back online. So, there is an online-offline loop and it is simply going to be the new reality.

Nothing will be called traditional media or digital media because everything is digital now simply because our audiences and our consumers are going to be forced to become digital natives.

I have committed myself to reading a lot during this period and some of the books I have been reading talk about what the world will be like in 10 years. Obviously, Artificial Intelligence is going to take over a lot of things; our cars will begin to drive themselves, our homes are becoming smart.

Obviously what this mean is that our audiences and consumers are going to find these channels as a way of life and not a privilege any longer. It will also affect how we sell because we can no longer sell in the language of PowerPoint.

We will no longer be able to sell our products or services because monopoly will be broken and our audience will have access to the same services and products in far away India, China, US and Britain.

What is going to be more interesting is when am to decide a product to buy. I can tell my phone what my need is, and my phone gives me a list of options to solve what my need is. Interestingly, how manufacturers, brand managers and service providers are going to take advantage of that will rely on how they get ahead with storytelling.

One of the things COVID-19 has done is that it made everybody to safeguard their pockets; nobody is spending because nobody knows how tomorrow looks like.

For those in the business of marketing, storytelling, branding and others, what is important is the kind of stories we weave around what we do. In weaving those stories, we must understand that our products or services are not at the heart of the story. What is at the heart of the story must become the emotional experience of the consumer.

How the viewers, listeners, reader and consumer (he or she) measure my brand empathy is vital. As a consumer for example, you are not in my space if you don’t understand my motivations, what is driving me, you don’t align with my fears and hopes and my dreams and my ability to survive in this new world.

If you are not providing what appears to me as services in the course of my progress, my money is not coming to you. Every family will look at the benefit of the money that is being spent. It means that any product that is a luxury item needs a story badly and that story needs to connect and convincing that the product or service is critical.

Brands Messages Online

My worry is that a lot of brand custodians are speaking the language of yesterday. They are still communicating in a manner that does not put into consideration that the audience and the consumers are in a very precarious state emotionally.

I think it is very important for us to understand that right now any story that is going to connect with the consumers has to understand where the consumer emotions are and the kind of messages they want to listen to.

Right now we are fighting a serious battle with a virus that we don’t have a cure for. In the midst of that, I think there is an opportunity for brands to communicate empathically. For instance, there is a lot of stigmatization about having CoronaVirus which has almost brought us back to the days of HIV. The truth is if someone just sneezes from a common cold, everybody takes off. Also, nobody in an isolation centre wants anybody to know they are there because they understand the stigmatization. Brands need to communicate and put our heart at rest because there is a lot of falsehood that have overrun what scientific facts are in terms of what we know about COVID-19 and this has built global fear around the virus.

There are a lot of things that we can’t do any longer. Our children can’t go to school anymore. We can’t visit ourselves any longer. There are also many cultural things that we can’t do again. However, what are the things we can do? We need stories to tell us things we can do. Tell us stories about how we can use our little time more productively, so that our hope and spirit can still be alive and well.

I think a lot of brands are missing an important storification opportunity. The information about the power of the brand, the efficacies of its solutions and others are meaningless until we storifythem into something that gets to the emotional centre of the consumer world and for me, that is a critical missing link which I don’t see much of it presently online, but there is opportunity for us to get into that boat.

For example, a lot of our actors, entertainers and performers on Instagram do not know they are brands that need to show empathy this time through their communication. This is not the time when you send to your fans the video of your twerking and expect people to think that you are okay.

However, I have equally seen some personality brands that are doing great things online.  Alibaba Online has spent his entire time bringing us useful information, messages of hope and connecting us to the message of keeping safe. That is just an example, others should also emulate that.

It’s just important to understand that communication and storytelling in this time and in the future have to do with addressing my emotional centre as a consumer and as an audience.

Appetites of Consumer in Post COVID-19

Consumer’s appetites are going to be moderated, that is for sure, why? Because there is going to be a post COVID-19 economic crisis, that is not just in Nigeria but across the world. Now, every country is making extra budgetary spend, even in America, the government is providing money to help small businesses.

At our own level in Nigeria, governments at different levels are already given some money to people to feed. Government is also helping to provide food bank. All these were expenditures that were not projected and surely it will have serious impact on the economy before it recovers.

However, every family will have to make very tough decisions. Things that are unnecessary will have to go; not everybody will be able to go on Dubai holiday any more. Not every child needs to go to one million naira primary school anymore. We will all begin to understand that frugalitywould not be an option, it would be imposed.

Today, the consumer must emotionally see your messaging as logical, sensible, time sensitive. It must understand that you are advocating the values they now have. It’s more of the values of spend for what is absolutely necessary.

Strategic Direction For New Independent Producers

Independent producers have a great opportunity to create stories that connect to our everyday life. For me strategically, I always start story telling from the characters. Just look around you, be an observer and you will be amazed. Nigerians are incredible story telling tribe. Find those characters that have things to tell us and have things to teach us.

Here is what I always say to young film makers, story tellers and writers; understand that among the audience you are writing for, are people who have lived your life three times and half. There are people who have seen more than you will ever see. There are people who have done more than you will ever do. So, you have to live well enough to predicate your story telling on only your own experience.

That means your story telling must be driven by research. It must be driven by other people’s stories that you have consumed. Note, you can’t only tell stories out of inspiration because you have not live well enough. In that case, you need to be a collaborator because if you work all by yourself alone all the times that will limit your success.

If you find an inspiration as an independent producer, be self reflective, look at what you are doing and how your process is. Create team and find other story tellers because two brains are better than one.

What is happening now in the world provides you with amazing opportunities. Are you documenting what is going on? Are you even documenting your own experience in isolation?

Truly, most of us have not been able to recognise that there is an opportunity for us to find who we are, read books, sit down and reflect. All of these are sources for story points that storyteller needs to be looking at. Once COVID-19 restrictions are over, the audiences are going to be looking for story tellers who are not only really able to tell the story of their experiences but can amuse us.

Technology And Great Story

There is always going to be a new platform for new age, and the ways stories are told are always going to remain the same. The technology is immaterial to the technique. Story telling technique is what is vital now because story brings people to the technology. 

It is also not about consumer contact with your brand, it is about how they felt after they left your brand. Every story is about emotional experience and technology is the contact point. If you have great story audiences will make it trend.

We live in an age where audiences can forward what they like and make it trend. So, when I talk about technology and storytelling, I mean we are not in the age of where one person can simply create, there has to be a way where we begin to understand co-creation. I said this in one conference long time ago that in the age of technology, what is clear is that the consumer are not waiting for you to tell them a story, they also want to tell their own story and the story they wish you tell is a story that they have an input in it. It is a story where they can give you feedback.

Your storytelling is simply like a lighter that will instigate chain reactions, and you have to understand that chain reactions can move just from an Instagram piece to something that can go to the Cinema.

At the heart of storytelling is the character, that human connection of who I like, how I like who I like, what is it that who I like does that I really like, whether they say something or not is going to be critical. So, the people who win are the people who find story that the audience and brand can turn into a conversion.

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