Random Thoughts: “Can You Build a Website?”

If you serve in the Interactive/digital department, you’ve invariably—to the chagrin of your very talented IT team—been referred to as the “IT team” or been relegated to the role of “website designers”. Indeed “interactivity” itself is often reduced sometimes to a discussion of tools instead of a strategy.

But it’s easy to see how this misperception started.

  1. Back in the “wild west” days of 1990’s the guy or gal who “got” the digital medium was also the person who set up your network and made sure that your Outlook Contacts were synched up with your “PalmPilot” or that nifty “Handspring”.

  2. And yes it is also true…the skill set for interactive does include a broad swath of “geekdom” such as analytics, search strategy, UI/IA, server-side technologists, coders etc.

But least one forgets, “interactive” is also an art form. A recent Creativity article by Renny Gleeson, Digital Strategist at W+K, makes a profound argument that the interactive medium has reopened the door for “collaborative storytelling”. Shakespeare plays were meant to be “interactive” with active audience participation; ancient folklores such as the Iliad, Gilgamesh, The Odyssey were “collaborative experiences” that were passed through generations orally.

Marketing and brand communications need storytellers and their stories. We inform, educate and create cultures based on stories. We define ourselves through their telling and their interpretations. A story is realized through the act of the storytelling. Of engagement with an audience. A great story, unread isn’t. The interactive medium by its nature invites people into the process—suggesting, collaborating, amplifying, advocating and diffusing. And there will always be good and bad storytellers. The best of them move us, inspire us, change us, drive social change, and sometimes—yes, sometimes—sell us something.

In advertising, when we are at our best, we build a message around a fundamental human truth, we engage the heart, and we tell compelling stories that create meaning for brands awash in a rising quagmire of white noise. And yes, we sell stuff.

As my friend Stephen Landau says, when we think about “digital brand strategy”, it’s not thinking, “let’s build a web site.” At the heart of it all, it’s about building a relationship with people. It’s about creating an emotional experience with consumers through storytelling and through their interaction with your brand via whatever tool that makes sense.

Just be sure to have the IT team on board when you’re building the tool. ;)

Update: a colleague just pointed out that our friend Troy is indeed “an artist by trade”. See I wasn’t kidding!

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