SXSW and Credit Unions Part 2

I knew my South by Southwest Interactive experience was going to offer more than "How to get more likes on your Facebook page" or "10 tips for better blog writing," but I didn't know how deeply the experience would make me think about the challenges that credit unions are facing and the opportunities that credit unions have in front of them.

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I knew my South by Southwest Interactive experience was going to offer more than "How to get more likes on your Facebook page" or "10 tips for better blog writing," but I didn't know how deeply the experience would make me think about the challenges that credit unions are facing and the opportunities that credit unions have in front of them.

It is getting harder and harder to make a noise and stand-out. Everywhere I turned there were start-ups, Internet companies and established brands performing stunts, wearing oversize space suits, flying banners, giving out food and drinks, driving around in buses with live bands on top, and handing out tons of stuff in the form of cards, hats, shirts, posters and passes to exclusive parties (and by exclusive, I mean anybody with a heart beat and a SXSW badge was a VIP). And this was all in the physical world. In the online world, new apps and services where being buzzed about and promoted like mad in a race to become the next SXSW poster child like Twitter and Foursquare.

I found all of this instantly forgettable. I was a nobody at this conference, and yet, I had free food and entertainment every night from companies that I can't remember the names of. Not because I was drinking, but because my eyes, ears and mind where so over stimulated that everything was mashed together.

SXSW is clearly a microcosm on steroids, but it points to that fact that we are inundated with so many marketing messages everyday that we tune out. Even the really interesting stuff can't get through. 

The importance of storytelling 

A major theme that I took away from my SXSW experience is the important role that storytelling plays in being able to rise above the noise. Ron Shevlin has often said that, "Your brand is the stories your customers tell about you." This couldn't be more true. There were a couple of sessions on this theme that I attended that really pointed to possible ways to break through on an emotional level.

Branded Documentary

Description: Procter & Gamble recently commissioned Flow Nonfiction to create a documentary film capturing one of its signature cause programs: Pantene Beautiful Lengths. PBL has donated over 272,000 ponytails for real-hair wigs to the American Cancer Society, and also generated significant ROI for the brand itself. How and why has the program succeeded in making good on doing good? Through communication innovation, like branded documentary film. Marketers and filmmakers, your union is at hand. Film-driven campaigns are setting a new standard of authenticity and ROI. PR and digital agencies are leveraging branded film assets through interactive, integrated campaigns – building brand platforms and driving user-generated content. Read more about the session.

Here's the film to give you an idea of what this is all about.

Why this matters to credit unions: I believe the challenge of marketing low-end, consumer shampoo would rank right up there with marketing banking in terms of sheer difficulty. Both categories are undifferentiated and not particularly memorable. However, as you can see from this branded documentary example, Proctor & Gamble has not only created a wonderful cause in Pantene Beautiful Lengths, but they've brought it to life with care and dignity in this terrific film. Plus, Pantene has significant built-in distribution channels with a large Facebook and Twitter following, a decent blog, a public relations engine and a significant national advertising budget.

Could credit unions do this? Potentially, but credit unions themselves are not a cause. There are organizations like the National Credit Union Foundation and the Real Solutions program that are involved in creating and capturing meaningful stories. Perhaps this is a place to start.

Whether collectively or individually, credit unions would really have to dig to unearth the deep, meaningful stories within their membership and then have the means and audience to get their branded documentary seen. The filmmaker, David Modigliani, talked about the importance of production value and that the current trend of shaky user-generated video that has become the norm is no match for professional-level production and storytelling. This obviously comes at a significant cost.

A great point made by the panel was that people must connect deeply with your cause and the cause that you are backing must align with what your brand physically delivers in the real world. Plus, there must be a universal climax to the story. In the case of Pantene Beautiful Lengths, it is that cutting moment. The point is not to exploit something like breast cancer and chemotherapy, but to celebrate humanity that transcends blattant marketing. Again, I am unsure if credit unions have a universal "cutting moment," but the session and the branded documentary concept were very intriguing.

Multiplatform stoytelling

Description: While the academics preach of the wonders and promise and “mechanics” of “transmedia” storytelling, there are pioneering producers on the ground really doing it. There are good days and bad. There is money and there is not. And then there are the fans. What does it take to pull off successful multiplatform storytelling?

We are at the birth of a new industry, an inflection point, much like the history of film or radio or television or even the Internet where technology gives rise to a new means to tell stories. It is a time before the “institutionalization” of the multiplatform industry. And just like the history of film or TV the early pioneers are stepping out now and taking a lot of arrows. They are experimenting, learning what works and establishing best practices. They are master storytellers using and in some cases inventing new tools. They have failed and they have succeeded. And these are their stories. Read more about the session.

Why this matters to credit unions: This panel was awesome with four wonderful case studies that were presented. I'll tell you about one called Robot Heart Stories that really points to how much more effective and immersive financial literacy could potentially be for credit unions. Robot Heart Stories is currently being produced by story architect and designer Matt Wieler of Reboot Stories.

Here's the synopsis:

Robot Hearts Stories is an experiential learning project that uses collaboration and creative problem solving to put education directly in the hands of students. Two classrooms, a continent apart, will work together to get a lost robot home, and they will need your help.

The experience begins when a robot crash lands in Montreal and must make her way to LA in order to find her space craft and return home. Two class rooms in underprivileged neighborhoods, one in Montreal (French speaking) and the other in LA (English speaking), used math, science, history, geography and creative writing to help the robot make her way across North America.

At the same time, Robot Hearts Stories extends beyond the classroom, as the project welcomes involvement from a global audience. We need participants of all ages to share their own passions in the form of a creative act involving a robot they can print, customize and document. For each photo or piece of art featuring the robot that is submitted, the “signal strength” of the robot grows stronger and helps her to get back home.

It is the producer's feeling that together they can empower endless creativity and, with the help of a robot, reboot education. It was a wonderful story about a story that's currently being created. Part scripted, part professionally produced, part improv and part user-generated content, it really points to an emersive experience that goes way beyond boring hand outs and Powerpoint.

In this, and the other case studies presented, I saw great storytelling strategies that could be applied to the financial literacy space.

What stories are you writing? What stories are you capturing? What stories are you telling and sharing? Can you use storytelling in a way that cuts through the noise? I think there are a lot of possibilities for credit unions. 

I'll continue with more SXSW highlights over the next few days before the memories of SXSW 2012 fade!

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We are at the birth of a new industry, an inflection point, much like the history of film or radio or television or even the Internet where technology gives rise to a new means to tell stories. It is a time before the “institutionalization” of the multiplatform industry. And just like the history of film or TV the early pioneers are stepping out now and taking a lot of arrows. They are experimenting, learning what works and establishing best practices. They are master storytellers using and in some cases inventing new tools. They have failed and they have succeeded. And these are their stories. Read more about the session.

Why this matters to credit unions: This panel was awesome with four wonderful case studies that were presented. I'll tell you about one called Robot Heart Stories that really points to how much more effective and immersive financial literacy could potentially be for credit unions. Robot Heart Stories is currently being produced by story architect and designer Matt Wieler of Reboot Stories.

Here's the synopsis:

Robot Hearts Stories is an experiential learning project that uses collaboration and creative problem solving to put education directly in the hands of students. Two classrooms, a continent apart, will work together to get a lost robot home, and they will need your help.

The experience begins when a robot crash lands in Montreal and must make her way to LA in order to find her space craft and return home. Two class rooms in underprivileged neighborhoods, one in Montreal (French speaking) and the other in LA (English speaking), used math, science, history, geography and creative writing to help the robot make her way across North America.

At the same time, Robot Hearts Stories extends beyond the classroom, as the project welcomes involvement from a global audience. We need participants of all ages to share their own passions in the form of a creative act involving a robot they can print, customize and document. For each photo or piece of art featuring the robot that is submitted, the “signal strength” of the robot grows stronger and helps her to get back home.

It is the producer's feeling that together they can empower endless creativity and, with the help of a robot, reboot education. It was a wonderful story about a story that's currently being created. Part scripted, part professionally produced, part improv and part user-generated content, it really points to an emersive experience that goes way beyond boring hand outs and Powerpoint.

In this, and the other case studies presented, I saw great storytelling strategies that could be applied to the financial literacy space.

What stories are you writing? What stories are you capturing? What stories are you telling and sharing? Can you use storytelling in a way that cuts through the noise? I think there are a lot of possibilities for credit unions. 

I'll continue with more SXSW highlights over the next few days before the memories of SXSW 2012 fade!

Tim