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The Art of the Stream and Why Compelling Narratives Matter More Than Tech

High-impact livestream productions entice audiences into stories. The digital age craves more human connection. Technology can’t drive engagement without a compelling, audience-centric narrative.

The global standardization of video communications software like Zoom and Microsoft Teams has made virtual connections commonplace. We can maintain face-to-face interactions once reserved for in-person exchanges. But hyperconnectivity also means hyper-exposure — to information, current events, and constant story updates. We’re living in the notification era, making it twice as hard and even more critical for brands and organizations to capture viewer attention.

Sure, video meetings and livestreams are appealing with a handful of people looking each other in the eye. But how do you maintain healthy engagement with a livestream of 200 or 2,000 people? What about more than 500,000? By leveraging captivating, tech-amplified narratives that connect with audiences in a more meaningful way.

We must be more than technical providers. We must be expert storytellers, doubling down on our next-gen ability to translate genuine human experiences into digital spaces.

Filling the Stadium

Virtual events demand forethought beyond point-and-shoot cameras and stable internet. They require meticulous human connection planning. Crafting an engaging narrative isn't just about packaging and delivering a brand's message tailored for target audience consumption. That’s Marketing 101.

Rather, it’s comprised of a multilayered framework assessing nuanced human interaction elements like:

  1. Scope Development: Every production should be crafted as one-of-a-kind. Before curating a high-impact activation, we need a bespoke blueprint that considers key factors like category, location, deliverable, quality, and return. Is the livestream strictly virtual, or is it a hybrid experience? Is talent digital, in-person, or both? Is this a live-to-tape experience? What does success look like? The answers to these questions are the bones of our narrative, the frame we later bring to life for elevated viewer connection.

  2. Audience Curation: Pre-event marketing is crucial in early production planning. If we launch a livestream without a robust number of people queued up to watch, our message falls on deaf ears. Releasing exciting, narrative-driven content long before the activation is key to generating buzz that packs houses. Creating that provocative, pre-event content means diving deep into the demographics of our audience beyond generic messaging. We should aim to understand viewers’ motivations, post-engagement interactions, where they want us to meet them, and how.

  3. Tech Strategy: While marketers and branding professionals may not be technical providers, we should still identify as digital natives. Harnessing innovative tech is essential to driving retention. This extends beyond choosing the right streaming platform. It's about leveraging the right digital tools (like camera lenses and camera movements) that best lend themselves to the narrative. This can motivate viewers to participate and connect with speakers. Digital assets offer unmatched potential for enhancing virtual and hybrid events by cultivating authentic human connections. To maximize these benefits, it's crucial to integrate the digital layer in a way that aligns with a brand or organization’s identity and resonates with viewers. Strategizing our digital approach to elicit and amplify the emotional element is a critical part of pre-event planning.

Powerful narratives aim for retention through carefully curated components geared toward energizing speakers and engaging audiences, blurring the line that separates the two. But getting people through the door is only half the battle — we must also inspire them to stay.

Keeping Them in Their Seats

In the age of technology, storytelling has evolved to real-time interaction between creators and audiences. Frank Rose’s, “The Sea We Swim In,” highlights this shift from passive reception to active participation. But how do we leverage the blurred line for deeper viewer connections?

A program like Red Bull’s Flugtag — where people attempt to fly hand-made, self-powered aircraft off a floating platform — is full of fun, pre-choreographed action that is naturally engaging to watch. However, the interactive layer can enhance livestream content that isn’t inherently interesting to watch, as illustrated by TikTok’s wildly popular PinkyDoll trend. People love to engage with the content creator — who imitates video game characters — because they can post gifts and comments that come with a real human response. The interactive element enhances the narrative’s impact through its ability to feed our desire for human connection.

To captivate viewers, we must engage them from the outset, whether in person or virtually. Intros are a powerful tool to immerse audiences in our narrative. These can vary from brief, branded countdowns, as seen in our teams’ work for the 2018 Microsoft Xbox E3 Press Conference, to comprehensive editorialized content that blends interviews, animation, graphics, special effects, and video to draw viewers in and generate anticipation.

But keeping audience members engaged beyond that first minute is crucial. For fully virtual events, we leverage technology to create seamless transitions and audience retention. When Gradient’s teams collaborated with JAB Holding Company for its 2022 Investors Conference, we generated a slew of branded content, which we interwove between all segments of this two-day conference. Each video highlighted various topics, including new products, technology, and market expansions in the company’s fiscal fund. This content smoothed transitions between speakers and segments, maintaining viewer interest.

While interactive elements are key, success goes beyond the metaverse — it's hybrid. We recently partnered with Shiseido Americas to curate an in-person-meets-virtual experience for its annual town hall in NYC. We combined the power of physical and digital spaces for real-time engagement. Live Q&A sessions, a cocktail hour, and compelling performances, including authentic Taiko drumming, pulled attendees into the brand’s ethos as active participants of its narrative.

Unless we consider how to keep people in the stands once they assemble, there’s a good chance they may choose to go elsewhere. Using interactive components strategically at key production points can create a desired emotional effect, successfully utilizing peaks and valleys to our advantage. From polls to “choose-your-own-adventure” elements, and exclusive information, the instruments we use to enhance our livestream marketing campaigns must be relevant to our brand and intentionally executed to embed ourselves in the emotional memory banks of our viewers.

Staying Top of Mind

In the dynamic landscape of experiential livestream activations, the significance of compelling narratives outweighs even the most advanced technological features. While cutting-edge tech can facilitate and scale immersive experiences, it’s a compelling story that forges deep, lasting bonds with audiences.

Stories evoke emotion, create relatable contexts, and engage viewers on a personal level. The ability to weave a resonant one captures the attention of a diverse and discerning audience. A well-crafted narrative transcends technical boundaries and imprints itself in consumer perceptions, driving brand loyalty and fostering genuine connections.

The heart of livestreaming success lies in the stories we tell, not in the tools we use to tell them. In the pursuit of innovative interaction, narratives will always reign supreme.”

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