Videogame cutscene movies and your marketing storytelling

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If you’ve played any modern, non-casual games recently, from Halo to Warcraft to Mortal Kombat, you’ve likely seen cutscenes, short videos that help advance the story.

Here’s an example of a cutscene from the end of Act I in World of Warcraft: Warlords of Draenor:

These cutscenes provide bridges in the story, taking you from one burst of action to the next. However, some games lend themselves to an entirely new level of cutscenes; there are enough of them and the story is strong enough that, sewn together, you end up with an actual movie. Here’s an example, an hour long, from Halo 4:

The average game company puts minimal effort towards cutscenes, if it invokes them at all. The excellent game company, recognizing the power of storytelling, uses cutscenes so well that they are a story unto themselves. These cutscenes are so compelling that we enjoy watching them for their own sake.

Consider how you approach your marketing. You have campaigns, the big things you do: end of year sale! Quarterly closing deals! Holiday special! These are the big moments, the big events which you rightfully invest a lot of effort. In video game parlance, these would be the action sequences where you as the player would be fully committed, fully participating.

The question is, what’s in your marketing ‘cutscenes’? What are the storytelling pieces you create when you’re not executing major campaigns?

These might be:

  • Your daily social media updates
  • Your daily blog post
  • Your weekly email newsletters
  • Your ongoing digital ads
  • Your earned media hits
  • … in short, the little bits of storytelling glue that are woven between your campaigns.

    Here’s an exercise to try. Take your last 10 social media updates and your last 4 newsletters. Print them out. With a pair of scissors, cut out and remove anything promotional and campaign-related.

    What’s left? If all that’s left is the logo and footer, then you have no cutscene content, no glue, no story between the story.

    The next test: how much of your cutscene content is good enough to stand alone? If you sent out your social media updates, your newsletter, your blog posts, do they get shared and commented on? Do people care enough to save your newsletters to read again later? If the answer is no, your marketing cutscene content needs improvement.

    Your marketing ‘cutscene’ content should be robust enough that if you never executed a major campaign, you’d still tell a coherent, compelling story.

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You probably don’t need a marketing dashboard

I love a good dashboard. The challenge of assembling one, of unifying data sources, of cleaning, transforming, and showcasing your data is fun. (This version of fun is why no one invites me to parties.)


Despite all this, most of the dashboards I have seen in my career are useless. In fact, they are worse than useless because the dashboard is an excuse, a substitute for the hard work we actually need to do.

Why? Decision makers don’t need data. They don’t need charts. They don’t need scatter plots with regression lines.

They need actionable answers to their questions.

What should we do?

What is the next step?

What is your recommendation?

What’s the plan?

When you hear these questions after you showcase your data, your dashboard, your analysis, it means you’ve fallen flat. It means that your work, hard though it was, ultimately didn’t achieve the goals that your decision makers wanted it to achieve.

Every analysis you do, every presentation you make must implicitly answer those questions above. Most of the time, a dashboard can’t actually do that. At best it’s a visual aid to your explanation. At worst it’s a distraction.

Before you launch a dashboard project or buy a dashboard tool, ask whether you need it to see that data for yourself or if it’s for your decision makers. If the latter, you probably don’t need a dashboard at all.

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The next evolution of analytics

Analytics is an ever-evolving field.


In the beginning, having any kind of data at all was an accomplishment. Veteran marketers remember the early days of server-based logs with tools such as AWStats and other CGI analytics tools. These were the days of descriptive analytics, the raw stuff itself.

Over time, tools have evolved from simply doing data dumps to helping us visualize data and begin to identify what happened. Today, most modern analytics tools such as Google Analytics and Tableau can help us understand what happened in clear, concise ways. This visualization let us determine what happened, and analytics became diagnostic.

The next generation of tools which are only beginning to be adopted now are predictive in nature, helping us to not only understand what happened in the past, but what could happen in the future. Tools such as IBM’s Watson Analytics, Google’s Predictive API, and other cognitive computing facilities are just now allowing organizations and individuals to do valid, useful predictions from our data.

What of the generations after prediction? Gartner, Inc. posits that the final generation of analytics is prescriptive, analytics that tell you what to do. With enough machine learning, analytics tools can recommend courses of action based on targeted patterns of the past and predicted outcomes. Wouldn’t it be nice to load up your marketing analytics tool with data and see what your next month’s marketing plan should be? Given the rate of change and progress in software development, the horizon for prescriptive analytics is much closer than we think.

I believe there’s a generation after prescriptive. If the machines are smart enough to understand what to do, it should be a minimal lift for them to actually execute, to do some of the work on our behalf. We already have some of the technology necessary to do so, at least in the advertising technology world. Programmatic advertising – the bidding and buying of inventory and automatic triggering of ads – already exists and is quite successful. High-frequency trading on Wall Street makes millions of dollars per day for investment companies who can afford the technology. We are, years ahead of predictions, beginning to see autonomous vehicles on our streets.

The last generation of analytics is the proactive generation in which the machines don’t need us for the tactical execution of data-driven programs. They will simply do the work, leaving strategy and creativity for us. In the same way that automation removed a large portion of the manufacturing process that did not leverage humanity’s strengths, I expect automation to eliminate in analytics.

What does this mean for you, your career, your company? The evolution of analytics is already a battleground. Companies which are most agile, fastest to adopt, and most flexible will create and sustain serious competitive advantage over laggards.

What should you do about it? On a personal level, try out every analytics platform that you can reasonably test out. Become familiar with the offerings from companies like Google, IBM, Facebook, etc. Learn the tools and language of analytics, from serious academic packages like R and SPSS to marketing-specific products like Google Analytics. Once you’ve developed analytics skills, you’ll be able to confer strategic competitive advantage to any company or organization you work for that will be difficult to replicate, especially if you give your organization an early head start.

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