An interview with SapientNitro’s Gaston Legorburu and Darren (Daz) McColl ahead of the publication of their new book, “Storyscaping” published by Wiley & Sons due out April 8… In today’s world where virtual and physical experiences collide in new and surprising ways, brands are struggling to stand out. Yet many are finding new ways to create branded experiences that merge the traditional tools of story telling with data and technology to create whole new experiences and in some cases whole new products. In my interview with SapientNitro’s Chief Brand Strategy officer, Darren (Daz) McColl and Worldwide Chief Creative Officer, Gaston Legorburo, we discuss this trend and their philosophy around the topic that led them to publish their new book. Bruce Rogers: I’m fascinated by both your personal journeys and the business journey itself, so I’d love to hear more about that. Gaston: Sapient was started by the typical two guys in a garage as an IT services company. It was was a small boutique company relative to the industry giants, but it was very much focused on culture. One of the things that was very interesting about the company is that the founders really believed that design was a business differentiator. Even though it was an IT services consultancy, there was an appreciation and heavy investment in design. That has been the catalyst for our transformation. BR: Tell me about your book and your philosophy and the data that informed your viewpoint on developing the storyscaping concept. Gaston: We find real value in connections and what we call connected thinking, which is, if you’re trying to solve a problem or take advantage of an opportunity, we believe that having diverse skills and perspectives in the room are much more likely to create an interesting and innovative outcome than if you have five people that went to the same school and studied the same discipline. Having technologists, strategists, creative, storytellers and social science geniuses in the room working together is a much more interesting way of solving problems. You’ll find that our approach, our philosophy and our process really looks at connecting both the irrational and the rational side of people. BR: Right, the whole idea of the intersection of brand and data and platform. Correct? DAZ: Yes, and an experience, really. I think to some extent, you have to not think about the technology, not think about the underlying sort of enabling platforms and all that, but really think about the experience. The way that we get through the day today is very different than it was a year ago, than it was five years ago and six months from now, because the world around us is changing and the catalyst for that change is technology. I think that if you’re trying to change behaviors or shift perception, being able to understand what makes people tick is one side of it, but also being able to create sensing and adapting worlds around them is incredibly important. BR: One could argue that’s where the most powerful customer engagements come from. Take Nike Fuel, for example, that merges data with an experience to change behavior in a way that elevates the brand to a new level of utility. Gaston: Right. BR: I think most people are trying to get there. I think they have a lot of challenges. CMOs are challenged to get there because technology it’s not their core experience and upbringing. Does that sound right to you? Gaston: Yes, and I think that what we’ve attempted to do with the storyscaping philosophy is to make this process much more accessable. There are a million books around storytelling and the power of story in business. There’s a bunch of books that talk about service design and experiences and platforms. But I don’t think anyone’s really put it all together. We use some really simple examples and provide people with a lot of tools to be able to do it effectively. Daz: One of the key challenges that we identified is that you can very easily lean into the storytelling side of it because agencies have been doing that forever. Or you can really easily lean into the functionality because technology gives us this amazing canvas of utility, where we can actually build things. It’s actually an intersection of the two and the way you can get both of them to operate in a complementary way to support each other is where you truly get that shift, because you’re not only connecting with people’s need to get things done or to do things, but you’re also connecting with them on an emotional level that fuels engagement. BR: Certainly one of the things that differentiates you from other agencies is that you’ve got a strategic technology firm behind the ideas. So how do you talk tech to folks who want to talk tech, or is that a journey you both had to take, or was that something you both felt comfortable with? Gaston: It’s something that I felt really comfortable with. I’ve always been a creative, but also a closet geek. I started a digital agency when I was 20-something. So, I definitely consider myself a digital native and I can geek out with the best of them. BR: What’s your favorite example of this storyscaping perspective in your current work? Gaston: When there’s a blurring of the line between a product and service and product and service and the brand, I think it’s really important and powerful. I could give you a couple examples. The work that we’ve done for X-games for ESPN does a really amazing job of blurring the communications components with the experience. When people watch the X-games or when they’re at the event, they’re literally sitting on the edge of their seats, because they want to be that girl or that guy performing. They want to be the ones that are doing that. And they’re trying to understand every trick and they’re trying to recreate it. So what we ended up doing is looking at telemetry and along with the folks at ESPN putting sensors in a lot of the gear that these athletes would have so that you could have a second screen experience or even in-venue experience where you could see and track their every move. This idea is to have someone that’s sitting at home feel like they’re part of what’s going on as much as someone that’s in the audience, as much as someone that’s actually participating. Here we have the brand, the product and the experiences become blurry and it’s really great because then it’s not the story of X-games or ESPN that someone needs to be connected to, it’s their own story in which they were literally a part of ESPN and X-games that was really important. The client is actually now patenting some of this technology that we helped them create. Another example is the “Get Cash” work we did for a bank in Europe where their whole brand proposition is around easy and helpful banking. So we created a simple app that, if you lose your wallet or if you have don’t your bank ID on you, you can get a temporary code to use at any ATM and get money. So it was about creating an experience that delivered on the brand promise as opposed to a bunch of ads that talked about how the bank was really helpful that no one could really care about. BR: What is your typical engagement ? Are you typically brought in to execute an idea? Or does a CMO or a brand manager call you and say, “These are my challenges, can we talk about how to solve them?” Gaston: It’s definitely the latter. We want to be both an idea generation, but also an idea realization company. So we have to have the tools and the capabilities in house to make these new ideas come to life. We usually get brought in to solve business problems and the fact that we come from our e-consultancy legacy, the conversations that we get brought into are much more interesting than what a traditional agency might be tasked with. Look at the huge budgets within any organization. IT is one of them and marketing is another. These two worlds are colliding in a big way. The big expenditures in technology are no longer about infrastructure, it’s around consumer facing technologies. It’s about service, support, the product itself. So sometimes we get hired by the technology group to empower the tech folks to be able to engage with the other groups within the company. On the flip side, we often get hired by the CMO because not only do we understand the communications side of the business, we can go into a room with the tech folks and the product folks we can get into that conversation. And they come to us and we pitch an idea and they say “how is that part of the storyscape?,” and then suddenly you know that you’ve done something right and that’s really why we decided to write the book. BR: Seems like Storyscaping is the bridge between those worlds, correct? Gaston: Yes, and then what happens is that you have the opportunity to connect with the CEO and they really understand the approach, they buy into the philosophy, then it can get pushed down through an organization and drive all of those touch-points to build something powerful that will grow the business. BR: CEOs are the no nonsense people. They want to get stuff done. They don’t want to have a communications “architecture.” They want to sell things. Gaston: You’ve got that right.