Interview with Netforum
Netforum n. 1-2/2017
article by Anna Maria Ciardullo
Lifonti & Company, Cabiria BrandUniverse and Social Content Factory are the three souls animating the Group – a constantly evolving Team of communicators born to recount the best company stories and brands using a mix of languages for communicating: words, visuals, video
The Story Group – Born to tell your story is a group of communications agencies but also a hub of sharing, culture, souls and visions of our world. For starters, have you ever stopped to consider that the revolution which we are living through is not simply a digital one, but rather profoundly human? And how important is it for the business community to be fully conscious of the true change in the air? Diego Lifonti, President of The Story Group and Managing Director of Lifonti & Co. recounted as much to NetForum.
His agency was born in 2006 as a holding company for service enterprises operating under the Diego Lifonti Communications group. Initially, these were Lifonti & Co., and Cabiria BrandUniverse. Today, the name has changed with the acquisition of 60% of the Social Content Factory, and with it, the third agency joined the group. The goal of the entire Team is to promote the culture of storytelling of companies, brands, institutions and opinion leaders active in the Italian market. The Company’s methodology is based on three cardinal principles: The centrality of the brand, relationships and high quality content. The latter expressed and distributed across all touch-points: devices and editorial platforms, media relations, social channels, events, packaging, corporate campaigns, brand advertising and so forth. In short, they manage grand client relationships by showing a terrific ability to bring out the brand essence and disseminate it across all communication channels. And that’s where the strength of the entire Team comes into play: Because both reputation and growth stem from the brand identity and the ability to share it. It’s for this reason that the support of an interlocutor like The Story Group is prized for their ability to capture the true essence and deliver it to the public using the latest language without losing its soul and regardless of whether it is expressed through traditional or digital forms of communication.
YOUR CLAIM ALREADY REVEALS A MARKED PREDILECTION FOR STORYTELLING. BUT WHAT CAN BRANDS SAY, REALLY, TODAY? HOW IMPORTANT IS IT FOR THEM TO BECOME EDITORS OF THEIR OWN SELVES?
The centrality of the brand, the establishment of a reputation across both direct and indirect relationships and quality content are the columns upon which rests today’s communications, which is now ruled by disintermediation. It has spurred a situation in which anyone and everyone can say what they want, and, if they’re able to, can leave their mark. This includes companies and brands who must ignite a constant dialogue with their audience, or to put it more succinctly, the crowd culture with whom they must communicate. Companies have a soul, a face and an imprint, but they must also know how to employ the same tools, the same platforms and the same algorithms that their own audience uses. It’s important to keep in mind that yes, these means of communications are cold and mechanical, but should not be distanced from the lively and multi-faceted humanity of those who utilize them. Therefore it is important to master these tools and to keep pace with technological evolution, without forgetting that you’re still communicating to people; each one with their own tastes, preferences, values. Only through clear messaging, being authentic and trustworthy, and respecting the rules of engagement inside this greatly expanded bubble – that the philosopher, Habermas, termed the public sphere – is it possible for a brand to be an integral part of the culture, or rather, cultures, that these people are active in – stimulating both parties in equal measure.
THE FUTURE: THE CARE OF RELATIONSHIPS & BRANDING WILL TAKE ON EVEN GREATER IMPORTANCE IN COMMUNICATIONS. WHAT ARE SOME OF THE CHALLENGES PRESENTED BY THE DIGITAL AGE THAT ONE MUST HAVE CLEARLY IN MIND? HOW IMPORTANT IS THE ‘HUMAN’ ELEMENT?
At The Story Group we are absolutely convinced that the digital revolution is, first and foremost, a humanistic revolution. It has upset the classic role of the media - to cite again Habermas - as collectors of discourse and opinion across societies. In short, the principle challenge in digital communications is to avoid getting conditioned by algorithms. Or rather, the challenge is to go beyond the algorithm; to not forget the human side of the equation – those people behind the machine. And to recognize that it’s the content, not the devices or platforms that engage people. Even Facebook, from a strategic point of view, isn’t interested in only having sponsored messages: These gain in value only thanks to the endless stream of daily posts, discussions, articles and videos that appear free across the platform and get posted there by billions of users. It is these billions of users, not the algorithm, that allows me to reach them, that permits me to direct content across social networks. “Content made for People” – This could be the tagline of a promotional campaign for a contemporary integrated communications agency.
WHAT ARE SOME OF THE FACTORS THAT DETERMINE THE SUCCESS OF TODAY’S COMMUNICATIONS?
My sensation is that developing digitally has brought with it the idea that communication is more and more virtual, and therefore less real. That’s because unfortunately, people associate digital with a form of ‘virtuality’ with respect to the concrete world. I’d say that nothing could be more imprecise. There are essentially two activities which determine the success of today’s communications: forging relationships across all channels and branding. Both of which have to do with the way in which we perceive, feel and show our preferences over one brand or company to another, which in turn impacts our daily lives. It’s this integration between relations and branding that must be mirrored in each and every project, mastering all of the syntaxes that regulate today’s communications. This, along with forecasting trends instead of merely following them, and recognizing that a network starts from the bottom up – never top down. It’s not by chance that there are three elements that the communication of the future will be based on: the capacity to amass and interpret Big Data, understanding of digital, and the visibility and positioning in the media galaxy that day by day expands with ever new and innovative broadcasters coming in, oftentimes users themselves. As a result, communications initiatives with the best results are those in which editors, designers, creatives and video strategists - digital natives - work together with professionals who bring a wealth of experience in news organizations or in corporate communications, institutions or logos. The Story Group – Born to tell your story brings this very kind of team together in order to produce stories that make for quality content. Not only are we equipped with a technologic savoir-faire, but also deeply rooted in relationships. We’re able to tap into audience’s expectations and what they value about the brand, while at the same time engaging in a dialogue with them.
HOW DO YOU HANDLE YOUR COMPANY COMMUNICATIONS?
WHICH CHANNELS DO YOU PREFER TO PROMOTE YOUR AGENCY? AND WHY?
We’d need to stress that for those in our industry, the most effective communication are the projects we carry out for our clients and their suppliers. Some of these Case Histories appear on our corporate blog on thestorygroup.it . Every two weeks, one of our people from one of the three agencies takes on a topic based on their daily experiences. Along these same lines we also author articles for key marketing and communications vehicles. The sheer quality of the output – such as the branded content like, Il Mistero Sottile produced for BTicino, allows us to attain even greater resonance through bids and other joint projects in communications and marketing. Il Mistero Sottile brought us into the cinematography arena. Every 3-4 months we come out with an original study on the dynamics of contemporary communications. The last one was on the use of social networks in the world of Formula 1 racing. It appeared in a variety of daily news outlets and sports and automobile magazines. Research papers make you visible and moreover, allow you to contribute something to the debate surrounding things that are of interest to us.
HOW IS YOUR BUSINESS GOING?
We hover around 2-2.5M euro of net agency fees, and we will probably close the year out in that range. It’s difficult (mid-year) to forecast because it all depends on when the projects launch; and whether they follow the timelines set forth and also on how the success will evolve during the course of a campaign, which may carry on well after what was first indicated in the brief. Perhaps it reaches a point in which the client wants to extend it, or add to it, also based on the target’s reaction. It’s truly a fluid continuum.