By Kelsey Webb
21 Aug 2018

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Storytelling and purpose are two buzzwords that are increasingly popular in conversations about content, but Kathryn Friedrich wants content creators to engage in “story-hearing” instead.

As head of RYOT Studio, Friedrich recently launched two new programs collaborating with its parent, Oath, the former AOL. One, The Earthrise Project is an umbrella for environmental-themed content from across Oath’s channels, including Yahoo News and Makers. The other program, The Partner Collection, will create content across 30 episodic series to match an advertiser’s plan.

Friedrich, a former Google and YouTube executive, became chief business officer at RYOT in early 2018, after a stint as chief marketer at Thrive Global, the wellness company founded by Huffington Post’s Arianna Huffington. She spoke to Velocitize about brand purpose, partnerships and data in storytelling.

Velocitize: This time last year we heard how marketing has to entertain, now we hear it has to educate and show purpose. How is RYOT trying to hit those touchpoints? Where does the consumer mindset of wanting brands that mean more come into play?

Kathryn Friedrich: Purpose-based marketing has always been a thing; consumers want to feel connected to the brands that they they buy, or that they wear, or that they consume in whatever way. We at RYOT have a history of being purposeful.

Our studio, which is dedicated to advertisers and brands, is trying to bring a little bit of that history and help brands recognize what is purposeful about themselves and the value that they bring to consumers. When they they see these large corporations having a lot of money to support many different efforts, using that money to connect and do something good for the world, they feel more connected.

There are a lot of brands leaning into different ways to enhance the future of the world. We want brands to lean into us and help us tell their stories for them. We have that platform to do it; not a lot of brands have that natural platform, connecting the Oath audiences with a brand’s purpose.

During this spring’s NewFronts, RYOT was a big presence in Oath’s presentation. How important are content partnerships to handle all these demands on the platforms?

Kathryn Friedrich: It’s hard to be all things to all people. I think brands should stick to what their real values are as brands and what their value proposition is to consumers.

What we’re implementing and encouraging brands to work with us on is our unique way we go about crafting a content program, starting with what Oath does really well already, which is insights and data. When we have that insight, we can actually help guide a better strategy for a brand on how to talk to that audience.

We don’t need a brand to be all things to all people in order to reach our audiences at Oath. We can actually help decide how to hone in their story and be more targeted with, not only who they’re reaching, but what they’re reaching them with.

We have really awesome proprietary tools that can help us identify where are the white spaces: what people want to hear about, what are they talking about, what are they engaging with. So given all that we, know we can be a lot more targeted and useful to brands in telling their story and reaching the right people.

Where do we stand now in terms of being able to reliably gather data and project out of it: Can you can you trust your data these days?

Kathryn Friedrich: Data is one thing, insight is another. That’s where we can really put our people, our machines and our internal groups to work—to actually digest all of the data coming in. We get millions of signals of data; lots of people get a lot of data, but they don’t know what to do with it. We’re actually digesting it and then creating the right insights to be valuable, to support the actions that we’re asking people to take.

Storytelling was such a hot buzzword. Has it become table stakes now?

Kathryn Friedrich: Storytelling has been around for hundreds of years. Creative agencies do have to think differently now than they used to, and storytelling are the table stakes. It’s why we’re turning from storytelling to story-hearing.

Great stories are told everywhere, but if you have a great story that’s not heard it’s unfortunate, but it is a lost story. We don’t want these stories to get lost. We want them to get heard. That’s why we think the combination of RYOT plus Oath is so powerful, because it’s the storytelling capabilities with the story-hearing capabilities; it marries that art and science.

It’s almost like storytelling is now a collaborative process that you have to open up and have the user be part of the story, if not the storyteller.

Kathryn Friedrich: It’s a lot more interactive than it used to be, something that I kind of learned over the last few years. And if you’re in the space of branded content where you’re really creating for brands, digital has really opened up a different way to think about creative, because you do get immediate feedback from the users.

On television, it’s a linear, push experience; you don’t know whether your commercial is good or bad, or loved or hated. You might hear it through social trends, but on digital you know, because you’ll get skip rates; you’ll get immediate comments on things.

It’s an ego boost or hit to that creative creative director who came up with it, but you do get that feedback. The audience is interactive, not only the engagement of content but also the feedback and creation of content through all of the social channels.

What do you see of horizon in terms of disruptive technologies and storytelling techniques?

Kathryn Friedrich: Storytelling is never going to go away. I think that the actual storytelling is going to get better and better. I see brands moving away from campaigns and commercials to really telling or being involved more in content series creative development.

That’s all part of the trend to move towards this non interruption-based marketing, because people don’t want to be distracted from what they’re doing. They have too many things going on; they’re busy. Their time is precious and they want to engage with something that’s important to them.

I also think the brands will start to use some of these more interactive technologies and get out of commercials, moving towards real content creation that they haven’t really dabbled in.

And I do think that AR is going to come up big, really going to start to expand and become more mainstream than it is now. I look to that as a new technology that’s going to use the stage in the next year or two years.


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