Advertising has always been about telling stories.
The only difference between a brand and a product is the story. Advertising agencies exist to help brands find and tell the right stories - the ones that tap into the hopes, fears, dreams and aspirations of the audience.
Storytelling matters more than ever in today's digital media landscape. Tell great stories and you'll get Liked, shared, commented, bookmarked, Tweeted and re-Tweeted. Tell the right stories to the right influencers and your campaign might even go viral, generating millions of views and helping you secure that long-overdue industry award.
Unfortunately, this digital opportunity comes at a cost. Marketing used to be about purchasing media: you booked your space, briefed your agency and waiting for a big idea to fill the spots in your media plan. In a world of limited distribution, advertising was about big ideas - stories you could tell in a 30-second TV spot or a 96-sheet billboard.
Digital makes distribution ubiquitous. That doesn't just mean it's open to everyone, but also that it's open all of the time - which means brands need to embrace a different kind of storytelling. One big idea is perfect for a 60-second cinema ad. But to reach an audience via Twitter, or to nurture a community on Facebook, or even to secure a sustainable presence in Google's search results, you need to tell lots stories, all of the time.
The challenge facing brands today is to move from telling one big story, once a year, to telling hundreds of stories, all day and every day. And, of course, ensuring that all of these individual stories add up to something - a coherent view of the world that resonates just as powerfully as the big ideas behind the great campaigns of yore.
A new breed of social media agencies has emerged to address this shift, blending PR, data and digital expertise with a dash of jargon and a fashionable address in an edgy inner-city district. But perhaps the long-term answer for brands lies in a more old-fashioned, and more unexpected place.
There hasn't been much good news for journalists in the traditional publishing sector in recent years. Falling circulations, evaporating advertising budgets and the constant challenge of making online content pay has led to job cuts and reduced editorial budgets across the board.
But good journalists have an instinct for what makes a good story. They know how to distill complex information into a coherent narrative structure, and they know how to find an angle that will resonate with the audience.
In the professional life of a journalist, they do this intuitively, under pressure, to remorseless deadlines, seven days a week. The ability to spot, create and execute stories in real-time is embedded in the daily experiences of a reporter, editor or sub.
The modern journalist has a unique skill set, and is uniquely well-placed to help marketers with the age-old challenge that digital media demands: telling the stories that make great products into valuable brands.