transmedia-story-tellingIt is widely accepted that the role of advertising is to generate salience for a brand, product or service and elicit a behavioural response of purchase intent, actual purchase or affinity/loyalty.

An increasingly digital and interconnected world has led to a new expectation from consumers around what constitutes a valuable brand experience. It has also led to brands searching for coherent ways to integrate their brands into an increasingly complex media and technology environment.

One of the experiences that consumers have started to value is transmedia storytelling. Transmedia storytelling is a technique of telling a single story across a range of different media platforms. However, compared with traditional cross-platform adaptations, transmedia storytelling requires the use of each additional media to enhance the underlying story by adding depth to the overall story and experience of the user. To date, only entertainment franchises have really been able to create viable transmedia properties. Some of these include blockbusters such as ‘Heroes’, ‘Lost’, and ‘The Dark Knight.’

I recently spoke alongside Chris Stephenson (Head of Strategy @ PHD Sydney) at Ad:tech. We shared some of the reasons why we felt that transmedia had not been fully realised in the world of advertising and marketing, despite being such a powerful force in the entertainment world and having a significant effect on peoples behaviours and interactions with entertainment franchises. (You can see our effort here TRANSMEDIA)

We tried firstly to create context around the importance of storytelling in eliciting emotion and creating measurable behavioural change. This was done mostly with the assistance of this research from Neuroscientist Paul Zak:

Then we demonstrated the increasing interconnectivity, instrumentalisation and complexity of both the consumer digital and media environments. Whilst highlighting the importance of telling emotional resonant stories about brands and how that remains a powerful determinant of affinity and ROI, irrespective of the touch-point that a communication is disseminated through. However, we did highlight that there have been some valiant efforts:

P&G, Thank You Mom:

Intel & Toshiba – The Beauty Inside:

And more recently, Kombi’s Last Will and Testament:

We also identified some key take-outs essential for brands realizing the potential of, and creating, transmedia stories:

1. Focus on less, do more.
In order to avoid providing an indistinct or unclear narrative, it is important to get to the crux of what the brand stands for. Clearly defining the brand and its purpose allows the narrative to form a connection with the target audience early in the story.

2. Think about the stories that the brand would be comfortable telling and the types of characters needed to convey the core attributes around the brand and its products.
It is important to consider the tone and what type of narrative the brand needs to portray in order to connect with its audience. This narrative cannot be conveyed without characters that complement the underlying theme or message. Think about how these characters could provide a new perspective to enhance the selected storyline. They also provide a point of personal attachment and recognition to the target audience. Therefore, the use of characters and stories that are consistent with the brand’s message and attributes is critical to the success of any brand executed transmedia narrative.

3. Develop franchises, not campaigns.
Defining the extended narrative that you tell around your brand and products is a key factor in determining the long-term opportunities in continuing to iterate the way your brand is consistently projected through a transmedia story world. Not everything has to talk directly to the brand or involve it in order for content to be on brand or deliver a brand-orientated message. Focusing on a longer-term franchise with distinct attributes and characteristics, rather than a once-off campaign, is an effective way of creating an extended and interesting transmedia narrative.

4. Make consumers a part of the stories you tell.
The best way to ensure the transmedia narrative is engaging to the target audience is by bringing consumers into the story. By doing so you create greater depth, perspective and ultimately, resonance with the audience. When doing this, it is important to consider the context in which they consume, engage with and share the message.

5. Think about what will resonate with the audience.
This seems like an obvious point, but it is important to think ‘user first’ and not underestimate the indifference people have with what your brand has to say. Overestimating brand equity can lead to unfulfilling transmedia narratives that ultimately sell the brand short in the eyes of the audience. Understanding and portraying resonant material is crucial in creating a memorable and effective experience for the audience.

6. Consider instrumentalisation of your target and how you can disseminate content and experiences to tap into their naturally occurring behaviour.
What tools do they use? When and how are they most comfortable using them? What would they be comfortable doing or sharing with others? The answers to these questions, among others, provide insight into the best way to allow your target to perpetuate the transmedia narrative. Psychographics of users (for example; passive vs active consumption or behaviors) should also be considered to maximize the effectiveness of content broadcasting and sharability.

7. Don’t be disparate; create continuity, coherence and depth.
This point sums up the essence of transmedia storytelling. Continuity in the story through use of different media is key. Narrative coherence allows the story to be understood by all. While depth provides greater opportunity for engagement and emotional attachment to what is being communicated.

We also identified that creating a transmedia story was tantamount to being a god. You need to be the creator of a universe in which your brand story lives and your consumers inhabit. It is a phenomenally confronting prospect to come to terms with the prospect of having to actually discover a story that is inherently interesting enough that it effectively portrays your brand to your target audience and draws them in emotionally whilst delivering against marketing and business objectives.

Although transmedia seems daunting, we felt given the success of other franchises, those brands that have dipped their toe in the water and the receptivity of consumers to interact with stories in general and across devices, transmedia storytelling as a discipline offers marketers huge opportunities. The first brand to truly crack the trend, would not only be incredibly brave, but also reap phenomenal rewards due to their exploration of this largely untapped trend.

Note: This article recently appeared on the iab Australia blog