Published on Monday, 25 June 2012 09:46
I was interviewed by Stefania from Italian
magazine Subvertising last week. It was an interesting interview, that really
made me think through my stance on brands and transmedia – the how, the why,
and the why nots.
One point I feel the need to elaborate a
little bit on is how I think brands and companies easily can benefit from
applying transmedia storytelling methods for their products as well as for
their brands and companies. Stefanie asked me if I saw a likeness between
transmedia on the one hand and brand engagement on the other hand. My answer
Certainly. That’s why I believe that brands
can have so much use of transmedia storytelling methods; there is no need to go
all out and throw iPad apps paired with graphic novels at people in order to market
a cookie brand, but the cookie brand could make enormous use of the way
transmedia projects are developed – building the story world the brand wants to
exist in, planning narrative superstructures that fit the image of the brand
and its products, developing entry points for the audience, things to collaborate
on and share as well as a reason to do so and the tools to do so, and to share
their creations with their friends… all in all, transmedia storytelling has a lot to
To clarify the brief answer above, here arefive points I believe matter for brands and companies when thinking about
applying transmedia storytelling methods to their marketing and image building:
1. Building and strengthening foundations
One core trait of transmedia storytelling is
the art of creating more. The art of either finding out a lot of background
stuff that is not readily apparent, or creating new background stuff if needs
be. A good example is the case of Avatar, where the team from Starlightrunner
spent a lot of time interviewing all the creators, from James Cameron onwards,
about life on Pandora, linguistics, flora and fauna etc. With this as a tome, a
bible to refer to, creating new additional material becomes easier.
Looking at a brand, the same principles apply,
whether you’re a 100 year old Fortune 500 company or a startup fresh out of Y
Combinator. By researching the background of the company, the key people from
its’ history and the key current people there, milestones in the history,
accidents and events and successes, dreams and hopes and thrills and
bellyaches, the foundation (or ”story world” as it would be called in a
transmedia setting) becomes that much stronger and can therefore support an
increasingly greater number of stories, campaigns and intiatives.
The likeness of the story tunnel is a good
one, told by Jeff Gomez; if your story is a tunnel leading from point A to
point B, the walls of the tunnel are the story world. Whereever there are
inconsistencies or something missing from the story world, cracks appear in the
walls, spoiling the experience of your story. The solution is to build your
story world, your foundations, solid enough not to let anything unwanted to
2. Finding new entry points and new routes of
When that foundation, that story world, is in
place, there will be a deep well to turn to. This is a well filled with
possibilities; dip your creative bucket in, haul it up and examine all the
possible story lines, entry points and interactive elements you’ve just
unearthed. Choose the ones that will fit your purposes the best this time and
pour the remaining ones back into the well; they’ll be there the next time you
need new inspirational material.
Examples are difficult to tell, as there will
be at least as many different possibilities / story worlds, as there are
companies. But, for instance, imagine a 70 year old brand, unearthing in the
process of working on the foundation, that the grandson of the company’s
co-founder has a charity running in Latin America. This would one way of
engaging customers in a way that connects logically with the brand and achieves
a lot of goodwill. Or perhaps there is an amateur theatre company working out
of the brand’s original headquarters, where a co-operation would be natural, or
just about anything else you can think of. New entry points for the audience
and the customers, new routes of communication to the audience, to the
customers (and routes that do not feel like ”advertising”, but as natural parts
of the company / brand).
3. Get closer to the audience / consumers
Now, this is what I would like to do as a
brand; identify my target audience and become a natural part of their everyday
life. Granted, this is easier said than done.
On our transmedia panel at Cross Video Days
last week, one of the topics we talked about was the subject of approaching and
building an audience. Starting from scratch is always an uphill struggle,
unless you have some form of inroad; great, well known creative talent, big
marketing budget etc. Another way is to approach an already existing community;
a Facebook group, a discussion forum, a club or an organization of some kind,
that correlates with your project and your content. Finding these can be hard,
and approaching them can be even harder; just dropping a link or do a ”hey!
Look at what we’ve done!” smacks of shameless self promotion and is likely to
achieve derision rather than appreciation.
But, having developed the project and the
content according to transmedia storytelling principles, you have a greater
chance of finding inroads into the community that will feel logical and
compelling. This is helped by the fact that researching such communities and
becoming a natural part of them should be one of the top priorities of your
project during the development phase.
4. Creating spokespersons within the company
At times, I have had a hard time explaining
exactly what my company does. I guess the same goes for a lot of other people,
more so for the ones working in bigger companies. Many also struggle to find
any reason to communicate about the company they work for themselves.
By utilizing transmedia storytelling methods
in the context of a company, or a brand for that matter in cases when these
two are not synonomous, anyone working in that company or with that brand will
have a number of avenues to go down when it comes to acting as advocates for
the company they’re representing.
A good slogan or a good tagline is good, yes.
But often it doesn’t tell very much about the company or the brand. What passes
for ”About” pages on the web sites of many companies also make for pretty
unimpressive reading. The gems that are unearthed when applying transmedia
storytelling methods on the other hand, are stories. Stories that reflect the
desired image of the company, stories that are coherent and sync with each
other – stories that any employee can relate onwards, thereby strengthening the
power and image of the company or brand. Furthermore, such stories will help
employees arrive at the same view point when it comes to looking at the
company. The question of ”Who do I work for and what do we do?” becomes easier
to answer if you can relate to the number of stories that form the mythology of
the company or the brand.
5. Planning for the long haul
Many ad campaigns or brand awareness-raising
campaigns have a beginning, a middle and an end. Some have a second campaign
planned to build on the first one. Some might be connected to some other form
of IP (movies, TV series, book etc) and thereby gain a form of longevity. Many,
however, have not and are not.
When applying transmedia storytelling methods
in the context of a company or a brand, this should be one of the great
advantages. By researching thoroughly, creating more, laying the foundation,
build the mythology and document it in a tome or bible, not only is it possible
to achieve the things mentioned in the points above, it is also possible to
create longer-lasting campaigns that follow each other in a logical way, each
offering new unique insights and inroads to the brand. By creating a story arch
that spans over several instances – with an added flexibility to adapt
according to feedback and input from the audience – it is possible to discard
the one-offs and create meaningful, long running stories that support the
desired image of the brand (one case could be made for the way the Avengers
brand has been handled, see Jeff Gomez’ case study here).