Is Transmedia Storytelling the New Digital Marketing?

story

I think it’s safe to say that marketing has changed. A lot. Gone are the days of telling your message. It’s all about engagement now. It’s about digital presence. It’s about storytelling. And how you tell that story may make or break your business. But the old way of storytelling may not cut it.

How (and why) is Marketing Changing?

The first thing to understand about marketing today is that it’s all about shared experience. Consumer behavior is radically changing with respect to content consumption. No longer are people consuming most of their content on the TV, a newspaper, or even their computer. Rather, they are using a combination of channels: 

(image courtesy of Google’s study “Multi-Channel Delivery”)

The need for a consistent experience seems like a no-brainer. If users are interacting with your content/brand/product/message/etc. on one channel and get a different experience on another channel, there’s a chance they will get confused. And a confused customer is one who goes to a competitor. So your approach to delivering that message can’t be “spray and pray.” It has to be targeted and focused. A message specific to the channel on which it’s being consumed. But that’s only part of the fundamental change to marketing. The other part is how users can engage with the content. Through social media, website comments, live chats, and other methods, users can have a conversation with you around the content. It’s no longer about broadcasting your message. It’s no longer about telling your story and hoping people get it. To sum up these changes:

  1. How: adoption and usage of multiple/simultaneous devices by users has prompted the need for a consistent experience. Marketers must now deliver their message and information across these device families.
  2. Why: digital technologies like web, social media, text messaging, etc. have enabled bi-directional conversation. As more and more users adopt these technologies into their lives, they expect the same thing of companies. No interaction? No customer.

Quick Note: Consistent does not Equal the Same

Developing and delivering a consistent content experience doesn’t mean you publish the same content to each channel. In fact, it might be exactly the opposite. Consistency relates to the messaging, the branding, the positioning, the information, etc. The delivery needs to be unique and specific to the intended device. Here is a great quote from Forrester that epitomizes the need for “differentiated consistency:”

Unified experiences don’t have to be uniform. Customers need experiences that are right-sized for the touchpoint and their context. Instead of focusing on rote uniformity, firms should strive to deliver the necessary parts of an overall experience that uses design patterns, right-sized content and functionality, and appropriate expressions of brand for the user’s context. (Forrester. The Unified Customer Experience Imperative.)

What does that mean in the practical sense? Instead of cramming your desktop website into a mobile phone screen, you might create a specific mobile website with content (and navigation) that is most appealing to the mobile user. Or, it may be a mobile application.

Why is this important? Because it changes the way that marketers tell stories in this new world of multi-device digital engagement.

The Marketer as Storyteller

The idea of the marketer “telling the company story” is not new. In fact, one could argue that it’s Marketing-101. But in the traditional marketing world, that story was unchanging. It was about the company and the brand and, maybe, about how the product was better than the competition. And that story was historically published across all channels in the same manner: on the corporate website, at the bottom of press releases, in the “about” section of a Facebook page. Text stayed the same. Images carried over. And although that is a consistent experience (which is good) it doesn’t follow Forrester’s logic about the need to customize the delivery to the device (which is bad). In order for the story to have the maximum amount of impact, which is what marketers want, the story must appeal to the consumer at the point of consumption (i.e., taking advantage of the specific device through which the consumer is engaging with the story). Marketing stories, then, must break from the traditional model of storytelling in order to take advantage of digital behaviors.

I think that might be Transmedia Storytelling.

What is Transmedia Storytelling?

As defined in the Wikipedia article of the same name,

Transmedia storytelling…is the technique of telling a single story or story experience across multiple platforms and formats using current digital technologies…From a production standpoint, it involves creating content that engages an audience using various techniques to permeate their daily lives. In order to achieve this engagement, a transmedia production will develop stories across multiple forms of media in order to deliver unique pieces of content in each channel.

There are three key elements here that make Transmedia Storytelling very applicable to the changing landscape of digital marketing of deliver consistent content across multiple devices with opportunities for engagement:

  1. “Story experience” across multiple platforms
  2. “Engages with an audience”
  3. “Deliver unique pieces of content in each channel”

These three points map directly to what I have described previously:

  • User is employing multiple devices, sometimes simultaneously (#1)
  • Digital technologies have created bi-directional interaction (#2)
  • Users need a consistent experience across channels (#1)
  • The consistent experience across devices should be tailed to the device (#3)

So what does a Transmedia Story look like from a marketing perspective? Let’s take a hypothetical example: a new shoe. First, the story that the marketer is going to tell is around the product, not around the company. Digital marketing enables us to tell (and change) new stories quickly. The first part of the story is about someone using the shoe. Imagine a vertically-flowing microsite focusing on a “day-in-the-life-of” (DILO) the shoe (check out  http://pestproject.orkin.com as an example of what an engaging, vertically-flowing microsite might look like, just the shoe instead of bugs). This is published to the web but with a responsive design for delivery to tablets and smartphones. The second part of the story are the sounds of the shoe running through mud, dirt, concrete, water, etc. These are delivered as sound bites that are linked to QR codes found on print images of the shoe. The third part is an interactive application for mobile phones that enables people to build and customize their own shoe, drawing in some of the same content from the microsite. The fourth part is a video featuring the shoe worn in different conditions by a bunch of different people. It’s published on YouTube and is shot like a documentary. The final part is a print campaign that includes the smell of the new shoe with different elements that can be captured from a camera phone and lead to different parts of the microsite story.

In this example, each part of the story has its own narrative. But together, they link to create a consistent, multi-sensory story on all aspects of the shoe that crosses channels with a elements designed to engage on multiple fronts and specific to devices. And there are ways to extend that Transmedia story about the shoe to user-generated content. For example, maybe there is technology in the shoe that links it to the phone (or an app on the phone) so that a person’s use of the shoe can influence the story of the shoe as a whole (with data).

What’s the Business Impact?

I think the jury is out on that right now. Although there are behavioral trends to show that Transmedia Storytelling might be the best framework for the future of digital marketing, it’s difficult to asses how it impacts ZMOT or other KPIs. But regardless of business impact, using transmedia narrative techniques will probably lead to more viral activity around the story as well as opportunities to engage with customers and prospects. The down side is they probably take longer to coordinate.

The use of Transmedia Storytelling was probably never intended for marketing. It was meant as a framework for telling narrative stories (i.e., fiction and non-fiction) across devices in a digital age. But as marketers continue to adopt the role of “storyteller” in a world where users are engaging with their content across multiple devices, it seems that a framework like Transmedia Storytelling might be the best solution to organizing that content into a cohesive story that appeals to this new generation of consumers.

Get Involved in the Conversation!

Have you seen any cool Transmedia Stories? Share them in the comments below.

Note: this post originally appeared on my blog [RE]Think.

 

Jason Thibeault is the senior director of marketing strategy for Limelight Networks. In this role he helps direct Limelight’s corporate messaging and positioning, develops whitepapers and e-books, blogs, and evangelizes the Limelight solution offering to audiences around the world. He holds a B.A. in English from the University of California, Irvine Honors Program and a M.A. in English, with distinction, from California State University, Northridge. Jason is the co-author of the marketing thought-leadership book Recommend This! Delivering Digital Experiences People Want to Share (Wiley), the middle-reader chapter series Marmalade (Dime Novel Books), and rethinkeverythingblog.com. He is an inventor on a number of technical patents with Limelight Networks. Follow him on twitter @_jasonthibeault.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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