The rise of transmedia storytelling

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By John Shewell.

Seriously, what the hell is this? Sounds like a disease inflicted on marketers! But no, it’s an emerging concept that’s going to radically transform communications. We’re truly at the edge of significant disruption.

Transmedia storytelling is emerging as the big player and if you don’t know about it, then best you get in touch with us to find out more (cheeky plug, I know!).

So, what’s transmedia storytelling? It’s the technique of building a single story across multiple platforms using digital technologies to create a fully immersive experience. This shouldn’t be confused with the traditional cross-media communications approach that is currently commonplace.

It’s like a big puzzle with each piece contributing to the overall narrative - each piece adds something new and layers the story to create an immersive story experience.

Transmedia storytelling will transform the way campaigns are designed and delivered as communicators will need to think about how to play their narrative across multiple platforms to build a rich experience for the prosumer.

In short, transmedia storytelling is the new definition for campaigns.

Consumer to prosumer

It’s now widely accepted that the ‘consumer’ is almost gone - the passive recipient of information is being replaced by the ‘prosumer’ - the active participant in gathering, creating, and curating information.

The prosumer is empowered by technology to give them more choice, but this fragmentation of channels is where the opportunity lies - transmedia storytelling. Using a storyline that’s stitched across multiple platforms with the audience at the centre. This makes content all the more relevant for it to engage and stick in the epicentre of the audience’s heart and mind.

Crappy content won’t cut it

Crappy content won’t survive in this new world order - audiences now want to be part of the story. This is why human-centred storytelling is so crucial - this is about building stories around the audience and placing it across relevant platforms that will immerse them with the story.

For brands, this is significant. Brands can transform their communications into powerful stories that engage audiences thereby building a new relationship with people. After all, brands are stories in of themselves - they now need to be told better to cut through the clutter and transmedia storytelling offers brands this opportunity.

Organisations now need to shift from talking about themselves in that traditional ‘look at me, this is why we’re great’ communications to stories built around people and/or issues and placed across multiple platforms relevant to the audience to build and nurture communities of engaged customers.

Social currency

Brands need to involve audiences in the design and delivery of the story - this is human-centred storytelling. It places audiences at the centre of the brand and the narrative is built around them.

For non-profits, transmedia storytelling will radically transform campaigns to engage audiences around issues and influence behaviours in a more profound way because people are connected to the issue - they’re part of the ‘hero’ narrative. This type of social currency makes non-profit campaigns more scalable because the story is being told across multiple platforms and developed over time.

These ongoing stories give marketers powerful opportunities to persuade, promote, and develop loyalty and engagement with target audiences.

Organisations as media companies

As my colleague, Michael Taggart, recently wrote - we’re all media companies now. All organisations need to re-imagine their entire business along the lines of a media company and ask themselves how they can tell their story that resonates powerfully with their stakeholders to build their brand.

For public sector organisations, the opportunity to transform communications should be an urgent priority as citizens’ trust in government declines and cohesion across communities becomes more fragmented.

This is the new challenge for communications teams.

Human-centred storytelling

In order to build compelling stories, organisations need to understand their audience’s entire world-view. Stories must be shaped by what inspires and motivates people. At Foco, we’ve developed an unique approach to getting to the heart of the story, which includes the process of deep insight. This goes beyond the traditional approaches to research by exploring how people make sense of the world around them - this information is the start of the journey to create compelling content that will connect with audiences. But that’s not enough, in order for the story to truly stick it has to be co-designed with the audience.

Yes, it’s a longer process but this is about investing in quality communications and engagement that inspires and motivates people to act.

This is the new model of communications - human-centred is the process - and the delivery is transmedia - and it’s all about storytelling.