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The complete guide to Transmedia Storytelling

26 March 2014 BY

Every day in our Feedly or Twitter or Facebook or G+ appears a post about how to create relevant content for our website, content that will help us to put our Brand in front of our audience, capturing its attention and generating social engagement and, from a purely SEO point of view, tons of links.

Content is King Snap Your Face

What we often see are many individual actions, one for each medium used, which are almost always disconnected between them.

Never, or very few times, the posts of the self-defined Content Marketing gurus in our industry, explain how those individual and often disjointed actions in fact form part of a much more complex strategy, how they are just a single molecule of a largest narrative body.

And, let me tell you, that’s quite sad, because it is limiting.

To identify Content Marketing only with many individual actions is substantially equivalent to creating a gigantic mountain, which gives birth only to baby mice, or, at best, gives birth to baby-mice at an industrial scale.

But there is a problem, especially true in all the B2C highly competitive industry niches (entertainment, fashion, travel…).

In a world where people are bombed with an ever-increasing volume of brand contents, creating good content is not enough to be noticed in a multi-device world.

Content must be magnificent.

Content Quality Chart by Rand Fishkin

(alleged) Content Marketers, then, pull out rather classic arguments, Storytelling being one of them. And, again, fill our feeds almost exclusively with examples and forget to say why Storytelling really matters: psychology.

Storytelling matters because great stories are:

  • Authentic;
  • Human;
  • Evoke emotions;
  • Are interesting (to me).

Cats and dogs memes are fun content, but they are not Storytelling.

Stories, nowadays, must develop themselves in different platforms. For instance, I hear first a news in the radio in the morning, go reading about it on mobile app, and dig into it on desktop.

This is the basic representation of Crossmedia Marketing.

But Crossmedia Marketing, albeit being wonderful and at least how every marketers should conceive his marketing strategy, has the defect that it is usually just thought as a multi-device version of the disjointed content marketing campaigns.

What if I tell you that exists another form of doing Storytelling, which combines the multi-device advantages of Crossmedia but add the essential role of the end users to the mix? Transmedia Storytelling.

Be aware though that Transmedia is nothing really new. In fact, even if as a term was presented my Henry Jenkins in 2003, we could find a first idea of Transmedia in Walt Disney, and how he created a multi-platform narrative universe.

Definition of Transmedia

Transmedia storytelling, as it is defined by Henry Jenkins, represents a process where integral elements of a fiction get dispersed systematically across multiple delivery channels for the purpose of creating a unified and coordinated entertainment experience. Ideally, each medium makes it own unique contribution to the unfolding of the story.

The bolded phrase is important, because it defines the difference with Crossmedia, which is always the same single contribution to a story presented in multiple channels.

Elements of Transmedia Storytelling

The elements of Transmedia Storytelling are:

  • Spreadability/Drillability

The first underlines the importance of the digital platforms (especially Social Media) for expanding the narrative, and the second the penetration into the targeted audience.

Example of Drillability in Transmedia Storytelling

TheOneRing.net site is a great example of drillability in Transmedia, especially in relation to deep collaboration it has with The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings movies production and promotion.

  • Immersion/Extractability

The purpose of Transmedia Storytelling is to immerse users in the world it creates. But also it previews the opportunity of bringing elements out of that world to the users’ real life.

  • World Building

This is one of the most important elements in Transmedia. The more detailed is the world the more the users will believe that world.

A Transmedia world not necessarily must be fictional; it can be our own Earth but viewed from the perspective of our Brand’s values (just think at what Nike conceives its marketing, for instance).

In this sense, Transmedia directors are like the world architects described in Inception

  • Seriality

Transmedia is dispersive and, therefore, serial. But this seriality is not consecutive, it’s hipertextual.

  • Subjectivity

In Transmedia we have the contemporary presence of different point of views of the same narrative universe.

A good example of this in literature is Song of Fire and Ice by George R. R. Martin, which presents the world and events of Westeros and Essos from the subjective point of view of literally tens of characters.

  • Performance

The most distinctive characteristic of Transmedia Storytelling is Performance, which refers to the protagonism openly given to the users in contributing to the development of the narrative world.

In this sense, Transmedia Storytelling needs Prosumers (producers + consumers) and it is heavily biased by UGC.

501st legion

The 501st Legion surely is one of the most stunning example of Transmedia Performance.
Cosplay too should be considered this way.

The two sides of Transmedia

As we have seen, Transmedia creators offer to their audience a very detailed narrative world, but – at the same time – their purpose is that that same audience will take possession of that world and develops it (almost) independently.

That means that we two different but synergic natures coexist in Transmedia Storytelling:

  1. The Canon one, which presents official content, a deep marketing strategy with almost every kind of marketing professional collaborating in its production, and which has profit as its main objective;
  2. The Fandom nature, which consists of UGC, uses indie channels, it’s prone to crowdsourced spin-offs and which purpose is pleasure.

The Transmedia production

In a more classic strategy, we usually have a product and around it we build a narrative, which is replicated in multiple channels (official site, App, social profiles or even offline channels), all used accordingly to their natures but always presenting the same story.

In Transmedia, instead, we create a “Bible” around a topic, and we develop subjective and distinctive visions of that topic depending of the channels we decide to use.

Halo Bible

Moreover, new narratives about the topical world we have designed can be created by the users and becoming part of the “Bible” itself.

The Transmedia production, then, operates in different areas:

  1. Narrative;
  2. Experience;
  3. Audience;
  4. Media/Platforms;
  5. Business Models;
  6. Execution.

Narrative

  • When we start designing a Transmedia narrative, we should answer to these questions:
  • What do we want to narrate?
  • How are we going to narrate it?
  • In what genre our narrative does fit?
  • Who are the main characters? What do they want and how do they relate to each other?
  • Where and when does the story happen? Does it happen in a fictional world or in ours?
  • What is the structure?

Answering to these questions let us develop the different steps of a story in different medium.

(IMHO this TedTalk is similar to the one given by Sergey Brin last year… scared?)

Experience

We know that Immersion and Performance are one of the main characteristics of Transmedia Storytelling, and the “Experience” area of a Transmedia production is the one that answers to the questions related to those characteristics:

  • What kind of Transmedia experience we want our audience to live?
  • What kind of engagement? And how the engagement will influence the narrative itself?
  • How to manage the engagement?
  • What control do the users have over the story?
  • Will the experience limited to digital or will it be transported to real life?

Audience

Audience analysis is essential in Transmedia, as users play a fundamental role in its success or failure.

Cosplay Prosumer

When it come to Transmedia – but if you pay attention we can see how this is a common situation for us – we must distinguish three different kind of audience:

  1. The “passive” audience, who are just mere spectators of a Transmedia campaign;
  2. The “shares”, who are the ones who help the spreadability of the Transmedia narrative;
  3. The prosumers, who don’t limit themselves just to sharing the Transmedia world, but also contribute in enlarging it with new things.

Media/Platforms

Our creativity (not budget) is the limit.

The Hunger Games Explorer

Taking the entertainment industry – which is also the one that rely the most on Transmedia marketing – we can spread our narrative world through all these channels:

  • Web Sites;
  • Apps;
  • TV;
  • Cinema;
  • Books;
  • Comics;
  • Web Series;
  • Online Video Games
  • Stand Alone Video Games
  • Social Media
  • Wiki/Forums
  • ARG (Alternate Reality Games)
  • Flashmobs/Unconventional marketing/Guerrilla Marketing.

Ads too can enter into a Transmedia narrative

Obviously, we should not use every channel just because we can, but after having answered to these questions:

  • What does every platform offer?
  • What medium is adapting better to the experience we want our users to live?
  • Does the platform add value or is it just fashion?
  • Will we start targeting a massive audience or a niche one?
  • Will we start with free content and then go to premium or vice versa. Or have we decided to go with a freemium model?

Business models

Transmedia is a very democratic marketing option. It can be adopted both by large corporations and very small businesses.

The reason is simple, and it depends on the double nature (Canon and Fandom) of Transmedia itself.

Usually the business models are:

  1. Paid;
  2. Freemium;
  3. Sponsorship;
  4. Crowdfounding.
The Veronica Mars Movie Project by Rob Thomas — Kickstarter

The Veronica Mars Movie Project on Kickstarter is classic example of using Transmedia as a business model.

The great thing is that all these models can coexist.

Classics examples are the games we all have installed in our phones. In fact, we can decide if to buy Angry Birds or if to download the free version and, when we need it, buying features within the App.

While preparing a Transmedia strategy, we should simulate the biggest number of potential combinations of business models, also because the final decision will directly influence the content delivery strategy, as it is evident looking at this simulation:

  1. Attracting big occasional audiences with flashmobs/unbranded viral performances, which we will take care they are spread in the news;
  2. Transforming the occasional audience into fans using Social Media (i.e.: Twitter Storytelling);
  3. Collaborating with the fans in the expansion of the experience (i.e.: contests, UGC videos on our YouTube channel and photos on our Instagram profile);
  4. Deliver Paid Content (i.e.: Video on Demand, Books, Ebooks…).

Execution

As I’ve told at least a couple of times before, every Transmedia narrative – also the Brand Transmedia – starts from a document defined as The Bible.

The Bible is that document where the narrative world is described. The better and more detailed is the Bible, the best.

Examples of Bibles are The Halo Story Bible and the Star Wars Expanded Universe created by Lucas and, unfortunately, not public (but we can have an idea here).

A Transmedia Bible should always describe these elements (and in this order):

  1. Business Model;
  2. Audience;
  3. Genre;
  4. Theme;
  5. Premise;
  6. Narrative synthesis;
  7. Expansion/Compression.

And it should present the details of:

  1. The treatment;
  2. The functional specifications;
  3. The design specifications;
  4. The technical specifications;
  5. The marketing and business strategy and execution planning.

Example of Transmedia elements of narrative

In creating a Transmedia storytelling, we usually encounter these options, many of which are clearly UGC. Knowing them we can preview how to use them at our own advantage.

Usually Transmedia Storytelling is like a pendulum moving from Expansion to Compression, from Canon to Fandom.

Being able to recognize them and incorporate them inside our own Brand narrative can help us using them at our own advantage.

Expansion is quite easy to understand: spin-offs, prequels, sequels, new characters’ stories are all examples of narrative universe expansion.

More subtle to understand is compression.

For instance, synchronizing a story that was originally developed in different timelines is an example of compression. Recaps, too, are a classic example of compressed narrative.

Other variations are due to the intervention of the prosumers.

Prosumers can decide to have Dom Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio character in Inception) manipulates the Jack “Lost” Shepard’s mind:

So that everything in Lost is nothing but a dream inside a dream:

  • Parodies;
  • Memes;
  • Alternative Endings;
  • False previews and openings;
  • Mashups;
  • Adaptations.

The Shining Recut is an amazing example of how narrative can be revolutionized by prosumers

TL;DR

A post, a meme, infographics or a long-form interactive guide, they alone are not Content Marketing.

Content Marketing should be the granular diversification of a narrative world, the Brand world, and its objective creating a universe based on the Brand’s values and consistent with the values our targeted audience has.

Crossmedia seems the best and most logic strategy to follow in a multi-device era, but if we really want to completely take advantage of how users are now ruling the conversation, then we should start embracing Transmedia.

Transmedia is a powerful, immersive and fans-generating machine, because it creates better than other narrative strategies a strong emotional bond between a Brand and its audience.

And because people never ask you: Tell me the data.

People ask: Tell me a story.

AUTHORED BY:
h

Gianluca Fiorelli is an SEO and Web Marketing Strategist, who operates in the Italian, Spanish and English speaking countries market. He also works regularly as independent consultant with bigger international SEO agencies.

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