browncoats-redemption_janaeThe following post is an article for Sparksheet, on brands and transmedia. Below is the extended version of the article.

What is it about a great story that stays with us?

In its simplest form, storytelling is an act of cultural preservation – from drawing on a cave wall to commenting on a friend’s Facebook status, the process of sharing information between two people is an innate part of being human.

But in an age where the distribution and sharing of stories across multiple channels is increasingly accessible (and people’s attention spans even more divided as a result), how do organizations get their stories out to an increasingly fragmented audience?

Enter Transmedia.

A Transmedia refresher

Transmedia storytelling, as explained by JWTIntelligence, “involves narrative threads tailored for different channels (from mobile to big screens, from social to traditional media) and audiences (gamers, readers, Tweeters, etc.)…For brand marketers, this means that rather than striving for consistency across multiple touchpoints, the goal is for different channels to communicate different things (within the overarching strategy), with an emphasis on putting the brand community at the center.”

A popular example would be the companion media to 2003’s Matrix Reloaded. The Animatrix, an original series of short animated stories, worked in tangent with comic book releases and video games to deepen the Matrix narrative beyond the boundaries of the films.

Transmedia storytelling also offers expansion into multiple markets by creating various entry points for audience segments to interact.

Take adaptations of Harry Potter, for example, where condensed, picture-centric versions have popped up to attract younger readers to the book series.

Then there is Joss Whedon’s cult phenomenon Firefly, which despite a dedicated following and core fan base only lasted a single season. Last year a group of die-hard fans came together to create the fan-driven film “Browncoats: Redemption” with the support of Big Damn Fan Films, Inc. (BDFF) a non-profit organization working to “increase the awareness of non-profit charities through fan-made films.”

BDFF reached out to Firefly fans through various social networks and chat rooms to find a critical mass of followers who wanted to be a part of the project. This allowed for crowd-sourced readings of the script, behind-the-scenes footage from fans and the creation of an in-the-flesh “Redemption” conference. The film company was also able to leverage the fan base to support five charities supported by the cast and creator of the original series.

It is this type of experimentation that allows brands such as BDFF to tap into markets they may not traditionally approach and use them to broaden their reach.

Transmedia branding

storytellingMany times brands will mistake cross-media marketing for transmedia storytelling. Cross-media content links individual communication to achieve added value for the brand using a uniform appearance. This content is brand run and curated. It targets specific demographics that already resonant with the brand. Transmedia creates a world for consumers to be engulfed in; to participate through varying entry points, which allow for the discovery of new demographical and psychographic segments to interact with the brand. Through that world, users create content as their way of engaging with the brand. However, the user generated content is an after effect of a greater transmedia campaign. Sometimes it is done to tell a story the fans want to tell (e.g. Browncoats) or it is asked directly of them to engage them in the story (I.e. Heroes, Burger King).

Coca Cola’s Open Happiness project is a great example of a cross-media, integrated campaign that still has an opportunity to be more; to be transmedia. As Gunther Sonnenfeld explains in his Sparksheet article, Coke has successfully explored the bigger narrative and connected varies communities around the campaign. But there is still a major opportunity for Coca Cola to inspire user-generated content

An example of user-generated content can be found associated with Burger King. The year that Burger King revamped its king character, the King Halloween masks immediately sold out. Fan based parodies began popping up on YouTube. The battle between The King and Ronald McDonald is just one example of user-generated content that has been viewed by millions.

transmedia and burger king

Photo Credit: T Pollock Jr.

The opportunity here for Burger King would be to create a storyline and multiple channels for consumers to generate their own content that can then be repurposed by the brand. This recognition would encourage consumers to work more closely with the brand on how it positions itself, as well as innovations to the product itself.

Why you should incorporate Transmedia storytelling into the fabric of your brand:

  1. People can engage with the brand on a deeper level than any single medium would allow, creating a more positive user experience for your product or service that ends up feeling more like a collaborative effort.
  2. Transmedia creates evangelists by allowing consumers to express their connection to the brand on their terms and to their network, which in turn broadens the market beyond the target demographic.
  3. By encouraging your audience to be involved in the storytelling, you allow for crowd sourced open innovation, a process that could drive your company and/or its suite of offerings in new, unique and hopefully more profitable directions.

The value of Transmedia storytelling to branding happens in the subtle shift of perception.

Worth telling a story, don’t you think?

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