What is going to be the biggest trend of 2010? The continued growth of mobile platforms (the “third screen”)? The practical uses of augmented reality? Adobe going to a daily schedule for its software updates?
My money is on the emergence of transmedia. For those of you who don’t know the term, MIT Media studies professor Henry Jenkins provided this definition in his 2006 book Convergence Culture … “(Transmedia) is storytelling across multiple forms of media with each element making distinctive contributions to a viewer/user/player’s understanding of the story world.” While most of the focus on transmedia has come from the entertainment world, I believe we’ll see this trend impacting almost all aspects of marketing and advertising in the next couple of years.
Part of this is due to the fact that we now have so many ways to communicate with a consumer. Multiple platforms demand multiple forms of media and a consistent brand message across all communications pieces. And if brand messaging is storytelling (as we’ve argued so often here) then it only makes sense to use the latest storytelling tools to reach our desired audience. As we all move towards creating intellectual property instead of simple display ads and the business continues to migrate from “push” experiences to “permission based” marketing the utilization of transmedia storytelling techniques will occur naturally.
Jeff Gomez and his company Starlight Runner are an interesting example of how these new techniques can be practically applied to business. Jeff works for clients like Microsoft, Disney and Hasbro, identifying intellectual property assets and creating “storyworlds” that have consistent details and creative assets that remain identical across multiple media. For example, Jeff’s company takes a property like Hasbro’s Transformers (which has over 25 years worth of diverse media assets), surveys the existing work, creates a “bible” that summarizes these assets and the internal laws of the “storyworld” and provides a “throughline” for future creators of material that gives direction on the overall nature of the story associated with the property. Sounds a lot like developing a brand strategy and creating brand guidelines doesn’t it? The major difference is that the assets Jeff is just working with are a lot more complex than a traditional display ad or 30 second spot.
Why should we be concerned about using transmedia techniques instead of the traditional approach to consumer based communications? One reason is that consumers are interacting with brands in a different way than they have done in the past. Increased engagement demands a more complex offering and providing consistency across these multiple messages helps create engagement. As Bob Greenberg of RGA has argued consumers are migrating from campaigns to platforms.
More importantly, skillful use of transmedia techniques can allow companies to break through the clutter and attract consumer attention. Fard Johnmar and his Path of the Blue Eye project are a perfect example of this. Instead of issuing a traditional whitepaper to teach his audience about social media he created an online comic book. For Fard’s conservative audience of pharmaceutical marketers, his messaging was an engaging and radically innovative way to convey his key points. And it provided him with instant press and notoriety among the Pharma digital community. Fard is now taking the original concept and expanding it to other forms of media but his use of an innovative platform provided a tremendous kickstart to his messaging campaign.
As we look ahead to 2010 transmedia looks to take an even bigger hold on the entertainment industry. No studio launches a big picture these days without a rich interactive component. And gaming, publishing, virtual worlds, and many other storytelling media are also part of the marketing and storytelling mix. As traditional consumer brands embrace some of these other forms of media (casual gaming, online communities, viral video and other branded entertainment pieces) they will follow the same model.
Transmedia is here to stay.
How are you developing your own intellectual property assets? Is your messaging stand alone or do all your communications pieces contribute to the story you are trying to tell?