Your Story on Demand
Robert Pratten is one of the leading transmedia producers worldwide. After directing two award-winning feature films he decided to bring fictional stories into the real world. Now he is the author of the book „Getting Started in Transmedia Storytelling“, a benchmark in Transmedia Storytelling. Robert spoke with FourScreens about storytelling and user interaction and how brands can benefit from it.
Robert, please introduce yourself.
My name is Robert Pratten. I am the CEO of Transmedia Storyteller Ltd, a company that creates adventures. Our mission is to make everyone’s life an adventure. We achieve our mission through creating interactive, immersive experiences. These experiences are stories that live in the everyday world on mobile and social media, text messaging and phone calls. Any platform is a medium for storytelling.
So, what exactly is transmedia storytelling?
Transmedia storytelling is telling a story across multiple platforms, across multiple channels and doing so in a way that each platform reinforces the next.
In advertising you might think of it as multi-channel-marketing or 360-degree-marketing. But the emphasis with transmedia storytelling is on the story and the idea to not repurpose content. You can’t call it transmedia storytelling if you have one image and then change it to different form-factors for other platforms.
What you want to create is a synergy between lots of different platforms. The audience goes through their everyday life and is coming in contact with different touchpoints through video or online or whatever it might be.
Each element forms a connection so that the whole experience is greater than the sum of the parts.
So which elements are crucial for transmedia storytelling?
I think visuals are important, for example any kind of video component. But I would also look for some sort of interactivity because if somebody views a video on YouTube, it is just a view. We don’t know anything about that person and cannot follow up the conversation after that view is finished. What would be better is to have a call-to-action in the YouTube video. The character of a video could invite the audience to text him, to email him, or to connect on another platform. That would give us contact details from the viewer while we can start another story through this secondary channel which again allows us to find out more about the user and also gives us the possibility to adapt the experience to the user.
Are there any story-elements essential for transmedia storytelling?
I think storytelling in the transmedia sense is the same as storytelling in a book or in a movie. There should still be three acts – a beginning, a conflict and a resolution. Storytelling is the release and the withholding of information. This creates intrigue and mystery.
I also think the story should reveal itself through interaction. The thing about web-based content is that it’s interactive. People are used to clicking, digesting, collaborating and sharing. As a user, if I see web content that’s not interactive, I often feel like “Well you could have just said this to me in a book or a film”. What the web really allows, is exploration and interacting and building an emotional bond through participation in an active story. For me that is the most important thing, for the user to feel that his actions are meaningful. So these meaningful elements need to be added to the design of the experience.
Okay. But how can transmedia storytelling be a benefit for a brand?
Advertising is becoming less and less effective. To be recognized as a brand you have to create content that gravitates towards your consumers. You have to create something that will resonate with them, so that they will share it.
But once you’re going into that direction you really should go interactive because you can find out more about your audience, which is great for market research purposes. Also, when consumers start interacting you can personalize that experience so they make it their own.
Whereas with the right content, the right interactive experience you’re building a relationship, just giving away a car or some prize is not building a strong relationship. It’s empathazining a transactional relationship. We wouldn’t want a transactional relationship with our friends so brands shouldn’t seek that with their customers.
The satisfaction the consumer gets from interactive, personalized, participatory content has long-lasting positive effects on their feelings towards your company.
Could you give us any examples for the interactivity you are talking about?
I’ll start by telling you what it’s not! The typical marketing setup relies on a website where you need to enter your contact details and you’ll receive a whitepaper or something similar. That is boring. I’m not even sure if it works so well for B2B but for B2C it’s twice as boring.
Another familiar setup is: “Send us 10,000 tweets with our hashtag and we’ll unlock a video”. That kind of works but the relations you are establishing are still on a basis of exchange. You’re saying do this for us and we’ll do that for you. It is not quite as nice as saying: “Here’s a great experience”, and give it away for free.
If you give away a video, make sure there’s some kind of mystery, some kind of story that needs to be unraveled. For example, maybe we want the user to find out about a particular character; or maybe we’ve shown a business card and there’s a telephone number on the card to call. When a user rings the number, he gets an answer that sends him to a website… which requires a password that was shown somewhere else in the video.
So the audience pieces together the story on his own and it feels for them like entering a world that is responding to them.
How many users are participating in these interactive experiences?
The user participation is once again dependent on the target audience. Only a fraction of the total audience are going to be the most engaged – let’s say 10%. So you build an interactive experience and say only 10% of the total audience is searching for clues and interacting with the characters and at first it seems like a lot of effort for a small part of your audience. But then you realize that this 10% are your biggest advocates! They are the brand embassadors. They are the influencers. They are the ones that invite their friends and give good recommendations. And in truth you don’t get to reach the other passive 90% without that active 10%. So you can’t measure an experience solely in terms of “most active users”. You have to measure the brand sentiment of the whole population of consumers and you’ll find it’s totally worth it and suddently it makes sense.