What’s Your Story?

December 15, 2011

There seems to be a great deal of buzz around the idea of transmedia these days. To put the concept in layman terms (which, incidentally, is how I understand these things), transmedia is the idea of relaying a narrative through various forms of media, such as film, television, print, online, etc. Of course the conversation gains relevance today when it brings social media into the mix. Storytellers, in our world of de-centralized mass media, are excited by the concept of telling their tales through various digital forms that reach their audiences in new and interesting ways. And, as Marshall McLuhan would likely chime in, the method for relaying these stories appropriately adds a new dimension to the story. A viewer/reader is likely to react differently to a story told through Twitter or YouTube, than he/she would when he’s reading a novel or watching a movie at the local cineplex.

And as with most developments in the arts, the business world is taking the next step and seeking to benefit from transmedia, particularly in its advertising efforts. But that leads to some questions about the use of narrative in a marketing campaign. The easy answer is that a business using transmedia must construct a fictional storyworld with characters and plot points, and so on, but that demonstrates a rather narrow view of story. To be clear, narrative does have a particular purpose in the arts, but that doesn’t mean that the use of narrative in marketing requires the same definition of narrative.

Narrative, or the art of storytelling in general, doesn’t necessarily mean the highly-structured relaying of plot points, and how that plot affects the lives of the surrounding characters. In a more general sense, narrative is just a series of events. Or, in an even more general, more psychological sense, narrative is the recognition that time exists. People perceive the world as existing in a linear fashion: one thing happens after the other, one event causes another. Which allows narrative to fit perfectly into a business setting.

Consider the old adage that a company does not sell a product, it sells an experience. Your customer isn’t buying a widget, he’s buying the experience of owning (and possibly using) a widget. And thus one thing leads to another. If you give us your money, we will give you the experience of owning our product. Or in another way, we offer you the experience of being a widget owner, just like all the other cool people.

And thus, we can use a looser sense of narrative to convey a marketing message, one platform interacting with another, or perhaps even leading to another. Certainly businesses don’t want customers to perceive the world as existing in a single state, or even happening in flux outside of their influence. We want our customers (or audience members) to perceive our message as a part of their lives, interacting with the daily events of their personal narratives.

In a sense, the narrative of a transmedia marketing campaign is one where the customer is the protagonist, and the goal of the marketer is to move the plot towards its own happy ending. It only makes sense that the storyteller would make that story as compelling for the audience member as possible. The next step would be determining whether the novelty of transmedia is compelling enough to gloss over the rest of the story developent process. (Hint: It isn’t.)

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