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Transmedia Storytelling

Posted by Elena del Valle on January 30, 2011

Putting story power to work in the Hispanic marketplace

By Bonnie Buckner and Pamela Rutledge, Ph.D.
Co-founders, A Think Lab

Bonnie Buckner and Pamela Rutledge, Ph.D.

Photos: Bonnie Buckner and Pamela Rutledge, Ph.D.

The explosion of new technologies and social media has created expanded opportunities for marketers and public relations professionals to reach both more pointed and more diverse audiences. There is a tendency to focus on the technology or the tools, but substance drives an effective campaign. Stories deliver substance. They provide an authentic human experience that taps into psychological fundamentals and the richness of culture, making them the most effective way to engage audiences. Stories have the ability to express the essence of a brand or advocacy campaign. They are how we make sense of the world, how we connect, and how we share.

The Hispanic marketplace is rich and diverse, consisting of many different cultures from countries in Central and South America, the Caribbean and Spain with many different levels of acculturation and assimilation. Stories are a way to bridge cultural diversity because culture is story. In a Hispanic marketplace rich with cultural histories, story is a powerful means to engage people in a meaningful way.

Stories are the way we understand our world no matter what our cultural heritage. We use stories to organize our experiences, teach values, meaning, and culture to others. With story, we are transported into another world and perspective, but the nature of story allows us to personalize the experience. For the brand, company or advocacy campaign, story is the essential means of communicating purpose, meaning in ways that fit in the life of the individual consumer.

The explosion of technology and social media with wider access and falling costs has created new opportunities for customers as well as marketers. While the digital divide is decreasing, there are still significant differences. However, the use of social media and mobile technologies among younger Latinos is very high.

The psychology of today’s social media-savvy consumer is one who expects to participate, rather than receive. For marketers, this presents opportunities to engage with customers, and create long-term relationships. The traditional media model of one-to-many and sending a homogeneous message to a broad market is particularly ineffective across such a culturally diverse population. The new model of many-to-many creates personal and relevant connections.

Transmedia storytelling is an organic outgrowth of the new media environment and the shifting psychology of communication. New expectations of interactivity, authenticity, and transparency have made consumers hypersensitive to being “sold.” Understanding transmedia storytelling is a must for branding, marketing advocacy organizations, and communication experts to connect with and relate to today’s audiences.

Transmedia storytelling uses multiple media platforms to build a story out of individual contributions. Traditionally, marketers used the same story and re-purposed it across multiple media. No more. Transmedia storytelling develops a coherent story out of the parts with each media piece bringing a unique contribution to the whole. In transmedia storytelling, the audience can participate in any single part of the media experience. Each piece of the transmedia story is simultaneously part of the whole and also must be satisfying as a standalone experience. A 30 second television commercial can be satisfying to the viewer; however accessing multiple pieces of the story in webisodes, Tweets, podcasts, or Augmented Reality Games (ARGs), delivers a comprehensive, richer, more engaging and more memorable experience.

Transmedia storytelling is different from traditional marketing. A story invites, rather than sells, allowing the consumer-brand relationship to unfold over time. The transmedia storytelling process creates an alliance of co-participants where consumers participate by choice. The campaign becomes self-sustaining, powered by the consumers who connect with others through social networks to exchange information, media pieces, or personal experiences. A good story also motivates customers to search out and participate in the other parts of the transmedia narrative experience, extending customer contact.

Transmedia storytelling extends a brand’s ability to reach diverse audiences by targeting specific demographics with appropriate media and points of entry overcoming both technology and language. This customization allows the content to be delivered that is culturally sensitive to underlying themes and messages, different expressions of cultural archetypes, and different understandings of desirable behavior that will support and resonate with the audience beliefs.

The flexibility of transmedia storytelling also presents an opportunity for socially responsible marketing and social intervention, such as literacy or health messaging in the context of branded stories. The power of the story creates awareness; and forms of “soap operas” have been an influential force, changing health behaviors and challenging the acceptance of domestic violence in South America and India.

In today’s world, consumers don’t want a marketing message; they want to be recognized and appreciated as individuals through genuine brand dialogue. Transmedia storytelling uses the authenticity of story to communicate core attributes and meaning to its customers. As the story unfolds across multiple media platforms welcoming audience participation, it provides value that enhances brand trust and perception and simultaneously increases the brand’s reach.

Bonnie Buckner and Pamela Rutledge, Ph.D. are offering a new course through UC Irvine Extension called Transmedia Marketing through Storytelling (http://unex.uci.edu/courses/sectionDetail.asp?cm_id=x&serial_id=00444&acadYear=2011&acadTerm=WINTER). Buckner and Rutledge are media psychologists and the co-founders of A Think Lab

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