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Transmedia Storytelling: Neuroscience Meets Ancient Practices

Stories rewire communication for a transmedia world

The problem: How do you rise above the noise?

Every day you wake up to a flow of information. Your alarm clock sounds and you check your smart phone for email and Facebook posts. You scan a newspaper over breakfast; listen to the radio as you head to work. You get a warning about local traffic from your navigation device and have it search for the nearest coffee bar on the detour. Your assistant sends a text message saying that your first meeting has been delayed. Your day has only just started, you haven't even sat down at a computer and there is already a constant conversation. It's the same for your customer.

We live in a socially-networked, transmedia world. The wealth of information across so many channels is both an opportunity and a challenge. We need effective organizing systems and filters that connect information in the world with things that have meaning and relevance. This is true of the sender and the receiver. We need to find a way to break through and hear or be heard, whether you are an individual, an organization, or a brand.

The solution: Transmedia storytelling

Transmedia storytelling is quickly becoming the new standard for 21st century communication. Transmedia storytelling uses the tools of the storyteller-emotion, engagement, universal themes, personal connection, and relevance-to create a communication experience instead of a message. Get over thinking it is only about entertainment franchises. Transmedia storytelling moves a brand from slogan to interaction between the company and the customer. It unites executives and teams with focused goals and a common purpose.

The reason: Storytelling speaks to all levels of the brain

Stories are how brains organize information

Stories are the brain's way of organizing information - in other words, how we rise above the noise. Stories package information for rapid comprehension by engaging the brain at all levels: intuitive, emotional, rational, and somatic.

The reason that we keep saying that traditional marketing approaches no longer work is that the social web has created a new consumer psychology. Consumers expect you to earn their attention, not interrupt them for it. They want to see communications that are timely, interactive, personal, and, above all, honest. Whether you're an organization or an individual, you must communicate in a way that treats the audience with respect and delivers value--before the sale. A story can communicate who you are and inspire people at a higher level with your passion, purpose, and commitment to the customer's experience. It is not about selling, it's about engaging. Engaging people moves pre-customers to brand advocates.

Transmedia storytelling is executive development

Transmedia storytelling doesn't just work for the audience. We view transmedia storytelling as executive development because, internally, our process of developing a company's story delivers great value in team-building, increased understanding of goals and personal objectives. It also reveals internal inconsistencies and allows executives to focus goals and create a cohesive culture.

Yeah, yeah. We've all know that storytelling is important. Just tell me about the transmedia part.

It doesn't work that way. Transmedia storytelling is a different approach and sensibility. It isn't just hauling out a story and repurposing it across media. When done well, it uses the psychological basis of story to develop a narrative across multiple media. Each piece adds to the whole, it doesn't just echo it. But more important than that, the new media landscape has changed the our psychology. Words like 'authenticity' and 'transparency' get thrown around a lot in the world of social media. A lot of social media gurus will advise you to look transparent and authentic. That's just ridiculous. You have to BE transparent and authentic-you have to be honest, available, and human. Anything phony will be exposed. We're all linked together, remember? Getting information, performing due diligence-whether it's on a local restaurant or a company's policies-is at our fingertips. Literally.

Defining transmedia storytelling: A coherent story that unfolds across multiple platforms

Transmedia storytelling uses multiple media platforms to tell a single, coherent story or narrative that unfolds across time. Each media piece-whether it's a website, novel, video games, mobile apps, or a film-provides different points of access and can engage different demographics. Each media components add to the story while functioning as a standalone experience. Each component invites some level of participation. The story can be experienced and appreciated at any stage, but the cumulative effect of all the pieces makes a larger, richer and more engaging message experience.

When we break down or teach transmedia storytelling at A Think Lab, we look at four fundamental parts: 1) the historical, cultural, psychological and neurological qualities of stories; 2) the psychological and technological change driving the converging media landscape; 3) story structure and the development of an authentic and coherent story; and 4) matching the story and audience with the cognitive, social, and experiential attributes of each media platform. Only then does it make sense to develop a storyworld, art and other assets, and plan media placement. For us, this is where a transmedia storytelling project starts--identifying the authentic story of the company and, then, understanding the goals, motivations, and capabilities of the audience. Yet most of the transmedia storytelling presentations and proposals we see begin at the point when our work is ready to hand off to a creative team.

Transmedia storytelling needs the whole process. You need great decorations for a birthday cake, but fancy icing without a good cake makes for an unsatisfying party.

More from Pamela B. Rutledge Ph.D., M.B.A.
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