Wednesday, February 22, 2012

What do you want transmedia to do for you?

Transmedia is a buzzword to many. For others, it’s a word that promises gateways into new experiences. For yet others, it’s a term that is filled with challenges and possibilities on a storytelling and creative level. It all comes down to one simple question: what do you want transmedia to do for you?

Do you want transmedia methods to help you raise a serious amount of interest before the launch of something? Can do:

Do you want transmedia to help you raise awareness about some critical issues that the world is facing, if not today then surely tomorrow? Can do:
Do you want transmedia to help you, in a coherent and logical and compelling way, bridge the gaps between releases of different series or episodes of your main product? Can do:

HBO's 'True Blood' is pretty good at keeping their fangbangers happy.

Do you want to use transmedia to give your audience the possibility, reasons and tools to start creating and participating themselves? Can do:

Do you want transmedia to help you redefine your company, your work description or your image? Can do:

Stories are made for transmedia

Basically, transmedia is there for anything and anyone that has a story they want people to hear, no matter if these people are an audience, collaborators, subcontractors, potential buyers or someone else. Using transmedia storytelling methods will help anyone design and develop for multiple media and multiple entry points in a much more coherent, engaging and logical way than if not using said methods.

On the other hand, there is nothing that says any project anywhere HAS to go to transmedia methods. Just be honest with yourself and your project – what do you want transmedia to do for you?

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

A Future for Transmedia

In an article over at GamaSutra the other day the author, Leigh Alexander, asked the very legitimate question ”where’s this glorious transmedia future?”, referring to his view that the gaming industry is leading the social media revolution, and televison and film are slow to catch up.

The 2012 Super Bowl had 17,5 million social
media imprints on one day. That's a lot.
He has a point. (On the other hand, looking at the 17,2 million social media imprints the Grammys generated during one day, and the 17,5 million the Superbowl generated a week earlier, television does make an impact in the social sphere (although not harnessed to any greater degree, more’s the shame))Transmedia is not ”there” yet, wherever we envisage ”there” to be. We have experimental projects, we have big-budget marketing campaigns, we have art projects, we have crowdfunded projects and any mix between these. Very few of these will have a significant impact on other transmedia projects, as all new projects need to be handled from the ground up as unique challenges.

To the man (or woman) on the street, the term ”transmedia” means nothing. What means something is great stories. What means something is funny and/or interesting and/or exciting and/or engaging interaction with characters as well as peers around content and connected to content. What means something is the feeling that ”I matter in this context”, that someone is listening, that something is created for me, that I can participate if I choose to and I’m welcome to. What means something is to achieve that willful suspension of disbelief, with regards to the story being told as well as to the different media it’s told on. What means something is have different pieces of the content puzzle available on different platforms that I have easy access to. What means something is to have the feeling of discovery and the tools to share this discovery with my friends.

All this can be ”transmedia”, and the development, design, production and distribution (and marketing) of all this is made easier and better by using transmedia storytelling methods. Still, ”transmedia” in itself will mean nothing to the people taking part of the story. I will never sell something to a broad audience with the "transmedia" tag only - perhaps to acquisition people or sponsors, but never an audience - I can only do that with great content.

Lucas JW Johnson had a post yesterday over at Silverstring Media where he talked about transmedia not being a ”thing” itself, but rather could be viewed as an aspiring artform. Or, as Lucas put it: Transmedia is a way of thought, a way of conceptualizing storytelling and experience in a way that is not limited to a single form or medium, and at its best takes full advantage of that tack.”

What we have is a situation where we’re still looking at people in silos looking at each other, expecting something to happen. It won’t, not by just looking. Every project is a different one, and I’m increasingly starting to believe that any “best practices” that we will come up with, with regards to transmedia, will be pretty broad in shape. Definite definitions of best practices will be as rare as definite definitions of transmedia itself.

On the other hand, I’m increasingly of the opinion that this is nothing essential. As little as the term “transmedia” means to the man on the street, as little will it mean to all of us creating it in the future. Dennis Crow writes in the comments to the GamaSutra article that  If a brand new IP could have a movie to tell the story, a game to immerse the player into the world, and a TV show to produce additional episodic content, then it truly could connect with a huge audience in a way that hasn't been done before.”

This is where we will end up. It’s just – as always – taking a bit longer than everyone hoped for.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Transmedia for Companies

This post I’ll keep short and to the point. It’s my thoughts about how companies can benefit from utilizing transmedia storytelling; not only when it comes to marketing a product or a service, but also when it comes to the company itself.

There are many companies that think about transmedia and use transmedia storytelling to break through into the consciousness of the masses – Audi’s "Art of the Heist" comes to mind – and do so successfully. There are others who look to transmedia storytelling to help them accomplish other things, such as Cisco, with their salesperson-targeting "The Hunt" campaign. There are yet others, often with pretty impressive muscle, who think deeply about new forms of storytelling and new ways to grown nearer to customers. Coca Cola’s ”2020” vision is a prime example.

But the use of transmedia storytelling methods doesn’t have to stop there. Neither does it have to be companies the size of Audi, Coca Cola or Cisco who look to transmedia to help them evolve. Transmedia storytelling methods can be of tremendous use to anyone in any field.

An example: a colleague pointed me in the direction of Black Milk Clothing. It’s a good design brand with interesting creations, yet what makes me remember them is the story on their About page. In short, it’s a brilliant read about how Black Milk came to be, the story of the man behind it and his passion from years back, about not giving up and about succeeding through brilliance and perseverence.

This, in effect, goes beyond mere branding. It is the mythology, the story world of Black Milk Clothing. With this mythology as a foundation, if they decide to connect to their customers on a deeper level they have a wealth of entry points to work with and choose from. Do a competition about who can design the best re-design of the first creations of the creator. Create an app which is a replica of the stands where he tried to sell his first creations, where customers can trade second-hand items of the brand… these opportunities, and many more, spring from the mythology sketchily written on one web page.

It doesn’t end there though. Black Milk’s mythology gives the company something to point to to any future employee – ”this is where we come from, this is who we are!” – or collaborators. It’s their gene pool, basically.  It’s a true story (I assume), but as with all mythologies, it could be embellished, as long as the different new parts do not conflict with the earlier core parts.

This then is something that can be accomplished by just about any company. White books and Rules of the Company and such documents are all well and good, but they seldom tell much of the core of the company, the stories it’s built on, the future it might hold. It's also much too common to merely look ahead, when looking back from time to time can help with directions, ideas and future entry points.

Tell your company’s story. Not just with words, but also with deeds. No one tells a rulebook onwards. A good story, now that’s another thing.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

The five pillars of transmedia

Again this past week I find myself impressed by the amount of thought processing that people put into thinking about transmedia and its’ impact on all kinds of media (and other kinds of art expressions, such as theatre for instance, (which admittedly was from last year but popped up on my radar only now).

Reading through a number of posts and articles on everything from social television to transmedia in marketing, I think one thing stands out very clearly. Everyone is looking at transmedia from their own angle. This is very natural and exactly as it should be, as everyone have their own area of expertise, everyone have their own skillsets and everyone have their own projects in mind when deliberating using transmedia storytelling methods.
A classic view of transmedia. Nothing wrong with it, except for the fact that no people are involved.
Picture from

What this means, however, is that on many occasions a full-fledged transmedia project cannot be successfully developed and implemented – at least not one that would realize the full potential of transmedia storytelling – without there being people representing all these different areas of expertise present in the project. This, in turn, points to what was discussed over at Transmythology earlier, the need for translators between different possible parts and people in a transmedia project. These translators – or a very comprehensive glossary that everyone would be required to memorize – are crucial in order for everyone to understand everyone else and pull in the same direction. 

Basically it is very easy to get lost in the myriad of storytelling, technical and other possibilities and connections outlined in the picture above. We need to remember that it is actual people who will design, develop, produce, distribute and market the content that is created; these people need to gel, at least in the context of the project, or else we'll have something worth less than the sum of its' parts, instead of the other way around.

Five people we need to get to talk to and understand each other,
if a transmedia project is to be a success
The five pillars

As I see it there are five pillars that a successful transmedia project must strive to get to work together and understand each other (disclaimer: there are transmedia projects where the same person sits on two or more of these chairs, as well as projects that differ in some other way; this is based on projects I've worked on, where for instance tv has played a big part).

The creative part. 

First off, this is not to say that any other part is not creative. They are, more often than not. By creative I mean the people responsible for creating the story, the content. They build the storyworld, fill it with characters and plots and stories and plan how these can extend over different media. They write the scripts, they plan the overarching story arc, the narrative superstructure and look at possible entry points via seeded storylines on different media.
One thing that the creative people sometimes miss are the technological aspects of what they want to create. It’s comparatively easy to say ”…and then we’ll tell the story of XX via a casual game on Facebook”. I mean, there are TONS of casual games on Facebook, right? How hard can it be? In reality, it’s a little trickier – a Facebook game can cost quite a bit (try 100k€ and upwards) and you need to find someone who knows how to program it as well. And get them to GET your idea… and so on. 
It’s also often hard for a creative (I know, I count myself as one as well) to relinquish hold of their story or characters, whether it be to other people in the development or project team or in the end to the audience. But if this is what makes sense, then this is what needs to be done; we must try to keep a certain distance, while not letting go of any of the passion.

The technological / production part. 

Now, for tech people (of which I am not one, so any techies reading this and feeling hard done by, blame me) other challenges exist.  Programming is an art form – you can write beautiful code or ugly code or anything in between, that much I’ve learnt from my programmer brother – but lives by totally different constraints than the creative storytelling part. Deadlines in the programming world are often not the same as deadlines in, say, the television world. There is no ”putting forward the release date” of the programming part of a project, if the television part of it is supposed to air at a certain date and time. 
This is a minor problem though; a greater challenge for tech people can be to immerse themselves in the story to the extent that they actually try to enhance it with technical possibilities, not just make the stuff that the creative team asks for. There are a lot of possibilties with apps and web portals and HTML5 and what have you, that creatives simply do not know about. 
If the tech people can immerse themselves in the story, they will start to see possibilities that the creative people then need to be able to take in and understand, in order to work them into the story. This all takes some time and a lot of trial and error – believe me.

The financial part. 

These are very important men and women. Not only because they are the ones who will get you the funding you need to be able to do what you are setting out to do, but also because they will be very close and intimate with your project
See, money very seldom comes without any strings attached. It’s your financial people that often will broker the deals that say which strings will be attached where and why. The creators will have their say, naturally, and so will the tech people. But in the end, if there is no money, nothing gets made. That’s why it is so very important to integrate these people into the story and the story world, using transmedia storytelling methods to tell the stories to them as well to ensure they see the same project and the same content and the same stories as everyone elseOnly then can the financial people properly care for the project in talks with possible partners. 
(Or you can crowdsource on Kickstarter etc; that again brings its own challenges (unless you’re producing Double Fine and start a Kickstarter campaign, of course, then it's all cool sailings :)).

The distribution part.

The distribution people are the ones that ultimately will be in charge of making sure everyone can take part of what you’ve created. If you’re a small indie (or you've created something that doesn't need any bigger and more costly platform) you might simply distribute your story on YouTube (if that is an applicable platform), via an e-book or by some other means, depending on your content. If you’re relying on television you have your broadcasters or IPTV providers, if it’s a film then you deal with the theaters and the DVD distributors, and so on. A lot of this is technicalities; follow the set of rules for submitting content and the end result will be as projected. 
What distribution people increasingly need to pay heed to is the fact that they too are a part of the bigger story. Distribution (and this goes very much for the ”old” media, such as television) need to adapt to fit into a bigger picture; for instance, the television part of a story can no longer dictate all other parts of a transmedia project, or everything will suffer. 
Distributors need to take into consideration the instructions from the creative people about the story and the storyworld as well as the possibilities and demands the tech people might offer and have. This in turn means that the distribution people need to look beyond their core area of interest – distribution – and be prepared to take in the whole of the narrative superstructure, the mythology and the story world, to make sure the distribution models ADD to the overall experience, not DETRACT from it.  

The marketing part

I know many people scoff at marketing when it comes to transmedia. And yes, a cause can be made for transmedia marketing not being a ”true” form of transmedia, but since no global organization has established a single definite definition of transmedia yet, I guess you can call transmedia marketing ”transmedia” if you want to. In this post though I would look beyond this and focus on the role that marketing has for any transmedia project. 
As I wrote last week, there should be no ”build it and they will come”-thinking when it comes to transmedia. You have created compelling content with groundbreaking use of technology, good funding and distribution secured. You even have a set target group as intended audience. Now you need to put it in front of them, and here’s when the people at marketing come in. They are – if they are worth their salt – usually very good at getting things in front of people. The more people you can get to take note of your content (and providing your content is good enough to measure up) the more chance you have of your project turning into a breakaway success. 
What marketing people need to ponder and understand is that transmedia most often has a participatory nature. It’s not marketing in the sense of ”show them this can of soda enough times and they will buy it!”, it’s ”tell the story of the content, give them a reason to tell it – or their own connected stories – onwards and the tools to do it”. There’s quite a big difference that needs to be understood and adhered to, in order for marketing to work for a transmedia project.

The sixth part - the audience

All of this leads to one thing; the need to create a transmedia experience that will engage, excite, enable and enrich an audience. This, while all the people representing the five pillars above need to communicate fully and thoroughly with each other, communication which may or may not include the use of translators and glossaries to assist with the understanding. What it all boils down to is that everyone must strive to understand everyone else and open one's eyes to the possibilities and challenges that will arise.

Or, rather, open one eye to possibilities and challenges, as the other eye needs to stay constantly fixed on the audience, ready to adapt, respond, re-develop and communicate.

The audience is the foundation that all these pillars need to be grounded on, else we’ll just have a heap of rabble in the end. More on them in another post.

Monday, February 06, 2012

Starting out in transmedia - 5 points of advice

I was approached the other day by someone looking for a bit of advice on transmedia. Her situation is one that I believe is similar to a lot of people’s. With the growing acknowledgement of transmedia storytelling as a possible way to tell stories and engage audiences, drive brands, foster interaction and generate revenue, many have started to look at incorporating these methods in their own work.

This is all well and fine if you work at a company (although this has its’ own challenges, what with tearing down silos etc) or if you have a proven track record as a producer, designer, writer or developer, a record and a network of contacts that will enable you to get traction for your idea from the start.

But what if you don’t have a company? What if you don’t have a track record or a network of contacts? What if what you have is a brilliant idea for a transmedia project, and nowhere to turn? The situation differs, naturally, depending on where in the world you are situated. Here though, some points that can help a bourgeoning transmedia storyteller on the way:

Write down your idea in as much detail as possible. Include everything, from story to characters to story world to technical specs to possible revenue models to… well, everything you’ve developed so far. Also use this to work on a 30 second pitch (the so called ”elevator pitch”), as this will help you hone your idea considerably. If you can’t explain your idea in a sellable manner in 30 seconds, it’s probably too complex. You can, if you want, take a look at Screen Australia’s template for a Transmedia Production Bible – if nothing else, it will give you some pointers on the areas people will have questions about. 
Do some research (which is a point that has been mentioned before) on what else has been made that is similar to your project. Whatever it is that you’ve come up with, chances are someone, somewhere has done something vaguely similar. Study and learn as much as you can from these examples and tweak your idea accordingly, to simply work better. There is also quite a few case studies that can give valuable information – take a look at the Game of Thrones case study or … well, just do a Google search and pick the ones suitable for you! 
Look at entry points for collaborators from the outset. If you’re creating something where a novel or a graphic novel (physical or online) is a major part of the property, perhaps approach a publisher or someone connected to a publisher? If a game is an integral part, look at how a game developer could come into your team, and which developer that would be. If it’s an online treasure hunt (as at least 60% of transmedia ideas are wont to be (don’t quote me on that, it’s just a feeling I have J )) then a web agency or suchlike might be the right one to approach. Try to think of the project from their point of view – how can they apply what they know and get the most possible out of it? (This is me guessing you do not have the funding to hire them outright; if you do, call me ;) 
Build your network. It can be slow going, finding the right people, getting to talk to them, getting them interested… It’s also hard to get past the initial adversity you might encounter as someone who approaches out of the blue, barging in with a totally new idea that they then have to try to relate to in some way. As everywhere else, personal connections count for a lot. Just to be able to tweet someone to ask for a good sound engineer in the area they live in can save you a lot of time and effort; it’s well worth putting time in to get to know people. In the field of transmedia you could apply for different courses and classes, national and international, where you can not only hone your idea but connect with mentors and likeminded people from all over the place. (There are quite a few, The Pixel Lab for instance, or different training courses). Some might be fairly costly, but applying is usually free and once accepted it’s possible to apply for different kinds of funding and grants. This is one of the upsides of ”transmedia” being a bit of a buzzword at the moment; it is (at least sometimes) easier to convince funders to invest in something that is so clearly pointing to the future, even though not all financial support mechanisms are in place yet. Also, don’t ignore the value of online activity. Most transmedia people are more or less active on social networks and blogs; connect, make contact, offer your thoughts, discuss and share. Just like anywhere else. 
It is quite possible, perhaps even likely, that you still will have no traction for your idea after having honed it, worked on it, done your research and built a network. I’d suggest you make something as proof of concept. This proof will a) show a lot more than mere words can say about the essence of your project. It will also b) give you a chance to build a following for whatever you are offering – a following that will give you more leverage when approaching possible sponsors or collaborators. One advice is to look at current trends and try to find some that sync with your idea on some level. Use that trend to get your content, your idea, in front of people, and be prepared to harness those people (in a mutually satisfactory way, naturally) when they decide to invest time in what you have to offer.

I won’t lie, for the most part it’s an uphill struggle. On the other hand, if this is something you want to do and feel strongly about, and if you believe your idea will have legs just as long as you can get it done, then by all means go for it. A very miniscule percentage of creators / ideas are picked up and launched into the proverbial orbit out of the blue; most demand time, dedication, hard work and patience.  And luck. So - best of luck!

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Marketing transmedia

I read a good post by Marc Binkley the other day, entitled Transmedia Storytelling and Content Marketing”. The post brought up what I believe will be a very hot trend in marketing; realizing that (as Marc lines up in his post) 1. Consumers are media, 2. People yearn to belong and 3. Communities identify themselves in each other’s presence.

It is all about conversation, about not only being in front of your potential customers but also about having a reason for being on front of them other than the obvious ”we want to sell you stuff”. This reason should surpass the banalities of trying to sell things to people; they should be about telling stories and/or enabling the audience to tell stories and give them sufficient reason to want to do so.

Now, this is all laid out quite succintly in Marc’s post, so I’ll let you read his take on it. What occured to me is the fact that everyone involved in transmedia storytelling need to take proper note of this development as well. We need to sell as well, the only difference being that we (often) do not have a physical product in the end (unless you count possible DVD:s or merchandize connected to a main property). What we need to sell is what we create – content. We need people to invest time and engagement in it in order to make the returns that will make our project count as a success, in order for us to be able to obtain funds or commissions to make the next project. In this, we can learn a lot from marketing.

One thing I see quite often is a strong belief in a sort of ”if we build it they will come” mentality. This might’ve worked for Kevin Costner, but it’s most assuredly not the right fit for everyone. What is needed is marketing; what is needed is knowledge of how to get through to the ones that might actually want to partake of what you have to offer. Rob Pratten has a good post up at Transmedia Storyteller, where I would urge everyone producing transmedia (and not building on something that has a clear and eager fanbase already in place) to read the paragraphs on the stages of audience engagement closely. They feel very true to me – that there is a discovery stage (where the content needs to deliver the goods to the extent that people care to engage further), the experience stage and the exploration stage. Well, the stages could perhaps be named differently, but the fact that most people won’t want to explore further if the first stages are too demanding or not rewarding enough, that’s just common sense.

To continue on what I wrote above, that transmedia can learn a lot from marketing, let’s – as conclusion – take a look at some general marketing advice and translate it into a transmedia reality:
 1.     Look at marketing in the right light. Marketing should be seen as an investment, not an expense; a way to get the attention of possible clients and audiences. Attention is the second most important aspect of any transmedia project (the first being the quality of the content, naturally). Have great content and grab the attention of enough people, and you’re sorted. 
2.     Do not frown at market research. In the vein of ”build it and they will come”, many people creating transmedia do not really know who they are creating their content for. Market research can, as with any other product, help you find out whom you should target; what demographic, what age, what media habits and so on. This will make the first point above click a whole lot better. 
3.     Following up on that, do not frown at marketing research. Where market research focused on the market, marketing research delves into the spending habits and behaviours of the target group you’ve decided to target with your content. Use it to help you avoid mistakes, basically; the more you know about the people you ideally would want to be interested in what you have to offer, the better odds you have of achieving that goal. 
4.     Spend time on your marketing plan. Your content is worth spending time on, right? If you’re at all like me, you’ve spent more hours than you ideally want to realize (waking and sleeping and in-between) on your content. Now, you want people to take part of it, so that it won’t all have been in vain. Use a marketing plan to find holes in your strategy for reaching your customers, and in the long run as a road map to give you stability and security (and success, no doubt). 
5.     Be realistic with your marketing budget. Talk to someone, look it up on the web… there is advice to be had on the subject of budgeting for marketing. Don’t be too cautious. But neither should you overstretch. 
6.     Stand on the shoulders of others. Just as with developing transmedia in the first place, there is no shame in using a tried and tested successful method of marketing. So look around, look into similar projects; what did they do right? What did they do wrong? What can you learn and how can you implement it?
I hope this has been of use to someone; would be happy to discuss. Hit me on Twitter or comment here! 

The points above are based on Laura Lake’s basic marketing advice over at