5 ways to bring your brand to life with Hollywood storytelling
Jeff Barber | October 13, 2014
Wouldn’t it be fantastic if your brand story was as engaging as The Walking Dead?
The Walking Dead was an established niche brand of graphic novels that AMC extended to television—and beyond—to engage and build a broad audience. By intentionally building a world of rich and exclusive web content, social media, console games, mobile apps, and live-action role-playing events, AMC connected with new and existing fans to turn The Walking Dead into one of the most-watched series in American cable history.
That’s just one example of how Hollywood juggernauts use transmedia storytelling to engage digital-savvy audiences and generate billions of dollars in revenue.
Transmedia storytelling provides the contextual and emotional glue that unifies the perception of your brand across all the platforms, channels, and media you use to connect with your customers. And according to Forbes, it’s the future of marketing . “Those who can span across formats and share their expertise will stand out in an age of Digital Relativity,” says Steve Rubel, SVP and director of insights for Edelman Digital.
More and more marketers are incorporating transmedia storytelling into their company’s brand strategy—and ringing in new customers and revenue as a result. Here are five ways you can bring the power of Hollywood storytelling to your brand, too.
1. Start with a differentiated story world.
Think of a brand story as a fictional world inhabited by rich characters and storylines, structured by a unifying theme that resonates across all platforms and channels. Each channel shares a part of the story in a unique way that connects to the theme and invites the user to participate.
Your brand’s story world revolves around the problems you help your characters solve and the unique experiences you provide with your products and services, along with myths and stories from your corporate culture and history. Your company’s vision, values, partnerships, and competitors all contribute to your brand’s identity.
Chipotle launched Scarecrow in 2013, a transmedia marketing campaign that stars a fictional character, the Scarecrow, who brings people into Chipotle’s brand story world. In a marketplace filled with genetically modified, factory farmed, and manufactured foods, the Scarecrow leads you on a journey to Chipotle to get an honest meal made with real food.
2. Think about—and make the most of—your characters.
Heroes, villains, allies, and enemies are at the center of your brand’s story world. Like Chipotle’s Scarecrow, a strong character helps your customer become emotionally invested in your brand’s story. Your characters might include current or prospective customers, your company’s leadership and key personalities, customer-facing personnel, celebrity brand spokespersons, and fictional characters.
Many successful transmedia marketing campaigns and brand strategies use fictional characters, also known as brand ambassadors, to create an emotional connection. Think of the Old Spice Guy, the Most Interesting Man in the World drinking Dos Equis, Jack from Jack in the Box, Priceline’s Priceline Negotiator, and Flo from Progressive Insurance. These characters provide instant brand recognition with a familiar face that guides customers from one platform or channel to another.
A fictional character isn’t a requirement, though. What’s important is that you choose characters based on their emotional appeal, relatability, and ability to serve as a beacon or guide that people will follow on a journey through your story world.
3. Develop a rich canon.
Your canon is the arsenal of materials you use to tell your brand story. This could include brand design guidelines, web style guides, a library of approved logos and brand assets, your company’s history, professional profiles of leaders and key customer-facing personnel, spokesperson bios and approved images, customer case studies, and more.
Gather the canonical artifacts that define your brand. Put them up on a wall or in a centralized digital repository. Start examining the brand story world you’ve created thus far and figure out where that experience breaks down. Think about what you you need to do to make your story world a cohesive experience: a place that people want to visit, and once they’re there, want to stay, buy, and tell others about their experience.
4. Offer points of entry on all your platforms and channels.
A point of entry is your customer’s first step into your story world. In the digital realm, points of entry are typically linked to an advertisement or an invitation sent via text, email, social media, or location search results. A TV or radio ad may include a call to action to engage with a digital point of entry. A retail point of entry could include a QR code, NFC reader, an iBeacon, or a live representative at a kiosk.
Points of entry should be designed to be highly shareable with a clear and specific call to action that, once taken, provides an emotional or financial reward and leads to the next call to action. Points of entry can be presented as part of a marketing campaign or shared ad hoc by one of your advocates via social media.
Most of today’s media runs on one or more platforms. For example, a content distribution app could be accessible from a game console, smartphone, or tablet. You may need to customize the points of entry for each channel and platform you use. Provide a seamless experience as customers cross platforms by choosing calls to action that are appropriate for the media and channel.
5. Encourage participation.
Transmedia story worlds provide opportunities for active customer participation in the telling or experience of the story, whether it’s through user-generated content, social media, contests, live events, mobile apps, or games. Including participatory elements into your brand storytelling converts prospects to customers, rewards customer loyalty, and inspires customers to become advocates for your brand.
“The Man You Could Smell Like,” the pioneering transmedia marketing campaign from Old Spice , is often cited for its call to action: to submit questions to the Old Spice Guy. It was a simple, direct, and highly effective point of entry into the brand story world of Old Spice with a call to action that quickly led to a flood of interactions between the company and its customers.
The principles of transmedia marketing all boil down to this: entertain your customers. Why? Because entertainment value is critical to your success. You’re competing for your customers’ attention with an ever-growing universe of compelling multi-platform content, available 24/7 on demand. Create a great brand story and invite people along for the ride to turn customers into die-hard fans.
Hollywood storytelling series
This post is the first in a series on Hollywood storytelling. In Jeff’s next post, Bring the power of Hollywood storytelling to your brand, learn how a viral video about sharks in Lake Ontario (!!!) helped Nissan promote the 2014 Rogue SUV—and other transmedia marketing wins for powerhouse brands such as Coca-Cola and Halo.