I'd like to start with an observation. Technology has completely changed the dynamic between brands who are actively creating products and those of us who consume them. What used to be a one-way dynamic -- I make a product, and then you go consume it - is today a two-way relationship. As a result, both our consumers, and us as marketers, are becoming just as important to the "storytelling" process. Across all sorts of categories, brands who are navigating this new world best are have real time dialogs with their consumers, encouraging them to participate in their brand stories, and even allowing them to affect how the product is created.
In April 2013, Syfy launched "Defiance," a grand experiment in the TV and gaming space. On one hand, it's a character driven genre TV series. On the other, it's a massively multiplayer online game, with ongoing crossover storylines between the show and game. On top of that, this summer, fueled by a feeding frenzy on Twitter, the Syfy Original Movie "Sharknado" became a naturally occurring pop culture phenomenon.
Both "Defiance" and "Sharknado" reveal 5 key insights into how consumers are playing an increasingly active role in storytelling. These insights are extremely relevant "must haves" for any brand seeking to engage their customers, and are now helping guide Syfy's approach going forward. Here they are:
Key Insight No. 1: Storytelling is for Everyone
Enabling consumers to actively participate in the storytelling is increasingly as important as the story itself. The more a consumer can customize and reshape a story, the more personally meaningful it becomes to them, and the more deeply they want to be involved in it.
This was our hypothesis, when we set out to create "Defiance" five years ago. In just about every circumstance, we saw that folks who both watched and played were more engrossed and measurably more engaged than folks who simply watched or played alone. In a study we conducted with Hub Entertainment Research, 70% of those interviewed said they enjoyed "Defiance" MORE once they started both playing and watching. Additionally, 70% agreed that the show/game made them enjoy each platform more than they would have on its own.
Key Insight No. 2: The Blurrier the Lines Between Marketing and Content the Better
Today, a marketer's job is to bring people into the story by becoming storytellers ourselves. In the same way creating more immersive content resonates with consumer, so does creating more immersive marketing where the message is important, but almost secondary to the story we're telling. It's the story that creates the emotional connection, opens up the relationship with consumers on their own terms, so they can, on a platform of their choice, on their own time, find their own way in.
Storytelling was bedrock to our strategy as "Defiance" marketers. We used social and digital platforms to tell the story of the prequel of the "Defiance." The story of what happened that led these characters to this place became the job of the marketing.
The second kind of storytelling we learned was important is about how the product was created. We took consumers on that journey with us as the show and the game were developed, the set was being designed, even how our biggest sponsor, Dodge, was designed and written into both platforms. We created a video series called "The Making of Defiance" -- 2-3 minute segments released through digital outlets and press that brought people into how we were making the product.
Key Insight No. 3: Thank You for Sharing: The New Rules for Socializing
- Share Early
- Share Often
- Share Stuff Worth Sharing
- Share with Influencers
- Listen…storytelling is a two-way street
As we see time and time again, consumers are craving more immersion, they have the appetite and aptitude to participate in the storytelling process. Our job is to listen, then respond by stoking the conversation by sharing more content, more access, more ideas. Like in any good conversation, the more we give to a fan, the more they're inclined to give back.
"Sharknado" is the perfect illustration and is a study in two things. First of all, we followed rules 1-4, and we created the conditions for success by sharing cool stuff early and often.
But secondly, and more importantly, while we tried to set a camp fire, we had no idea we'd trigger a forest fire. When we did, we were actively listening to the public and we were quick to respond. As the conversation blazed, we listened, learned, and jumped aboard with the right sense of humor, flooding the fan base with a war chest of assets that they could share. Within days, "Sharknado" was a full on pop-cultural phenomena that burned white hot for a month.
Key Insight No. 4: Innovation Isn't a Perk, It's a Requirement
In a world where the number of options exceeds the time we have to consume them, offering something new and distinctive gets you at least a running start at success. The consumer requires us to do two things. First, we need to communicate about the innovative nature of the story, and second, we need to be equally as innovative in how we communicate – in our marketing programs and the way we tell stories. And with "Defiance" especially, we learned that innovation mattered. A LOT.
Key Insight No. 5: None of It Matters Without Authenticity
Just because something is technically possible is not a good enough reason to do it. Old school storytelling fundamentals are as important as ever. If we're going to use digital and social tools to let fans further into the storytelling process, we need to work even harder to ensure we're creating entertaining and interesting experiences.
For "Defiance," the game developers and writers spoke every day for over a year to ensure meaningful connective tissue between the two worlds. When a game developer was working on a new a feature or writers were writing a new episode, we made sure the logic of the world was the same – the cars sounded the same, the flora and fauna matched, if the there was smoke in the game, the fire showed up in the show. It's all this attention to detail and authenticity that makes the overall experience worthwhile – and only when it's worthwhile is one screen a marketing vehicle for the other…without it's just two things sharing a name…an awareness play at best.
The other example is that we knitted Dodge into the "Defiance" story organically – into the show, and into the game, and into every marketing element. And the only way to do that well is by true, roll your sleeves up, collaboration and openness. Syfy and Dodge collectively understood we were in new territory, sharing the same spirit for adventure and getting it right. Dodge worked with us on the marketing too—helping tell the origin story of the town of Defiance through a commercial they produced with Wieden & Kennedy.
For more insights from the Transmedia Storytelling: Masters & Dreamers conference, go to http://transmediastorytellingevent.com/