Stories Die When There Is No Experience With It

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Transmedia is all the rage these days. So too is Digital Storytelling.

The idea seems both plausible and realistic: extend your brand into as many different media channels and platforms that the public can bear. Don’t pound one message down into every channel in a repetitive fashion, but create different stories for each channel and have everything link back to the brand that gives it a closer and more interesting experience for the consumer. In best case scenarios, include the consumer in the creation and/or collaboration of these activities. What the brand will net out with is: multiple and original stories in multiple places that are customized for each experience, and that brings people closer to the brand.

Does it work?

A better question may be: "how can it not work?" One of the best executions on the concept of Transmedia is the movie, The Matrix. From comic books to billboards in Time Square to animated shorts and video games, the launch of that movie brought people into the brand from many different corners. Consumers didn’t need to take part in every adventure, but if they did, it created a much more engaged experience. The challenge is this: Transmedia and Digital Storytelling clearly works if what you’re selling is a story in and of itself (like launching a movie or a television series). Do you think a toilet manufacturer is going to get the same kind of returns?

Stories are important but they’re not everything.

Twitter fascinates me. Each day, I can watch the stream of my limited amount of people that I am following, and whether or not I click on every link this trusted group serves up to me becomes somewhat irrelevant against the bigger picture: trying to create stories is not enough. It’s not even close. The story is the starting point. What works is how the stories moves people and – ultimately – the experience it creates for them. Stories are created. Stories are published. Stories die. The best stories can transcend this loop, but it’s not easy. The best stories really do create experiences, but it’s not easy.

Start with what the experience should be.

This is brand new thinking for brands. In a world where success is defined by how well you can publish relevant content and get it to connect, the next generation of true engagement is not going to be about these stories, but the experiences that come from it. So few brands working in the Social Media channels understand and embrace this. They publish Blog posts, they create videos on YouTube, they tweet and push people to "like" them on Facebook in hopes that something "viral" happens. Ultimately, it about how these people spread this one gem (or germ) through their networks and how that causes more people to buy from them. Ultimately, it’s not about the true brand experience but about capturing a second of attention that will (hopefully) extract the money from a consumer’s wallet and deposit it in the brand’s bank account.

True experiences aren’t simple and they’re much harder to make work.

Brands are going to have to face themselves in the mirror some time very soon. They’re going to have to ask themselves if "likes" or views on YouTube really mean anything. They’re also going to have to think long and hard about whether or not all of that time and effort would have been better spent planting seeds of content that tell stories that actually do create a true and meaningful experience. Something a consumer not only latches on to, but actively seeks out and shares because it – like an great experience – the more you engage, the deeper and more meaningful the relationship becomes. While I hate to constantly use Apple as an example, they are one. All of the stories people tell about Apple means nothing unless the experience not only matches, but surpasses the story… because that’s how experiences take hold. What does that mean? The experience has to be better (much better) than the story that created it.

I’m not sure that brands are ready for this. What do you think?


  1. I think you nailed it. Love this line – “In a world where success is defined by how well you can publish relevant content and get it to connect, the next generation of true engagement is not going to be about these stories, but the experiences that come from it.”
    But I am not sure brands are ready to take this on. Some early adopters will emerge, people will debate value and in time this will be done by more and more brands. Pretty much like the evolution of digital marketing.
    Thanks – real good info here to think about and move forward with.

  2. I think the concept of “brand” is limiting. It’s a useful concept, that’s been necessary as media has diversified. But social media is changing our understanding of brand.
    In the worst sense, a brand is an artificial identity, created by consultants, for a corporation, which is a fictional entity. How much better to get a story from a person, through media that’s personalized.
    Through that lens (which may be my own warped view!) I don’t want to “experience” a “brand.” I want something more authentic. Just honesty and value from the companies I deal with.

  3. Right on the money – at some point it has to come back to experience. And while we’re on the topic, enough with the asking me to “like” your brand on Facebook in order to get a sample or a coupon. I’m going to “pre-like” you? What happens when I get your sample and I don’t “like” it?
    I think the onus is on us to not assume consumers are stupid. As marketers, let’s be better than that.

  4. Great post! The best stories really do create experience, but flip that for something even more powerful: the best experiences create great stories. Don’t just tell a story and add experiences, but create experiences that give people your story to tell, and they will share that story.
    Too often we think we need to make a great piece of content so people will spread it, and we spend too much focus on the technology that enables spreadability — insert a like button, include embed codes, etc, but there is little passion in that kind of sharing. Creating experiences that give people stories to tell their friends, family, and social networks is a powerful way to approach storytelling, and this is not just for selling movies and TV shows. Audi’s Art of the H3ist program from 2005 was an experiential story that launched the A3 in America: In 2003, Sega/ESPN sold their console football game with an experiential story called Beta-7: (Full disclosure: I worked on both of these programs)
    Stories that are experienced are personal, and personal stories are what really drive spreadability. Just like before the Internet.

  5. I think most brands are still caught up in a numbers game when it comes to social media. Instead of starting conversations and actually listening to consumers, they are looking at social media like it is a form of traditional advertsing. The more eyeballs, the better.
    Your point about experiences is key. The brands that do the best job of thinking one step past just sheer numbers are the ones that will build deeper relationships with their customers. Of course, it’s a lot easier to measure likes and views than actual experiences.

  6. Still visualizing the “returns” that could be enjoyed by toilet manufacturers…
    Companies are trying to game the social media environment. The successes are often the exception to the rule. The problem is that “brand” needs to adapt to something more personal – so your viewpoint about experience is bang-on. It’s no longer about creating a brand. It’s about being the brand at every touch point and every medium. It’s about moving into the network, not broadcasting to the network.
    What brands might not be ready for is the creation of brand stories by consumers – not the carefully crafted narrative by marketers. Social media does now mean that the customer owns your brand. Brands built on deception will be exposed.

  7. Fantastic post Mitch. We want to see more Honesty and transperency from Brands. It is true we do want to engage with Brands and see them really care about their customers.
    The best stories will certainly transcend the loop!.We really do have to create stories people really want to share.

  8. Great post, Mitch! Reminds me of my days at Toastmasters. Many times I sat there and enjoyed the stories of various cultures, job experiences, life lessons, and more. Each brought me to a better understanding of the speaker (club member). Many drove me to movement. Do brands encourage people to movement?

  9. I tend to disagree with you a little on this one. Stories are the key component to how we develop meaningful relationships with one another and have been since we could first grunt at one another and point to blotches of wet soil splayed across cave walls. Without knowing someone’s story there’s no tangible way to share, understand and appreciate their experience.
    Maybe it’s a merely the classic case of the chicken and the egg but I strongly feel that in this age of humanizing the web, the key component to continued brand success is building trust and nurturing it into loyalty. How do we initiate meaningful relationships with our customers/clients without sharing our stories with them? Can we build trust without them? I for one am far more inclined to support a business when I know the history and future vision of the men and women behind it.
    Demonstrating the intent and inspiration of our brands requires pulling back the curtain to allow others to share both our experiences and our expertise.

  10. Did you know that any thing is possible? I wonder if ideas manifest them self in dormant? Conscience make practiced patterns to get right choices successfully accomplished. Many its my dna. Timed talents are waiting to come play. I hope soon cause if not Ile just take from the mother board and brand off brands.

  11. Thanks for this post! Totally agree that a multiplicity of packaging is important to reach the different ways to consume the information or the widget.
    Just look on the internet – some people prefer twitter, so other Facebook, some other still other means to share and consume information.
    Digitalization has made it much more easy than before to do that. It can even be done automatically.
    And yes, the ultimate goal is to reach an emotional connection

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