THE SOCIAL HEART OF TRANSMEDIA STORYTELLING (IN A MULTI-VOICE UNIVERSE)

Most of us recall studying prefixes in elementary school – post, anti, super – and how they would redirect the meaning of a word. Trans, as in The Transporter, suggests “through” or “across”; and it’s changing the meaning of marketing in powerful ways that speak to a culture undergoing a seismic shift.

Let’s explore trans-media. Not the buzzword but our new reality. The standard interpretation is a campaign or event that feeds one’s audience bites of a larger marketing story through or across a variety of media and platforms. That’s how it began, when the idea of leveraging multiple devices and touch-points in a campaign to serialize content was still novel.

However, consumers today flow between media, whether shopping or digesting a movie franchise. They’re used to content not being fed linearly; they’ve come to expect different levels and side stories. Multiple points of entry or access are no longer enough to stand out.

Trans has a third meaning though, one that informs my company’s approach to move-the-meter marketing: “beyond.”

Hold that thought.

We are a consumer culture. We’ve heard it decried a million times. Consumerism runs amok as malls sprawl and eBay dominates and labels make the (wo)man. Yet, while we continue to need our “things,” a 1st-person revolution is in play.

Today’s Consumer has grown to see themselves as Creators.

Apple celebrates this spirit in two recent campaigns. To a multi-tech infused crowd-sourced take on the Pixies’ “Gigantic,” they declare: We are more powerful than we think. Power as creativity brokered via DIY-tech. This proclamation is set up by the (decidedly non-rhetorical) question posed on Apple’s behalf by Robin Williams: “What will your verse be?” As designers, multimedia artists, writers, directors, culture jammers, musicians, hackers, coders and poets, we live to answer that question. More intriguingly, we also answer it as consumers.

The new mindset is a hybrid of buying and making where consumers need to feel like they’re essential to the products in their lives – and not just vice-versa. Sure, not everyone is a product designer or a marketing director, yet still we demand a role in shaping a brand’s most important feature: it’s narrative.

Why? With the omnipresence of social media, narrative is more integrated into our lives than ever before. It’s just the nature of it that has changed.

Think back to the J. Peterman Company catalogs. Without a single photo, they elevated clothing items with fanciful descriptions of globetrotting ways. A vest turned you into a sommelier or a matador. Jump ahead 20 years to Toms Shoes; the adventure continues, but online buyers now joined a movement. Each shoe purchase generated a pair for a poor child. Wearing Tom’s colors was about more than the product. Suddenly through a single purchase, you were a proud player in a larger, living story.

More and more, narrative control is passing into the hands of the consumer. As first adapters to the Internet, today’s 18-34 demographic was the first to play with visualizers on websites, designing clothes (Custom Converse) and cars (Scion). Millennials latched onto Tamagotchis and “Nintendogs,” monitoring the health of their toys. Is it any surprise the video game industry is booming? It taps into our 1st-person POV by empowering gamers to draft their own narrative arcs.

Which brings us back to trans as “beyond.”

Yes, take your audience on a journey across media. Yes, take them through a narrative that extends the storytelling world (of the film, TV show, campaign), creating new characters and chapters that extend its hold on their imagination. Then take them beyond – to a place where you let go of the controls and, rather than feeding content, allow it to be explored, shaped, claimed and shared.

Dove Real Beauty Sketches didn’t push soap, but they sparked deep emotions on the hot-topics of beauty and self-image. Suddenly it was a brand you wanted to invite to dinner, one that lifted the conversation. They set the hook and invited viewers to run with it. “Maybe by sharing our thoughts on the topic (along with the video), we can even become part of their story.”

The 2013 Oreo SuperbowlTM tweet turned a cookie into the guy with the perfectly timed quip. Oreo didn’t push taste; instead, knowing that with the lights out 100M TV viewers were turning to social media, they joined your party –– and tied their product narrative (dunking) to a real-time experience. Users ran with the laugh, becoming part of the story by claiming it on their social channels.

Great stories never lose momentum; today, the audience is their power source. Sure, everyone can’t wait for the big finale. We cheer for triumph over the bad guys and weep when the fair maiden dies heartbroken. But in between acts, between chapters, between spots, minutes and moments lies the collective experiences of a million lifetimes. The many mutated, transformed and truly beyond verses that keep your brand’s story alive.

True transmedia recognizes that brands have to trust their narrative to the people. They have to offer a thought, a story, a world, a question… and let go. Every viewer has their own public-facing narrative now, spelled out in Snapchat Stories, selfies, and status updates. Your brand’s marketing message will take off as soon as it’s earned a place in this shared media platform. The more your narrative can find its place in their narrative, the greater the buzz.

Users won’t spread your message without commenting on it. When your product is viewed or worn or driven, talked about, photographed or shared, it becomes part of the consumer/creator’s own evolving story. It is imbued with their POV. They define what it means, how it fits with what they represent, how it meshes with their own personal brand.

And when they take the time to, your campaign has moved beyond.