A CMO Show Blog Post
Once upon a time: Digital Storytelling trends
A CMO Show Blog Post
Once upon a time: Digital...

Why do humans connect so strongly with stories? Why is it that words have the power to shape an individual, a culture, a nation and ultimately change the world? We look at the digital storytelling trends that make stories that will be heard, read and shared in the realms of digital storytelling.

Humans have always connected through stories. Every culture and language has storytelling traditions that affirm, and sometimes confront who and what we think we are. Whether they’re written on parchments, scribbled on walls or shared aloud, stories have been a part of our very existence ever since we evolved into homo sapiens and wandered our way out of Africa.

In fact, there are some very smart people out there, like Jonathan Gottschall, Washington & Jefferson College Distinguished Research Fellow who draw on research in neuroscience, psychology and biology to argue that the evolution of our capacity to share stories is actually fundamental to our success as a species. In his 2014 book The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human, Gottshschall goes so far as to describe storytelling as a fundamental human instinct, suggesting our species should be referred to as Homo Fictus, rather than Homo Sapiens.

Want to know more? Try this: What is brand storytelling?

Narrative Nouse

Fast forward to a digital storytelling world where everyone has more access than ever to the means to share their stories. How do we cut through and find the stories that make sense to us, and how do we create meaningful stories that will actually provide value to an audience? As science historian and futurist, George Dyson, forecast back in 2011:

“We now live in a world where information is potentially unlimited. Information is cheap, but meaning is expensive. Where is the meaning? Only human beings can tell you where it is. We’re extracting meaning from our minds and our own lives.”

Meaningful stories resonate with us well beyond any other messaging. These are the stories that speak to us on a deep level but give us a message to which we can relate, at the same time as they impart a fresh wisdom.

Whether they’re painted on walls, or published online – great stories must contain messages which are visceral, instinctual, and somewhat transcendental – they must simultaneously speak to, and challenge, who we think we are.

The plot thickens

The storytelling sweet spot lies at the intersection of tradition and disruption. When he spoke at this year’s Storyology Conference, Mashable‘s chief content officer, Jim Roberts, hit the nail on the head:

“There is a romance in tradition,” he said, “There are those who love to hold it, love to save it.”

If we are to think about this in the current scheme of things, storytelling is the tradition, the method is the disruptor.

Want more? Try this: Five things to look for in a brand storytelling agency

The implications of this for organisations looking to tap into storytelling are oft repeated: disrupt or be disrupted.

So in 2016 the new challenge is for digital storytellers looking to build meaningful engagements with their audiences. It’s no longer enough to simply talk at your customer, digital storytelling is about creating two-way communications and a sense of connectedness.

But the question remains, how do you build meaningful engagement with customers through digital storytelling?

Here are some storytelling techniques which are set to grow in 2016…

Immersive storytelling

Customer immersion represents a whole new frontier in the storytelling process as users are given the ability to have controlled, innovative experiences through easily accessible virtual reality technologies.

When 360 Video on Facebook launched in September this year, engineering director of video, Maher Saba, wrote;

“There’s also a whole world of video creators and storytellers who are at the cutting edge of exploring this medium, and over the coming days they too will be able to upload their 360 videos to Facebook. We’re excited to see more innovative and compelling 360 videos being shared from these publishers.”

Facebook Storytelling trends
“Over time, we’ve seen that people enjoy more immersive content in their News Feeds. This is one reason video has been so successful on Facebook, and we’re excited to take it a step further with 360 video,” wrote Maher Saba, engineering director, video, at Facebook.

Immersive content like this is set to boom in 2016, as more and more businesses take up VR technologies, such as 360 Video on Facebook and Google Cardboard, to promote the user as driver and controller of their own story.

“It’s early days, but we’re excited about the possibilities for 360 video and hope it helps people explore the world in new, immersive ways,” Saba concluded.

Interactive storytelling

Much like immersive content, interactive content promises to give users a first-hand experience that is unique, explorational and personal.

For instance, The Taylor Swift Experience, presented by American Express Unstaged, offers users the chance to choose their own journey inside one of Taylor Swift’s music videos – exploring rooms and scenes within a house. Its website boasts “an immersive journey with intertwined storylines, multiple rooms and dozens of hidden interactive features waiting to be unlocked and explored.”

Taylor Swift experience storytelling trends
The Taylor Swift Experience offers users a chance to sit in the driver’s seat – custom-creating their own one-to-one experience.

According to Sandra Gaudenzi, lecturer in interactive media at the London College of Media, there are three levels of interactive storytelling: telling media-rich, linear stories; curating to present others’ points of view; and facilitation for others.

Each of these should offer a degree of agency and participation to audience member: a chance to control his or her own experience. By this process, the experience is transfigured it into something that is personally relevant and enriching.

Want more? Try this: The Jaguar campaign that proves interactive storytelling works

“Using interactivity just for the sake of it is really boring,” Gaudenzi told Journalism UK, “so think about what the user might want to do or need to do to feel a part of the story.”

Real-time storytelling 

Being able to reach users and consumers in real-time presents both an amazing opportunity and a momentous challenge for brands attempting to breach the mobile disruption divide. Real-time applications, such as Periscope and Meerkat, are offering users the chance to live stream content and remain connected across the globe.

The upside of platforms such as these is a level of inter-connectedness and community unlike before as users are able to visit new cities, attend concerts and sports matches, and access breaking news in real-time at the touch of a button.

The challenge lies in a changing paradigm where real-time access is becoming a highly valued expectation rather than an option – a change many outlets are finding difficult to navigate.

For example, if users are able to access footage of a live sports match, pirated via the Periscope app, there’s very little reason for them to pay for a premium subscription television or web broadcast or access post-game commentary to learn of the result.

“The value of real-time sports content diminishes rapidly after that event has ended,” Ben Bennett, senior vice president of business development at digital security firm Irdeto, told Phys Org.

Traditional outlets are left scrambling to shut down pirated live-streams, currently ill-equipped to deal with the shift to real-time sharing in any other way.


Periscope storytelling trends
(Images via: Periscope)

Challenges aside, Adobe’s Joe Martin has predicted that real-time storytelling technologies will be key to the future of significant real-world events such as the US Presidential Election victory in 2016.

“Periscope has over 6 million social mentions since launch and its daily average has doubled since being introduced on Android,” Martin wrote. “These networks are great ways to give a behind-the-scenes view of campaigns, and provide potential to link to extremely engaged audiences.”

Classic storytelling

Even if you never read the poem A Visit from St Nicholas, by Clement Clarke Moore, you’ll know this phrase: “T’was the night before Christmas…”, because every year thousands of advertisers integrate it into their marketing campaigns.

Even if you’ve never heard of Thalia and Melpomene, you’ll recognise their masked faces, one with upturned eyes and lips capturing happiness, the other with its forlorn expression of sadness. These are the greek muses representing tragedy and comedy which adorn the walls of theatres, cinemas and performance spaces around the world, and everyone immediately knows what they symbolise, even if they’ve never heard their names.

storytelling trends
You’ve seen them thousands of times in your life, but did you recognise their names?

In order to create a connection with a reader, a viewer or a listener, marketers must first create a message which the audience will immediately understand and recognise. Classic characters and story types are arguably even more important to digital storytelling than in other realms, because we’re more inclined to pay attention to something we recognise than to something we don’t know or understand.

If a story opens with a classic character we see as fitting our culture or experience, we’re more likely to click through simply because we’re more likely to watch and share the characters we already know. Whether it’s the boorish Sam Kekovich entreating Australians to eat lamb on Australia Day, or American red neck comedian Nick Offerman providing advice to bickering couples at a Home Depot hardware store, the best digital stories are chock full of these types that let us recognise, reflect upon and sometimes even laugh at ourselves.

The challenge for digital storytellers is to use just enough of the stereotype to get us hooked, but challenge it just enough to get us thinking, smiling, tearing up and ultimately “sharing”.

Experiential storytelling

This form of storytelling is particularly pertinent to retail, specifically what the next iteration of bricks-and-mortar trade will look like. There are already a few players on the scene shaking things up in a big way – and it’s time to sit up and take note. There’s no either/or anymore, marketers must understand that we’re all looking for the digital storytelling experience to be seamlessly integrated into the actual real experience we have when we walk through the doors which carry that same brand.

New York store STORY is offering customers “experience per square foot”, with a unique setup that reinvents itself every four to eight weeks with the aim of bringing to light “a new theme, trend or issue”. According to the store’s website, “STORY is a retail concept that takes the point of view of a magazine, changes like a gallery and sells things like a store.”

story home for the holidays storytelling trends
STORY’s Christmas 2015 setup: Home for the Holidays. (Image via: Story)
story wellness storytelling trends
An earlier iteration of the store: Wellness. (Image via: Story)

And with no shortage of innovation and creativity, there’s sure to be plenty of others who follow suit in 2016. Retailers such as Abercrombie & Fitch and Mars’ M&M World store in Times Square, New York, offer customers unique and relevant experiences, a chance to really live the brand.

A new year, a new chapter 

This year, storytelling will be:

  • Immersive – Giving users controlled, innovative experiences through virtual reality technologies.
  • Interactive – Allowing users the ability to tailor unique, one-to-one experiences.
  • Real time – Keeping users connected to the rest of the world at the touch of a button.
  • Classic – Keep it simple, if you want to connect with people you must start with what they know.
  • Experiential – Allowing users to have real life encounters with brands, products and technologies.

Which form of storytelling are you most looking forward to and why? 

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