Technology as the New Canvas for Digital Storytelling – Three Perspectives

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to attend the Engage Digital Storytelling conference in NYC on behalf of Racepoint Group’s Digital Consumer Practice. This full-day event was studded with top executives from HBO, MTV, Esquire Magazine, Facebook, Buzzfeed and many more awesomely relevant brands. While waiting for the event to begin, I met a sports publicist, a mobile developer, an entrepreneur in graphic design, and a public relations pro who had traveled all the way from Switzerland – a true representation of how digital storytelling is applicable across a web of interconnected industries all striving for brand relevance and success.

Our Digital Consumer Practice team found attending this event to be a real treat, especially considering how digital storytelling constantly comes into play for our clients. We’re always looking for new and creative ways to tell a client’s story, and creativity was definitely delivered in large doses during each session.

As I began writing this recap, I realized there was far too much interesting content from the conference to fit into just one post. As a result, this is the first post in a series on Digital Storytelling, one which highlights three distinctly unique perspectives on how technology is the new blank canvas for storytelling.

Perspective 1:  Adam Berger, Creative Strategist, Facebook

Adam’s creative strategy is built around an important foundational belief – people don’t change. Sure, technology and the mediums through which we consume content are constantly evolving, but ultimately, people will remain constant in their core interests, needs and desires. From the newspaper to online content to social media, people always apply what they know from the previous medium to the next. You’ll see this in the repurposing of print articles online, and the subsequent repurposing of these posts on social media. The message really hasn’t changed, it’s just the medium. And ultimately, no matter what medium is being used, brands can’t forget that it’s about the people.

So how do we build brand identity in a world where the medium for message dissemination is changing faster than ever before? The answer: cater to the feed. Most digital content today is consumed through feeds, meaning the most effective stories will be designed as if the feed is the most important canvas of all. There are three important rules to designing a storytelling strategy for these new canvasses, which brands should pay special attention to:

  1. Be respectful of people’s feeds. Don’t clog feeds with content that isn’t both a part of your brand narrative and useful to people.
  2. Start with the brief, and realize that sharing is really just talking. Approach feed content as a conversation, instead of a blast of information.
  3. Respond in real-time. Brands need to be timely and relevant every day, while providing rich, deep storytelling.

Perspective 2: Brian Ballard, CEO, APX Labs

Brian’s approach to digital storytelling is to design it with the technology of the future in mind. Over the next five years, he forecasts people will be interacting with each other in a completely different way due to an innovation you’ve probably heard of at this point: Smart Glasses.

Smart glasses such as Google Glass create a real-time digital layer that overlays information over the real world. They’re designed to be on and with you everywhere you go, meaning the story isn’t confined to the times when you’re checking your smartphone or laptop. Every time someone looks at something, a story can be told that is specifically tailored to their preferences, allowing for more immersive storytelling. For example, two people can look at the exact same thing, whether it’s a storefront or a commercial while watching TV, and see two totally different things based on what part of the story they care about most. This is a whole new level of social, where brands can choose not only how much to share, but exactly when and how quickly.

Perspective 3: Nick Hooker, Creative Director, Framestore

Most people are extremely familiar with the work of Framestore, including special and visual effects in major motion films such as Iron Man 3, Zero Dark Thirty and Lincoln. The problem is no one knows they are looking at Framestore’s work. As soon as a director comes to them, the art department gets to work on establishing the DNA of the film through mind-blowing graphics. Unfortunately, the graphics are top secret and never revealed to the public. In order to lift the curtain between the audience and the awesome graphics their creative designers produce, Nick decided to embark on a bold new experiment in storytelling – giving the entire story to the audience.

In partnership with io9, Framestore started creating and progressively publishing images from the art department with zero accompanying narrative. They then asked the audience to build a narrative around the image. Framestore then selected five submissions and asked the community to select the best, from which the art department designed another image, which was posted and carried through the same process, until ultimately there was an entire story built purely by crowdsourcing and engaging the audience. Nick touts the success of this experiment and relates it to how brands can harness the innate storytelling power of their audience and take lead from them.

He provided the example of a piece of art on DeviantArt that depicted a teddy bear over a sleeping child’s head fighting off a bad dream with a sword. This image spoke to people so much and received so many shares and engagements that Hollywood bought the rights to it and will make a movie about it. This is a prime example of recognizing the mysterious connection that sometimes happens between an audience and a story from the grassroots up. Allowing an audience to steer you in the direction of what it is they really care about and then harnessing that to build a narrative creates a true, deep connection.

What is your approach to digital storytelling for your brand? What have you learned along the way?


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