Expert's Opinion

The Power of Transmedia Storytelling

By Bonnie Buckner and Dr. Pamela Rutledge, Co-Founders, A Think Lab, Instructors, UC Irvine Extension | March 17, 2011

Co-founders of A Think Lab explain how the technique makes for effective marketing campaigns.

Two-thousand eleven is the year of the story.A story is the center of every successful marketing campaign.Stories are our most powerful form of communication.Stories provide an authentic human experience that taps into psychological fundamentals, making them the most effective way to engage audiences. Using social media and emerging technologies, stories deliver the engaging and interactive communication that meets today’s audience demands.

Transmedia storytelling uses multiple media platforms to build a story the way a conductor builds a symphony. Traditionally, marketers repurposed the same story for multiple media.No more.Transmedia storytelling develops a coherent story out of different media pieces. Each is simultaneously part of the whole and satisfying as a standalone media experience.A :30 television commercial can be satisfying to the viewer; however accessing pieces of the story in webisodes, Tweets, podcasts, or ARGs, delivers a richer and more immersive viewer experience.

The power of transmedia storytelling lies in the story.Stories transport us. Through stories, we travel across our imagination, share worlds and perspectives.

The human brain is wired for narratives.Stories are how we make sense out of the things that happen to us and others every day.

Traditional marketing sets the brand and consumer as adversaries. Stories position them as co-participants in a narrative, allowing the consumer to create personal understanding of the brand.

Research shows that people recall story content much longer than other forms of communication.Remember the successful Nescafé Taster’s Choice campaign about a budding romantic relationship between a mysterious man and woman around coffee? Nescafé told the provocative story through a series of commercials. Viewers became invested in the unfolding story and actively followed along to see the resolution. The story connected with viewer curiosity and longing, not to mention smell and taste through imagery. Today, with transmedia storytelling campaigns, a viewer could get backstory, speculate about the characters and plot, and contribute experiences of romance and coffee—all self-motivated activities.

Transmedia storytelling differs from traditional marketing.A story invites rather than sells, allowing the consumer-brand relationship to develop over time.Each media piece creates an entry point where the consumer can join by choice. The campaign becomes self-sustaining as consumers exchange information through social networks, create media pieces, and share personal experiences. A good story drives customers to seek out the other assets within the narrative experience.

Transmedia storytelling extends a brand’s ability to reach diverse audiences by targeting specific demographics with appropriate media and points of entry. Done well, transmedia storytelling can develop as value-added assets, opening the door for co-sponsorship and generating ancillary revenue streams.

Today’s consumer lives in a world where a genuine brand dialogue, not “marketing message,” is expected. Transmedia storytelling meets the demands of a rapidly changing marketplace by providing value that enhances brand trust and perception and simultaneously increases the brand’s reach.

About the authors:
Bonnie Buckner and Dr. Pamela Rutledge are co-founders of A Think Lab, a consulting firm that brings media psychology insights and expertise to individuals and organizations by teaching creativity, innovation, and expanded communication methods. Buckner and Rutledge have developed a new course for UC Irvine Extension called Transmedia Marketing through Storytelling (, offered in winter and spring terms.They are also on the faculty of Fielding Graduate University teaching media psychology, cognitive psychology and visual design, political psychology, and social media and emerging technologies.They are based on the west coast. You can learn more about them online at: or on Twitter @athinklab.

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