1. Columns

4 Technologies Powering Storymaking

Originally published in Ad Age

The shift from storytelling to storymaking is well under way.
I first wrote about storymaking in a DigitalNext columnlast year, describing how marketers can tap into stories people are sharing with each other, as opposed to the broadcast approach of storytelling.
Storymaking isn’t a tactic in its own right, but various technologies can bring it to life. Here are four technologies that are powering storymaking and how brands can use them:
1. Video streaming: Mobile video streaming has been around for years, which is why the keen interest in Meerkat and then Periscope took many by surprise (myself included). The magic of both of these apps is the social integration. While streaming technologies can be used for broadcast purposes (it’s common enough to see people using them to stream TV shows), it’s a far more interesting experience when the person or brand doing the streaming starts responding to the audience, and even changing the flow of the footage.
That’s when a Periscope stream, for example, shifts from being yet another video to a personalized and memorable experience. It can even add a modicum of suspense, where no one can predict exactly what will happen — even the video producer. The audience then becomes part of the story, and viewers can make it their own.

2. Wearables: Wearable devices are ripe for storymaking. After all, data is generated from people’s bodies — their heartbeat, their gait, their circadian rhythms, their brainwaves. Take two people running the same lap at the same pace — their physical activity data will show subtle differences. Even when biological data isn’t involved, these devices are personal, as they’re practically extensions of one’s body.

As more brands partner with, incubate, or acquire wearable technologies, those marketers will want to avoid storytelling as much as possible. It’s not how the brand’s technology makes someone live better; it’s about all the specific ways each individual’s life has improved. My Pebble smartwatch made sure I never missed my wife’s messages and calls in the weeks before our first child was born. Compare my story to any story the brand could tell you, and you decide which is more powerful.

3. Virtual reality: Immersive creative experiences such as those possible through Oculus Rift, Magic Leap and other technologies could be very controlled and rigid, or they could be totally different for each person every time. Even more straightforward approaches like touring a distant hotel property or getting backstage access at a concert could turn into stories that are co-created with participants.

The best way to think about the potential of virtual reality is to consider the difference between watching a video and playing a video game. Each time you play a game, you’re actively creating a new story. With virtual reality, the only way for the novelty not to wear off will be to incorporate elements of game play each time.
4. Messaging apps: Messaging apps typically deliver generic branded experiences that are the same for all users. On ESPN’s channel in Snapchat, the content is the same for everyone. But that’s rapidly changing. Several messaging apps allow marketers to offer branded stickers and other content that can lead to more customized experiences. For example, NBC News created a chat bot within the messaging app Kik so people can request stories on topics such as politics and technology.
These technologies alone don’t shift the focus to storymaking, but such apps and platforms are evolving quickly. The biggest opportunity for storymaking today is by appreciating how these apps are all about two-way communication. Let followers’ responses drive a lot of your marketing there and adapt to what they’re talking about.
The most successful uses of technology will make the technology itself invisible, and the storymaking itself may go unnoticed. Your audience will just appreciate that your messaging speaks to them in such a relevant way that it’s a springboard for creating their stories.

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