Audience as Characters: the new frontier of #interactivestorytelling

I just wrote an opinion piece for B&T magazine here in Australia on the evolving role consumers are playing in interactive stories. Hope you find it interesting.

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The best brands have always told great stories.  But in the world of real-time social connections, multiple screens and a culture of immediacy, the concept of the brand story is changing.  They’re no longer linear; and they’re no longer told in one sitting. Welcome to the era of interactive storytelling – where audiences become characters influencing the story.

The best brand stories now encourage different levels of participation to achieve maximum impact and scale.  This means designing interactive stories for skimmers (those exposed to the story), dippers (those sharing the story) and divers (those immersing, influencing and advocating the story) is a must for marketers.  Whilst it’s easier to entertain or engage ‘skimmers’, what is interesting is how brands are developing interactive brand stories for the ‘dipper and diver’ audiences –  as these are the most influential groups.

Many brands have experimented with interactive storytelling where the audience becomes the narrator (i.e, Chrysler ‘Steer the Script’, Coke’s ‘Share a Coke’, and many Alternate Reality Games such  ilovebees ARG, The Dark Knight ARG). The other popular strategy has been crowdsourcing the story, where the audience becomes the creator of the whole story. While some brands have done this well (i.e our latest MINI #notnormal campaign in the UK,  Arvo Beers ‘Perfect Lager Project’, Fanta Flavour Lab, The VW People’s Car Project in China, our own digitally customisable London Olympic Mascots) others have missed the mark, (the Raymond Weil’s ‘help design a new watch’ Facebook competition springs to mind) .

But the new frontier for participation branding is putting the audience into the story, as an actual character influencing other characters and the outcome. That is, it’snot just about giving a few people aunique experience (such as the “Best job in the world” campaign) anymore and relying on the online amplification of that (does anyone even remember who won Best Job?), but actually creating multiple stories for the many, democratising the experience so to speak.

To understand this we look to narrative theory – that’s the idea that in any story there are typical characters we identify with – the protagonist, antagonist, foil, mentor, threshold guardian, trickster, minion etc.   If you think about what’s been hot in popular culture, TV dramas such as the Wire, The Sopranos, Breaking Bad (and more recently The Fall, Luther and Game of Thrones) play around with who’s the hero and who’s the villain. While if we look to gaming, we can see evolving storytelling arcs and different role-playing in games such as Bioshock Infinite, Last of Us, Diablo, World of Warcraft, Heavy Rain, Skyrim and Final Fantasy. Narrative theory has even transcended into the music space, with pop band IO ECHO launching an interactive music video ‘Ministry of Love’ that allows audience to control the band through a series of rooms.

So what’s happening at the more ‘creative’ end of interactive storytelling in terms of the role of the audience?

Audience as the protagonist is still the most common approach (e.g. the character ‘Alex’ in Toshiba/Intel’s “The Beauty Inside”), however brands are now playing with more unusual roles – the most famous of those being the audience as foil in Dove’s ‘Real Beauty Sketches’ and Old Spice’s ‘Man your man could smell like’. The role of audience as mentors to the community is also becoming a useful tool, some interesting examples being ‘Curators of Sweden’ (where Swedes get to manage the countries Twitter account) and Google’s Build with Chrome collaboration with LEGO (disclaimer: I worked on this one).

At Iris, we’ve experimented alot by thinking about audience as threshold guardians of the story, where fans work with each other to inspire or help the protagonist achieve greatness. For example, our recent adidas #hitthewinner Wimbledon Twitter game inspired Andy Murray fans to predict where he would hit a winner during his Wimbledon matches in real time. Fans won prizes if they predicted correctly, but what they were also doing was playing the role of guardians motivating him to Wimbledon glory.

So where’s the white space for brands looking to experiment with new interactive stories? Thinking about audience as sidekick rather than protagonist is an interesting place to start. Imagine audiences feeling like they are working alongside the brand. Also thinking about ‘groups of heroes’ rather than relying on one main protagonist to engage. We know people seek brands that help them belong, so brands with big advocate communities should explore this approach. The real visionary brands will involve audiences as an antagonist or anti hero as they look to create provocative ways for characters to interact and compete with each other.

So yes, the brands with the best stories will always win, however, if you neglect to think about what role your audience plays in influencing the story outcome, you’re missing a massive engagement opportunity.

SXSW Interactive 2013 Summary: 7 key themes that matter to marketers

SXSW Interactive 2013 Wordle

Trying to synthesise hundreds of SXSW sessions into a handful of key takeouts accurately reflecting the current digital zeitgeist is a little challenging. Based on my experiences I’ve pulled out what I believe are some of the most relevant themes for brands looking to leverage digital today and tomorrow.

1. Hardware is Hot

Hardware is hot right now. The innovation race is centred around how developers and brands can bring game changing hardware to market, cheaply. From affordable 3D printing like MakerBot’s 3D Digitizer, Ouya’s Android’s TV gaming console to Google’s Talking Shoe and Augment Reality Glass concept.

2. Physicalisation of Digital Experiences (Tangible Keepsakes)

In a world where digital innovation has rapidly been occurring over the past decade, dematerialisation has taken place as physical items have been movedinto the ever elusive cloud.  However, while we as humans appreciate the benefits and advancements of digital technology, we’re now beginning to see a return towards tangible goods using the very same digital technology that has helped remove them from our lives. There’s a big opportunity for brands who are able to converge the two if they’re able to create products that link the emotions we attach to items in the digital space to the physical forefront. Stitchtagram a perfect example of this trend.

3. Humans as the New Interface

The future of design will use the Human body as the ultimate interface. As we struggle to cram more stuff on our screens, the real innovation is happening in or around the human body. Whether it’s intuitive gesture based tech like Leap Motion, programmable clothing or embedded technology actually in our skins, brands gazing into the future will be designing brand experiences in or around the body.

4. Think Psychology before Technology

It’s an obvious one, but brands wanting to create circulation (‘viral’ has officially been blacklisted)of their ideas or content need to start with the psychology of why people use or share a service or idea, not with the platform or technology. It goes back to basic needstate driven marketing, but is so important in a world where we’re screening out non useful tech.

5. Hack your brand

Hacking your brand by opening up your API to crowdsourced development and iteration is not a new concept in the USA. But for Aussie marketers it may come across as a destructive concept, it’s actually extremely constructive if done well. It’s about opening up your brand. 2013 will be the year where 24hr Hacksessions and real time creativity become more mainstream and marketers look to agency partners to deliver solutions (particularly NPD) to big problems quickly.

6. Feedforward not feedback technology

In today’s world of big data, we have the ability to create immediate feedback based on real time data. Think RFID sensors, NFC.  When people understand what they’ve just done, it influences their next decision. Marketers need to leverage Feed Forward technology; guiding consumers to make better decisions by providing the right info at the right time in the right context, intuitively.

7. Always On = Always Now

In our latest global study, Planet Hyperconnected we saw an emerging cultural trend that the ability to be always on and digitally connected wasdriven by a desire to always be IN the moment.  Here at SXSW, this theory was proved further as speakers such as Chris Risdon’s “Behavioral Change as a Value Proposition” and eBay’s Steve Yankovich talked about how in this constant era of connectivity brands need to capitalise on people’s motivation in the moment.

That’s my wrap for SXSW 2013, looking forward to resting my brain after the last intense yet stimulating five days and seeing if 3D printing goes nuts in Australia.

SXSW Day 4: Sharing Hate, slow content, living data, embedded tech and tangible keepsakes

SXSW Interactive day 4 was about getting in touch with my geeky side. I wanted to spend some time today attending sessions and exhibits from way out there tech futurists and try and get a glimpse of what’s around the corner. I also wanted to see if there were some digital counter trends to balance the 600,000 mentions in social media of the word ‘Innovate’ so far during the conference.

Here are my Day 4 SXSW Interactive 2013 highlights:

Forget ‘Liking it’, ‘Hate it’

Sometimes things just annoy the hell out of you and you want to share it with the world. Now there’s an app for that.  The most buzzed about app of Day 4 was an app called Hater where you can share what you hate on social networks. It’s like Instagram for everything you hate.  Watch out duck face selfie’s, celebs and politicians this could be a hit.

Slow Content in a Hyper-connected world

In today’s hyper-connected world where everyone is seeking an always now existence, brands are looking to deliver real time snackable content to cater for our ever diminishing attention spans. Today Margot Bloomstein offered a counter trend with her  ‘content strategy for slow experiences’ session.

Slow content aims to slow down users, focus their attention, get them exploring whilst helping them act more deliberately in the moment. It’s not a content approach for every brand, but it’s perfect for those looking to create a deeper brand narrative and genuinely invite consumers in. Patagonia creates slow content experiences, delivering deep long form content, rich copy, rich in detail with total transparency – the good and the bad.

Unlike Amazon-type etailers where speed through checkout is the goal, slow content helps the customer make the right choice, not just a choice. Ikea is doing this really well. Brands looking to demonstrate their passion and purpose should think about a slow content approach.

Living Data predicting the future

We all seem to agree that big data is sexy, if used the right way it can solve many of the world’s problems.  Filtering the signal from the noise is the big challenge for marketers. Futurist Bryon Reese’ ‘Algorithms optimize Human existence’ session went into fascinating (although somewhat scary) detail about the potential for using big data and tech to improve the quality of life.

We’re headed to a world where everything we do (behaviour, speech, thoughts) will be digitally recorded (and perfectly remembered), creating a digital record of your life. But more than the record, the data can be analysed, collecting every cause and effect and developing solutions.  Surveillance state you say? Maybe.

Reese believes “Everybody’s life will become action and data to make others’ lives better“. Significant stuff.

The brands of tomorrow need to look at how they can use, what I call, Living Data to identify patterns and then deliver utility that help people help each other.

Embedded technology making Humans the new interface

As digital devices get smaller they will get more embedded into our lives, literally. A session called ‘The Human Body is the next interface’ explored the future reality whereby embedding micro machines inside the human body will happen.

Pharma and healthcare industries could be the most innovative marketers in the world in the next few years. He referenced several fascinating scenarios. Imagine a baby in a cot, with the blanket containing embedded Nano tech. The blanket senses skin temp, alpha waves, pulse and other vitals, the blanket then releases medicine for baby based on signals from embedded tech. Closer on the horizon are bras that detect signs of breast cancer.

It’s not all life saving preventative tech though.  Programmable clothing is not as far away as you might think. French brand Lacoste recently celebrated their 80yr anniversary with this ‘Future of Polo’ programmable clothing piece. Pretty cool possibilities.

Forget Minority Report type stuff. The Human body is the next interface.

Tangible Keepsakes born from a digital world

Brands can get obsessed with creating digital stuff, as we’re constantly told that’s where and how people live. ‘Embracing Analog’ a session run by Ann Mack, Paul Woolmington and Frank Rose offered an alternative point of view. Their research into the current digital need states of Americans, from Millennials to the Grey market, identified that people are craving sensory appeal in a digital world. Woolmington states; “We want something to have and hold – we crave the tactile and like to ignite the senses.”

It would seem people today miss memories in a physical form. Interestingly, 73% of Americans want to turn digital memories into physical ones.  People are wanting “tangible keepsakes” from their digi experiences. They want to preserve things that have emotional value to them.  Brands like Stitchtagram who turn Instagram pics into handmade pillows and bags are all over this trend. Brands need to think about how they create branded memories that exist both digitally and physically.

So, one more day of digital love, Tacos, start up tech parties and speeches before the 25hr journey home.

SXSW Day 3 highlights: Talking Shoes, feedforward tech and being tip of tongue

Jetlag subsided, now it’s just a case of dealing with hangovers from 6th Street parties, Tex Mex overload and power chord rage as 70,000 people fight to keep the energy bars of their laptops, mobiles and tablets full charged. I’m surprised the lights are still on in the city to be honest.  Day 3 at SXSW was intense; I managed to attend quite a few presentations, some pretty awesome, some quite disappointing.

Here are my highlights from Day 3:

Wearable tech goes motivational: Google’s Talking Shoe

I’ve been waiting for a jaw-dropping piece of tech to brag about on my Facebook wall. Look no further, it’s Google’s Talking shoe, in collaboration with adidas. It’s an experiment to show how wearable tech can tell inspiring stories for people via the web, and to flog its new advertising platform called Art, Copy and Code. It’s tech with a bit of personality e.g.: if you’re running fast it cheers you on.  Using a small computer, accelerometer, pressure sensor, a gyroscope and Bluetooth the kicks tell the person wearing them what they are doing (or aren’t doing) and can relay that information to their smartphone via a speaker in the tongue of the shoe. Another example of wearable technology being somewhat seamlessly introduced into our lives.

Check out this hype vid.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VcaSwxbRkcE

From Feedback to Feedforward technology

Interesting, yet very academic session called ‘Behaviour Change as Value Proposition’ by Chris Robson explored into the role technology plays in driving behavior change. Obviously a massively diverse topic, but much of the conversation the last few years has been around ‘Feedback’ sensors such as RFID tags and GPS devices providing valuable input to people and brands. The future is all about ‘Feedforward’ technologies intuitively guiding my next option at the point of decision. Chris’ example of going into Subway and Feedforward geo location tech being able to help you decide between cookies or a 12 inch sub by providing calorie info on your mobile in real time.  Google Now is a great example of a Feedforward utility proving real time answer almost preempting a consumer need. Shopper marketers take note as new opportunities emerge to provide intuitive value exchange at the point of purchase that’s.

Top of mind means tip of tongue

Everyone here at a SXSW will claim they’re a bit of a social media guru and know the secret recipe for creating sticky and shareable content. You gotta call BS on a fair few of them. Was refreshing to listen to a Wharton Professor, Jonah Berger talk about his latest book ‘Contagious: why things catch on’ covering the 6 psychological principles for why people share. Sounds obvious, but marketers should focus on the psychology not technology of sharing. Jonah quoted the fact that only 7% of WOM happens online and wanted the word ‘Influencers’ banned, as there was no empirical proof of influencer impact on decision making over the long term. Marketers should focus on the message not the messenger. I’m rather skeptical of this influencer bashing as I’ve seen Influencer strategy work extremely well to increase both reach and engagement, surely all people aren’t created equal in their ability to influence others right?

So the key to contagion or ‘acts of circulation’ as network guru Henry Jenkins calls it?

Making audiences feel like insiders, sharing a secret is key to Social Currency. It’s the first of several “STEPPS” that also include Triggers, Emotion, Public, Practical Value, and Stories, which, if incorporated, can make any product or idea contagious.

Secondly, if something is ‘top of mind, it’s tip of tongue’. Referring to the need for brands to create trigger cues such as contextual names; Meow Mix cat food, natural associations e.g.: Peanut AND Jelly. Rebecca Black’s appalling YouTube Sensation ‘It’s Friday’ has continued to drive mass views on Fridays due to it’s title and contextual trigger of the word Friday.

Unsurprisingly, high arousal emotions drive people to share: humour, anger, fear, and sympathy. Brands need to create what he calls ‘Trojan Horses’, brand assets that could only be from your brand.  “Trojan Horses carry something along for the ride – the message a brand wants to get across in the middle’.

Fortune favours the Networked Mind

The last talk of the day, ‘The New Serendipity’ had some gold dust in it in regards to brands thinking about innovation. Having a beginners mind, reaching out like a child to meet new friends, learn new things and stop looking in the same places is the key to innovation. It’s kind of like a mantra for SXSW, you’ll come across more innovation in the queues talking to random people you meet. I’ll leave you with this John Perry Barlow wisdom bomb ‘Fortune favours the networked mind’.

So Yes, Google stole the show today with their Talking Shoe, but I did leave the conference inspired and looking for my moment of serendipity.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Day 2 SXSW 2013 Highlights: Peepculture, Digifrenia & Hacksessions

As I boarded the 26hr flight from Sydney to Austin on Thursday I promised my fellow Aussie SXSW’westers that I’d avoid reporting on buzzwords in my daily B&T posts. It’s Day 2 and I’m about to break that promise. Sorry guys.

SXSW really kicked into gear today, heavyweights like Al Gore hit the keynote stage, but it was actually the smaller presentations that were worth the painful queues.

OK, three thoughts to take out of today: Hacksessions are the new brainstorms, Peepculture not pop culture is where youth are at and brands needing to Design for Digifrenia. Bare with me as I explain.

Hacksessions are the new brainstorms

First off this morning was a fascinating panel talk called ‘Can u hack it’ by Big Spaceship, covering how digital agencies are now tapping into Hacker culture to come up with new ideas/services to business problems. It’s rapid real time prototyping of ideas that break the status quo system. The big question of the session was the difference between 24hr Hacksessions and brainstorms.  The key difference between a Hacksession and a brainstorm is that the former is absolutely focused on the ‘making of something real via rapid prototyping’, rather than abstract thinking on post it notes. Big Spaceship for one, are using Hacksessions as their chemistry sessions in new business pitches. Rather than spend $20k+ and loads of strategy/ creative time, they’ll go into a client for a day and run a Hacksession with a client, taking a team of multi discipline thinkers; coders, designers, strategists to crack a problem. Agencies running 24hr Hackathons for clients with low budgets has also been extremely valuable for making lean budgets work harder. Even Al Gore, in his ‘The Future’ speech said ‘Our (USA) democracy has been hacked’ referring to role of big business in hacking the system. Marketers bring The Hack into your business (it’s not just for geeks) for rapid business problem solving, banish the brainstorm.

From Pop Culture to Peep Culture

My passion for youth marketing and ways brands can connect with digital natives led me to the session on ‘How Peepculture hacked your brain’. Despite being viewed as the ‘Connected’ generation (or GenC as I like to call them), Gen Y and Millennial today are social beings living in a time of ridiculous alienation as ‘checking’ has replaced ‘connecting’. The social revolution has led a shift from pop culture to peep culture, where entertainment is far less scripted and young people are more obsessed with the everyday happenings of their friends entertaining them. Social media is selfish, youth share for themselves, whether it’s for self-expression or self-searching. Yes, it can be overbearing and narcisstic, but every generation has needed self-expression. This one just looks more inward. The other myth that was busted is the thought that young people act willy nilly when it comes to their privacy. Actually, in an era of digital freedom young people crave control of their digitally identities more than ever they just assess the social context very differently to Gen X’ers and Boomers. Brands wanting to connect in ‘Peep Culture’ need to determine the ‘what, how and why’ their audience share in the digital space in order to unlock ways to get their brand in that conversation.

Designing for Digifrenia

Digifrenia was a concept introduced by media theorist Douglas Rushkoff today. Digifrenia or as I Like to call it ‘digitally divided identities’ are being created by all of us. They’re the multiple virtual accounts (on Twitter, Instagram and other platforms) people are created to sustain anonymity and avoid being judged. It’s a phenom that has been rising to the surface these past months as the plethora of connected social platforms we all belong to, put pressure on how we connect with the world. Marketers need to design brand experiences with digifrenia in mind, ensuring they put special focus on content with  context so the social media selection adds value, not overwhelms.

Ok, enough buzzwords for today. Going to try my luck at one of the many SXSW blatantly brand funded parties here in Austin.

 

 

 

5 ways to #Outsell the competition #Outsellers

At Iris Worldwide, we recently put together a global study on the latest retail innovation. Word to my fellow planners at Iris Worldwide in the USA and UK. Titled ‘The Outsellers’ it looks at the key principles and trends that marketers are deploying to enhance the shopping experience and build customer value throughout the customer journey.These are the 5 trends we identified and below are a few quick links to brands & ideas that are delivering on the trend. Hit us up if you’re keen to find out more.

Friction Free Shopping

New Balance ‘The Line up’

Sportsgirl mobile shopping

Lancome Taxi Shops

Perx

Aisle 411

Real Time Value

ThinkNear

Fopping.com

Service Based Selling

Taxi Treats vending machine

C&A Fashion ‘Like’

Brayola.com

The Power of Inspiration

Pano – Plaza

Perch Displays

Ted Bakers Drawing Room

Pave Bicycle Store

Branding the Value Proposition

Starbucks Rembrandt Square

365 Ecobar Indonesia

Tupac hologram at Coachella: bringing a new dimension to live events

Doing the rounds on Twitter and Facebook. Pretty cool stuff at Coachella. Rendered 3D hologram of Tupac rapping with Snoop. Amazingly life like. Is this type of real time creativity going to be the first of a long list of stars being brought back onto stage during live events?