The Rise of Transmedia Storytelling

Once upon a time we told brand stories using a printed piece (aka the reliable detail aid). And it worked, for a while. Then came personal computers, smartphones and tablets. Brand stories can now be told across multiple platforms. These devices ushered in social sharing, which led people to share brand stories in their own unique way through Facebook, Instagram or Vine. The result is a new marketing trend that is growing fast and making its way to our industry. Are we ready for transmedia storytelling?

Where Transmedia Began

Storytelling through multiple platforms began in the entertainment industry. Just look at how Marvel, Lucasfilm and DC Comics were able to transcend stories about their superheroes and Star Wars characters through their fans. It was called different things then (like alternate reality).

The term transmedia was probably coined in the 1990s, but the technique didn’t take off until 2003. By then marketers in the consumer packaged goods industry had discovered the value transmedia storytelling delivered to brands—loyalty, fan engagement and sales. A recent example is how Chipotle began engaging foodies with an animated short story about a scarecrow who experiences a moral crisis to highlight how the fast-food chain promotes organic and sustainable farming. This story elicited a strong emotional response from viewers, who shared and talked about it in multiple platforms.

How Transmedia Fits in Healthcare

The best transmedia content is designed to create a conversation, which in turn creates a community. The healthcare space is filled with multiple communities—individuals experiencing similar health conditions, family members seeking health information and patients supporting each other. They are engaged, smart and active. They share personal stories, outcomes and brand experiences. The healthcare space is prime for transmedia. And marketers who engage with communities through transmedia storytelling can effectively inform, educate and share information about brands to them.

A great example of a transmedia storytelling in healthcare is the campaign called “The Weight of the Nation,” which brings together the Institute of Medicine (IOM), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), National Institutes of Health (NIH) and HBO. Designed to confront America’s obesity epidemic, the campaign combined a documentary film series, social media engagement, books, DVDs and public screening kits. The impact has been nothing short of phenomenal, with more content being developed as users continue to share the campaign.

The Challenges

Granted, our industry is littered with caveats. Privacy issues, FDA social media concerns and regulatory fears can discourage any marketer from writing great brand stories.

Additionally, transmedia can be costly and time-consuming. Since transmedia campaigns encompass multiple channels, target various audience types, and incorporate regulatory review, cost and time can stop anyone from embedding transmedia into a brand strategy. However, it can be done. And transmedia campaigns don’t necessarily have to begin with all the bells and whistles.

Getting Started

As with any new marketing tactic or technology, marketers should begin exploring this form of brand storytelling now before it becomes commonplace in healthcare. Transmedia storytelling is the future. It’s only a matter of time before marketers begin applying it to build loyalty for healthcare brands. There are also benefits to exploring this new form of storytelling early. It could lead to broader insights about how to best create a brand story that transcends multiple channels. To get started, begin the conversation with experienced storytellers or an agency with transmedia expertise. Happily ever after is achievable.

  • Mitch Apley

    Mitch Apley is the Senior Director of Broadcast/Print Production at AbelsonTaylor. He is a filmmaker at heart, and his passion for creative, clear and correct health and wellness communication knows no bounds.


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