Post-mortem of storytelling in the Digital Era

Muhammad Risalat Siddique | Published: April 26, 2019 21:40:46

Is typical storytelling dying or evolving to something else? Do creative professionals need to rethink how to strategise brand content? Can marketers still follow Aristotle's three act structure or Freytag's Pyramid of five act structure while telling stories? Can there be some breadcrumbs that marketers can follow for storytelling in the digital era to simplify storytelling? Be it a brand advertisement, a drama, a reality show, content placement or even just a small story, advent of the digital has changed the way marketers and creative people think about the treasured activity of storytelling. Let's look at the facts and fictions that marketers must deal with when they create any form of content for digital media.

We live in an era of short attention span, faster reading speeds, scrolling of newsfeed, call and SMS blocking, skip-able ads and more importantly media platforms where one can even pay to block ads. Despite all these facts, popular belief of "keeping your stories short to ensure views and engagement" is an utter fiction. It is all about how soon one can hook the intended consumer: be it through shock, by instigating curiosity or by creating drama or any other style. The key point here is to grab attention and engage the viewer/ reader as soon as possible.

The title or the name of the content and/or a short description can do the job as long as the executive is clear about the objective of hooking the right consumer. Probably there are now millions of examples on Facebook, YouTube and other platforms where long contents, beyond 10-15 minutes in duration, are keeping viewers asking for more. On the other hand, there are contents that are less than a minute. Nas Daily's contents on Facebook, which end with "That's One Minute. See You Tomorrow", are loved by the targeted viewers. The content duration should depend on what the story marketer wants to tell once they have hooked the audience. The need for short content usually comes when marketers either cannot create the right creative content or in most cases when the message they want to shout out is simply too functional. So, it is simply not right to make a notion that smaller contents perform better when creative professionals are not being creative.    

Whenever a commercial brand creates any content, there is a natural resistance to accept the content in the back of people's mind. Their subconscious searches for a hidden agenda, but that nagging goes away the moment the hook is generated. Even if a creative professional digress from Aristotle's three act structure of setup, confrontation and resolution or Freytag's pyramid of exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and denouement; great content still can be created. One can always follow one of these approaches to design content but definitely not in the sequence the acts are mentioned. For example the popular hook from the renowned TV series 'Game of Thrones', one can remember the question everyone had: "Whether Jon Snow will live or die?"In the digital era, marketers can let the world know about what the endgame of the content in a trailer be even before releasing the content and have viewers still watch it. One can even try to capitalise on controversy around content such as "Doob", which can get viewers to the theatres. While the point just deviated from content creation to content promotion, essentially these issues need to be addressed while creating the content for future marketing purpose.

Once the content is prepared, there is another important approach to follow in this era of digital. The approach of "Catch, Connect, Close and Continue" is a brilliant framework to follow in the multichannel digital ecosystem. It can be used to create teasers or trailers and place them on Facebook and use Google Search to catch the audience. A link to the main content on YouTube to connect with the audience there can close the deal by placing a product purchase link to the website. Now, once the sale is completed, how to continue to retain them as customers can be entirely up to the marketer. There can be the use of custom audience, look alike audience and a database to connect with the same audience using a different content on Facebook again and the cycle can continue. The brilliance of Digital media is that now anyone has the power to create emotional contents that consumers want, which are not necessarily aligned with the brand. However, it's still a way to catch the right audience first and then connect, close and continue with them once they are hooked to the functional content.

When we talk about promotion of content, the day is not far when the world's top grossing movies will not release in theatres, they will release on Netflix. Imagine how as an audience one would feel if the last movie in a series of movies like the Marvel Cinematic Universe released on Netflix only.

Now let's go into a different aspect. Like the traditional media content, there are videos, stories etc. for digital too but thanks to this modern era we also have games, augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR) and even mixed reality. Thanks to Oculus, Microsoft Hololens or google cardboard, content types have changed dramatically. They are the future if not already present. However, few other things that are strong contenders as examples of storytelling such as- memes, honest trailers, content placements, one-liner stories, photo stories, 360 photos, 3D photos and even brand comic strips have sparked the imaginations of storytellers, content creators and curators worldwide. Another brilliant content aspect has been "LEAKS"; something that the tech industry has been utilising brilliantly according to popular conspiracy theorists. It can only be imagined then how storytelling will change with advent and mass availability of the newer technologies mentioned above. 

From story structure, to story type, story promotion and story execution, let's keep exploring the brilliant world of Digital today and tomorrow. Also, as an endnote: did the title hook the readers to read the article?


Risalat Siddique is a brand enthusiast and co-investor at Analyzen, one of the leading digital marketing agencies in the country.


Share if you like