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Transmedia Storytelling: Houzz Gets It Right

Transmedia storytelling (also known as transmedia narrative or multiplatform storytelling) is the technique of telling a single story or story experience across multiple platforms and formats using current digital technologies, not to be confused with traditional cross-platform media franchises, sequels, or adaptations

~ Wikipedia

When the University of California, Irvine, invited me to teach for its digital marketing program, I was thrilled to find transmedia storytelling among the continuing education curriculum.

Brands and marketers have been inundated with new platforms, tools, technologies and ideas. In the past ten years, we saw the unprecedented market fragmentation between online and offline worlds, rising innovation and shifting legacy experiences. In the 1990s, just four TV networks – CBS, NBC, ABC and FOX – controlled upwards of 85% eyeballs. Today they’re at maybe 25%. Influencer and brand advocacy marketing has reached a new level never seen before, with brands working harder than ever to get consumers to be advocates for them.

How does it all come together? It centers on the story first. Not the brand first, not the author, but the narrative first. That’s where transmedia shines and it’s where you need to understand what transmedia is.

To start, it’s important to understand what transmedia isn’t. The difference between multimedia and transmedia is that transmedia goes back and forth — it’s the story living and breathing universally across a variety of platforms, with its own unique voice on each. You don’t want to confuse transmedia with omni-channel marketing, either. With omni-channel, it’s one story told in the same voice and in the same way at every touch point. Transmedia adapts the narrative to the platform, versus the platform to the narrative.

Liza Koshy
Liza Koshy Tells It Like It Is

"I wish I could tweet the one-liners that I come up with for YouTube, but the bosses will call you out for recycling content," she says, referring to her fans, who keep track of everything she does online.

~ Actress and YouTube Personality Liza Koshy, Wall Street Journal

To effectively create a transmedia story, you need to understand this. Think of it as more of a story and less of a brand. Story, brand and participation are the foundation. Look for how you can take one story and tell it differently across each channel or break it up – either way, you want participation from that channel’s audience.

It’s A True, Unified Global World

There are two billion people on social media — on platforms that are mainly owned by just three companies (Twitter, Facebook and Google). A huge number of people who access the internet do so via devices owned by just one company: Apple. For the first time in history, people are able to connect in with anyone, anywhere around the world in real-time, and do so with massive numbers of people at the same time. Just imagine that for a second. We’ve never lived in a world where this was possible.

Yet it all relates back to the same handful of brands and products with engineers sitting in the Silicon Valley. It’s utterly mind blowing. Marketers are contending with these environments, devices, plus traditional legacy platforms and experiences. It’s a big, new world of unified/common experiences that move faster than anything we’ve ever known in the past. Marketing today is truly global.

But it doesn’t change that it’s all about attention.

Attention Is King

Marketing is still all about the story you’re telling and how it relates to your unique value proposition. Today it means distilling that story and value prop into multiple different formats and experiences — a 1080px by 1080px image for Instagram, a 1-15 second video if its Instagram Stories. With YouTube, you can go bigger. Let’s not forget SnapChat, Pinterest, iTunes. We’re talking multiple, varying environments, and not just social: what about comics, books, apps, augmented reality, video games, virtual reality, 360 degree video, and so on. All involve different user engagement and behaviors. What works on one platform won’t always work on all.

That’s where transmedia storytelling gets really exciting. It began three decades ago with cross-platform story franchises like Star Wars. It creeped into “omni-channel” brands like Martha Stewart, where a magazine, TV show and consumer products engaged audiences across different environments. The birth of digital platforms created the transmedia approach from here.

Yet when it comes to attention, everything comes back to the story. Everything has to start with the unique value proposition and move people to do a particular desired behavior — specific conversions, spending time on a site or viewing a video, customer advocacy, or what other objective might be intended.

Transmedia is the killer app for this. One story which includes the brand’s value proposition, broken into pieces that fit the full range of digital environments, all with a single goal: Moving people.

Houzz Does Transmedia Right

My Houzz: Mila Kunis' Surprise Renovation for Her Parents

I love the transmedia approach Houzz is taking and I’ll be talking about it during the class. Its website is the place for interior design content online, with a goal to drive interior design and product sales. It has heavy ads running on HGTV — but no show appears on HGTV. Instead, Houzz asks that you view its “My Houzz” show online. In addition to the Houzz site, the show can also be found on YouTube.

Traditional photos of design projects are shared on Instagram, Pinterest and Twitter using the tag #myhouzz. It brings multiple platforms — traditional TV, online video and social media — into a single storytelling experience with that same, single value proposition: Interior design ideas, access to interior designers for hire, and the ability to find and purchase home products (including those featured in its digital experience). Comments on you tube, consumer questions on which products were used and Instagram feeds from users showing off their #myhouzz designs abound. Brilliant!

It was great my students and get into this cool, creative way to leverage market fragmentation and digital platforms.

Transmedia is dead. Long live transmedia!

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