Storyworld Conference Day Two (Part 1)

by April Arrglington on November 28th, 2011

It All Started with a Mouse: A discussion with Orrin Shively from Disney Online Studios

Orrin opened the first talk of the day by dissecting the most important aspects of Mickey’s 10 Commandments on how to run a compelling guest experience:
1. Know your audience - Don't bore people, talk down to them, or lose them by assuming that they know what you know. Take into account global elements like culture, demos, ages, even regional backgrounds, etc. Take your time getting to know your audience by keeping engaged with it, listen to it.

2. Wear your guest's shoes - Insist that designers, staff, and your board members experience your facility as often as possible. Get to the fans and the not so fans by thinking in terms of what you like and don’t like about an experience… the pacing, the stimuli, the story structure, etc.

3. Organize the flow of people and ideas - Use good story telling techniques. Tell good stories not lectures. Lay out your exhibit with a clear logic.

4. Create a weenie (visual magnet)- Lead visitors from one area to another by creating visual magnets and giving visitors rewards for making the journey. When thinking about a huge storyworld, have a striking visual image that brings everything together and reminds audience where they are. A constant architectural element of reassurance that ties in the theme and helps guide people through the story universe.

5. Communicate with visual literacy - Make good use of all the non-verbal ways of communication - color, shape, form, texture.

6. Avoid overload - Resist the temptation to tell too much, to have too many objects. Don't force people to swallow more than they can digest, but at the same time try to stimulate and provide guidance to those who want more. Virtual realities are in the forefront of organic immersive experiences that build suspended disbelief.

7. Tell one story at a time - If you have a lot of information to go through, divide it into distinct, logical, organized stories. People can absorb and retain information more clearly if the path to the next concept is clear and logical.

8. Avoid contradiction - The public needs to know who you are and what differentiates you from other institutions they may have seen. Having a clear institutional identity gives you the competitive edge. In terms of story flow, remember to manage all the delicate elements in a story universe with organic orchestration to avoid contradiction.

9. For every ounce of treatment, provide a ton of fun - How do you woo people from all other temptations? Give people plenty of opportunity to enjoy themselves. Emphasizing ways to participate in the experience by making your environment rich and appealing to all senses.

10. Keep it up - Never underestimate the importance of cleanliness and routine maintenance. People expect to get a good show every time. Yet, they will comment more on broken and dirty stuff.

Jeff Gomez: On Worldbuilding & Mythology

On Audience Engagement: “Show me you care about this storyworld, show me it’s real.”
Storytellers are the sensitive sort, the kind that are always in the outside looking in. The type that amuse themselves by building narratives to make sense of their world. At often times wanting a sense of connection, but opting instead to cocoon inside these storyworlds. There is a need to break out of this behavior, because this is the sort of thing that can exclude an audience.

More often than not audiences are standing on the sidelines, daring you to show them a storyworld that is consistent with your passion. However, for audiences to engage in an emotional level you as a storyteller have to do the same and prove that you care about this storyworld, that you are not going to cheat them out once they agree to immerse themselves in it.

When things don’t tie together in a storywold, and you don’t keep consistency in the dramatic structure of a story, then you are in a way taking the fourth wall out and dismantling all the suspended disbelief. You are automatically taking the audience out of the context of the story, and they will hate you for it.

At the end of the day this intense emotional engagement with a storyworld is the value that you are looking to capture in an audience, a value that you can tap into to monetize. So the best way to stay attuned with your public is by listening to their wants, needs, and desires. Learn how to hook them in, understand their behavior and how they engage and immerse into a narrative. And create loyalty by making your audience feel valued inside this storyworld.

On themes: “The best messages are born out of pain.”

Another element to keep in consideration when wanting to create intense emotional engagement is to have a message. If you have an honest and powerful thing to say that taps into the big questions, the grand narrative, then the better your chances are at encouraging your audience to jump into all the different points of entry.

The need for a message also offers a solution of the age old predicament that tells us that all stories have already been told. While it might be true that we have heard it all before, if you have a powerful message to infuse into a familiar story, and you go about it in an original way, then you are in fact offering something new and exciting. Be warned that dwelling on a subject can get boring very fast, so it’s a matter of keeping it original and fun if you want success sustainability.

The most universal subjects that we are all drawn into are all related to pain:

  • Loneliness: from the moment they cut the cord we struggle with the feeling that we are forever alone.
  • Our place in the world: storytelling itself was born as a way to answer life and death questions.
  • Good vs. Evil: ancient mythologies, and practically all belief systems, evolved in order to assert order over chaos.
  • Yearning: contemporary narratives focus on our wants, needs, and desires. Essentially what is beyond our reach.
  • Failure: We all have been defeated at some point or another by something or someone. This state of being resonates with us because we all know how it feels. However, it also gives us the basis to learn that it can be the stepping stone for success.

The interesting thing about the theme of failure is how it parallels with the challenges we face as storytellers in this new Transmedia medium. Think about it, the paradigm bellow works in the same way with high school bullies and Hollywood bullies.

  • At one point or another, usually sooner rather than later, we are going to fail. This is an inevitable fact of life.
  • The immediate instinct then is to avoid experiencing this again at any costs.
  • This often leads into downward spirals, from which we learn life lessons.
  • But the only way out of it is to learn from our mistakes, and discover new alternatives to our problems.
  • However, aspirations are useless without actions towards our final vision.
  • So in order to persevere, since this paradigm often repeats itself infinitely during the course of our lives, the secret to success is to never surrender.

And so, since it seems that Hollywood is really just like high school, then we owe it to ourselves to learn from your high school mistakes… and do it our way this time around. In our particular instance the solution is: find a new way to do things, a new way to monetize, and a new way to do buzz.

On world building: “Games are not about rules but about the excuses to tell stories.”

The age of broadcasting is over. Audiences want to be part of a storyworld now. But most importantly, they just want validation that somehow they are, in fact, part of this universe. So make sure to allow for communal storytelling, or at least instant feedback when designing an experience.

Also, don't be afraid of the naughty players that want to push the interactive boundaries of your storyworld. They are the ones that enrich your ecosystem. If you listen to them carefully you can learn about what works, what doesn’t work, what they want, and what they expect from an experience. This information is invaluable.

As you building your storyworld consider designing the transmedia strategy as you go along. The one problem in publishing is the disconnection that authors have when it comes to designing strategies. They are very hesitant about getting involved because they have never been required to do so, until now.

The one thing to remember is that all elements need to come together, like a perfect orchestrated symphony, in order to vitalize you main message. This sense of wholeness needs to be consistent, regardless of the entry point variations, and come full circle back to the driving platform.

The good news is that Hollywood has been recently aware that it pays to enlarge a story canvas with extensions. And they are slowly realizing that the aspiration drivers haven’t changed, and that they probably won’t. Because at the end of the day it is not about the evolution of storytelling, but about telling better stories.

From Q&A – On pitching, funding and taking a project off the ground:

  • Capture investors with a great story.
  • Have a clear business plan where you point out exactly your revenue channels.
  • Leverage with partners, and use various assets.
  • Be confident. They don’t need to understand how it all works. They just need to believe that you are cleaver enough to know how it all is going to work out.
  • Educate not only the higher ups, but also the consumers. In contrast with the rest of the world the US is really behind on that.

Panel 1: Success & Measuring Multiplatform IP
In this new era of technology convergence, how can context take a role in measurement?

There are many elements to take into account when discussing audience measurement. So far we have answered basic data capturing questions like who is the consumer? Where does he/she live? But there is still a disconnection when it comes to tracking their consuming habits in terms of interacting and engaging in a community.

So maybe we should be asking the question, how are we reaching people as an audience? When audiences consume across multiple platforms we need to shift our point of view and understand the path of the customer and how exactly they are consuming content. So what we really need to look into and capture then is behavior.

The good news is that it is been found the more an audience engages, the more they are willing to give you data to track their behavior. The thing to have in mind then is that engagement is not a single metric, nor an end result, but a proxy for behavior.

What exactly should we look into then if we want to capture data that informs behavior?

Ideally content creators would design experiences so that they can not only capture data production that stems from the experience, but also structure data generation opportunities within the experience. Content and analytics should be one in the same when it comes to tracking behavior. Until we have figured that out, we have to look into what we are trying to accomplish in terms of engagement in order to track behavior.

  • Engagement is an emotional connection, involvement, or commitment to something. It is a two way exchange that can be measured by volume and velocity. But intent informs us about the quality of this relationship and the audience commitment to further interaction.

  • Look into causation of commitment in order to see correlation to audience behavior. Then you will realize that there is a difference between audience and community. Audiences are passive, while communities are active and more committed to a deeper level of engagement.

What solutions we can capture from communities engaging within a social graph?

People are becoming miniature media networks in and of themselves, broadcasting to their social networks. It used to be that people would wear t-shirts to define themselves. Now they do it through their social graph. People are considering their online curation as what defines them online.

So if content creators target audiences that are curating media, then overtime data can inform the complexities of how audiences define themselves within their social graph. This in turn informs their behavior and levels of content engagement.

What are the main challenges?

Right now we are tackling the problem in terms of what we want to achieve when it comes to number of subscriptions, sales, KPI; versus the message that we want to spread, the general awareness of the audience, and its social ramifications. But because all of these factors vary pending of the composition of the audience, device preferences, and algorithm modifications, the solution then seems to evade us all.

We also experience challenges in the media space in terms of old models that are only invested in tracking inventory and not engagement. In addition we also have to deal with the paradox that media consumption doesn't really inform us about engagement. Generally because marketing campaigns mostly focus on what stands out, how people are incentivized, and when and where to deliver content.

To add to the complexity of it all, engagement is something that can thrive in short term and long term settings. People can experience the same sense of commitment while consistently consuming content in short sprouts of time, vs. people that engage with content in a lifetime value capacity. And more often that not, CMOs don’t stay in their jobs long enough to understand the life cycles of consumers.

Next steps and final thoughts:

As we all know, sustainability is tied to storytelling. Storytelling has the advantage to create an online insurgency that in turn produces banter. We need to focus on how to connect into the basis of this chatter, and then find a way to line communities along those conversations in a scalable manner. By the same token we should also consider tapping into content opportunities that sprout out of this community dialogue.

Is only after monitoring these communities that we should worry about points of entry, multiple platforms, and new ways to cater to their behavior. All we can do right now is understand what permeates their everyday lives, and be open to adaptability.

To keep reading click on Part 2.

Posted in not categorized    Tagged with #swc11, Orrin Shively, Jeff Gomez, Starlight Runner Entertainment, Mike Monello, Campfire, Gunther Sonnenfeld, Ben Straley, Heardable, Meteor Solutions, Jeff Bernstein, Universal McCann, Disney Online Studios


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