How to destroy and rebuild communication? Lessons learned from the X Media Lab on Transmedia

A new buzzword is taking the stage: Transmedia. Is it just a new hype or the kind of revolution that is shaping the future of branding? Or as Brendan Harking, founder of Xmedia Lab stated: “We are looking to destroy and rebuild communication!” My take away from the conference in Lausanne: Yes – The Transmedia philosophy is a must for any organization, that wants to communicate effectively in today’s environment, that is driven by digital media and social collaboration technologies.

But what is Transmedia? Here is the definition by Matteo Stanzani, Chief Creative Officer from Matteo Stanzani Transmedia Design, as a starter:

“Transmedia storytelling is the vanguard process of conveying messages, themes or story lines to a mass audience trough the artful and well-planned use of multiple media platforms and product lines. It is a philosophy of communication and brand extension that creates intense audience loyalty and long-term engagement, enriches the value of creative content, and generates multiple revenue streams.”

And this definition – I am now convinced – should be a reference point of any advanced communication strategy. After Gianfranco Cordara, Publisher for Disney Publishing Worldwide: “The engagement of the audience and narrative synchronization are the core elements in defining a transmedia strategy. Or as Eric Huang, Development Director at Made in Me pointed out: “The task is to unite the brand objectives with the corporate storytelling and enrich them with KPIs and ROI to be clear about the indicators for success”. To what Jeff Gomez, Chief Executive Officer, Starlight Runner adds: “If you don’t know what success means, you may lose your way”.

By defining and being capable of activating such an ambitious strategy, communicators are likely to outperform the industry, rather than to copy their competitor’s campaigns in often-observed me-too strategies.

A whole new workflow approach that defines the Transmedia Process

To better understand how Transmedia works, let’s have a look at the Transmedia workflow. Based on the experience from Hollywood Best Practices, Jeff Gomez outlined a process that could be used as a ‘Transmedia Production Reference Process’.

  • Development: commitment to transmediapProduction; strategic planning; world creation (persons, world, location, objects, chronology,  metaphysic, branding elements); partnerships.
  • Innovation: strategic development; long run planning; production and transmedia design; package pitch; digital strategy.
  • Pre-production: all assets are established; work on the development of the extension of the world (mythology, publication plan, social networks, roles of partners).
  • Production: story starts being told; world extensions are in production; asset sharing; social activation
  • Post-Production: extension start rollout; asset sharing (FX/Digital Leveraged); social is furnished; individuated assets
  • Release: transmedia rollout starts up to 6 month before; audience knows the world, but not the story; the immersive narrative engages. This time is the peak of cross-media and dialogue on social networks.
  • Post-Release: extensions continue through digital release windows; using content that you made during development; allowing conversation around existing content; moving into new content new conversations appear; the story continues and is driven by user-generated content; feedbacks are collected and studied for the future.

Key-System Requirements: The Narrative Storytelling Technique

The core system of Transmedia is the Narrative Storytelling. Or as Matteo Stanzani outlined:

“Transmedia Storytelling is the ultimate source of solution and happiness for an audience, whose entire repertoire of senses and perceptions is engaged through the skillful use of mystery, that generates an overall emotional involvement and leads their audience to copy, decide and finally create their own parallel universe”.

Alex McDowell, founder and creative director at 5D, GlobalStudio, explains that the World in which the story is taking place needs to be developed first, even before the story is being developed.

The Transmedia World consists of:

  • The Environment with the narrative space, architecture, system and shelter.

And the narrative elements that are designed from two angles:

  • The Character with the actor, intelligence, participant and characters.
  • The Viewpoint from the Player, Audience and Users.

For the last two elements collaboration – a collective authorship – is needed. One takes the “Corporate” and one takes the “Consumers” viewpoint. With this framework – a combination or synchronization of Corporate, Brand and Culture values is possible to define the narrative elements of a Transmedia project.

A rich deep story world needs to be created with the full arc of the available creativity in developing new narratives. And creating the logic of the world form Artifacts to Technology to Society to Evolution. With this creative approach multiple entry points of a story can be identified, that are the basis for interwoven storylines. Alex McDowell: “The world building is that what reminds the audience on the brand.”

After building the world – a compelling story has to be created using the “The Hero’s Journey”-Approach with the following elements:


A shared conclusion of the presenters is, that the story needs to feel real. Gianfranco Cordara: “The skill of storytelling is to make a context in which other people think. The success of reality shows, mocumentary, fake events and social networks, show that audiences crave for reality: The Hunger for Reality”. In addition, Transmedia stories should give the user room for their own imagination. To plant the story they capture into their everyday life. That will give an opportunity to break down the barrier between reality and fiction.

To develop and tell a story, Brands need first to learn to listen. Ingrid Kopp, Director of Digital Initiatives at the Tribeca Film Institute, outlined: “Storytelling is as much about listening as telling”. So use all of your customer insights, market segmentations and stakeholder intelligence data to combine them in a shared knowledge pool to identify what your audience is really expecting. Audience intelligence is key to identify where Transmedia can permeate daily lives. Erinrose Sullivans, Digital Marketing Strategist with BrightLab summarizes in her talk “Learnings from Gaming Industry Insights”, on how the consumer trends developed.

Today’s consumers are:

  • Expecting anything and everything at their finger tips
  • Instantly
  • Brilliance
  • Up close and personal
  • Multitasking
  • Unwilling to plan
  • Commitment Phobic

How to win the audience? Simon Staffans, Content and format developer, from MediaCity in Finland concludes, that the audience is an endangered species.

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Illustrating it by quoting Orson Welles: “The audience is that big many headed beast crouching out there in the darkness, waiting to eat us up or love us and it must be either seduced or dominated or raped – but it must be dealt with”.

A Transmedia story needs to engage the audience

Gianfranco Cordara pointed out, that the key task is to engage everyone to have an individual experience of your brand´s story. And Jeff Gomez mentioned: To engage users in the story world, the planning becomes an artform. The development generates content. What is needed, Simon Staffans believes is: “To radically plan to give the audience a reason and a direction to re-chew your content in a manner you never thought about.  If it makes sense to create good content, it also makes sense to plan and harness user generated content.”

Tell me and I will forget,
Show me and I may remember,
Involve me and I will understand
(Chinese proverb)

Katie Salen, Game Designer and Executive Director of the Institute of Play added: “Social engagement is the key to provide your audience with value, the right solution at the right time. To be engaged is to be learning – What does my user have to know to participate in the experience I am creating? You should provide your user a safe – sandbox like – environment. If you want your users to enter the game, please don’t shoot the player while he is learning how to play”.

Matteo Stanzani explained, that his “Magic Potions of Happiness” to engage with Transmedia projects is the combination of:

  1. Technology
  2. Story
  3. Mystery
  4. Memories
  5. Timing
  6. Solution
  7. Magic Words

=   Happiness

Stanzani believes that the words Copy, Decide and Imitate are the inevitable ingredients to provoke a mass audience participation and engagement. Interesting was his finding that the motivation for engagement is not money, status or sex. It is Curiosity. Stanzani: “You don’t need technology to grab children’s attention. What you need is bit of mystery to stimulate their curiosity.” Transmedia projects should generate a willingness of the audience to copy the core story, message and contents in the way the word ‘copy’ is defined:

  1. To make a copy of, transcribe, reproduce, to copy a set of figures from a book.
  2. To receive and understand (a radio message or its sender)
  3. To follow as a pattern or model; imitate.

Katie Salen believes that the key questions to ask on engaging with the audience are:

  • How do you enable a culture of giving or sharing around what you are creating?
  • Is your campaign designed for friendliness?
  • Do we support human-to-human exchange?
  • And does the sharing feels like giving a gift?

With that in mind, X Media Lab “Transmedia” leaves us with a Tool-Set and Architecture for a narrative storytelling approach – that should lead to an immersive Transmedia experience and user participation.

It is perhaps best summarized with this checklist “The Intersection of Storytelling & Marketing” from Jeff Gomez:


  • Rich deep story world
  • Compelling story
  • Needs to feel real
  • Interwoven storylines


  • Cultivation and celebration fan base
  • Continuity across platforms
  • Careful market segmentation
  • Creative vision / maintain brand integrit

To play along with the audience, they first need to be aware of the project. Cordara points out, that discoverability might well be one of Transmedia’s biggest challenges. New marketing tools are needed to reach out, word-of-mouth is not enough.

Big Organizational Change Ahead

If you look at the outlined Transmedia Framework, it unveils how fundamental the change, compared to traditional communication practice, is. To perform this new art, the communication specialists first need to unlearn, and then learn how the story, technology, platform and engagement can permeate daily lives while synchronizing the narratives, the message and still the their consumers hunger for reality. To learn how to collaborate among existing teams is, what Cordara says, one of the challenges, while at all times keeping the audience in sight. Collaboration is hard especially when you have to use different language dictionaries (business, media, creative, social and technology).

And outlines the supporting values of a Transmedia-committed organization:

  1. Lightness
  2. Quickness
  3. Exactitude
  4. Visibility
  5. Multiplicity

The new true Transmedia organization will ultimately have to go trough the valley of Disillusionment. Ingrid Kopp summarized it with: “Fail. Fail fast. Fail forward”. The marketing departments need to learn how to effectively collaborate and tear down the silos: When people do something together, there is an amplification of skills. To achieve Best Practice, first good practice needs to be established. Bad practice = do what you’ve done before. Good practice = challenge yourself to fail and learn. Transmedia is characterized by learning to iterate and create feedback loops with the audience.

Who should lead the way to Transmedia?

As experienced, the agencies and market & communications departments are often thinking in silos. Transmedia-like campaigns happen by accident, when the right people coincidently collide. But Transmedia by design, that creates sustainable value, seems to be very rarely repeated. And furthermore  – all of the involved usually claim their ambition to lead the way:

  • Branding & Advertising people know how to design the brand experiences, have a long legacy on how to effectively buy media and a proven workflow to design artwork.
  • Corporate Communications & PR folks focus on editorial content and know how to tell stories, that make their way in the media space and have a track record in earning content trough their continuous dialogues with stakeholders. They have a feeling for timing.
  • Web and Multimedia creative know how to code the online experience and have their eye on interactive usability design with the Knowledge on how to agile and iterative manage projects. They understand communication as a solution or application.
  • Product Management and Marketing Cracks have all the Customer Insights and know what their customers wants, how the solutions need to be bundled, packaged and priced, with a legacy in communicating and distributing messages and products trough multi-channels.
  • Social Media Gurus know how to listen to their audience and have the skills to quickly react and engage with stakeholders with the experience on how to setup and develop owned media platforms.

As I learned from the CIOs in IT-departments – when an organization is getting too complex: Add a new layer to align the activities. And this could be a “Transmedia Communication Alignment” role given to the “Transmedia Manager.” A new communication type, that has the ability to synchronize the existing departments, acts as a moderator and translates Brandish to Marketish to Codeish to Socialmedish. Keeps an eye on the communication architecture, manages the information and agile collaboration workflow, aligns the strategy to the processes and is setting the ground for the narrative storytelling system.

This new philosophy requires a strong commitment to Transmedia and the willingness to change from each involved. From an organizational development point of view a considerable amount of Change Management work needs to be executed in the corporate space to take advantage of this avant-garde approach to effectively communicate with stakeholders in the future. To close with a quote from Jeff Gomez:

“The time has come to perform Transmedia Art across the world”

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