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Unique aspects: digital brand storytellings big four

Digital brand storytelling means telling brand stories using the unique aspects of digital media and technologies (chapter 2):

Integration (devices, technologies, media objects, multimediality, etc.)

Accessibility (time, location, storage)
Interactivity (machine-to-machine, person-to-machine, person-to-person, person-to-content)

Some examples:

Integration: multimediality
Text, photos, graphics, video, animation and audio can be incorporated into brand stories: photos, graphics and sequences
with info graphics can bring story content about manufacturing methods to life. An audio slideshow can run as video on a
player: it tells a story in pictures but includes actor voice over, sound effects or music. It could also include video elements,
minimal text or graphics, podcast offers or multimedia specials. Control bars underneath audio and video sequences are
common on the web so the user can tell how long the multimedia piece is. Because of its multisensory presentation,
multimediality can enhance brand experiences. Complicated products and services can sometimes be better explained with
a combination of voice, images and text.

Accessibility: location-based branding

A consumer can easily wind up taking part in a story. Users can tell stories from anywhere at the doctor, in the subway or
waiting for a plane. Microtellings are short-short stories of 2-3 sentences or 140 characters. Webisodes are online stories,
mobisodes happen on cell phones. As user numbers on second screen show, consumers are often employing these tactics

Connectivity: smaller pieces of information within the main thread and secondary threads
The network lets us cut brand stories up into smaller pieces and distribute them throughout the brand universe. Users
navigate independently through the offering and decide how interested they are some examples are brand experiences
from other consumers, historical flashbacks, protagonist biographies from the brand story, graphically-manipulated
background facts, survey results and chronologies.

The user jumps around the digital brand universe using hyperlinks to content that interests her: she may begin by reading on
a brand website, then look at a photo on a photo platform like Instagram, then check out a YouTube video and return to the
brand website. The user can drift and follow links without any set plan, follow a purposeful path or search for a concrete
piece of information without a distinct path.

Why not present our brand using photos and video clips from different perspectives? An audio file could convey the brands
sound at the same time. A link connects to the story of the employee, who had the idea for the particular product. Another
link connects to a quote from the CEO who highlights the importance of the product to the brand and thus the company
overall. Trial test participants can speak to their experiences in a report. A link to the competition underlines which product is

We should provide users with stories about how our brand solves problems. The user can decide how the story unfolds.


Main thread and secondary threads
We build a main thread (core story) as well as secondary story threads along which users can explore our brand story: a link
connects to the story of the employee, who had the idea for a new product. Another link connects to the CEO who explains
the strategic direction of the company using the tools of storytelling.

Our protagonist has a chance to speak via quotes, for example an expert, who acknowledges our brands achievements. We
can even supply a link to the competition that shows why our brand is so coveted with reference to the connected

The principle of connectivity lends itself to viral spots, i.e. short video sequences. The spots tell the brand story. Users forward
the spots within their social networks, through which enormously compounded effects can arise. Provide the video with a
link to the webshop where the user can order the product.

A real world example: Air New Zealand uploaded an airplane safety video on YouTube a few weeks before the December
2012 premier of the Hobbit in the form of a shire: set to the soundtrack from the film, airline personnel dressed as elves
presented the mandatory safety regulations in an Air New Zealand airplane full of Hobbits, dwarves, Orks, other elves and
magicians. All of a sudden the famous ring rolls across the floor and Peter Jackson picks it up, puts it on and becomes
invisible. At the other end of the plane, Golom crawls around in search of Precious. The brand is Air New Zealand and the
core story is J. R. R. Tolkiens fantasy world. Not only is Peter Jackson from New Zealand, but most of the natural scenes were
filmed in Kiwiland. The clever and equally imaginative Air New Zealand video spread like wildfire in social media via mail,
Twitter, blogs and became the object of much reportage. Many passengers filmed a Hobbit-themed Air New Zealand plane
landing in Los Angeles and posted their videos to the net. And further media reported on the financial implications of the
filmed landing and Hobbits for New Zealand.

Orientation is the key

One challenge of (hyper-)networked devices and systems is that your user can lose orientation without linear structure: a
book has a beginning, chapters that follow one another and an end. Digital media is a different animal. Users only see a small
piece of the bigger picture on their screens at a time and must continuously decide how deep and/or broad they would care
to go, i.e. which path(s) they care to take through an offering.

Good orientation is therefore essential to successful digital branding. Goal: for your users to have a clear idea of the
information your site provides, where they can find it, where they have already been on the site and also where they can still

Two solutions:

1. You can guide the users without compromising their freedom to choose where they go.
2. Brand universe orientation provides stories separated into frames: all stories are visible on screen; once a user
looks at a story, the field goes gray.

Navigations goal is to give the user a clear picture of the stories in the digital offering, where to find them, where she has
been and what she has yet to see.

An architecture of the brand story which quickly makes sense to the user is essential to achieving this goal. This is achieved
through a main thread (core story) which brand managers develop and which users can use to amend the brand story: a link
connects to the story of the employee, who had the idea for the product. Another link connects to the CEO who explains the
strategic direction of the company using the tools of storytelling. Protagonists like experts speak and acknowledge the
brands achievements. A link to the competition shows why our brand is so special.

It is generally clear that hypermediality requires a particular skill set and knowledge base. Mastering new technologies,
platforms, services and applications as well as their possible combinations will only become more complex as time goes on.
A deep understanding of non-linear information systems is a fundamental prerequisite.


Person-to-person interaction
Interaction lets the user decide: the user can change perspective and zoom manually in 360 degree panorama/3D
photographs and navigate through panoramic images. Virtual 3D worlds are workable 3D environments, e.g. Second Life.
Through a digital representative (an Avatar), people are able to synchronically meet and share virtual products, services and
thoughts with each other. Participants communicate using text-chat or voice-chat. The extraordinary draw of the virtual
world is in its manifold possibilities for social interaction, anywhere-accessibility and simply the ability to present three
dimensional objects and simulations.

Interactivity can mean that the computer itself learns from the user and adjusts the branding accordingly. Through
technological developments in the gaming industry, it is already possible to react to the user with gestures and mirroring
and cater the story to her.

In contrast to classical storytelling consisting of an active narrator and a passive listener, digital brand storytelling calls for a
very active user. The user doesnt need to wait for something to happen; she can help it happen: website visitors can select a
role to play, like customer, journalist, applicant or investor; then they would choose the arena, like R&D, production or
management. She could also chose an active role such as researcher, developer, employee or product manager.
Digital brand storytelling should pull the user in and offer brand stories that cause action, not just reading. Content can be
alternated between the kind to sit back and watch (video) and the kind that encourages the user to be active and influence
her own reception (multi-level, interactive graphics).

Further examples:

- Vuvox collage: images hang as if on a wash line. Users navigate horizontally from image to image and may
determine the speed of the presentation. Hot spots in the photos let the user link to more photo-, audio- and
video elements.
- 360 degree panorama/3D photo: many individual images put together. The user navigates through panorama
images by manually adjusting perspective and zoom.
- Gigapans are photographic panorama with extreme depth of detail and massive dimensions. The user is able
to zoom in on oversized, high definition panorama photos in order to examine interesting details more
- Infinity photos consist of multiple photos put together. The view can discover continuously new subjects by
zooming in and out.
- Microtexts reference further content like a title link or teaser to other articles, video, audio or other elements
of short description, quotes, headlines, etc.
- Interactive timelines let the user click along as many pictures or dates as she wants.
- Multiperspective stories: content is bundled with form to create unity not linearly. This allows for different

These presentation techniques can be used alone or combined.

Person-to-person interaction
This includes any exchange between people. Personal interaction lets marketing managers build personal relationships with
users. This activity is essential to build trust and fuels the brand emotionally. Users can develop, share and comment on
stories together with digital brand storytelling.

Word-of-mouth has always played an important role in building brand trust: if a friend warmly recommends a product, we
are at least inclined to try it. Rumors, jokes, songs we cannot get out of our head, etc. travel in a similar way: many users are
searching digital brand offers on the bases of recommendations from friends.

Content interactivity: users creating new forms of storytelling

Digital Media offer new forms of storytelling by connecting people and content. An example is the story of the company


Characters: a visitor can select a character at the company, like researcher, developer, line worker or product manager.
Other users can pick other roles.
Stage: she might select among the possible stages, e.g. research, production or management.
Action: a user might amend the existing brand story, share her version with others or forward it to people who will revise
the story further with their own brand experiences. The user could in fact create her very own brand story with the
prompt: Tell us your brand story

Users influence content: they can intervene in the action, help shape it or determine it outright. The shape of the story moves
back and forth between the two storytelling poles of the company and the user. Four types of user involvement may be

Ontological Interactivity: the user influences the brand story.

Exploratory Interactivity: the user is not able to influence the story.
Internal Interactivity: the user plays a role in the story as with an Avatar.
External Interactivity: the user operates in the non-virtual world by navigating a database or playing a god who determines
the storyline.

Brand stories with user-generated content

Experience tells us that user-generated content is not a goal unto itself. Taking part in a story must emotionally reward the
user. The content must contribute to the plot. It might include the users own experiences and stories regarding the brand.
Digital branding means active users. A user does not need to wait until something happens. She can help make it happen.
Digital branding should incorporate the user and turn brand stories into action instead of a text to be read. Content the user
can sit back and watch (like a video) can be complemented by content the user must actively guide in order to receive (like a
multi-level, interactive graphic). Further: the user can even influence the content of the story.

Brand integration: Nike shoes

- Indirect integration: after a couple amusing hours in Starbucks, Arthur notices that he doesnt have any money in his wallet.
Thanks to his Nikes, hes able to dash to the bank under the pretense of going to the bathroom. The girl doesnt notice
anything, he pays for her and she asks whether theyll be seeing one another again.
_ Indirect integration: the girl visits him at home. They laugh, watch TV and order pizza. When he goes to pay the delivery
person, he notices he has no money. Elsa agrees to lend him the money only if he lends her his Nikes. He agrees with a heavy
heart. A fine evening.
_ Direct integration: he is afraid as his friend has changed into a scary monster that chases him. Thanks to his Nikes, he
escapes and now at home runs into Elsa, who asks in a flirty way whether she can borrow 5 Euros.

Problems with interactivity

The more interactivity, the better this appears to be the battle cry of digital brand storytelling. But there are reasons to
limit the use of interactivity:

_ Interactivity has the ability to prevent immersion, or at least hinder it: the goal of digital brand storytelling should be to
guide the user into a flow. The term flow comes from Csikszentmihalyi and means to disappear into a frictionless task. For
our digital brand storytelling it means that the user plunges into a story and feels like time is standing still. The challenge is
important to flow: if its too high, the user becomes frustrated; if its too low, the user becomes bored. If a challenge is
missing all together, the user will not participate. Interactivity and hypermediality can hinder the user from diving into a
brand story if she must make too many decisions about place, characters and action. User decisions should be important to
the development of the story, but be structured so that they neither over- nor under tax.

_ The more decisions, the greater the difficulty: research on decision making tells us that more choices neither always equals
higher satisfaction nor the soundness of the decision. Too many choices can overwhelm.


_ Missing user know-how: stories have authors. The author knows the story, how to write it and make it interesting. Do users
know all this? How is she supposed to tell a brand story without guidance? Is the result even a story or more so an
experience? And how is the user supposed to decide among the options over the course of the story if she is unaware of the
consequences of her decisions? Lastly: what happens when the user wants an option the author didnt anticipate?

_ Too much or too little control: too much author control can alienate users. Too little control can cause disorientation. Ideally
we guide the user with a hand she cannot feel or see.

Goal: flow
Optimally, the user experiences flow. The term flow comes from Csikszentmihalyi (1975, 1990). He describes the complete
absorption in a frictionless activity. It is as if time stands still and nothing has more meaning or importance than the activity
at hand. The sense of how long the activity took is missing. Flow depends on the level of challenge: too high and the user is
overwhelmed; too low and the user is bored. If there is no challenge the user becomes passive. Regular successes and
thereby positive emotions support flow. Digital brand storytellings goal should be to unfold the story so that flow is created.


Platform: a variety of storytelling about the company and its achievements can come together here (PR stories, stories
from advertising, stories from sales).
Multimediality: storytelling with text, pictures, audio and video.
Applications: emails can be embedded, news groups and chats.

Time: stories accessible around the clock (24/7).
Space: your stories are accessible from anywhere in the world.
Storage: telling digital brand stories in as much breadth and depth as desired is made possible by unlimited storage.

Content: Text, photos, audio and video are connectible.
Websites: site content can be connected with other sites and even with mobile end devices.
Other digital technologies: stories can of course be told using browser technology but also with multiscreens at

Technical: dialogue occurs between user and site via clicks.
Personal: user can exchange stories with one another.
Contextual: users can determine a story, tell one themselves or develop someone elses further.

Check out the examples of digital brand storytellings big four in our additional material.