Stephen Byrne

Some thoughts on transmedia strategy, brands and the future of media planning.

How can brands plan and deliver unified long term strategy, build value and engagement in the message fog created by continually splintering and fractured media and audiences? The answer might be in the new field of transmedia strategy.

transmedia strategyA transmedia strategy is designed to create an evolving and "self saucing" brand story through interaction between brand owners and their audiences. A transmedia strategy is contextual and continues the life of brand by permitting constant brand renewal through a process of reinvention and re-engagement. In a transmedia strategy, a brand's core ideology and brand platform has to have been developed sufficiently for brand messages to be coherently delivered to different audiences via a variety of media forms over a long period of time, rather than in the current highly geared campaign format and timeframe. Derived from transmedia story telling with its high profile examples like the multi-storied/multifabled Matrix, Star Wars or Lord of the Rings brands, in a transmedia strategy messages have much less need to be integrated as they are independently delivered by a wide variety of media over time but can still contribute to the evolving brand.

Behind transmedia strategy is the idea that a campaign should be seen as less a campaign but more an episode or chapter, executed by discreet media opportunities for the evolution of a brand. Each of these media opportunities - whether they be for brand building or for deliberate interaction - can sit independently but is designed to contribute, over time, to the development of the brand.

Consider it this way: transmedia enables brands to more effectively deliver messages and communicate ideas to its targets and is better able to meet the overall brand aims.  Take, for example, a traditional government-funded social marketing-based brand campaign. Most of these campaigns, for all their apparent success, are built around traditional bursts of media and rarely funded more than annually and are often highly television media dependent and here lies the opportunity for long term brand building.

Almost any government funded and long term social-based education program is ripe for a transmedia strategy. That these campaigns prominently emphasise display media such as television, internet advertising, cinema and print is often because of their inherent visibility (politicians like this as well) and well, because the agencies involved are not only better rewarded for this media but still regard it as the most able to deliver core messages to the widest possible audiences, regardless of its effectiveness and ability to create change.

In the case of a social marketing anti-smoking brand campaign such as Australia's long running Quitnow, traditional display media is exclusively used to deliver core messages to primary targets. But sometimes radio, PR, advocacy and now social media can also be more actively being leveraged to deliver actual engagement and achieve behavioral change.

However, with a transmedia strategy communication tasks and some of the targets can be more precisely and discretely divided between media, rather than looking to, as is often the case, to heavy spend across all media just to ensure TARPs, message spread and often annual budget exhaustion.

Take for example, the Australian Government's long running National Tobacco Strategy. With a transmedia strategy, the strategy aim could now be to create a fully integrated long-term brand play by starting to treat its Quitnow centred as a fully developed and evolving brand, rather than achieving implementation objectives via tactical and limited campaigns, which is now the case. Though the National Tobacco Campaign’s discreet approach has been highly successful for some of its target audiences, the continuing fragmentation of audience and media no longer guarantees success will be as likely or as easy. These days communication objectives can no longer be met by bursts of high cost but pocketed media activity.

A highly geared campaign emphasis on television spots in these types of campaigns does elicit specific audience actions that fulfills some campaign objectives, but do they mean “effective contribution”? What is the state of audience fatigue with the anti-smoking message? TARPs, in my opinion, is a singularly disingenuous measure these days, created when television was media dominant. Television is evolving and is now more suited to developing a character-based narrative for campaigns and not just for awareness raising.  For example, the campaign's TV advertising should move away from the wave of “shock-and-awe” led campaigns to develop ad series built on connected family scenarios on smoking and its consequences. Each scenario emphasing life stages or turning/stress points.

With cigarette smoking the most social of habits, what's suprising in this Australian example, is this has not played a more significant part in campaign planning. The role of digital in delivering often low cost measurable target audience awareness, engagement and access to support should be framed within a component social media strategy, that both contributes to the anti-smoking brand like Quitnow but also works independently and alongside complimentary campaigns run by various state organisations and cancer groups. As it is the campaign's leading online property, the  Quitnow website is severely underdone and it desperately needs expansion. My to-do list might include a Quitter’s page with first hand stories and opportunities to input approaches and solutions; a Quitnow YouTube Channel featuring the television spots or extended to become episodes; links to a Facebook page and other social media comment badging; deeper and more comprehensive SEO given Google’s new search algorithm ( with the possibility of guerilla tactics like link baiting); Wikipedia links to the archives and all existing Quitnow campaigns; Twitter brand conversations from anti-smoking brand ambassadors as well as a focus on separate non-English Speaking Background and indigenous channel development. In a transmedia strategy all of this is designed to develop the brand's narrative and contribute to more active engagement - something that just won't come anymore from simply calling a telephone number.

Australia's anti-smoking strategy was developed when media consumption patterns and accompanying planning were largely dominated by television and other increasingly redundant display media. Sure it worked then but effectiveness is now acknowledged as diminishing for a variety of reason but with no recent measures available to track audience fatigue and a flagging strategy, I'm left feeling that the "tried and true" approach doesn't cut it anymore.  A transmedia strategy can deliver long term brand development and engagement, allows agencies to develop more active and discreet campaign media expansion over time, prioritises audience media use and allocates discriminant awareness and engagement tasks to each media against core brand messages. Media buying can still continue to be driven by TARP, GRP, CPA  or any other measure a brand owner might use. Transmedia strategies requires insight, daring and vision and an acknowledgement that social marketing campaigns need no longer be driven by visibility imperatives but by more effective and newer patterns of brand involvement.


COMMENTS

Posted by Emma Sheehan, 4 July 2010

Nice article Stephen. Shows "convergence" often paradoxically refers also to a state of divergence marked by the proliferation of media channels and fragmenting audiences. Makes sense to think in terms of transmedia strategy in this environment.


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