A Literacy of the Imagination

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What All Multi-Platform, Cross- or Transmedia Initiatives Need: Data Rigor & Strong Revenue Models

As someone who builds content & analytics systems for a living and helps develop strategies for their use – particularly in various marketing capacities – it’s been a bittersweet challenge: How do we prove out value and identify what success looks like?

As co-creators and producers of multi-platform narratives, we can be equally confounded: How do we sustain those successes?

What All Multi-Platform, Cross- or Transmedia Initiatives Need: Data Rigor & Strong Revenue Models

The folks I advise, from content producers (such a branded entertainment companies) to technology ventures (such as branded applications), constantly ask me why funding is so hard to come by at times, or, how they can sustain relationships with brands that are unsure about spending “experimental” dollars on multi-platform initiatives.

My pushback is commonly this: What problem(s) are you actually trying to solve for these companies?

Is it a consumer problem? A marketing problem? A business problem? A brand problem? Does it satisfy a market need? All of the above?

Here’s another angle: What’s the true purpose of your idea?

From a storytelling perspective, the challenge is no different from any other we’ve faced in the media world for decades, only now the issues are more complex -- for one, “new” approaches to storytelling have been brought forth with the intention to liberate the media spaces we operate in and provide some sense of scale; for another, these same approaches seem to have us scrambling for new, more effective ways to source creative material, to create revenue and in some cases, to develop viable “franchises”.

And while creative approaches to storytelling continue to evolve – and methodologies around them arguably become more abundant – very little discussion has gathered around the data and analytics frameworks associated with things like audience composition, fandom, market segmentation and media attribution.

Further, few creators seem to be serving up the one thing any media buyer, studio, network or brand really needs: a revenue model, or a business plan (not just a media plan or pro formas tied to exhibitor relations, for example).

Now, I’m not at all suggesting that this is a new concept.

In fact, there are quite a number of folks who have been pushing this agenda forth for years and have even enjoyed some success in doing so. There are also a good number of ventures across the globe that have developed platform offerings to include media asset distribution, cross-channel measurement, product integration techniques and the like.

What I’m suggesting is that revenue modeling, business planning, product scalability, what have you, are no longer solely in the domain of the media, network or studio stakeholders... It’s our domain as creators.

So, if we want to sell our innovative storytelling wares to the money folks and partners that own the distribution and supply chains, we need to develop and own the disciplines regarding how we cultivate data, how we provide meaningful analytics and how we can apply them to adaptable revenue models.

And that goes for independent producers and studio, agency or network divisions alike.

Cases in point: Many of the great transmedia or multi-platform initiatives discussed over the last 10 years were either amazing “bolt-ons” to studio or network production efforts that were already well under way, or, they were wildly inventive independent film, web or TV efforts that somehow took on creative life of their own, partially adopted by fans within social media environments and/or by way of good ‘ole word-of-mouth.

Similar to problems we’ve faced in areas such as online display and rich media, the data challenge in its own right is multi-fold: click behavior alone isn’t going to cut it.

We need to dimensionalize behavior. We need to understand what the cultural triggers are behind sharing and purchasing. We need to get a lot smarter about who we engage and why we engage them. We need to contextualize what makes a good story, a good product, or a good story product.

I would assert that the respective media we serve up – whether in the form of film, TV, webisodics, games, apps, graphic novels, music, consumer goods or otherwise – must be packaged as scalable product, in and of itself, or, as platforms with indefinite scale.

Perhaps this is why stories (in the form of messages or longer-form narratives) tend to come and go, and why media assets tend to be laid to waste. But all of this can be preempted with smart, integrated planning... And a little bit of chutzpah.

Think about it: In an ideal business context (say, to build a storyworld with specific product opportunities and integrations), we, as creators and producers, want to be sitting at the same table with other writers, directors, studio heads, web developers, brand managers, merchandisers and product engineers... Yet, most often we are not.

We speak different languages and operate with different intentions, but more specifically, we’re managing different P&L sheets (or different P&A budgets).

The upshot?

Creative context equals business context.

It’s the world we live in now (the 21st century), and it’s what drives our commerce systems via social means. Let’s remove the money issue by developing solutions to address it from the onset.

So as a storyteller, constantly ask yourself these questions:

What consumer, brand or business problem am I solving?
Specifically, what’s the market need?
What am I really offering (of scale)?
What do I need to know about my audience?
How can I sustain their interest?
What can I offer them (or what can they offer each other) in return beyond the “product” itself?
How can this scale to new stories and through new media (beyond established buys)?  

Then there are the questions to ask that are specific to data and analytics:

What does engagement really look like? (remember: every situation is unique)
What constitutes fan behavior?
How do I attribute these behaviors to purchasing patterns?
What patterns are direct? What are latent?
How can my media plan or my product plan be adapted?
What are some likely scenarios?
What are some key learnings I hope to find?

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Join us in San Francisco at the StoryWorld Conference + Expo, October 31-November 2, as we tackle these issues head-on and explore myriad solution sets...

What All Multi-Platform, Cross- or Transmedia Initiatives Need: Data Rigor & Strong Revenue Models