Tuesday, July 15, 2014

The Creator-Consumer

Today, the audience tells their story using parts of your story and you must recognize that an ongoing part of your story will now be told through their story.

Millennials: story adepts
Millennials are the natives to today’s amazing connectedness, having grown up swimming in its digital freedom.

Millennials are not only native to technology, they are true story natives.

By this I mean they have grown up soaked in stories 24/7/365. From Movies and Television to every form of mobile device, Millennials have had unrelenting access to every kind of story imaginable, long and short, since the day they were born. Rather than creating story confusion, burnout or numbness, Millennials treat the stories they encounter as a rapidly evolving language to explore and express themselves, a narrative toolkit of ideas and imagery.

Stories = Change
Stories have always been the primary means by which humans create change in themselves, their families, communities, institutions, countries and so on. In the hands of Millennials, stories are powerful and remixable tools of human change.

There is a clear process hardwired into humans for adopting stories in service of personal change. I’ve covered this at some length in previous posts (inspire, experience, badge and gather).

Millennials do this process particularly well through participating in, and often inventing, new ways to experience a story’s various ideas and empowerments. They create fan-art, fan-fiction, costumes to cosplay (costume play) with or LARP (live action role play) with. They adopt language from the story and often quickly create their own that expands your story. They game with it, wear it and generally remix it in thousands of ways with the other things going on in their lives. In short, they find what they like and then they really use it. In the process, your audience changes a little because of your story and your story changes (sometimes a lot) to meet them where they want to use it. Sometimes that use is short term. If you’re lucky and have created an IP that really empowers your audience with authenticity, truth and life-tools, your story will “stick” and become a profound part of your audience’s daily life through their usage and remix.

Remix as a business model
I believe strongly that story-driven audience remix is not just a phenomenon we’re watching reach flash-over real time with today’s audiences. I believe it should have a strong place in your plans for what you’re going to do with your franchise(s) if you want to be broadly commercial. As with any quickly emerging behavior and insight, I believe those IP holders and companies who think very creatively about how to help audiences use and change their stories in non-trivial ways, will be the early front runners. This can be an uncomfortable thought and feel like brand heresy to IP owners. Perhaps it makes it a little easier to accept by knowing the audience will do it whether you help them or not. By really leaning into remix, you become an authentic part of your audience’s community and in todays connected world, no amount of advertising spend can achieve what truly inviting your audience into the creators room will do.

To illustrate the point, I have an example of a new company that is seeing these changes and rethinking how to support how the audience wants to use today’s stories.  I have recently joined the board of a startup called Imagimod. They have developed a striking new mobile app where the audience can quickly, visually remix elements of their favorite IP to create and pose a custom sculpture of their own design that can be saved in 2D, shared, played with online, and even printed out in 3D using rapid prototype technology. You now have a one-off figure to collect, play or game with! Voila, play in the world of your favorite story but make it your own! It isn’t important whether or not this startup becomes hugely successful (though I hope they do). What is important is that what they are fundamentally embracing the narrative as a personal/changeable set of tools enabling the audience to make their own new part of your story (and their story) and get credit for doing so from their community.

Experience economy + Remix = Creator-Consumer
It’s this enabling of the role the audience wants to play in your story that is the kind of story thinking the audience will reward in IP they want to adopt. I have written in the past on “the experience economy” and wanted to connect the dots in this post that for today’s audience, the experiences they are most passionate about, and return to over and over again, are the ones they can truly make part of their story. It is important to respect that within most human beings, there is creativity.

Much the same way that smart phone cameras unleashed the photographer within everyone, the dawn of story remix is releasing the creator-consumer within us all.

Accreditation: Kevin Bradshaw, CEO of Imagimod, actually first coined the phrase "Creator-Consumer"

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Commercial Stories in the Experience Economy

Are your entertainment or product brands generally struggling to show the kind of strength and growth you experienced in past years?

Are your new launches mired in the catch 22 of requiring big media and big spends to break through the noise yet drop like a stone when the big spend is dialed back? (Was that the sound of profitability’s little feet scurrying out of the building?)

Do you have content you believe might be franchise worthy but feel lost as to how to determine if that is true in today’s market?

What happened to the consumer you could clearly identify, develop and market to? What happened to loyalty, brand relationship and the power of a good media campaign? Is it as depressingly simple as the annoying adage: “if its not a game its not a go!” or is something else at work here?

Welcome to the “The Experience Economy.”

If people vote with their time and money (and yes they do), to tell us what they want and how they are changing, then it is very clear that there has been:

a rapid and profound shift from being a disposable consumer and acquisition economy to one where the audience is predisposed to making and seeking meaningful experiences versus acquiring stuff.

This step-change is being shaped and led by Millennials but the rest of us are enthusiastically following suit. 

This is just as true when it comes to the decisions the audience is making about entertainment as it is about products, brands and branded services for themselves and their families.

We’ve all gotten the memo “it’s all about the story” but clearly, the results are showing that it’s not just any story, but a story that can meaningfully fulfill the entire narrative adoption chain:

Inspire, experience, badge, gather

It is the second step in the adoption chain, “experience,” that is defining the nature of how Millennial’s are finding and actualizing what is important to them. Narrative experiences are also the currency most valued in the exchange of their curated content.

This means that if we want to have commercial success with a modern narrative, than that narrative and all it’s expressions (media and product) had better enable profound and meaningful real experiences!

Definition, A narrative experience: A real life event or series of events shaped by a useful narrative the audience has adopted.

The Nike FuelBand is a terrific example of a narrative experience created by the product itself. 

The story begins with the simple statement that all your movement “counts.” You begin wearing the bandz and quickly become aware of how and when you are moving and why. You start making small decisions to move more that become a virtuous circle of gaining stats, losing weight and moving more. You proudly display the product on your wrist as you share it with your friends and begin to see yourself differently. You invite them to try it and soon you are doing things, challenging each other, together! You are inspired and you are changing your own narrative to yourself to become a newer, better version of yourself. The narrative experience of Nike Bandz transforms your life and you own it. Inspire, experience, badge and gather.

Narrative experiences are experiences of self-transformation inspired by story. That story can be entertainment, product, service and more but…it really, really, has to be USEFUL and transformative in some part of your life.

To be clear, these experiences are not a rebellion against consumerism. They are a redefinition of what we are deciding is “valuable” and therefore willing to pay for.

The new economy is not being defined by what I have, but instead is being driven by the search for who I am.

So how do we succeed in the experience economy? I’d like to put forward what I believe are key concepts to embrace to make your company, your entertainment, your product, or your service, relevant and valuable for the millennial-led experience economy.

Here’s a few general rules of thumb for developing for the experience economy that represent shifts in thought culture:

1.    The consumer isn’t a consumer. They are an audience looking for life inspiration
2.    Today, the audience doesn’t want to just consume and acquire no matter the price (Sorry Walmart). They want to adopt and experience
3.    In all things you do, think and act in terms of WHO YOU ARE INSPIRING YOUR AUDIENCE TO BECOME!
4.    Seek deep insights into what inspiration you actually have (not the one you think you have) and how the audience really wants to “use” your story. It’s those contact points that are products and services.
5.    Products must be part of, or create, true narrative experiences
6.    Your narrative is yours only until you launch it. Then it belongs to your audience. Respect their ownership or they’ll move on.