I have been attending various comicons for well over 25 years now. In those early days, I could look around and see mostly super-fans and serious collectors. Boy have things changed!
Geeks-R-Us: Several years ago we began interviewing folks we’d meet there to find out more about who was attending, what they loved, why they loved it and what they did with it. What we found was that geekism had gone very, very mainstream. Folks from every walk of life and income level were very well represented. Lawyers, Contractors, Sports figures, Fast Food workers, Corporate executives were all in attendance and their families we’re often just as passionately involved!
Story Natives: Comicon was only one of the Pinnacle Experiences they attended and in fact, the commitment to the stories they loved was vastly more profound than a once-a-year cosplay day with friends and family or some collecting. (more on pinnacle experiences in a future post). Millennials and their families, in particular, use stories like natives, having been the first generation to grow up soaked in stories that they controlled (ah kids and VCRs).
The broader audience at large has discovered what super fans have always known. There’s real meaning and powerfully relevant ideas in great stories and they are fun and very, very, useful to use in today’s daily life.
Useful Stories: This democratization of fandom was only the tip of the iceberg in terms of how the audience was now “living into stories.” By this I mean when someone uses a story for far more than entertainment.
The story becomes a singularly profoundly and personally useful wellspring of ideas, ethos and life-aesthetic to explore and express who they are and what they want to say and do.
Deepest Engagement: When a story achieves this status with someone they no longer have a casual relationship with that story. It becomes part of them and as such, they want to use it in many different places in their lives and they want friends and family to join them in that usage. They also want to personally evolve their own little corner of that story and personalize it with their perspective and elements from their own life story and ideas.
A Safe And Powerful Place: We’ve been watching the worldwide audience move their beliefs, dreams and aspects of self into these fictional stories because they are incorruptible and because they have real ideas and ideology in them. Generations ago, we used to believe the same about Church and State but today, it seems the news proves that isn’t so on a daily basis and trust has dramatically declined in those institutions, especially amongst Millennials.
Relevance for a lot of your life: Aspirations, Belief, Ideologies, usefulness, these are big components of why people buy things! This is especially so in this age where Millennials spend their disposable income filtered first through their values. These factors are also the major reasons why an audience/consumer remains loyal to something!
It is no wonder then that certain well crafted, relevant and meaningful stories become games, toys, clothing, home goods, social expression and so much more for some stunningly broad audiences. Those audiences are finding themselves and the ideas they need in them.
Redefining Brand: Because of their much greater depth, stories have truly become the new power brands because when they get it right, they are more personal, more expressive and vastly more useful throughout all aspects of daily life.
All that being said, consider this before rushing forward to make everything into a story.
Lifestyle adoption is a limited portfolio: Through our Meta-Story research, we have found that millennial families tend to have 2 to 5 stories that they are living into. Each story may have a primary member of the family whom it is most relevant to (and who introduces it to the family) but millennials share deeply with each other and especially want to share in experiences and beliefs with their kids. These stories are a malleable portfolio of ideas and meaning that together defines the individuals and the family itself. They are also rich experiences that help to bond friends and families together in ways far beyond just play.
Powerful and Rare: This is the reason licensing is exploding and at the same time, it is the reason why so few new properties become significant franchises. It’s also why some long-term franchises lose steam as audiences discover they don’t have broader and relevant usefulness to live into. You want to be on that short list of stories that a large and defined group of people and families are living into!! Audiences today constantly edit, re-evaluate and evolve that list of lifestyle stories they are using. Your new story can displace an existing lifestyle story causing it to cool and the audience to lapse their involvement in it. Audiences can also re-engage with that same story if the right narrative evolution is done to keep it relevant.
Net/net, the Story that gives the audience what they need and want in the most relevant and deep/broad way, are the stories that can become one of the few for the many in today’s Comiconomy.