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How to Maintain Your Brand in Transmedia Storytelling

What is a brand? Simply put, a brand is a commercial identity. It is a visual, aural and intellectual way of communicating the core principles of a company or product. Brands are the commercial personae, the mask shown to the public and in marketing. This mask has a purpose, which is to attract consumers to spend time and money participating in whatever the brand represents.

In the case of entertainment, a brand is the maker of the content. J. J. Abrams production company Bad Robot is a brand but LOST and the 2010 Star Trek reboots are very much extensions of that brand identity, at the same time each of those properties is a brand unto itself, or part of a larger brand. The content, as a brand extension, is meant to satisfy a need by the target consumer to be entertained in a specific way. The Bad Robot audience expects a different experience than the Pixar audience. All consumers are not created equal and brands tend to create content for a specific consumer called the target audience or target demographic.

Photo by Andertoon

Demographics: Demographics are statistical characteristics of a particular group, referred to as a population. Demographic data is used to study target audiences and create a profile of a brand’s consumer to help create content that attracts and maintains those consumers. Examples of target audiences include gender or age ranges, ethnicity, employment and location, alone or in combination. Erroneously, demographics are often associated with spending habits, lifestyle choices, values and other areas related to interest, activities, or opinions. These are actually part of a psychographic profile, which is often combined with demographic details, hence the confusion.

Niche audiences: Niches represent even smaller more fine-tuned or specific groups of target consumers such as dog owners, 14–35 year old males who play the blockbuster video game Call of Duty or single working women over 35 with kids. Interestingly, the idea of appealing to a niche audience, especially in media, was viewed as a negative. In television, for example, series that appealed to a “niche audience” were usually canceled quickly since, traditionally, niche meant low viewership. Today, however, more and more media projects of all kinds are targeted at niche audiences as those audiences become more and more selective of what they consume and when. The term “narrowcasting” has even been coined to refer to the practice of specifically targeting, through advertising and marketing, what not all that long ago would have been an undesirable niche audience.

Some larger brands, big studios and production companies, usually try to satisfy multiple demographic groups. Universal Pictures, for instance, is not known for distributing a specific genre of content created only for a narrow target audience. Universal makes everything from 2004’s Dawn of the Dead remake to the upcoming Woody Woodpecker reboot. Walt Disney Studios, however, is synonymous with family entertainment and makes movies that range from Pinocchio (1940) to their most recent transmedia mega-partnership with Marvel Studios to distribute Marvel’s The Avengers.

If Disney made Dawn of the Dead, fans around the globe would be up in arms, confused and ready to choke Mickey on sight. Why? Disney would have stepped out of brand and disappointed their core audience of kids and their parents and fans of Disney movies. Disney would have betrayed their unwritten contract with their audience, to remain “in-brand,” to stay Disney and to continue to churn out, with the help of Pixar and Marvel, Disney Magic.

From that example we see that branding is about a relationship between two “entities,” the brand and the consumer. For a moment let’s think of these as people named “the Brand” and “the Consumer.” These two people have established a relationship of expectation. The Consumer expects the Brand to offer continuous and uninterrupted supply of “in brand” products and to make the very same general type of product or content that they were making when the relationship was established. The Consumer comes to depend on the brand for their “special” type of product. It’s OK to make different products, but they have to give the same type of satisfaction, and they have to satisfy the “need” created by the Consumer’s liking of the original product offered and consumed. In turn, the Brand expects the Consumer to be loyal and continue to purchase brand products and not competitive brands.

A Brand to Consumer relationship is not unlike a human love relationship. “When I met you, Disney, you made me laugh and took me on countless trips and adventures to magical and fantastical lands … but now …you bring home Zombies who eat the flesh of screaming and terrified teens?” Next line …“I’m sorry but this isn’t working out … I’m leaving you for DreamWorks.” And just like that, the Brand consumer relationship is shattered. The consumer goes to another brand where they can find what they were used to getting from the previous brand.

So, a brand is maintained by paying tremendous attention to the needs and wants of the target audience. By understanding their “language,” who they are, what they love, where they engage their media content and most importantly for a transmedia brand, figure what they see as the primary engagement of the property and give them more of it, piece by piece, across multiple media platforms. This model works best for brands like Marvel, who have an established interrelationship with their core audience.

Excerpt from Storytelling Across Worlds: Transmedia for Creatives and Producers by Tom Dowd, Michael Niederman, Michael Fry, and Joseff Steiff © 2013 Taylor and Francis Group. All Rights Reserved.

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