Interactive storytelling: The next frontier for B2B
Everyone loves a good story. From Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox to Walter White and Jesse Pinkman to “The War of the Worlds,” a compelling narrative has the ability to evoke emotion, whether it’s wonder (Paul Bunyon), suspense (Breaking Bad) or panic (Orson Welles’ Martian invasion). Regardless of the emotion evoked, each one of the cases above illustrates a scenario in which a story has been artfully crafted, packaged and delivered to convey some sort of message. Each example is also a case in which the storyteller has (arguably) mastered the medium, using it to enhance the narrative—a critical component of any great story.
As the Internet continues to permeate nearly all aspects of our lives, I’ve noticed a newer crowd of storytellers is taking shape—ones who are revolutionizing the way stories are told by encouraging interactivity through a multimedia approach. For the most part, this type of digital storytelling has blossomed on consumer-focused platforms and among B2C companies. But, it’s a dynamic approach in which B2B publications and companies should consider when developing content intended to engage and spur action among audiences.
The use of data visualization and rise of analytical journalism within the digital space is an example of this innovative approach. In the same way that healthcare companies are using technology to aggregate and “activate” data based on patient patterns, some journalists are taking advantage of digital tools to gather, analyze and turn vast datasets into meaningful stories through graphs, charts and tables.
One of the best illustrations of this type of storytelling is the New York Times’ recent dialect map, in which a graphics editor took linguistics survey data and transformed it into a dialect quiz. The result? An interactive “heat map” of the United States showing you, fine-quiz-taker, where you rank on a scale of “yous guys” to “all y’all.” The Guardian’s “Datablog” provides a multitude of other great examples. With access to volumes of data, with a bit of smart analytics and the right graphics, many B2B companies could easily replicate this type of storytelling to produce content that is both intriguing and actionable.
Let’s take this even further. Data-focused digital storytelling is even more dynamic when it is coupled with a news item to produce “a new short-form of data journalism, which is about swiftly finding the key data, analyzing it and guiding readers through it while the story is still in the news.” Over the past year, I’ve seen a number of the leading news outlets excel with this type of short-form data journalism, presenting stories in dynamic multimedia formats, using short video clips, bold infographics, sharp photography, concise copy and innovative scrolling techniques, for example, to piece together a multifaceted story that a reader experiences rather than merely scans. Here are a few examples:
- CNN, “ATL24”: An in-depth experience of a day in the life of the busiest airport in the world, told through the eyes of Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson Airport’s employees and travelers.
- New York Times, “Reshaping New York”: An interactive tour, giving readers a bird’s-eye-view of the boroughs, showcasing how Michael Bloomberg changed New York City over his tenure as the city’s mayor.
Though these examples are all primarily from consumer-focused outlets, my bet is that this trend will continue to grow in the B2B space—especially in healthcare, where consumer-focused outlets (e.g. USA Today) have already begun to tackle healthcare topics using journalistic techniques. What’s more, B2B companies can learn a lesson or two from these B2C illustrations, especially when it comes to online content development. Here are a few pointers:
- Clearly define your strategy before you begin, including what messages most resonate with your target audiences, and where they prefer to interact online. This’ll help you narrow down a plan for telling specific stories that resonate with these audiences.
- Even if your datasets are vast, the best interactive stories are easily consumable, so keep it simple when it comes to the presentation of the story: in both messaging and design alike.
- Consider a multi-touch approach to telling a story online, especially when developing marketing content (such as infographics). You’re more likely to capture interest by giving online readers a few options, such as strong imagery, a video and podcast.
- Be sure to cross-promote your interactive content and don’t be afraid to reuse content for a different platform.