Immersion: the future of storytelling

Hollywood producer Robert Evans once said "There are three sides of a story: Mine, Yours and the Truth. And no one is lying". Technology is disrupting everything, from the way you get dressed in the morning, to the way you get to work. The future of storytelling is also about to be upset with technology, and we need to embrace the positive changes it can bring.

One disruptor got there first. Five years ago Charles Melcher embraced how narratives were changing and founded the Future of Storytelling Summit. The summit welcomes leaders in a variety of different fields, from media, technology, and communications, inviting them to discuss the discuss the potential storytelling has.

Sammy Blindell, founder of How To Build A Brand says: "Story is essential for engaging consumers and for endearing customers to your brand. However, people aren’t sitting down to read like they once were. That leaves businesses with a challenge: use story (the foundation for all human learning) in new, innovative ways." We’re used to seeing blockbuster adverts which combine a larger campaign message. John Lewis’ Christmas adverts are perfect examples. But this traditional way of telling stories are changing. Storytelling could be about using pictures to narrate an event, or bots chatting to the user as they browse a site.

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VR City is a London based VR production company, creating emotionally transformative experiences in virtual reality, with storytelling at the heart of everything the create. It’s long been assumed that VR will be the future of storytelling, but how does that translate to engaging somebody who is sitting in front of their desk or television? Founders Darren and Ashley felt that virtual reality allowed a story to be told in a way no other medium has up until this point - VR is interactive, intense and allows the audience to feel present within the experience, and this is something they could speak about extensively. For a whiskey brand they created an innovative multi-sensory 360° video booth telling both the story of the brand and the whiskey making process.

"The power of VR storytelling makes the viewer feel part of the narrative rather than just an observer," says Ashley Cowan, co-founder of VR City. "This can lead to a fully formed memory of an experience being created. We have put people on the pitch at Twickenham during an England rugby match, and in a room with the Dalai Lama."

Read: How Snapchat is shaping the future of storytelling 

Storytelling in the future can’t just sit back and rely on new technology. The most widely shared "stories" are emotional ones - those that create a reaction and make you want to share what you’ve just watched or read. Storytelling moves away from just a description of a product and what it does, into what it means for the user. This can be achieved in a rather abstract way - just look at Spotify’s Her Song campaign. Everyone knew it was for a big brand, but in a way, it didn’t matter whose campaign it was - its success was all about the emotional tug it had on viewers.

Ben Humphry, CCO at iotec says: "There are now three technologies that make-up 'the New Approach to Storytelling'. This includes moment marketing (using information about a user’s environment to serve relevant messaging) and machine learning - combining consumer data points to understand what resonates with individuals. It also looks at emotional measurement - tracking beyond the click to see real human resonance."

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A good example of how technology is impacting storytelling can be seen in the work done by Sergio Lopez (head of integrated production at McCann Worldgroup). He explains: "For  last year’s 'Survival Billboard' for Xbox, we told a very simple story (Lara Croft is a tomb raider that collects ancient artefacts in the most challenging situation) to a very diverse audience. This campaign performed well because we allowed the audience to engage within the platforms that they were already using and in ways that felt natural to them. The message was being optimised live as the conversation evolved. Integrating technology for consumers in an organic way and reaching them on their own turf will be an increasingly important tool for marketers everywhere."

We should look continue challenging the way we tell stories, rather than relying on film. However, using ancient tools also shouldn’t be forgotten. Paul Hewitt is a playwright and creative consultant at bearthinking.com. He explains how theatre has transcended the ages and continuously evolved - it’s entirely experiential. TV on the other hand has become a secondary activity, as we can use our smartphones at the same time. "Advancements in technology are aiding the need for experience. Virtual and augmented realities allow us to be fully immersed in the story, yes - but so do our everyday experiences. I think that we mustn’t forget the power of simple storytelling - you know, sitting around a campfire and listening kind of thing. Tech is great in it’s place. But the real disruptors are stripping back the gimmicks and toys to uncover portals to new, explored worlds - it can awake our senses and imaginations."

Whether storytellers choose to use VR to narrate, or prefer to use social media to build a story, stories aren’t going to go away in the future. Although tech will be heavily involved, the story itself is still what matters most.

This is a guest blog and may not represent the views of Virgin.com. Please see virgin.com/terms for more details. Thumbnail from gettyimages.

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