Are You Ready for the Rise of Mobile Storytelling?

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Oxford Dictionary Word of the Year, 2013

It may not be earmarked in any record books, but 2013 was a monumental year for mobile devices. Total smartphone users in the U.S. exceeded 140 million and nearly half of all pageviews are from mobile devices, which, according to Morgan Stanley, is sure to tip in the favor of mobile in 2014. Our lives are becoming more and more interconnected with and dependent upon our mobile devices. It seems as if the shorter list would be what isn’t possible on mobile devices versus what is.

While the rise of mobile devices has been one of the most influential trends in marketing over the past five years, just as influential has been brand storytelling, namely through digital and social channels. Brands have increasingly abandoned traditional, interruptive means of promoting their product or service in favor of connecting with audiences through content and conversation.

Brand journalism is on the rise and the expectations of audiences have shifted. Instead of being marketed to, audiences are in control of the messages they are exposed to. They can choose to listen and engage or ignore, often with the help of technology. So it’s no surprise that brands are embracing storytelling, both from the brand and from the audience.

What’s Next

What is emerging in 2014 and beyond is the confluence of mobile devices and brand storytelling, or “mobile storytelling.” There are varied definitions, but it’s more than just a strategy to create content on mobile-first (or mobile-only) platforms like Instagram, Twitter and even Snapchat. Instead, the true potential of mobile storytelling lies in the ability to chronicle our lives and use our location to help unearth a story.

Just look at the way we’re using our devices now. The geo-landscape is incredibly diverse, with apps leveraging geolocation to annotate and discover (Foursquare, Now), to share social experiences (Instagram, Bonfyre), to connect with those around you (Highlight, Sonar), for travel (TripAdvisor, LikeALocal), recommendations (Yelp, Raved) and many, many more. We’re already using our devices to discover, share, learn and chronicle. The next logical step is for brands to take advantage of this behavior to both provide new content and mine user-generated content to craft new stories.

Taking a Cue from Storytelling

We’ve talked about mobile storytelling with an emphasis on the mobile, but there’s a lot to learn when we put an emphasis on the storytelling. Films and books have embraced mobile as well, possibly more innovatively than brands. Apps like Tumbleweed and Silent History require the user to check in to specific places in order to unlock new content (which is a concept that lends itself perfectly to brands). An app-only film called Haunting Melissa rewards their most dedicated fans by unlocking new layers of content, like new sounds or visuals, each time an episode is re-watched. Another film, A Journal of Insomnia, actually requires the audience to receive a phone call from one of the characters in the story in order to watch it. In true insomnia fashion, the call is unscheduled but will come late at night or early in the morning.

Brands now have the opportunity to use mobile storytelling to connect content to the places we check into and experiences we chronicle. This is a giant leap towards using digital to drive foot traffic into physical spaces and offers a new perspective on digital marketing.

2014 is ripe for mobile storytelling. Just make sure you bring your phone with you.

Jon Thomas is a senior digital Strategist at TracyLocke and frequent contributor to Say Daily. Follow him on Twitter @Story_Jon.