On Tuesday, October 21, I'll be partnering with marketing and communications expert Paul Woolmington to offer a special one-day program in Digital Storytelling Strategy. Co-sponsored by the Columbia University School of the Arts and the Columbia Business School, the full-day session is designed for business executives who need to know how to get their message across in a world in which the way we communicate is being totally redefined. Why is digital forcing a transformation in the way we tell stories? How can marketers, producers, and strategic planners leverage these changes rather than be left behind? That's what we'll be addressing.
Obviously much of this was inspired by The Art of Immersion, the book I published in 2011, but we plan to go considerably further than that. The book was largely anecdotal—a series of stories from movie directors, television producers, game developers and others that sought to describe what I saw as a newly emerging grammar of storytelling for the digital age. Over the past year or so I've been working to develop a much more systematic approach—one that not only reports how narrative is evolving and gives it historical context but explains how we can put it to use. Grammars have rules—so what are the rules we'll use when telling stories in the 21st century? Well, to a large extent they're still being made up. But that's what I'm working on today.
And that's what Paul and I will be focusing on for Columbia. The two of us approach the subject from different but complementary perspectives—I as a writer/observer and he as a practitioner—but we share a common philosophy about the use of narrative as a business tool. As co-founder of the brand consultancy Naked Communications Americas, Paul used to point out that the idea behind Naked is that brands in the digital age stand naked in front of the consumer. This calls for a new approach to brand management, which in turn requires a new approach to storytelling—because a brand without a story is no brand at all.
It's no secret that the advertising message is in crisis. Not even ad people like ads any more: As a young Starcom exec told me for Wired ten years ago, "I resent commercials—they make me push three buttons on my TiVo." Meanwhile, new scientific research has shown that the most effective way to change people’s minds isn't through advocacy messages at all but through story—and the more immersive the story, the better the result.
For the Columbia program, which will take place at Soho House in the West Village Meatpacking District, we're planning to bring in a couple of people who can speak to this directly. The first is Lance Weiler, co-founder of the Columbia Digital Storytelling Lab, who will tell us how he channeled the mind of David Cronenberg in creating Body/Mind/Change, an online experience that was part of last year's Cronenberg exhibition at the Toronto International Film Festival. Body/Mind/Change was ostensibly a project of BMC Labs, the fictional (well, some say it's fictional) biotech startup behind POD, a "learning and data-mining organism" that, once implanted, is designed to evolve into the ultimate personal recommendation engine.
In the afternoon we'll have Jeff Raider, co-founder of Warby Parker, a very 21st-century company that neatly bridges the digital/analog divide while taking an entirely story-centric approach to retail. A couple of years ago, for example, Warby outfitted an old school bus as a sort of literary/optometry salon and took it on the road for the months-long Warby Parker Class Trip, visiting cities across America and documenting the experience on social media. At Soho House, Jeff will be telling us about his new venture, Harry's, which aims to do for men's shaving what Warby Parker has done for eyewear—and which will serve as a lab where people will be able to try out the strategies Paul and I will be presenting in our program.