The H+K Layered Narrative System: A Storytelling Process for the Post-Modern Age

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The third in a series:

In our previous post we explained the Layered Narrative concept and why it's the future of storytelling. But a concept is nothing without an engine to make it work in real life.

We've developed a simple system to help brands get the most out of their stories. It's a system grounded in journalistic principles and driven by our post-modern "what, when and how I want it" culture. And while it may sound complex, it's a system as simple as asking the right questions, thereby ensuring that value is extended and all narrative angles are explored for the stories you want to tell.  

Inspiration: What's the Story? 
 





Everything begins with the story - more importantly, with the audience and what they most care about. This isn't like planning a press release, which focuses on what companies want people to know. This is a narrative, the beginning of a journey that focuses on what people want to know about you.

This first step is audience centric and channel agnostic.  It allows you to get to the core of your story right away, to dig into the DNA of post-modern narratives - authentic emotion. If you can do this, then dry, channel-driven "content" doesn't stand a chance.  

Content is a cul-de-sac, a dead end. But narrative is a superhighway that can take your story anywhere. 

Creation: How to tell the story






Now that you know where to go and what you want people to do, the next step is creating the narrative experience. Is the story best told in text, video or both? What is the "native" or originating format of your narrative, and what are the ways in which you can extend that narrative to more audiences, on the channels and in the ways they want to experience it?

Think of your main story as the "feature film"  and the related narratives as the "DVD extras" or "sidebars" that can add deeper meaning and greater resonance. By freeing your mind, you will free your story from being stuck inside the static vertical silos of old media thinking. 


Distribution: Where to share the story






You have your story and you know how you want to tell it - the only question left is where? This is when the Layered Narrative takes its form across the four primary layers of Paid, Earned, Owned and Shared media.

The above graphic gives you an idea of how the various executions might play out. The more you brainstorm using this system, the more creative your distribution opportunities will become.  

The real fun, however, comes next, when the layers intersect and ultimately deliver the desired outcome: 
 





As this final graphic illustrates, the Paid-Earned-Owned-Shared layers don't always stay within their swim lanes (nor are they supposed to). They diverge and converge, connect and intersect. Blog posts are amplified by Promoted Tweets and videos are elevated by Facebook discussions or Pinterest photo essays.

But no matter where the later go, all narrative roads lead to an action, a specific outcome or deeper, more meaningful engagement. This journey's end is also a beginning - the start of new dialogues, relationships and thinking.

Campaigns are transient but conversations are permanent. Storytelling today is more about the "output" than the "input" - the audience is the medium, and in the end, they are the only storytellers for your brand that matter. 
 

In the final installment of our series, we will explore this idea of “the audience as the medium” and how the outputs of layered narratives can lead to scale in marketing.

Gary Goldhammer is Hill+Knowlton Strategies' U.S. Digital Strategist and is based in our L.A. office.

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