Interactive Storytelling - It's What's Up for 2016 Marketing

You have probably read different marketing researchers. We will soon be living in a post-ad marketing world. TV viewers fast forward or mute the commercials; ads that appear in mailboxes are thrown out; pop-ups are irritating and "X'ed out of" immediately; emails offers are ignored. The days of interrupting people are over. People want to receive information in enjoyable, entertaining, and interactive ways. They want an experience, not an advertisement. Successful marketing will combine the art of storytelling through small amounts of text combined with the technology of immersion and interactivity through visuals that allow the user to "do" something within that story.

Best Practices of Interactive Storytelling

It's one thing to come up with great content for a story, but you must also be careful about the design you will use to deliver that story. Using interactivity opens up a lot of possibilities, to be sure, but it is also more complex relative to user experience and architecture.

Before getting into the details of best practices, the first thing you should do is access the T-brand studio of the New York Times. Navigate around a bit and study the interactive storytelling that allows brands to capture viewers and engage them in compelling ways. One that is particularly valuable to those who would get into interactive storytelling is the Airbnb project on Ellis Island, featuring a family that has traveled to the island to re-capture its ancestral heritage.

Interactive Storytelling - It's What's Up for 2016 Marketing 1

This is just one page of the entire story in which viewers can click on a spot and hear the personal recordings of a person who came to Ellis Island from points in Europe. Other pages feature different interactive experiences, and the entire "show" is captivating.

Other companies, such as GE, Volvo, Cathay Pacific and Shell Oil, also have interactive storytelling on T-brand studio - all them great experiences for any viewer. These, of course, are the "Cadillacs" of these types of designs, but they will nevertheless give you ideas of how it can be done.

Now, on to Best Practices:

    Presenting the Information

    1.Design around the story and the device(s) that will be used to access it.

    2.Navigation should be flexible and appropriate for the type of story you are telling. Shorter stories should have a linear flow. For larger content chunks, however, it is often a good idea to allow viewers to navigate back and forth and around based on what piques their interests most. The Airbnb story is designed this way.

    3.Give clear interaction cues that tell the viewer exactly what to do for the interactive elements. These may be any of the following:

  • Use animation of some sort to point to the elements that are clickable
  • Use arrows to point to rollovers
  • Provide written text telling the user where to hover or click
  • Imbed icons that will symbolize what the user is supposed to do.
  • 4.Give feedback in real-time. If you have quiz questions or CTA's, give the viewer immediate feedback

Designing the architecture is critical so that you do not lose the viewer out of confusion or frustration. Three conceptual areas will need to be considered to keep the user engaged.

1. Long-Form or Multi-Page?

Some stories lend themselves to one long page for scrolling; others not so much. If your story is relatively simple and straightforward with a few interactive images, the long scroll will work well. If, however, the topic is more complex, you are better off dividing the story into sections of sub-topics, each with its own page. This allows users some flexibility to engage when and where they want to. The Airbnb story is a perfect example of a more complex topic, and the user can navigate among many pages at will. One presents an interactive timeline of the history of Ellis Island; one presents actual photos that are enlarged by hovering; on the present audio of immigrants having a meal.

Only at the end of the story, does Airbnb speak to the fact that a tour of Ellis Island is one of its "night out" features, and then showing how it can be booked.

2. Linear or Fluid Architecture?

Here, the decision relates to the lengthier framework that has multiple pages. You have to decide if the visitor will be forced to go through the story in a linear way, or will each page be a "standalone" with its own narrative so that the user can skip around?

3. A Layered Approach

Using a layered approach, you can craft different pieces of the story - people can return again and take up where they left off. Or you can build suspense so that the visitor is compelled to click on the next layer.

The "Science" of the Visuals

Because most marketers deal with written content, they tend to focus on that and then find or have a designer create interactive visuals that will "work."Interactive storytelling really requires the opposite approach. You cannot place the visual aspect in second place. The visuals are developed first and then the short amounts of text are crafted. Here are three things to keep in mind:

    1. Keep the visuals and the text physically very close, so there is no confusion.

    2. Use small chunks of text - longer paragraph-form text that tries to describe or explain the entire visual and interactive elements may frustrate the user. Remember, they have come for an interactive experience not to read a lot of text. If they wanted that, they would find an article or a blog post.

    3. Keep the information simple. You can show small bits of information behind the clicks, or they can pop up as a cursor hovers over something. You have the flexibility to present information by audio. Be creative and keep in mind that the user wants little pieces at a time.


You have a story to tell. You want that story to engage and compel. These best practices, along with studying other great interactive stories, should get you well on your way.

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