As technology continues to lower the cost of content production, today’s end user is asked to digest more stories than ever before -- in conversation, in written text, at the movies, in advertisements, and even through web design. With so much to absorb, it’s essential for digital marketers to differentiate their content and deliver an incredible experience.
To better understand recent advancements and best practices in digital storytelling, look no further than the creative writing greats. J.K. Rowling, the famous author of the Harry Potter book series, has sold 450 million Harry Potter books in print, worldwide. Though the first book in the series was published nearly 20 years ago, the content continues to take new shapes through her site, Pottermore.
Launched in 2012, Pottermore is the global digital publisher of J.K. Rowling’s Wizarding World, “dedicated to unlocking the power of imagination.”
In this post, I'll discuss six ways Pottermore pushes the digital storytelling envelope. Apply them to your own strategy to deliver content that strengthens relationships with your community.
6 Lessons in Digital Storytelling from J.K. Rowling
1) Offer Unique, Exclusive Content
Pottermore is the host and primary retailer of the enhanced editions of the Harry Potter books, but its unique content doesn’t stop there. Visitors also gain access to new writing released by J.K. Rowling, free of charge. Her pieces flesh out existing plot points and provide further context to the original stories. To the delight of many fans, the site additionally posts sanctioned articles on all things Harry Potter that dive into niche topics and plot points.
In short, Pottermore is the destination for Harry Potter content.
This is a primary goal for digital storytellers: to develop a lauded reputation for a certain content type. This is achieved through time, consistency, and promotion. To build hype for the first release of Pottermore in 2012, a restricted number of early birds were granted access to help put the finishing touches on the site. This layer of exclusivity drove press coverage, ensuring the larger release gained significant attention.
Takeaway for Marketers: As you build your own digital storytelling world, commit to a specific angle and consider how you can present it in a way that showcases what makes it valuable and original. Perhaps it’s a noteworthy writer, the fact you stay up to date on a specific trend, or that you leverage someone’s distinct professional experience.
On Pottermore, it’s J.K. Rowling’s words that draw fans in, but the most popular features of the site aren’t about the author -- they’re about the user.
2) Develop a Custom Experience
As J.K. Rowling describes in this original introductory trailer, “It’s the same story, with a few crucial editions. The most important one is you.”
In keeping with this vision, Pottermore asks visitors to create an account in order to access certain information. This allows Pottermore to learn and save information about each individual, and create a personalized experience.
To drive signups, Pottermore gates one of their most popular features -- quizzes. In order for visitors to assess their Hogwarts house, Patronus, or wand type, they must create a login.
After creating an account, quiz results are saved, and users can return to read more about their results and view any purchases made to their personal account. With the information gained through the quizzes, Pottermore creates a user profile that reflects each unique individual and allows them to learn more about themselves in the context of this world.
Takeaway for Marketers: Information-gathering is the key to creating a custom experience. When you learn more about each individual user, you’re able to deliver digital stories in a way that resonates.
Pottermore uses quizzes, but you can also use less direct means to learn more about your readers, such as through Google Analytics’ suite of tools. You can always, however, ask for information directly. Users are often happy to submit information when they know the output will be an experience suited entirely to their tastes.
3) Create a Sense of Belonging
After completing Pottermore’s sorting quizzes, users are assigned to respective “houses.” This house, similar to the membership signup, creates a sense of belonging within the larger Pottermore community.
Ironically, this might be the single thing Harry Potter fans crave most from the original content: to finally join the book’s secret wizarding society that allegedly lives right under the reader’s nose.
To further foster this sense of community, Pottermore is also launching a new book club that will encourage discussion among users through a Twitter chat.
Takeaway for Marketers: To create a sense of belonging among your own community, you need to give your audience a way to identify as a part of the larger whole and participate. It helps to pay special attention to the language you use in your marketing efforts. J.K. Rowling placed heavy emphasis on the reader in her introductory trailer, referring to her fans as a “wonderful, diverse, and loyal.” Digital storytellers, too, must invite their audiences to enjoy content in a way that lets them know their perspectives and experiences are understood and appreciated.
Pay careful attention to the language you use in your invitation to resonate with your target audience. Use identifying phrases that help your readers understand that your content is especially for them.
4) Build a World
Your visitors will more likely feel a sense of belonging if you go so far as to create a digital “world.”
Luckily, you don’t need to be a fantasy author to create a content universe -- but it can be helpful to take a few cues from them. Part of what turns a fiction fan into a fanatic is that they’re invited into a unique world that is so fleshed out, it seems real. This augmented sense of reality makes it easier to forge a connection with the content, and imagine yourself inside of the story.
How, then, can you make your story, brand, or idea so well-fleshed out, that a user feels connected and a part of your universe?
Takeaway for Marketers: Like Pottermore, your “world” should be branded to have its own identity that attracts people to become a part of it. Another brand that pulls this off is REI. Its award-winning marketing campaign #OptOutside is an example of how consumers can attach themselves to the qualities associated with a company. By making it extremely clear what their brand represents, REI grew their community by throngs not for their products -- but for their ideals.
5) Provide Regular Updates and News
Another way you can continue to build the world of your story or brand is to regularly provide new content.
On Pottermore, in honor of the fact that the first book in the Harry Potter series was published nearly 20 years ago, posts that explore and celebrate the first book’s themes, moments, and characters are released every Friday.
The site also includes an entire page dedicated to official information and news around latest happenings related to the content. Several newsworthy pieces are released each month. This content keeps visitors informed, and also protects the brand from speculation, rumors, and incorrect reporting on other sites.
Takeaway for Marketers: When you take control of the news that’s shared about your organization, you develop a reputation as a trusted and transparent resource. You also appear more active and responsive to relevant current events. Establish a cadence for content creation, and stick to it to build an expectation and trust with your community members.
6) Reimagine Existing Content
Perhaps most trendsetting of all, Pottermore sells enhanced editions of the original books that reimagine the stories. In the spirit of magic, the new editions are complete with animations and interactive artwork. Their goal is to engage your imagination and create a new reading experience that brings you closer to the content than ever before.
The enhanced editions, and the site in general, are shining examples of how storytellers are taking it to the next level to create incredible experiences for their readers.
Takeaway for Marketers: When you work hard to publish valuable content regularly, it can feel disheartening to consider its digital shelf life. To make the most of your evergreen content, and avoid reinventing the wheel, think through what improvements you might make to the experience to wow and delight your readers. Whether you update key facts and statistics, add a video message, or reimagine the page’s design, you can add components that elevate existing pieces of information in new and exciting ways.
At its heart, Pottermore exists to create a phenomenal storytelling experience. You, too, can send a message to your community and the industry at-large when you focus on the end user.
The Magic of Digital Storytelling
When you create a unique experience for your community that centers around delight, you invite your readers to feel as if they are a part of something. This, in turn, increases their loyalty, and makes them more likely to consume your content again and again, and refer your brand to others. Case in point: the brilliance of even the name of J.K. Rowling’s site, Pottermore.
What marketing lessons have your favorite books taught you? Let us know in the comments.