Alex Struminger on Digital Asset Management and Storytelling 3.0
Henrik de Gyor: [0:01] This is Another DAM Podcast about Digital Asset Management. I’m Henrik de Gyor. Today, I’m speaking with Alex Struminger. Alex, how are you?
Alex Struminger: [0:09] Fine, Henrik. Thanks for having me again.
Henrik: [0:12] Alex, how are you involved with Digital Asset Management?
Alex: [0:15] Henrik, in the last time we spoke, we talked a lot about the big enterprise rollout of the UNICEF Digital Asset Management System. That was a big project. It was terrific the way it came off, but one of the things that wasn’t happening then, that’s happening a lot now is the focus on transmedia storytelling. This has shifted my focus and the focus of a lot of folks in that direction.
[0:38] One of the areas I’m working on right now is the idea of storytelling. Storytelling supported by technology. I’m calling it Storytelling 3.0 to acknowledge the advent of semantic web, search and taxonomy, DAM enabled technologies, and you got to include mobile apps in that as well.
Henrik: [0:59] How is storytelling supported by DAM?
Alex: [1:01] It’s always been important. It’s one of the most engaging things you can do as a human being, I think. If you’re talking about engagement, you can point to the track record of stories as being the longest and best measurable forms of communication engagement out there.
[1:17] That runs the gambit from the famous “Star Wars” franchise and its success. If we go back 3,000 years and talk about The Iliad and The Odyssey, we’re still talking about that 3,000 years later. I think that that’s a measurable success.
[1:30] We’re talking a lot more about storytelling now in the digital world. And of course, Storytelling, especially the storytelling as it supports brands, has to be done in a way where you can manage the story across the franchise. Everybody took a different approach to how they did it, but it all required technology support, partly because there’s a lot of digital assets involved now in storytelling. We’re not squirting ink on paper like we did in the old days. We’re not even doing the digital form of that, which is the old web. We’re doing a lot of rich, layered media, and managing a tremendous number of assets to make that happen.
[2:06] I heard one person talk about 80,000 pieces of video that had to be managed. That didn’t even include the metadata or the supporting brand assets. So digital asset management is needed on the scale that we’re trying to do it with brands, especially global brands.
Henrik: [2:22] What is a co‑creation network and how does it fit with DAM?
Alex: [2:26] Co‑creation network are things to talk a lot about these days. Essentially, the idea behind a co‑creation network is if you have a group of people who are working on different kinds of product sharing a similar story. This could be for the Star Wars example. We talked about transmedia being something that literally transcends different kinds of media. I don’t know if transcends is the word I’m looking for. It is transmedia.
[2:51] It’s transmedia in the sense that there’s no uber story in any particular media so it’s not like “OK, I created the film. The film’s got all the bits in it. We’re just going to then repurpose those bits in these other places. I got the book, and I’m going to take all the stuff of the book.”
[3:06] The idea in Star Wars, again, is a great example, is that there are bits that are in one area and other bits in other areas, and they don’t quite overlap, but they share a common story. You can tell if they’re wrong.
[3:22] A great example of that, there’s the Star Wars films. I’m a big fan of them. I watched all of them several times. There’s the cartoon series about the Clone Wars, then there’s action figures, the product, there’s comic books, the novels, and all that stuff.
[3:39] Five years old at the time, my step‑son came in and he was trying to throw off the yoke of the homemade costume. After a lot of battling back and forth, and a good effort on the part of my wife and I to try and do the homemade costume thing for a few years, we finally capitulated.
[3:56] When he comes in with the costume catalogue from the online store, or the mail‑order store, and he’s got this whole page, there’s like six different bounty hunters he can be in Star Wars. He names every single one of them. I’ve seen every single one of the movies many times. I only knew the name of two of those.
[4:14] This is a great example of how the uber story and transmedia isn’t carried by one particular media type. It’s literally in that sense transmedia. In order to accomplish this, you have to have a co‑creation network in the sense that you’ve got to have a network of people who understand the brand, who understand the story, and who are essentially stewards of that canon, so that you don’t go over here and make that piece about the brand and the cartoon, or on the online thing, or this video over here, or an event in the physical world, and have it not be completely in line with the story. This is how the network has to be brought together.
[4:55] The role of DAM plays here is this is a really difficult thing to do. The challenge has been not just different skillsets with people doing different kinds of product, but they also span things like different localities. “I may need to have this done in French,” or “I may need to have this done in Chinese”. We have to make sure that that local translation works. Where do we keep all this stuff? In the DAM.
[5:21] The rights, the ability to use things for certain purposes, all that stuff has to be put somewhere. Otherwise, this whole thing has become way too expensive. DAM supports the co‑creation network in that sense.
Henrik: [5:32] It sounds like brand consistency.
Alex: [5:34] Brand consistency, brand protection, licensing. You don’t want to be shadowing the door of the lawyer’s office all the time, because you didn’t know you couldn’t use the product in China, or whatever it is. In this sense, I think the co‑creation is where the people, the creative people who are making the product, and all of the rules, the availability of the assets, their application, and who can do what with what come together. That’s technology‑enabled.
[6:05] That makes us better, faster, and more accurate doing what we’re doing, hopefully cheaper.
Henrik: [6:10] What advice would you like to share with DAM professionals and people aspiring to become DAM professionals?
Alex: [6:14] One thing that’s really caught my attention recently, that I think is super important. Zach Brand of NPR has mentioned it as he ralled against the monolithic giant one‑size‑fits‑all system. We really want to avoid that kind of thing.
[6:27] This has been back and forth for various reasons. There have been times when a standardized platform has benefitted the organization, but there’s also a give‑and‑take with it. There’s a cost. I think that we’re seeing now more bespoke or custom tools for particular creative tasks. You don’t want to force the creative talent to use a tool that’s a one‑size‑fits‑all and therefore going to compromise the quality of the product.
[6:57] More than anything else, we see that in the world of storytelling, and in the world where brand engagement has to come to entertainment and storytelling, mistakes and lower quality products are noticed.
Henrik: [7:09] In a negative sense.
Alex: [7:10] Right. In the sense that the technology of the co‑creation network can support all of the things that help us make use of the assets, find them, use them correctly, and stay on story. At the same time, we don’t want that technology that’s helping us to get in the way of us doing quality work.
[7:26] Caitlin Burns said Starlight Runner talked to me a little bit about the idea of an arts and crafts approach to content creation. We really have to be craftsmen in order to make the kind of product that people are going to consume. If you’re going to be a craftsman, you’re going to have to have the right tools. I am seeing more and more custom tools being made.
[7:47] But here’s the thing. Interoperability is still very important. If we take away the monolithic system that’s supposed to tie everything all together, how are we going to tie everything all together? Are we now back in our silos? We don’t want to do that. What seems to be the approach that is working is the same kind of approach that worked for web 2.0 in a lot of ways. Standards, APIs, interoperability.
[8:13] So if I’ve got a toolset over here that’s working really good for the person who’s curating my digital media video, and I’ve got another toolset over here that’s working really well for somebody who’s creating cartoons, so forth and so on, managing print assets. I don’t want to force them to use one tool that doesn’t do any of that quite as well, but I need them to talk to each other.
[8:34] I don’t want redundant assets. I don’t want redundant metadata. I want to tie it all together, in case I need to bring something from here, and something from over there together to create a product on the web, or through an app, or through any place I want to be able to publish out the content.
[8:51] We can do that by letting the systems talk to each other. We don’t have to insist on the monolithic system. In fact, we’re not dead in the water. We can take a very agile approach to this and knock out little things. Let’s make this system talk to that system. We did this when I was in UNICEF. Tie together taxonomy management with web search engines and web content systems, and basically creating APIs that let them talk to each other and it that turns out, it can do it. Everybody’s happy because I didn’t make the guy over here use something he didn’t like, the data is shared, and it works.
[9:24] That’s the bit, I think, to keep in mind. Stay over the monolithic. The bespoke system. You could do an awful lot that’s not bespoke but still custom these days. Just let them talk to each other, and think about the process, and the people involved.
Henrik: [9:38] Thanks, Alex.
Alex: [9:39] Thanks, Henrik. It’s always a pleasure to be with you.
Henrik: [9:41] For more on this and other digital asset management topics, logon to anotherdamblog.com.
[9:49] If you have any comments or questions, please feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.