At Honest Motion, we focus on real-life, documentary-style marketing stories. So for the purpose of this article we are focused on that type of storytelling (as opposed to scripted stories). We love these types of stories because they are authentic and honest and therefore powerful. However, it takes work to develop this type of story.
With scripted stories, a writer can connect to her wifi in the local coffee shop, throw some headphones on and conjure whatever situation fits the marketing messaging. Scenes, story, voiceover come from thin air, and once approved, they come to life by hiring actors, actresses and voice over talent who will follow the script. Stories taken from real-life do not have those same freedoms. Again, this is what makes them so powerful— The audience is fully aware that these stories were not formally scripted by a marketing person. However, instead of hiring actors and actresses we need to dig to find the right story, the right character and then shape the right story.
Typically we think of characters as being in Hollywood movies, not corporate videos. However, one of the reasons video is such a powerful medium is because we can connect with the people in the video even if we are on the other side of the world. It’s why a video is much more powerful than a paragraph of marketing copy. When we as an audience hear from another human, even in a video, and we sense their passion, hear about their expertise, see their personality come across… we tend to believe what they are saying as opposed to the anonymous copywriter writing copy. Therefore it is absolutely essential that we think carefully about the people that are conveying your messaging.
The reality is that not everyone is equally compelling on video. We often default to interviews with C-level executives, VPs, etc. However, it might be the guy or girl in the mailroom that is the most compelling character. It could be a customer with a story of how you changed their life. It could be a vendor who has worked with many companies like yours but realized there is something special about what you are doing. The point is that we should not just assume the narrative drive has to come from C-level executives. They might be a vital part of your video, but the story does not automatically have to come from them.
Sometimes a marketing story can have one central character. However, it can also be a team that unites to work on a common challenge. In that case we need to keep in mind, the more characters we add, the less likely we are to empathize. So we try to keep the number limited or try to at least use a central lead character and then support the messaging with the rest of the team.
Ideally, what we are looking for in a good character, is someone with a strong desire, someone with a challenge to overcome in reaching that desire and a personality that is unique. What storytellers realize, is that a good character is the single biggest reason audiences will be engaged with your video. It is not the fancy camera you are using, the drone or the tech. Nor is it the fast-paced music and rapid cut of interesting b-roll. In the end, the reason audiences will watch, is a good central character.
Sometimes the subject matter makes finding story easy— non-profits, healthcare, exciting events or milestones. Other times the story is less apparent. However, it is always there. One of the keys to the craft of storytelling is understanding the framework of the story arc. By using that as our roadmap we can find ways to develop any subject matter into a story that will engage an audience. Let’s look at the six points on the traditional story arc. These apply to your favorite movie as well as to a good story-driven marketing video.
It is imperative that we grab the audience’s attention within the first 5-10 seconds. Our opening moment is what does that and holds their attention until we introduce the character and start the journey.
This is the thing that keeps our attention and helps us empathize with the character. We realize that something is at stake for this character and we want to see how he or she reacts and works to overcome the challenge. If you ever notice a TV show or movie you are watching is boring, it is most likely because there is no conflict in that scene.
Conflict gives us the big picture of what is at stake. The First Step is then a moment when the character decided to do something specific to overcome the challenge. It is the start of the journey.
The Journey is a series of moments that link together as the character meets the challenges to overcome the conflict. Usually we try to find 2-3 “moments” or points to make to show how the challenge was met.
This is the moment or summary of how the conflict was met and a victory was achieved.
This is the key message that the audience will takeaway. Ideally, this is a message we can help the audience arrive at without too much prodding. The more intuitive and discreet we can be with that message, the more powerful it is.
One of the most overlooked elements of a great corporate storytelling is location. It is also one of the most challenging elements for a traditional marketing video. That’s because often, our default location is an office. Unless it is a cutting edge, silicon valley office filled with ping pong tables and bean bag chairs, it usually just looks boring.
As we develop the story, we are looking for ways to put our characters in interesting locations that are authentic to them. It could be as simple as getting the subject out of the office and onto the busy city streets. It could be hitting the road to visit a client. It might be following the company truck out on the road. Or it might be visiting the scene of an important milestone. However, good story will be significantly strengthened by giving the audience a more interesting backdrop than a cubicle laden office. It also gives us opportunities to move the story forward. As we move from one location to another it heightens the audiences subconscious desire to see where we are heading— literally and figuratively.
As you can see, developing story in a marketing video is not simply a matter of interviewing some executives and filming some b-roll. You can do that, but not many people will watch. If you want to leverage the video budget, get the most viewers possible, hold attention, and reinforce a message, there is no better tool than the craft of storytelling.