5 Tips to Effective Corporate Storytelling with Video

Stop me if you’ve heard this one, “Make me a viral video.”  As media producers that was a frequent request from clients just a few years ago.  The new version, “We need a ‘storytelling’ video.”  If you haven’t had this request yet, just wait it’s coming.

Marketers are always seeking new ways to deliver compelling “stories” to a targeted audience in ways that motivate them to react favorably.  Corporate storytelling is about creating a business narrative that makes messages memorable.  Human beings are intrinsically wired to create relationships based on shared stories.  Since cavemen drew pictures on cave walls, stories have passed knowledge from one generation to the next.  Think of how you relate to family, friends, or business associates.  Bonds are created through shared stories.  There is nothing more powerful than a good story.

The current buzz among marketers, agencies, and the creative community is reinventing the corporate story.  But corporate storytelling is nothing new.  What’s changed is the emphasis on audience engagement.  Today, corporate storytelling means reflecting an organization’s core principles, those that define and establish its’ unique identity.

The communication message cycle is constantly shifting: from messaging directed at C-level executives, to more detailed information aimed at key decision makers, to today’s requests for engaging stories rather than simply shilling detailed product information.  Over the years we’ve all produced videos highlighting product differentiation, exceptional customer service, or value-added differences.  But competitors all claim the same thing.  How can this new emphasis on corporate storytelling break through the cacophony of noise in the marketplace and deliver audience engagement?  Here are a few ideas on how video fits into corporate storytelling.

1. Storytelling is only one technique.  Client requests for storytelling are rising.  While good for business, it is also a producer’s responsibility to evaluate fully the objectives and offer clients the best possible solution.  By its nature, storytelling is a pull, not push communication strategy.  It’s appropriate in some cases, but not in every case.  Sometimes the best solution is a short, technical demo.  Corporate storytelling is a technique for pulling people into a dialogue about an organization’s brand.  Corporate storytelling is to transactional marketing as blogging is to journalism.

2. Storytelling is about creating a bond.  People relate to people through shared experiences.  A great story points the viewer in a desired direction, but gives them the freedom to draw their own conclusion.  A great story is told in a way that grabs and holds attention.  Stay away from long lists of facts and figures.  These are much more difficult to remember than an engaging narrative.  Make the story personal, credible, and compelling.  This can often be done with customer interviews and letting the customer define a business’ product or service.  Rather than lots of marketing chest pounding, let prospects learn about a business through the eyes of its customers.  It’s about piquing interest and curiosity so prospects want to learn more.

3. Storytelling makes a lasting impression.  What are the stories you tell around the dinner table?  People tell stories that touch hearts, generate feelings, and make us think.  Look for ways to connect with viewers on an emotional level.  Employees are a great source of stories that can reflect very directly an organization’s core values.  Viewers can establish an emotional connection with the people that are the company.  Once that relationship develops, viewers are more receptive to the messages and information that need to be communicated.

4. Storytelling establishes a style.  There are many creative ways to tell a story.  Corporate storytelling can establish a unique style of presentation.  How it fits into a larger marketing strategy needs to be clearly understood.  Creating one video in this unique style does little to build new perceptions if the program is not part of a coordinated plan.  Music fans know Johnny Cash as the man in black; golf fans think of Gary Player; tech enthusiasts recall Steve Job’s black turtlenecks; and movie fans remember Will Smith as Agent J telling his partner, “I make this look good.”  All of these became iconic styles closely associated with each person.  A well told corporate story can begin the foundation of a unique identity, but only if delivered with consistency and as part of a coordinated marketing plan.

5. Storytelling opens a dialogue.  When done right, corporate storytelling creates opportunity for an on-going relationship with prospects and customers.  Stories should make viewers ask themselves, “what if?”  Viewers should envision opportunity to move their own organization forward in ways that are both attainable and achievable.  Corporate storytelling is about building long-lasting connections that continue the conversation and deepen relationships.  Look for ways to use video to extend reach across web channels, blogs, and as a tool for sales to reach out to prospects and customers – continuing the dialogue without reverting to an explicit product pitch.  It’s all about building trust and strengthening relationships.

What does this look like when these ideas all come together? A good example is a recent project produced by Todd Johnson of our Corporate Creative team at SAS.  It’s a customer profile of how UPS is using analytics to reduce miles driven and improve service. The entire story is told from the customer’s perspective. The SAS message underlies the story but lets viewers decide for themselves how it relates to their specific situation.

Analytics and Logistics Optimization at UPS

Corporate storytelling is one way media producers can help clients make a strong and lasting impression and help marketers grow relationships that build business.

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