All Posts in Storytelling

November 4, 2015 - 3 comments

The 3 Non-Negotiable Aspects of a Story

Storytelling is the primary way in which we relate. To people. To brands. To products. But with stories being so integrated into our culture, why is it so easy to create a “story” that falls short, one that doesn’t connect with others?

I find that today there’s so many people today talking about story. Whether it’s a personal story, a brand story, or a corporate story. I think one of the key reasons that stories fall short is that they’re missing one of these three key aspects to a story. Here are three things necessary for an emotionally engaging story:

1. There needs to be a subject.
There needs to be a central character for emotional connection. This isn’t the montage video showing the company hard at work in all aspects with multiple interviews. This is one individual, sharing her heart for the company, her vision and hope, and ultimately how this company is changing the world.

2. There needs to be tension.
Too often we attempt to sugarcoat the challenges. When in reality we always root for the underdog. The one that needs to overcome. A story requires a challenge. Even if that challenge is something as common inefficiency.

3. There needs to be resolution.
It’s vital to establish a solution and resolution to the story. How did the persons desires and goals get achieved? How was the challenge overcome? Resolution doesn’t have to be a perfectly wrapped ending. It can still have unknowns and excitement, but it needs to bring about progress.

If you work to incorporate all of these elements in the next story you tell, you’ll find a significant increase in engagement and retention.

August 12, 2015 - 47 comments

Why your video falls flat, 5 ways to make it more authentic.

Do you strive to create authentic videos that really resonate with your audience? Many marketers do, which is why “authentic” may be one of the biggest buzzwords around. Even if that's your goal, do you know how to quantify what "authentic" is, or is it just subjective?

That's why I wrote this. To give you 5 actionable steps you can take that will make your videos more authentic, and in the end, engage your audience.

1. Ditch the talking head
It’s good to introduce your speaker (preferably with their title), to show who’s talking. But people rarely connect with an interview. Instead, cover your interview footage with B-roll. Grab footage from the subject going about their day or relevant to what they’re talking about. People engage at a deeper level when you show the subject in their natural state, rather than perfectly staged the entire time. It brings about a level of reality to who they are and what they’re talking about.

2. Dont be scared of conflict
Too often companies attempt to showcase their product or service perfectly... to have perfectly scripted content. This backfires in a couple ways:

First, conflict is the basis of all story. People don’t engage with a story when it’s devoid of conflict. If you begin your video with the content completely resolved and wrapped with a pretty little bow on top, you'll hand your nicely parceled product to a sleeping audience. That’s why it’s vital to determine what’s the primary conflict of your company. Some might refer to this as your “why.”

Second, people don’t relate to perfect. Despite everyone wanting to be seen as perfect, no one wants to be around perfect people. Just like people don’t want to be around perfect companies. Especially millennials. So it’s important to understand the heart of the company, and the story you want to communicate to the world.

3. Be imperfect onscreen
It’s important to be prepared. Yes. We believe that. But so often we find that onscreen talent feels the need to be perfect. They’re either over-prepared and it sounds rehearsed, or they want to sound perfect and get stressed out when it doesn't come out polished. This often results in the subject falling apart. Remember, perfection can generate audience mistrust. It’s your goal to make sure the talent is conversational and relaxed.

4. Handheld is your friend
Sometimes having smooth, stable B-roll will actually make your video feel too polished. This can, in some situations take away from the authenticity of the story you’re telling. We like to use handheld cameras because it helps push the audience into the moment. It takes away a barrier and creates more visual intensity. This look can be very powerful if it is used intentionally, especially when juxtaposed with the smoothness of a dolly or locked off shot.

5. Pay attention to color
The "fade" is a specific look that has become quite popular for both photography and videography. This look did not come out of a vacuum but out of a culture that strives for the authentic. The technical components of this look go against some more traditional trends of coloring and editing because it highlights aspects of the image that doesn't necessarily look as "pretty" but gives a realism to the shot that connects with the audience.

It’s important to recognize that color plays a huge role in how people respond to visuals. That’s why it’s vital to color grade your video to fit the tone and emotion you’re trying to evoke. Like this still from our production for TEDxMinnepolis below. 
There you have it. The key 5 techniques we use to create authentic videos.  I’d love to hear what other methods you use. Leave a comment below and let me know!

October 28, 2013 - 3 comments

Video Marketing Part 1

Can you market your brand, company, or product in 30 seconds? How about 15? Or 6? Is video length a big deal?

With Vine hitting 40 million users late August, it’s difficult to make a case against the relevance of ultra succinct videos. But why are they so popular? Does video length play a role in potency?

The numbers suggest that it does. The video-viewing experience is drastically different than the traditional longer-form. The time cap on Instagram video and Vine forces its users to be ingenuitive.

Orson Welles said, “The enemy of art is the absence of limitations.”

Bored teenagers aren’t the only ones using these apps. Many businesses recognized the evolution and adapted quickly.

Target came up with a creative marketing idea using stop motion.

Some businesses engage their audience in a conversation.

Instagram video gives a little more leeway with a 15-second time cap. Forever 21 launched a new social platform where people can have an interactive fashion experience, and are invited to share photos/videos of their outfits. This video helped introduce the campaign.

Many users are on the go, watching a couple videos while in line at Starbucks for their morning latte. They want short. Many phones with slower connections have difficulty loading a 30-second clip. A Vine or Instagram video is much easier for slow Internet and short attention spans.

These social media platforms are simply tools to support a broader marketing campaign. Marketing should always evolve with new media and their target audience.


October 11, 2013 - 3 comments

Stories Market

When the film Top Gun was released in 1986 it made $8 million opening weekend, and currently sits around $356 million. Considering how big budget films have exploded in the last two decades with movies like Titanic grossing $2.1 billion, or Avatar at $2.7 billion, back in the 80’s, making $300+ million wasn’t too shabby. It’s good enough to put Top Gun at #10 highest grossing film of 1980’s behind films like E.T., Ghost Busters, and Indiana Jones. However, the big wigs in the production companies were not the only ones who pocketed money after Top Gun’s release.

Guess which company saw a 40% increase in sales?

Ray-Ban’s Aviator sunglasses. Ray-Ban was happy: they didn’t have to release any marketing campaigns. Tom Cruise’s Maverick was the only marketing they needed. Cruise put a face on cool. And people bought cool.

The Air Force and Navy saw a massive spike in recruitment to be fighter pilots. It was such a drastic jump, they set up recruiting booths in theaters the movie played in!

Cruise gave people a face they can relate to. The results speak for themselves. Commercials saying, “this is why Ray-Bans are awesome” weren’t necessary to increase sales. All they needed was the right story to sell their product, and the rest is history. 27 years later, people still buy Ray-Bans to be cool like Maverick.

October 8, 2013 - 3 comments

Psychology of Personal Connection

“It is strange to be known so universally and yet to be so lonely.” – Albert Einstein

It has been integrated into our human nature to tell stories. From the first cave drawing, to the Jewish oral tradition, to novels, to films, and to commercials, storytelling is a timeless link to ancient traditions. It is our most basic form of communication – our most natural form of connecting.

Through story we share our sadness and our joy. Our dreams and our failures. Our insecurities and our pride. It is a way to convey purpose and value. Like Einstein, we all crave community. Not many of us fall into the category of being known universally, but we all long for meaningful companionship.

Studies have shown that being connected is linked with longevity and overall health. And a lack of connection is a greater health risk than obesity, smoking, or high cholesterol! Studies have shown that those who feel connected are more empathetic, confidant, and as a result, people are more willing to be open and trusting with them.

The psychology of story is so interesting to us because it is hardwired into humanity. It is how we interpret meaning, how we relate to others, and how we empathize. Story is how we connect.

Why do you think the greatest leaders of history relied on storytelling? Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I have a Dream.” Jesus’ “prodigal son.” Or even Charlie Chaplan’s “The Great Dictator.”

“When we tell and listen to stories, we move… to the more emotional centers of the heart and gut. It’s how we engage with our close friends and family, using a conversational, less formal tone. It’s a bit more close to being vulnerable, but also more human.”

To tell story is to connect. To tell story is to be human. What is your story?

September 5, 2013 - 3 comments

8 Ways to Prepare for your Testimonial Interview

Preparing for a testimonial interview can be intimidating, but it doesn’t have to be. Here are a few tips that will help equip you to rock the interview!

  1. Testimonials are stories. And stories have power. Don’t think of it like an interview. Think of it like a conversation. You get to share with someone how you or your business was impacted.
  2. Plan spontaneity. Don’t memorize answers to possible questions. If you do, you will probably not sound authentic. Allow for genuine responses – the audience will recognize your passion.
  3. Speak plainly. Don’t incorporate the last 10 words of the day. Don’t feel pressure to reinvent the wheel. All you need to do is share what you already know. So talk like a normal person.
  4. No need to be nervous. “Understand that your interview will be edited.  The editor can choose to only use the good stuff. So don’t worry if you stutter.” If you can’t shake anxiety, watch an episode of Seinfeld or whatever it is that gets you relaxed. Drink a latte, talk to a friend, or listen to your favorite band. Loosen up and be yourself.
  5. Don’t wear bright colors! A vibrant shirt will draw attention to your shirt, not your face. Wear mid-tones like blue, brown, or even as dark as black. Whatever you do, don’t wear a pattern (striped, checkered, even argyle) or you could end up like this guy, and that’s just embarrassing. Cameras sometimes have difficulty processing intricate patterns, so they end up looking morphed on video.
  6. Clean your work area. Most filmmakers will want to get footage of you in your natural work environment (whether that’s doing a presentation, a sales pitch, or research). Make sure those areas are presentable.
  7. Bring a water bottle. Your mouth will dry out quickly!
  8. “Speak in complete sentences, and don’t rush.  Collect your thoughts and talk [at] a normal pace.  Most likely if you think you are talking slowly, it’s probably just right.”

Keep these pointers in mind when you’re preparing for your testimonial.

August 29, 2013 - 2 comments

The Power of Story

The marketing world is consumed with 30-second sound bytes, TV time slots, and bulk mail. A world consumed with key demographics, marketing strategies, and months spent tailoring a single ad.

And now, to make matters worse, your key demographics’ radio, TV, and mail are now carried with them wherever they go. And outdated companies think they don’t have to adapt.

The average American sees approximately 5,000 ads every day.

Sensory overload much?

The majority of these ads are void of meaning and value. It’s difficult to make a personal connection in a short sound byte. Simply explaining what your business provides, regardless of how needed your services, will be largely ineffective as we are all becoming deaf from the growing noise that is advertising.

People crave personal connection. If you give them a face they can relate to, a story they can empathize with, they are far more likely to buy your product.

Psychology today says,

“Stories are how we think. They are how we make meaning of life. [They] are how we explain how things work, how we make decisions, how we justify our decisions, how we persuade others, how we understand our place in the world, create our identities, and define and teach social values.”

So what would happen if your business became the protagonist in a story? Oh look at that! Your audience might become emotionally invested in your product.

January 29, 2013 - 157 comments

The Importance of Storytelling

Arguing against the importance of storytelling is challenging, as stories have been an effective mode of communication for thousands of years. But what makes it effective? Why is storytelling more compelling than just listening to the facts? What makes us as humans gravitate towards stories?

One of the most intriguing aspects of storytelling is that it builds empathy. As a result of telling a story, empathy is built up within the audience for the protagonist of the story. This is incredibly effective if the protagonist is a business, or a product, as that empathy will create an emotional attachment to the company or product. Here are a couple examples of effective business storytelling:

The Dawn Wall by Facebook
Child of the 90s by Internet Explorer

A study done by scientists at Princeton, led by Uri Hasson, revealed that as a story is told the storyteller and the listeners brain activities emulate the storytellers brain activity. As a result, a good story leaves the audience feeling what the storyteller felt. By telling a story, thoughts, ideas and emotions could be planted into the listener's brains. Another fascinating aspect, is that the areas of our brain activate as if we're doing the activity the storyteller is mentioning. It's as if we are the subject in the story.

Granted, all of these implications are worthless if it's a bad story. So what should we avoid when we're telling a story?

We need to avoid complexity in our stories. A clear story has a protagonist which is relatable, attempting to accomplish an objective. We don't need parallel stories or universes, multiple objectives, or several characters. Even the seemingly most complex stories, are truly simple. One character, attempting to overcome obstacles to accomplish the objective. Additionally, we need to be careful in how we word the story. Many scientists maintain is that some words lose power, suggesting that one has to be careful how one sculpts a story and the words chosen to tell it.

"Some scientists have contended that figures of speech like "a rough day" are so familiar that they are treated simply as words and no more."

What are your thoughts? Have you ever had a time in which you had empathy for a company or person solely from a story they shared? How can you use this in your life?