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The Basics of Video Storytelling
Posted on May 16th 2013
For some time, marketers have been moving away from the traditional selling tactics of TV commercials. It is no longer enough to tell audiences that your product is great and that they should buy it. One of the buzzwords that characterises the shift away from pure selling is ‘storytelling’.
How long it has taken for this evolution to take place is unclear, however, it is evident in TV advertising and in online video that more and more marketers are using storytelling techniques to engage audiences. With online video, storytelling style videos are becoming increasingly common for one simple reason; they work. Videos that tell an engaging story are more likely to be shared, liked and commented upon. They are therefore more likely to go viral and they will be remembered.
In an age when anyone can produce an online video, professional video marketers are using storytelling techniques to set themselves apart from amateur online video makers. Online video marketing specialists work with clients to uncover stories about their businesses, which will allow their customers to connect with them on a deeper level. They then translate these stories into professional videos that can often seem like mini-blockbuster movies.
The strengths of video storytelling
Everyone can relate to a story
It is an obvious point, but storytelling is how information has been passed from generation to generation since the beginning of time. This includes visual storytelling in the form of pictures on cave walls and verbal storytelling as seen with many of the stories from the New Testament, which survived for decades solely through word of mouth and memory.
Cave of Forgotten Dreams by Werner Herzog is a documentary about the recently discovered Chauvet caves in the South of France, and their cave paintings which date back 32,000 years. I have linked to the trailer for your viewing pleasure because this documentary is a great example of how a filmmaker tells a story about a topic from which there are no living subjects to draw from but is still entirely emotionally engaging. Something that video marketers can definitely learn from.
The modern storytelling forms that people are generally exposed to include books and movies. The classic narrative structures that exist in these forms are something that people are highly attuned to – this means that we really notice when someone breaks from the norm and plays with different narrative structuring devices. Examples of breaking from the norm include movies like Memento with its non-linear narrative structure. For an artier example, see Jean Luc Goddards’ ‘Breathless’, a story told through apparently random events and characters with no defined motivations.
It is movies such as ‘Breathless’ that make us realise what it is about the classic narrative structures that we enjoy so much and are comfortable with. These features include:
- A good introduction
- A protagonist with an aim
- Obstacles to the aim which provide some tension/conflict
- A climax or a crisis point
- A resolution
A weakness of these features is that they can make some stories seem predictable. However, this is a minor weakness in the grand scheme of things. Ultimately, stories are one of the most powerful ways to get a message across.
Storytelling is more concise than a sales pitch
When working with clients who have less experience with video, their tendency is generally to want to use the video to say as much as they possibly can about their business. They don’t realise how quickly a viewer will switch off from being bombarded with information that isn’t necessary for them to hear. Storytelling is a fantastic solution to this problem. It is not only an interesting way to get a lot of information across; it is also a lot more concise. It can also bring out an emotional response more easily than a more practical explanation; Google could have explained the benefits of their search engine from a technical algorithm perspective but that would not have helped people to understand the real benefit that they get from Google.
With a story, there is no need to state the obvious as so much will be read in between the lines.
Video storytelling can be cost-effective
There are a number of different ways to tell a story and not all of them have to break the bank:
a) Video Interviews
One really easy and inexpensive way to tell a story using video is to interview ‘storytellers’. However, this option shouldn’t be taken just because it costs less. It is only worth putting a storyteller in front of a camera if they are an absolutely fantastic storyteller and they are worthy of being the star of the show. They need to have a look and personality that will engage audiences without the need for other visuals to support the telling of the story.
TED Talks have a Master Storytellers section that archives some of the finest TED Talks by individuals (some professional and some not so much) who use storytelling to educate and inspire their audiences. The following example from iO Tillett Wright shows how a personal tale can connect people to the meaning you want to portray.
b) Stock video or archive footage
Using stock video or archive footage is another way to save on costs when making an online video. If you want to tell a story about your business and you have a load of old footage, from when your business first opened for example, think about how you can use it NOW to tell your story. This footage can be accompanied by interviews or voiceover. Be careful though as stock footage can easily de-personalise your video and make it plain. Video production does not have to be expensive but it must have personality.
Seeing is believing
Putting a master storyteller in a video is a great way to share their gift with lots of people. Aside from master storytellers, online video really should be seen as an opportunity to visually tell a story; show your audience something they won’t be able to see anywhere else. Depending on budget and time (and what is appropriate to your audience) there are a number of ways to do this:
Animation is a popular way to tell stories in online video:
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Using actors can also very effective:
Coco Mademoiselle: The Film – CHANEL
Reportage or behind the scenes access can tell an audience a lot about a brand:
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As soon as you become aware of this new buzzword, ‘storytelling’, you will start to see it all around you.
With the current shift to inbound marketing all of us will become more reliant on storytelling to help explain our unique benefits and differences.
You will begin to judge what you consider to be good and bad storytelling. Good storytelling examples will always be the ones that ‘get you’; the ones that make you laugh or cry or get angry or make you think – or at least make you want to watch till the end!