Visual storytelling is an important method for educating, entertaining, and making your audience want to come back for more. It brings life to your ideas, brand purpose, and personalities. It lets you show, not just tell.
CMI’s recent Visual Storytelling Summit was full of great tips that will inspire you, make you laugh, make you cry, and get you motivated to try something new – regardless of the constraints the pandemic has imposed on all of us.
Each session offered many eye-opening ideas for your 2021 strategy. I’ve gathered some highlights here, and I linked to the sessions they’re from in case you want to watch them on demand (a single registration form gives you access to all the sessions you select).
Tip 1: Repurpose and promote content with video
You did the hard work of researching, writing, editing, and designing to create your written content. Video lets you amplify it in new ways. Years ago, Vidyard converted a marketing e-book into a video that resulted in more than 300,000 views. The video – featuring a character that’s the personification of the e-book – was clever and fun, and it compelled people to read the e-book. You can check it out here.
“(Video storytelling) has the opportunity to be more emotional and to spark humor, to create inspiration, to make people really want to reengage,” says Tyler Lessard, vice president of marketing at Vidyard.
Not surprisingly, the e-book is one of Vidyard’s most successful marketing assets of all time and it inspired all sorts of other great ideas.
Tip 2: Cut the sales pitch
“Unleash (your customer’s) story, not your story,” Tyler says. As an example, he points to Genesys’ CX Heroes videos on YouTube, some of which he says will bring you to tears.
This one tells the story of a digital services manager at Telefonica, the largest communications provider in Mexico, who helped her colleagues through an earthquake that struck Mexico City in 2017. After the earthquake, she mobilized executives and IT to relocate the company’s contact center to an undamaged building and had customer services reps back online within hours.
“They’re the kinds of stories you just want to go out and share with people, but they’re not testimonials. They’re unlocking the story of some of those key customers and how it is that they’ve come to be, the challenges they face, how they’re seeing success without it being a product placement ad for you,” Tyler explains.
Tyler pointed to Uberflip’s creative take on explainer videos as an example of how you can talk about your services – and still do it in a way that shows you’re focused on what the customer needs, not what you want to say. They are funny and informative, and they give viewers a better understanding of what Uberflip is all about. Check it out here on Uberflip’s home page.
Tip 3: Use video to create empathy and a human touch
Speaking of tears, Kevin Doherty, marketing communications manager at Vyond, told a heartwarming story in his session about his grandfather. Then he showed us a home video of him as an infant with his “papa.” It created a collective “awwwww” among many attendees tuning in, some of whom commented in the chat that it made them tear up. Me too. His grandfather passed away just 15 days before the webinar – and just two months after his family lost his grandmother.
“And dealing with all this in isolation through a pandemic, wildfires, and an election has made it difficult to just function. And so when I finally sat down to finish writing this session, I was at a loss. I mean, in my grief, I hardly knew up from down. How am I supposed to sum up the difficult abstract concept of story?” Kevin shared.
His session was all the talk among the CMI team that afternoon. His story, his video, his advice on storytelling drew us in. It was memorable. It was real. It was human. He noted research in human cognition by British psychologist Edward Titchener, who coined the term “cognitive empathy.”
“Cognitive empathy allows us to experience something fully by watching another human go through it. That’s why even if you’ve never been a grandparent, you could virtually feel the weight of a swaddled baby in your arms as you watched my home video, and it’s why you got a glimmer, if only a glimmer, of understanding into what that moment must have felt like for Papa. This sort of underscores the significance of visual thinking,” Kevin says.
“Contextualizing this session in an authentic, emotional way piqued something, I hope, in each of you … I hope too that my home video helped you connect to my story, at least in a more meaningful way than that PowerPoint slide,” Kevin says.
Watch Kevin’s session: The Art and Science of Storytelling: How to Craft Brain-Friendly Visual Journeys.
Tip 4: Don’t be afraid to go live
Speaking of being human, many content marketers take it to a new level by turning to LinkedIn Live, Facebook Live, and other networks for in-the-moment discussions. “Streaming can be utilized to build your brand, to connect on a deeper level with your audience, and to support the sales process and the sales cycle,” says Dylan Hey, co-founder and CEO at Hey Digital.
“If we mess things up, you’ll see that happen. If we’re slow in certain areas, you’ll see that. If our camera cuts out, that’s happened before. Like all of these small things, of course, we don’t want them to happen. We want to build this perfect experience … but you’re seeing the reality, and there’s nothing that enables people to connect deeper with a company or with an individual than seeing what it’s really like behind the scenes, getting to know them and how they really are. Many, many businesses out there, they just don’t do that. They don’t take that leap because they’re too scared,” Dylan says.
How do you get started with livestreaming? Anya Razina, head of influencer marketing at Restream, provides some great ideas as she shares the company’s content marketing. She started with a live show that focused on customer pain points and education: What are they having issues with? What are they confused about? Are there any feature requests or any feedback or any concerns they have?
That turned into biweekly Q&A sessions. “We just showed up. We just created very simple, very minimalistic graphics,” she says. By email, the team asked their community for questions to address in the livestreams. Members of the company’s product, marketing, and customer success teams showed up to discuss.
Anya also leveraged influencers to help with a weekly live interview show with content creators. The strategy was “to focus on other established content creators, partner with people who have relevant audience and communities, and people who are familiar with our products and interested in collaborations. So, this is how our influencer marketing program was born.”
Watch the session featuring Anya and Dylan: How to Build a Live Streaming Strategy with Positive ROI.
Tip 5: Think big and build your bench
Thomas Madsen-Mygdal, co-founder and CEO of TwentyThree, urges companies to look for ways to reinvent traditional content and video-enable their organization. “The real challenge everyone is facing with video is that it’s not just a new comms channel, it’s a massive fundamental paradigm shift,” he says.
“Every comms artifact you did before – press release, a job ad, whatever it might’ve been – you need to do that with video,” he says. “Every process, every customer touchpoint, how can it be video-based?
“And as with every type of enablement, it’s about tools, it’s about practices, it’s about the people, and then it’s about the continuous learning across the journey.”
50% of marketers will make an even bigger investment in #webinars in 2021 and the expectation will be that they are live, video-based, and interactive, according to @TwentyThree #research via @CMIContent. Click To Tweet
“It’s the human aspect of it that we so badly need, especially in the world today,” Thomas says. Now is the time “to experiment, to innovate, to start systemizing, and to majorly invest, and shift your resources into video marketing and in video-enabling your organization.”
Accomplishing ambitious visual storytelling goals may require some additional skills. Thomas recommends three important hires: a program manager, a video producer, and a video marketer. These are the “change agents” who can help build the appropriate teams for scaling an organization’s video capability.
Watch Thomas’s session: Video Enabling Your Organization.
Tip 6: Get inspiration from late-night TV
While more immersive and experiential digital marketing has been a priority for many organizations, the pandemic has advanced it. Audience expectations are higher, says Mark Bornstein, vice president of content marketing at On24.
“Consumers expect that every time they experience your brand that those experiences are going to be the kinds of experiences they’re having in their personal lives,” he says. “They’re looking for something that’s immersive, that’s connected, that’s interactive, that delivers something specific to their unique needs (or) anticipates their needs.” The experiences also need to be approachable and human.
Consumers expect that every time they experience your brand those experiences are going to be the kinds of experiences they're having in their personal lives, says @4markb via @CMIContent. Click To Tweet
Mark points to webinars evolved from scripted audio PowerPoint presentations to serialized programs using styles such as coffee talks, news formats, and interviews much like late-night talk shows. These shows include any mix of multimedia content to help inform, inspire, or entertain.
Mark likes what Red Whale, a provider of primary care medical education in the United Kingdom, does. “They talk about pretty sensitive health-care topics, but they wanted to do it in an immersive way, in an approachable and human way because they’re talking about some pretty serious stuff,” he says.
In a webinar series called Deep Dive, they incorporate video panels, Q&A, green-screen skits, audience polls, links to future events, and more. “By the end of a single one-hour experience, you may have seen three or four videos, watched their conversation, connected to a YouTube page, or gone to another page where you could have watched more videos or more on-demand content and downloaded content.”
Gone are the days where audio over slides is going to give your audience the kind of personal experience they expect or deserve.
Watch Mark’s session: How to Create Multi-Media Experiences for a Digital World.
Tip 7: Engage and thank your audience
A great mix of visual formats keeps people interested in watching and coming back for more. Adding interactive elements – the chance for the audience to ask questions or make comments – keeps them engaged.
“I think live video is a little more raw, but there’s also this opportunity to get real-time feedback. People who are watching can actually drive the conversation and you can ask a question and get immediate results and get a feel for where you want to go next,” says Nick Mattingly, co-founder at Switcher, who moderated a LinkedIn video storytelling panel.
It’s one of the reasons that Goldie Chan, personal branding expert and founder of Warm Robots, loves livestreaming on LinkedIn. “You’re able to respond to questions right away, especially when say somebody is telling a personal story, you get that response right away. It gets very visceral and it’s great for LinkedIn and your brand.”
(That’s good news for content marketers. In CMI’s recent B2B research, 96% already are using the platform for organic content marketing and two-thirds say the platform delivered the best results.)
Though livestreams are in the moment, LinkedIn also lets you go back and respond to comments, something that Nick thinks is a must-do. “If you were to just take 10 minutes after you finished a stream and go in and respond to everyone that commented on your video and let them know, ‘We appreciate you being here,’ they’re going to be more likely to tune in the next time that you decide to go live. That engagement is really important,” he says.
Live video is a great way to help people who visit LinkedIn for career development. Jeff Koslofsky, social media supervisor at Crosby Marketing, works on a Department of Defense program that supports military families by helping connect military spouses with employers.
They’ve been hosting monthly livestreams to help the job seekers develop a more one-to-one connection. “People connect more with faces,” Jeff says.
Brian Wallace, founder and president at NowSourcing, advises that consistency in going live is important for engagement. He’s live every Friday at 2 p.m. ET, and he posts his LinkedIn Live broadcast time at the top of his About section to make it easy for people to see.
Brian also stresses that fresh ideas are important. “LinkedIn’s algorithm is constantly looking for a diversity of thought,” he says. “[So consider] other things you can talk about topic-wise along with different formats.”
Watch the session with Goldie, Jeff, Nick, and Brian: Visual Storytelling on LinkedIn
Tip 8: Be yourself and don’t hide from conflict
Speaking of raw live video, Chad Lakin, vice president at Shootsta North America, says it is OK to be yourself. Authenticity matters “especially with executives, showing that they’re real people, they’ve got kids screaming in the background, dogs barking all the time, all that sort of stuff as well,” Chad says. “It makes people go, ‘Oh, you know what, I’m not the only one struggling with this right now.’ And I think that’s really important in this type of environment.”
Thank you, Chad! We’ve all been there. Many people have heard my barky dogs over the past few months. And, thankfully, audiences during these extraordinary times have been forgiving of life happening in the background.
But authenticity doesn’t necessarily equal low production value, says Mykim Dang, founder and full-stack digital creator at Mykim Dang Productions. You might only have an iPhone camera, but that “doesn’t mean you can’t think about things like composition and the story arc, actual quality of sound and light, additional lenses,” she says.
“At the beginning, I feel like a lot of our response to content creation was very reactionary. And now that we know that we need to adapt for a longer-term strategy, we can get back to those basic building blocks. And if we lose sight of those, that’s where you can lose your audience as well and engagement could suffer,” says Mykim, whose production team on America’s Test Kitchen adapted to new ways of working due to the pandemic.
Thinking carefully about the story building blocks and structure can go a long way toward creating purposeful content.
Luke Hale, founder at Masters of Engagement, says, “It really is about helping ideas enter people’s minds. You’ve got to realize that Luke Skywalker never could have blown up the Death Star if the shields weren’t down. And when you’re trying to get penetration of an idea, you have to realize the shields are up, and so that’s where storytelling really comes in.”
There are many story structures you can use, but Luke is a fan of introducing (and not being afraid of) conflict.
“There’s a lot of organizational courage that has to come into the way we talk about conflict because oftentimes we don’t want to have any conflict in our pieces. We want to focus just on everything that is going great with the way that we’re rolling out our product and what it can do for the market. But the truth is, people aren’t going to purchase your product unless they have a pain point, right?”
Watch the session with Chad, Luke, Mykim: Stories that Stick: The Elements of Compelling Video Content.
Tip 9: Embrace constraints
Speaking of production value, Andrew Davis, keynote speaker and bestselling author at Monumental Shift, has taken video production and virtual speaking to a whole new level. We don’t all have his expertise, poise, equipment, or creative thinking, but we can learn from it and get inspired to try new things – just like the constraints from the pandemic prompted him to do.
“Honestly, eight months ago, the world threw us this giant curveball. Suddenly, we found ourselves constrained. We were constrained to our home, constrained to our families, constrained to our laptops, constrained to Netflix, constrained to our home office, constrained to our desk,” he says. “When the lockdown happened to me, I know I immediately felt the constraints. Then something really weird happened.”
That’s when Drew started finding inspiration in all sorts of places – kids playing in his neighborhood on a “magic flying mattress,” an Instagram story about a dad who built a makeshift ski slope in his backyard to replace an annual family ski trip, and more.
“If there’s one thing this pandemic has illuminated for me, it’s that constraints breed creativity,” he says. “I want you to think of them as an opportunity to force yourself to find new ideas. Think of it as a challenge. It’s really fun to embrace the constraints.”
He points to how Ernie Kovacs, a radio announcer, fully embraced the new visual medium of television. He realized that, on TV, the audience can only see what’s inside the “box” that the camera captures. So he played with the constraints. In one famous skit, a character empties item after item out of his lunch pail, only to see each roll down the (seemingly) flat table. Kovacs created a tilted set so the items would roll, and angled the camera so the table appeared to be level.
Drew points to another constraint of video: Intimacy. It gives viewers an up-close-and-personal view of whoever is in the video. One famous example of how this intimacy affects audiences is the 1960 Kennedy-Nixon debate. (As it turns out, shifting and sweating are not effective in the intimacy of television; poise and attention are.)
Indeed, while television production becomes more confined and personal (Food Network shows filming at home, Today Show anchors and reporters filming from home, etc.), brands and speakers are elevating their production.
That’s what Drew calls a production paradox. “As television starts to look more like a Zoom call, Zoom calls are looking more like television.”
Watch Drew’s session: Constraints Breed Creativity: Re-Thinking The Way We Use Video.
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Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute