What is a story and why do they matter to communicators?

Posted by Nick Francis
Read More

“Story Story Story”

- Sir Ridley Scott, one of the greatest living filmmakers/storytellers, opening the New Directors’ Showcase at the Cannes Lions in 2018.

Stories are all around us. We use them to entertain, to amuse and to inform. They also form the underpinnings of nations, companies, families, teams and even money. Storytelling has become a buzzword in corporate communications. A search of LinkedIn finds that nearly 800,000 people describe themselves as storytellers, or list storytelling as a skill. But there is good reason for this.

Stories are central to how we define our reality. They define belonging, and the concept of ‘them’ and ‘us’. This is because every cultural arrangement relies (no matter how loosely) on a shared set of understandings. This makes an understanding of stories essential for those interested in creating and strengthening cultures of any kind.

What is a story?

Simply put, a story is an encapsulation of cause and effect. Our brains link facts – A leads to B, B leads to C, and so on. This gives rise to the three-act structure: the ingredients, the reaction and the outcome. The reason this is a more effective form of communication than just giving facts is that it mirrors how our brains have evolved to process information.

Story structure activates the brain in a way that simple facts do not:

“Don’t drink the water, it’s not safe” isn’t as memorable as... 

“Sarah drank from that smelly stream, and she has been in bed, writhing in agony, ever since.”

When we hear the facts linked as a story, we can’t help but visualise Sarah’s experience. This creates an emotional reaction over and above the simple facts and embeds it into our brains. Because of this, information relayed as a story is far more likely to be remembered than the same information shared as bare facts.

Conflict is essential to great stories…

Good stories are about conflict; they include a degree of jeopardy in the achievement of the effect or outcome (i.e. A plus B could lead to C, but it could also lead to D, E or F). The greater this unpredictability or jeopardy, the more powerful the emotional connection, and therefore the greater the impact of the story.

This gives nearly all great stories a recognisable structure. Look at any of the great myths – ancient or modern – and you’ll find the personable figure of the underdog, who sets out against great odds to achieve a significant (and almost unattainable) goal. In doing so, they enhance themselves and grow. In his excellent book Into the Woods, renowned screenwriter John Yorke examines the mechanics behind story structure. He argues that, while the subject of the story (the protagonist) might not get what they initially wanted, they achieve the thing that they actually needed, and that is far more valuable.

The reason for the success of this type of structure is that it mirrors an insecurity that lies at the heart of all human beings. Built within our psyches is the belief that we are the underdog facing the challenges of the world. Different types of stories resonate with different target audiences, but the underdog against the world resonates with us all.

John Yorke Into the Woods Casual Films

Story and Memory

The paradox of the online world is that, while it has never been easier to reach an audience, it’s still difficult to connect with them. There is so much noise in modern communications, but great stories give you the opportunity to reach past your audience’s overstimulated heads and reach their hearts. Emotive stories do this. Used effectively, they enable you to get people to take note and remember what you want them to.

The facts that stories lace with emotional connections become far more memorable. Bear with me here… In the early days of Casual, I used to go to breakfast networking groups, to meet and learn from other entrepreneurs. At one meeting, the topic of the conversation was, “What makes great customer service?” As we went around the table, the various business owners present gave their two-cents’ worth: “Well, I think it’s about sharing my mobile phone number and then not letting it ring more than twice when they call” and “I think it’s about sending a card for your clients’ birthdays”. Each business owner took their turn to give their ideas. When it came to me, I had a story about something that had happened recently and was fresh in my mind.

“A good client of ours rang our office at 4pm on a Tuesday afternoon. They had a very important pitch, and, for one reason or another, the film that they had been waiting for from their internal video department hadn’t come. She told me that the pitch started the next morning at 9am, and it would be severely compromised without the video. I told her not to worry and that if it was humanly possible, we would get it done. Four of us stayed and worked until 2.30am, finished the film and sent it over to her. She played it and they ended up winning the business. “This is what I think is good client service.”

About a year later, I was at a conference and I introduced myself to one of the other delegates. I was slightly taken aback when he said, “I know you; you’re the guys who are really good at client service.” He had been at that networking group, and had heard the story I shared. It had stuck in his mind long after the associated facts of the rest of the group had faded. I’m telling you this to illustrate the enduring nature of information that has been made to resonate with a broader narrative.

Making the intangible tangible – brand, values and the ‘foundation myth’

The previous example illustrates another key asset of stories in the business context: they allow the communicator to make relatively intangible ideas – such as customer service, brand or values – tangible. It can be challenging to communicate what is meant by an abstract brand slogan. If the communicator builds that definition out with a story, it gives it a form and context that is accessible and ‘sticky’ (or memorable). In this example, the relatively abstract concept of ‘customer service’ is given a clear form through a simple story.

Apple Big Brother 1984 Casual Films

Apple’s iconic Think Different’ slogan is perfectly encapsulated by Ridley Scott’s equally iconic 1984 commercial for the launch of the original Mac computer (even though the slogan itself didn’t feature for the company until 1997). The spot features hundreds of drone-like, monochrome men in boiler suits all captivated by a large, Big-Brother-esque face on a screen in front of them. From the back of the room, a young woman in running kit, including red shorts, runs in and hurls a large hammer at the screen, destroying it. It ends with a voiceover saying, “Find out why 1984 is not going to be like 1984” – a clear, if implicit, punch at the established order represented by IBM. Anyone who saw that ad could see the essence of what Apple stood for then and what it continues to stand for now. To explain what was meant by the slogan could have taken many hundreds, if not thousands, of words, but video allows it to be captured and understood simply, in a handful of seconds.

This attribute makes the format really useful for internal/employer communications. Every company now has a set of values, which it expects its staff to live their working lives by. These values are far more effectively communicated through a story than a slogan. A value with a story becomes a behaviour. A behaviour is easier for the employee to understand and act on. Saying, “This is what we mean by excellent customer service, integrity, give more, etc.” is a great way to get staff to exhibit those values. Video is an effective way of illustrating these stories to them.

The powerfully aligning nature of narrative is part of the reason that foundation myths hold such a powerful sway in the business world. Yes, the company may now be a global behemoth, but, once upon a time, it was just a small group of people with an idea and a desire to go against the system. These founders faced almost impossible odds (conflict/jeopardy) but overcame them with guile and a belief that what they were doing was right. No matter how large and successful the company becomes, there will always be the underlying narrative, which can be mythologised, and used to engage and motivate staff and other stakeholders.


If you find this interesting check out Nick's book: The New Fire - Harness the Power of Video for Your Business. You can preorder it hereNew Fire Book Image

 

Topics: Being a better commissioner, How-to, Content Strategy

Using Data to Inform Your Content

Posted by Nick Francis
Read More

“The biggest difference between Don Draper and now is data.”
– Keith Weed, Chief Marketing and Communications Officer, Unilever


Not long ago, to get any kind of information on a target market, marketers needed to send out surveys or run focus groups. This made the process extremely heavy. For example, the census that the US government runs every 10 years takes several years to compile. This means that all the information it contains is out of date before anyone gets their hands on the latest copy. This has all changed now that the number of smart devices in circulation has exploded. We track how many steps we take, the places we visit and web searches effortlessly. There is also a huge amount of data accessible to video marketers. We can use this to create content that we know your target audience will want to engage with. This makes the understanding and use of data an extremely important tool for video marketers.

Netflix, House of Cards and Big Data

Netflix shows just how far companies can go when using data to inform the types of content it shares. Its flagship series, House of Cards, is a massive hit with its subscribers, with 86% saying that they were less likely to cancel their subscription because of the show, according to a survey by Cowan and Company. Back in 2011, the company took the massive step of commissioning two series of the show in one go, 26 episodes, for over US$100 million – US$3.8 million an episode, without seeing a single one!

  • Is that bravery or foolhardiness? It was actually a careful calculation based on big data. Before making the decision, it knew a number of key relevant facts about its users:
    A significant number of users had watched the whole of the David Fincher directed movie The Social Network.
  • The original British version of House of Cards had been well watched.
  • People who watched the British version of House of Cards also
    watched Kevin Spacey films and/or films directed by David Fincher.

This allowed it to make a judgement call that the new series was worth its investment. Having this information also allows it to target users with other content that they might like. It’s also able to see who is at risk of giving up their subscription by seeing how much they have been using it over the past month.

Why does this matter to you?

Obviously, Netflix is in a strong position as it’s able to directly track how its subscribers access its services on a person-by-person basis. There are ways that you can use data without having quite such an in-depth view, though. For example, A/B testing a number of different creative treatments/video names/thumbnail images before choosing the one that resonates most successfully with our audience is a form of data optimisation we should all be doing.

Beyond this, you can see in greater depth than you might at first glance. You have access to a surprising amount of data if you choose to. Many of the clients I’ve worked with in the past haven’t been able to make the most of the data they could be collecting. This is usually because of concerns around hosting and data security. There are some very powerful platforms that can host video securely, giving access to in-depth information, but it requires the clients making a choice to utilise them. This has been an argument that we’ve lost more often than not.

Given this fact and the natural limitations that you’ll have when you first start using data, it’s important that you don’t give up on the experience and intuition of your team/suppliers. Data can provide a grounding for decisions, but it’s important that you weigh the information up and make a rational choice based on what you have. Data can give you the insight that will help you to optimise your product and improve your value proposition. You just need to look at what you have access to and how this can help you.

Challenges to Data

The quality of the decisions you’re able to make as a result of a piece of data is only ever going to be as good or reliable as the underlying data itself. Because of this, you need make sure that you can trust all of the data that you include. As we’ll see, the seemingly unstoppable rise of data has, to an extent, been checked by a number of setbacks.

There are a few shortcomings of the data-led approach, which mean that those nice luvvies in the creative department shouldn’t be sweating too much just yet. Firstly, while all that data can undoubtedly be used to improve the background understanding that informs a creative idea, the information still needs human creative thought to establish the idea itself. Secondly, by becoming too data-centric, there is a danger that you end up travelling down a creative rabbit hole, only ever producing variations on the same work you’ve done in the past, because that’s where your best/safest dataset is. Finally, you need to be certain that the data is telling you what you think it is. For example, the most commonly tracked video data is views and engagements – shares, likes and comments. While it might be good for your self-esteem to know that your video has had over 1 million views since you shared it, it’s not going to help with your strategy if all of those people are either bots or from the wrong target group. The more trustworthy detail that you can get, the more useful data will be as a tool.

Oath Storytellers and Chevrolet - Case study

As the number of data points available to content commissioners increases, they are able to use the data points to make ever-more-insightful observations about the types of content you should be producing for a given audience. This is particularly true for businesses – such as publishers (The Wall Street Journal, Condé Nast, CNN, etc.) – that have built up a wealth of data from the past work that they have shared.

Take Oath – formerly Yahoo! – for example. It has over a billion monthly users. Each of those users’ actions is tracked, which builds up a picture of their online habits. Oath suggests that it receives and records 4 trillion data signals per month. This breadth of information allows it to judge what will and won’t be successful for certain demographics.

Going There Anna GasteyerOath for Chrysler - Going There with Anna Gasteyer

For example, Oath’s content studio was commissioned to produce a series to promote family cars for Chrysler. From its data, it was able to tell that, of its users who were in the market for a family car, 51% were female, 73% were married and 70% had children. It also knew that millennial parents/ expecting parents using Oath were 46% more likely to agree that they like the same products that celebrities use. It also knew that comedy was their favourite genre. Through all of this information, it was able to understand the type of content that would work best for the target audience, and create a series of comedy in-car interviews called Going There with Anna Gasteyer. Supporting this, it had a digital site with a variety of supporting content aimed at enticing mums, based on the search terms it knew they used. This led to increases in the click-through rate (+33%), purchase intent (+6%) and brand trust (+5%) among the target audience.


One really useful use of data is in understanding what the best lengths for video are online. We pulled together the best information into a white paper to help you maximise the impact of your work. You can download it right here.

 

Topics: Production process, Being a better commissioner, How-to, Content Strategy

A chat about The New Fire - Harness the Power of Video for your Business

Posted by Nick Francis
Read More

Co-founder Nick seems to be in a marginally better mood recently, probably because he has finally finished his book: The New Fire - Harness the Power of Video for Your Business. Here we ask him a few questions to give you an idea of what to expect.

If you would like to purchase a copy, please follow this link. Firstly, they're almost certain to sell out (Bezos is rubbing his hands together in anticipation of the launch already). Secondly, as an early registerer you might win a free copy! So, what are you waiting for! 

Anyway...

Why is the book called The New Fire?

Video is the New Fire for a couple of reasons:

Firstly, fire and storytelling have always been closely linked. Using fire enabled us to get the nutrition required from our food to grow our brains, enabling us to have thoughts that focused beyond the immediate – why are sabre-toothed tigers so… bitey?’, rather than simply ‘that sabre-toothed tiger is going to eat me, I need to run away now.’. It also lengthened the day, which gave us the time to use our newly enhanced brains to think abstractly and construct abstract narratives - to tell stories. This is why storytelling is such an effective means of communication. Our brains literally evolved to make sense of information through them.

 

saber-tooth-catSabre-toothed tiger - rather 'bitey'


Secondly, I’ve always liked the metaphor of video as fire. They exhibit many similar qualities. Used effectively, it can be sustaining, providing energy and power for your cause. It can ‘light a fire’ in your audience’s hearts and minds. Get it wrong and it can burn, damage and potentially kill you. In the online space, video spreads rapidly, enlightening or burning as it goes. Often with world changing ferocity. A fire of its time – the shocking LAPD/Rodney King case in the early ‘90s captured global attention because it was recorded for all to see. Now cameras are everywhere and distribution is immediate we all have that capability to create fire in our hands right now. Video has moved from being in the hands of the few, the privileged, who used it to broadcast their message, to being in the hands of the many – more or less everyone – who can use it to narrowcast to the few. This has huge ramifications for all of us, particularly business communicators.

This is why the Technological Revolution has allowed video to fully come of age. After 400 millennia fire was only harnessed with the Industrial Revolution and the invention of the steam and internal combustion engines. These transformed it from being a relatively raw asset – providing heat and light – and channelled it to power rapid advancement. This is the headspace that we need to be in when considering what video can do for us as modern communicators.

 

Why did you write this book?

I wrote the New Fire because this evolution has happened so fast that even for those working in the industry, it can feel pretty overwhelming to get your head around. I wanted to help people to make sense of it by breaking down what video is, how it has evolved and what this means for businesses and brands.

I also read a lot of business books and am yet to find a comprehensive account of brand video. There are ‘how to do it yourself’ books, there are books that look at marketing generally, there are very technical books which breakdown strategy. I haven’t yet found one that focuses specifically on corporate video. This has traditionally been a bit of a back water but this ignores the drastic evolution that has happened over the last decade. The UK government’s Independent Review of the Creative Industries published in 2017 didn’t include brand/corporate video content as a category, it didn’t even mention it. This is an estimated $8 billion global industry!

There are thousands of companies that have grown up over the last decade, producing stunning work for global businesses. As a member of this thriving industry, I wanted to represent the changes that have happened and to help both parties to get more from the relationship. 

 

Who should read this book? 

  1. Senior executives who want to understand more about using video content to engage staff, explain/promote products/launch or build a brand. The New Fire breaks down the assets that make video such a valuable tool so that you can think, speak plan around it from a position of understanding. From conversations with clients, senior execs and others working in the industry, I realised that there is often a bit of a knowledge gap between video practitioners, who tend to be a bit more clued up, and their bosses. This book specifically addresses that gap.
  1. Corporate/brand video commissioners who want to understand how to work more effectively with third party producers. The book breaks down each phase of the commissioning process from writing an effective brief and defining your audience to producing a cohesive content strategy.
  1. Marketers who want more detail on how and why one of the most potent tools in their armoury is just that. This book will help you to use it more effectively, improving returns from your campaigns.
  1. Recruitment/HR/Employer Brand professionals who want to understand how to use video to attract, recruit and motivate staff.
  1. Video producers/production companies/filmmakers working in business video who understand the process but might like a little more context.

 

What is it about?

The last ten years have seen a revolution in the way that video is used. Broadband Internet, DSLRs, camera phones, virals, YouTube, YouTubers, 3G, 4G, drones, consumer editing programmes, virtual reality, 360, augmented reality, interactive, all these things and more have completely changed video from the unidirectional tool for the privileged and put it in the hands of the masses. The most powerful communications tool yet invented can be used effectively. This has drastic implications for all of us, but it significantly changes the communications landscape for business. The pace of change has been such that to work in the way that many companies do, is to under realise the potential of this awesome platform.

The businesses that have realised the potential are creating huge value. Look at Red Bull. Okay, this may seem like an obvious example to use, but bear with me. They have created a whole brand media infrastructure which generates value for the core brand in a way that is indiscernible from the brand value of their core product. Every time someone sees a young lunatic heading off a jump upside down at 60 mph, they are reminded of Red Bull’s brand promise – that it ‘gives you wings.' 

josh-sheehan-red-bull-x-fighters-madrid-double-backflip

Obviously, if you’re an accountancy firm, or a bank, motorbike backflips aren’t necessarily going to chime with your brand. But if you understand who your target audience area and what makes them tick and then see where that intersects with what you stand for as a brand, you can get a huge amount of value from using video. That could be in direct ways – increasing sales by explaining your products or recruiting better staff – or less direct ways – like improving brand perception which ultimately sells more and allows you to charge more. However it’s used, the potential to build brand value is such, that businesses need to think about their content production as an additional product. This means that businesses need to think like broadcasters. They need to have a specific plan to deliver value for the business through content production. Whether they like it or not, they have a content channel and their audience expect them to use it, because if they don’t their competitors already will be. The New Fire breaks down how to do exactly that. 

 

Why is purpose such a valuable resource for content creators?

Using your business purpose as the cornerstone of your content is the best way to create impactful work. Having an anchor point which all of your creative can be linked back to also ensures that the content that you share through your ‘channel’ is coherent and relevant to your brand.

Business purpose has been such a hot topic over the last few years, underlined by Simon Sinek’s excellent book – Start with Why – “people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it”. (Check out his extremely popular TED talk.There are lots of reasons to have a purpose beyond the simple profit motive.  For one, it’s a really effective way of improving engagement among your employees. You should think of your purpose as your company’s ‘North Star’, the idea or principle which can be used to inform every decision that you make. This makes it a powerfully aligning element for any business. It is hugely valuable externally too. Because it is your North Star, all of your content should have your company purpose woven into it. This can happen naturally if you feature members of your staff who are often the manifestation of your values. In other instances, it might be necessary to be more explicit in understanding how a project’s creative concept links back. 

Doesn’t mean that all your content should be about your purpose, but it should fit within the same orbit. To look at the Red Bull example earlier, their purpose can be summarised as: we give people the energy and inspiration to fulfil their dreams. For the MotoXer, that might be to try to kill themselves (sorry – do massive backflips) but it can be equally relevant to helping conceptual artists to create their art. This gives them a huge amount of space to create work which reinforces what they stand for as a brand. ‘People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.’ 

Once you have clarified this you can create content which allows your audience to decide whether your values align with their own. If they do, then you will be on your way to building them into being fans and ultimately raving fans – the people who do your selling for you. I’ve oversimplified there, but creating content of this nature, which is very light touch on the selling side is one of the best ways of building a resilient and ultimately profitable following online. 

Errr… why have you written a book about video?

Ha – I wrote a book for two reasons.

Firstly, it’s essential to understand your audience and the way that they consume information. This book is for people who come in contact with video within their business and want to know more. According to Inc magazine, most senior execs read 4-5 books per month. I wanted to communicate them in the format that they would be most comfortable.

Secondly, video is an excellent communications medium, but it’s not perfect for everything. There is a huge amount of information in there and I wanted people to be able to take the book, read it, peruse it and refer to it whenever they need to brush up on something. Want to understand the power of purpose? It’s in there. Need to set a budget? It’s in there? Want to know the difference between psychographic and demographic audience segmentation? It’s in there. Whatever it is, I’ve tried to make the information as accessible and as easy to refer to as possible.

I am looking at producing more video around it, but it turns out that writing a book takes up quite a lot of time!


You can read more about the New Fire and purchase your very own copy here: www.newfirebook.com

 

Topics: Being a better commissioner, How-to, Purpose driven video, News, Content Strategy

Empower your Team to Take Risks to Create Excellent Content

Posted by Nick Francis
Read More

EVERYONE WANTS TO BE APPLE. NO ONE IS WILLING TO BE STEVE JOBS...

Video is more accessible than ever before. This has made the distribution environment a little... convoluted. This turmoil represents a fantastic opportunity for brands to make decisive moves to win fame and brand loyalty among a potentially global audience. To do that, to borrow a phrase, you have to ‘think different’.

Differentiation requires unconventionality

By definition, to differentiate oneself requires a degree of unconventional thinking. Being conventional – producing average content – pretty much guarantees average outcomes. This is particularly true, for example, in the recruitment/talent space, where everyone in a given industry is chasing broadly the same candidates. If everyone goes about it in the same way, then the key differentiating factor becomes money. This makes it very expensive to get the top candidates. You need to try to break free from convention in order to differentiate yourself by what you stand for. The best way to illustrate this is through well-conceived, eye-catching video.

steve-jobs-legacy"All I ask is that today, you do the best work of your entire lives"

- Steve Jobs

That’s easy enough to say, I know. When we’re asked for a treatment (the ideas and approach for a project) by a client, our creative team comes up with three suitable ideas. These are (usually): a ‘conventional but safe’ example, a ‘differentiating and could win awards/really achieve something exciting’ example, and another that falls in between the two.

Even when the client starts the process by saying, “We want to do something really out there this time”, the majority of the time (four times out of five) they go with the safe one. And, once it’s commissioned, the client will tend to push towards safety as it goes. I don’t mean this as criticism at all; it’s more that I understand the pressures that commissioners are under. The people we work with are experienced, talented and creative, and want to create work that is genuinely great, but they often operate in a framework that makes it hard for them to do what they really want to.

Being conventionally wrong is better than risking being unconventionally right

The reason for this is that, in large corporations, it’s nearly always better to be conventionally wrong than to take the risk to be unconventionally right. If you take a risk on the received convention – hiring IBM, as the saying goes – and it goes wrong, you’re probably not going to get fired. If you take the unconventional route and it doesn’t go to plan, you’re out on your ear. This leads to defensive decision-making – the enemy of differentiation, and a factor that is probably costing your business millions in lost or unrealised revenue.

“Boring and safe rarely leads to a connection. Connection happens when humanity asserts itself.”

- Seth Godin, The Icarus Deception

There is no reason why any company that chooses to can’t achieve excellent returns from building their brand with video, but it has to come from the top. Red Bull has two shareholders – the original entrepreneurs who set the business up. That means it has the freedom to make the decisions that are in the long-term interest of the brand. It can choose to take the calculated risks that are necessary to make this stuff really work, without having to answer to the drive for short-term returns. Apple is often talked about in lofty terms in creative meetings. Apple brand, the precision of its operations and the adoration of its users (and its profit margin!) – but no one is prepared to be Steve Jobs: risk taking, brave and uncompromising in his pursuit for perfection. To expect one without the other is unrealistic and naïve.

 

Felix Baugartner Red BullFelix Baumgartner steps into the unknown for Red Bull

 

“Fortune favours the bold.”

– Virgil

The fact is that differentiation and, ultimately, success nearly always lie down the unconventional path. This is truer than ever in the content saturated world we’re all operating in now. The way to allow your team or people to find that path is by giving them the space to take calculated risks with the material that they produce. I’m not suggesting that you completely let go of the reins and let the whole operation explode in a blaze of fruitless, but beautiful, creative glory. The key step in creating a winning culture is in how you approach failure. The businesses that really succeed are the ones that treat failure as a valuable chance to learn, and make sure that the lessons are heeded and shared across the organisation.

Black Box Thinking

Matthew Syed talks about this in his excellent book Black Box Thinking. He contrasts the incidence of accidents or failures in the airline and healthcare industries. Airlines carry millions of passengers all over the world in highly complex, heavier-than-air, metal boxes. On the face of it, this seems impossibly dangerous, and yet they manage the astonishing safety record of people having just a 1-in-11-million chance of being killed in a plane crash. Whereas, in the US alone, 250,000 people die as a result of medical negligence every year. That’s the equivalent of three fully loaded jumbos crashing every two days. The key difference between these two industries is their attitude to failure. In the airline industry, there are established systems for sharing even the smallest event from which future travel could be made safer. In hospitals, people treat mistakes with a sad shrug and as ‘one of those things’ that happens when dealing with something so complex, and yet is it that much more complex than air travel?

Encourage a growth mindset among your team

You must cultivate an open culture where your team members feel empowered to try different things. You should encourage them to keep a growth mindset - always looking for ways to be better and improve. To use events that didn’t go exactly to plan as an opportunity to learn. In the Silicon Valley vernacular, ‘fail fast’. To avoid failing is to avoid the opportunity to learn and improve. The online environment gives you the opportunity to continually reiterate. It’s more valuable to have the odd misfire, setting a baseline from which to improve, than it is to cruise along in safe, unremarkable mediocrity. Online, more than before, mediocrity is ignored.

Get your thinking straight before you begin with our guide to writing better briefs. You can download it right here.

Or if you'd prefer, you can download our 10 step process to making better videos, right here.

Topics: Being a better commissioner, Content Strategy

Five Awesome Brand Films to Get You Inspired for 2019

Posted by Nick Francis
Read More

Being an almost limitlessly creative medium makes video an exciting and rewarding tool to work with. One of the things we like about making video for businesses is that we have very clear constraints within which to work. Unconstrained creativity is anarchic. Within constraints creativity flourishes. This is why having a well thought out brief is so central to creating work which is memorable and effective. You can download our guide to writing a good brief here.

Before you start with any project it helps to have an idea of the kind of thing you want to produce. To that end, we thought we’d pull together a few films which nail it - to help you to channel your thinking. Have a watch, have a think, and then maybe get in touch with an exciting production company you might know...

Dramatised Charity Film: 

Oxfam – The Heist No One is Talking About

 

This is probably my favourite charity film of all time. By reframing the issue of tax evasion, it makes the subject far more tangible for the audience. It is as illuminating as it is memorable. The cinematic production really adds to the drama and impact.

Inspiration point:

Films with this much gloss and thought require a significant investment. You can get a long way to a result like this with some decent creative thought up front. Once you have an idea as powerful as this, there are almost limitless ways of producing it - Hollywood production values or not.

 

Repurposed Material:

BMW Careers

We love this film because it demonstrates how effective video can be at illustrating company culture. It was produced from the large amount of material that BMW already had. This was combined with some library footage and a punchy soundtrack, to deliver an effect that is eye-catching, memorable and effective.

Inspiration point:

Even if you're not BMW with endless amounts of great footage, have a think about the material you already have. Maybe you can update it, add to it or repurpose it easily to give you great content that you can get more mileage out of.

 

Business Mini-Doc:

AutoDesk – History of 3D Printing 

Most companies are associated with interesting stories if you look beneath the surface. I like this mini documentary because it allows Autodesk to give real depth and context to the work that they do. It builds trust with the company both internally - with employees - and externally - with customers, prospects and potential recruits.

Inspiration point:

Admittedly, 3D printing is kind of cool and looks good on camera – especially the time lapse footage. There are always interesting stories that you can use to build trust with your brand if you look for them. Keep an open mind and ask around. Ask your employees/colleagues/clients. Video is a magnifying glass on issues. You can make a film about an individual or an event and reflect the story of the many.

 

Interactive:

Aloe Black

 Love is the Answer InteractiveThis will link you out to an external site.

This isn’t a brand film, and the interactive is pretty basic, but we still tend to go to this as a great example of the medium, because it’s so satisfying. It doesn’t hurt that the track is ace too. As with any new creative technology, some of the early  interactive has been a little prone to gimmickry. This confidently avoids that because the interactive adds to the narrative of the band coming together. It manages to inspire excitement as we switch from storyline to storyline, seeing what the next band member is up to. This could be used in a corporate context to show almost any process where different threads run concurrently - a recruitment process, a product being assembled or an even being prepared.

Inspiration point:

Interactive video is a great way of increasing engagement with your audience. We have seen engagement rates on some of our interactive films rate at nearly 4x live action video. It may seem a little intimidating, but it just requires an understanding of the mechanics and a little preplanning.  

  

Mixed Media Product Launch

Apple’s Big News

 

Sure, it’s Apple, so it’s stylish, glossy and delish. Producing something like this doesn’t need to cost an Apple budget though. This video works because it combines a number of elements effectively: live action video, on screen type, beautifully rendered animation, powerful audio blended with a strong dash of humour. Most of these elements are inexpensive to create, it just requires a good script and some planning. They can come up with the creative idea and then produce it quickly and efficiently. 

Inspiration point:

 

It's easier to create something like this than it looks. Being clear on what you're trying to achieve before you start is the key. Once you have this, a professional producer can help you to create something memorable and effective.


It helps the production team if you have an idea what you want your video to look like. Whatever you're trying to achieve take a moment to consult our easy to follow guide to writing briefs which will make your video more engaging, memorable and ultimately effective.

Topics: Attract and retain the best candidates, Increase brand awareness and appeal, Boost sales and encourage donations, Being a better commissioner, Repurposed content, Content Strategy

Five Essentials for Recruiting the 2030 Generation

Posted by Nick Francis
Read More

"85% of 2030's jobs have not been invented yet"

- Institute for the Future

We're living in 'The Age of Accelerations'

This is what the inside of the Fourth Industrial Revolution looks like, and it feels a little crazy. This is probably why our time has been described as the 'Age of Accelerations'. As everything is now digitally driven, all technological advancement is pegged to Moore's Law - ie. it doubles every two years. That's acceleration.

This is one of the reasons the whole world seems to have gone a bit weird over the last few years. Established norms are not quite so normal. The things that we grew up understanding as obvious are being questioned. Change is everywhere. That change is accelerating.

For more on the Fourth Industrial Revolution you might like to check out this film by the World Economic Forum:

 - This was not produced by Casual Films -

The pace of change and the accompanying deluge of information has repercussions on every area of our lives, from the kitchen to the bedroom to the sports field to the office. In the office we need to grapple to not only understand what the new normal is, but to try to understand what it will look like in five or even ten years time. 

If we find this challenging, imagine what it is like for the young people who are leaving school now and looking to enter the workplace. What are they looking for from their employers and what can we do to help them to make the right decisions for their futures? I was having a chat with a friend the other day about how how the workplace is changing and what this means for the next generation of recruitment. I thought I would share some of those thoughts here.

1. Evolving learning environments

According to the experts who attended the Institute for the Future workshop in March 2017, 85% of the jobs that today's learners will be doing in the year 2030 haven't been invented yet! Even if that figure proves to be a little optimistic, the only way that recruiters can attract the very best talent is by creating working environments that allow for continual learning and development. The best talent are looking for working environments that will allow them to grow and evolve to be ready to fit into and prosper in the workplace of their futures. They will run from anything that that has an inkling of stasis.

2. Entrepreneurial attributes

As robots and algorithms take on more of the workload, specifically human traits like creative problem solving, perseverance and vision become increasingly valuable. These attributes are routinely correlated with what we think of as an entrepreneurial mindset. The best businesses of 2030 will be the ones who attract and retain entrepreneurialism by allowing it to flourish. This requires trust, space and clear boundaries to get the most from the best staff. Smaller teams provide increased ownership and accountability and are useful in creating positive environments for human characteristics to excel. By taking on a large amount of the administrative and repetitive functions, machines clear the way for humans to do the things that they do best. This should make for a far more enjoyable, rewarding working experience.

3. Globalisation 

Despite recent backlashes, as then US Secretary of State John Kerry said in 2013, the "globalisation genie can't be put back in the bottle". It will face challenges, but the tools that have made instantaneous global communications and rapid global logistics possible cannot be uninvented. For the workers of 2030, competition for job roles will not be with people from down the road, but from the schools and universities of Beijing or Mumbai.

This raises the bar for those entering the workplace, but it also means that to recruit the best employees, companies need to think about their talent globally. It means that they have to grapple with the challenges of relocations, global employer branding and communications.

4. Digital innovation

We are all digital companies now. The need to attract top digital talent essential for everyone from Google to Tesco. Some companies naturally find this a lot easier than others. In order to attract the best digital talent, companies need to show that they are serious about digital transformation and are willing to invest and go the distance to delivering it. They need to allow top technical talent freedom and space for innovation (within bounds). Transformations of this kind need to be driven from C-suite/board level. 

The failure to grasp the importance of this represents an existential threat to even the largest of businesses, as we have seen with the likes Blockbuster, Toys-r-Us, Woolworths. To capture the talent they need to avoid, digitally transforming companies need to inspire/enable genuine ‘start-up’ thinking. This creates a compelling offer for new joiners who want to be a part of driving the change. You have to really mean it though. As I mentioned before, the best people won't go anywhere near anything that smells of stasis.

 

 

Vodafone Digital Ninja

5. Business Purpose

Gen Z have grown up in a world surrounded by climate change, the ‘plastification’ of the oceans, mass extinction and social inequality. They care deeply about these and want to their working lives to be part of the solution. For millennial employees for example, the ability to contribute to charitable causes at work leads to increased loyalty. Deloitte found that of the 54% of millennials who were provided with the opportunity to contribute to good causes or charities, 35% stayed in their job for 5 years or more (vs 24% without the opportunity). Gen Z are even more engaged than their forebears to drive change.  Clarify your purpose as a business and then live it, communicate around it and engage the workforce that will deliver future success.

You may also be interested in the Attract and Recruit the Best Candidates homepage.


We'd love to hear what you think about these? Do you agree? What have we missed? Whatever you think, we'd be fascinated to hear your thoughts. If you would like to book a call to discuss this, or anything film related, you can do that here:

New call-to-action

Topics: Attract and retain the best candidates

Producer Felicia's Dos and Don'ts of filming in the extreme cold

Posted by Nick Francis
Read More

Time, tide and shooting schedules wait for no man nor woman nor icy blasts. So said no-one. Ever.

With this in mind, this week Felicia and some of the team travelled to an absolutely freezing (-23ºF/-35ºC) Chicago. As every day is a school day at Casual Films - and because you never know when such things might be helpful - here we share some of the dos and don'ts of shooting in the Arctic winter.

Do work with a top notch crew. The more things you can depend on the better. Particularly when the hotel door lets you down too...

9076deee-10c4-45ea-b64b-15c0dfbc0c41-2

Don't trust that your flight will get you to Chicago during a Polar Vortex. Felicia had 2 tickets booked on 2 separate airlines, just in case.

Do have a safety briefing before the crew starts for the day. Crew safety above all else.

Don't panic when the - decidedly not top notch - snow removal guy quits at 5 am on the morning of the shoot.

Do hire a different snow remover guy who was better, friendlier and cheaper than the original guy was any way.

Don't tell your mom where you are or what you're doing because she will worry and ask you to text her every night when you're back at the hotel (true story).

Do make sure you keep hands, ears and batteries warm before use. Cold drastically reduces their operating time, particularly the batteries.

WhatsApp Image 2019-01-31 at 15.40.08Do hire as many powerful lights as possible in an attempt to make it look and feel sunny inside.

Don't touch bare metal without gloves on - you've seen Dumb and Dumber right?

Do check the minimal operational temperature of the equipment you're using, realise you're well below what it's supposed to be able to handle and embrace the fact there is only so much you can do when it comes to outsmarting Mother Nature.

She will always always win. But you might just get what you need from your shoot before she does.


If you're unsure about how to light and film a house in the freezing cold of the Northern Arctic winter, or a street near you, you can book a call with an excellent producer, like our very own Felicia, by clicking right here.

Topics: Production process, Being a better commissioner, How-to

Marketers? Your goal: genuinely improve your audience’s lives

Posted by Nick Francis
Read More

The Internet has sped up our lives – email has turned airmail into ‘snail mail’. Mobile Internet connectivity has made our lives faster still. We’re being robbed of the last shreds of time we had to think. The pace of life, and the profusion of different channels and distractions has sharpened our perception of the value of our time.

As marketers, this poses a challenge for getting our communications heard. Along with this heightened awareness, the audience has control of how they invest their time. With the growth in ad-blocking software, marketing messages face a challenge to be noticed. For us to achieve cut-through (landing our message with the audience), our content has to pass over a higher ‘is this a valuable use of my time?’ bar than ever.  It has to provide genuine value to the audience, making their lives better for having interacted with it, even just a tiny bit.

Tom Fishbourne Adding ValueLike so many of Tom Fishbourne's excellent cartoon's this delivers an important truth that is invaluable for marketers 

Being ‘TRUE’

Content marketing is about delivering ‘value’ to the audience. What do we actually mean by that? Marketing guru Seth Godin describes it as follows:

“…something that people would seek out, and that they would miss if it wasn’t there.” 

In terms of thinking about your content, a simple guide to this is that the audience are looking for something that is TRUE; that is, timely, relevant, useful or entertaining. The better you understand your audience, the more effective the content that you create for them will be. Let’s look at what is meant by each of those terms:

Timely

Timing is key to effective content. Think about how successful Oreo was with its “You Can Dunk in the Dark” tweet, when the lights went out during the 2013 Super Bowl. It was picked up by the 23 million Twitter users who were watching the game, and ended up being regarded as the ad of the evening – a title that many companies had spent millions of dollars for a shot at, and failed. It goes without saying that what is timely for one viewer is annoyingly late for another – good advice 30 seconds too late is annoying.

Relevant

As we touched on previously, the content has to be relevant to the audience. This almost goes without saying – we all constantly filter the information that assails us every waking moment. Because of this, your audience are keenly aware of what does and doesn’t apply to them. Think about what is going to be relevant for your viewers – this might now be directly obvious. For example, if you’re trying to market an apprentice scheme to school leavers, they may be interested in advice on renting a home for the first time. This information is obviously not so interesting to those looking to move job as an experienced hire. This underlines the importance of understanding your audience and what is relevant to them.

A word of warning here, according to research by LinkedIn, 44% of their respondents said they would consider ending a relationship with a brand because of irrelevant promotions. An additional 22% said that they would ‘definitely defect’ from that brand. Knowing your audience and making content that is relevant to them is essential.

"44% would consider ending a relationship with a brand because of irrelevant promotions.

22% would definitely defect"

- LinkedIn

Useful

One step on from being relevant is content that is actually useful. Providing how-tos, instructions, discounts and tie-ins with other products that they may be using are all ways of being useful to your audience. Once again, what is useful to your viewers might not be immediately obvious – look at the previous example. Home-renting advice is also useful to the target audience. These different types of value do not exist in isolation – each piece of content can be a combination of one or more things.

Casual Films Provide Value Tyler Milligan

You must create content that your audience will actively seek out, love and share because it's great.

Entertaining

We all need a little entertainment from time to time. If you can get it right, this is a great way of drawing in your audience and winning them over. Tread carefully with this though – you have to make sure that whatever you share ties in with your brand. You need to earn the trust of the audience before making drastic departures in tone of voice.

The content you produce doesn’t need to be all of these things at the same time – any one or two will work, as long as it/they provide enough value in that given area. The more entertaining and relevant your work content is, for example, the more the chance there is that it will be watched, shared and loved.

 

There are different ways of skinning a cat though...

Google defines the different ways of engaging your audience with your content slightly differently:

- Inspire the audience with emotional and relatable stories.

- Educate the audience with useful information.

- Entertain the audience by surprising them, making them laugh or sharing spectacular content.

There is no right or wrong way of looking at these; they are just a different way of looking at the same underlying principles. I hope that seeing them from a slightly different angle will help you to understand them and use them.


If you found this interesting and would you like to learn more about how to make really great content?

We have condensed the last decade and nearly 10,000 films worth of learning into what we consider to be the Ten Commandments of Better Video. You can download them here.

Download ten ways to make better videos Jakub Gorajek

Topics: Increase brand awareness and appeal, Being a better commissioner, Content Strategy

YouTube’s content structure: Hero, Hub and Hygiene/Help

Posted by Nick Francis
Read More

In the same way that traditional broadcast channels have schedules and different types of programming for different audiences/time of day, so can your business. You don’t necessarily need the same breadth of programmes that they have. But it is worth thinking considering how your audience interacts with the different content that you create or curate.

A few years ago now the helpful people at Youtube published their guide for content planning. This defined three different types of video which reflect the different ways audiences access content online. They called this structure: Hero, Hub and Hygiene.

Hero Hub Help-1The hero, hub and hygiene/help content structure

YouTube realised that the user is drawn into an online video channel in one of two separate ways – they either see something that catches their eye, which gets them to click on it and watch it, or they type in a search term to find out about something that they are specifically looking for. Once on the channel, they should be encouraged to subscribe. From then on, they are sent notifications when the channel is updated with new material; this leads to the necessity of regular magazine-type content. These different types of content give rise to what they have termed hero, hub and hygiene/help.

Hero

This is the really eye-catching, click-bait stuff. It is more akin to traditional TV advertising as a type. This is where you ‘go big’ to raise awareness of your brand and the other content you are sharing. It is often ‘chunked’ or divided into shorter clips or images, and used as a promotion for the channel itself in banners on other sites. Because of this, its purpose is to catch the audience’s eye with the concept, image or title as they browse elsewhere. They then click on the link and are drawn into watching the video, before being served the other content hosted on the channel.

Deutsche Bank: Agile Minds - hero content is not necessarily about spending lots of money

Hub

This is the ongoing magazine-type material. This should be updated regularly with the goal of getting the audience to check back in to see what the latest show is. This is designed to be ‘pushed’ out to existing subscribers; this means that they will receive a notification when there is some new material for them to have a look at. They then click on this and revisit your channel.

The Marriott Wandernaut Show

This animated series was shared internally to allow staff to hear from key leaders and keep up to date with what was going on across the business. These films gave staff members a reason to check back in and be involved in the company channel.

Hygiene/Help 

Classic help content: How to Light a Room for Tesco

This is the content that people actually search for – how-tos, guides and instructions. This type of content is designed to pull users into your channel through search results. Initially, YouTube called this ‘hygiene’ because it is about things that people need to do. They since changed this to ‘help’, because that better reflects what it is/does.

How they work together

By using the three different types to complement one another, it is possible to draw an ever-increasing number of subscribers into your channel – an initial goal of any channel operator. How this works can be seen in the following diagram:

Hero Hub HygieneHow it works: building an audience with the hero, hub and hygiene/help content structure

Your audience find Help content by searching for key words or phrases. This leads to a gradually increasing number of subscribers. Having subscribed they continue to be able to access the Hub or magazine style content you share. Additionally, tentpole Hero content is pushed out drawing larger numbers of viewers back onto the channel. These videos cause the viewer numbers to spike, with subscriber numbers increasing proportionately. You then continue to build trust with your subscribers by sharing content which they genuinely like and value. We'll look at that in more depth next time.


Whatever you are trying to achieve with your content. Whether you want to create a simple how-to or a multistage campaign, it's essential to set off on the right foot. To help you to do this, we created our guide to help you create briefs which are better thought out, clearer and more likely to get you the result you're after. Click here to download it:

DOWNLOAD BETTER BRIEFS 

Topics: Increase brand awareness and appeal, Being a better commissioner, How-to, Content Strategy

Why is video such a powerful communications tool?

Posted by Nick Francis
Read More

 "Of all the arts, the most important for us is the cinema"

- Vladimir Lenin

The leaders of the Russian Revolution were fascinated with the power of film as a propaganda and educational tool for a largely illiterate population. The reason for this was the medium’s ability to inspire emotion among groups of people.

Eisenstein
Sergei Eisenstein, 1925 – genius filmmaker of the Russian Revolution
One hundred years on, film/video remains the most potent tool available for generating emotion in a dispersed audience. It’s the ability to move us that makes good cinema completely spellbinding, and why, historically, TV advertising has been so lucrative. We are moved because we empathise directly with what happens to the characters on screen.
 
Storytelling is an essential tool in any corporate communicator’s arsenal. It’s when it’s combined with the natural properties of film that it becomes the most powerful communication tool available to humanity. This is because video is most effective when used to portray human emotion.
 

Empathy

ˈɛmpəθi/

noun

“The ability to understand and share the feelings of another.”

Empathy is a key evolutionary skill. It’s fundamental to our ability to form cohesive social groups. It allowed our forebears to benefit from not having to fight sabre-toothed tigers literally alone. It allows us the same benefit, metaphorically speaking. When we see or hear about people experiencing specific emotions, we’ve evolved to feel those same emotions. For example, if we see someone who’s suffering from the cold, we feel a little of that suffering. This makes us more likely to offer a jacket, blanket or space by the fire. These emotions assist the survival of the species, and are part of our intrinsic need to seek out experiences, understanding and companionship. These are fundamental elements in what makes us human.

The mechanics behind empathy have long baffled neuroscientists. To begin with, it was assumed that the emotion was as a result of a logical, mental interpretation in order to predict other people’s actions. Then, in the early 1990s, Italian researchers studying the brains of macaque monkeys made a breakthrough. They discovered that the same area of the brain lights up in monkeys that are just watching their fellow monkeys reaching for food as in those who are doing the reaching.

Casual FIlms BrainThis led to the discovery in the brain of what are called ‘mirror cells’. This profoundly changed our understanding of neurochemistry. These cells allow us to understand other people’s actions, not by thinking through what they are doing but by directly feeling the emotion that they are feeling. When you see someone frown, for example, your frowning mirror neurones fire up too, creating the sensation in your own mind that you associate with frowning. You don’t have to experience what the other person is experiencing to make them frown; you feel the emotion directly and effortlessly.

Professor Talma Hendler, a neuroscientist at Tel Aviv University in Israel, studied brain scans in order to understand the chemical basis for empathy. She found there are two types of empathy at work, which are illustrated by where they occur in the brain. The first and more advanced type is what she calls ‘mental empathy’. This requires the viewers to think outside themselves – to mentally put themselves in the other person’s shoes – and think about what they may be experiencing. The second is called ‘embodied empathy’. This is a more intuitive and primal empathy, which you might experience when watching someone get hurt.

natalie-portman cropNatalie Portman in Black Swan

As part of her studies, Prof. Hendler showed Aron Aronofsky’s film Black Swan to a number of subjects, while monitoring their brain activity. I watched this intense psychological thriller on a very bumpy flight in what was the most potently dramatic cinema experience of my entire life - but that's another story. As Natalie Portman’s character experiences hallucinations at the depths of her psychosis, the audience develops – temporarily – the same brain chemistry as a genuine schizophrenia sufferer. Watching a film of someone with a psychological illness effectively gives the audience the symptoms of a psychological illness.

This makes film an invaluable tool for marketers. What better way of illustrating the refreshing nature of your beer than by transporting your audience to a hot desert and then showing some bottles sticking out of an ice bucket, complete with condensation? The advertisers are generating the perception of genuine thirst and potential refreshment for the audience. This fact explains the continued value of video as a tool to persuade and influence.

“They may forget what you said – but they will never forget how you made them feel.”

– Carl W. Buehner
 

Breast Cancer Now - Chantelle  

This power is illustrated in full gut-punching style in this film for Breast Cancer Now. Watching this it is impossible not to feel some of the pain and anguish of Chantelle and her family. It is impossible because we are biologically designed to feel these emotions. Through the skilful use of film we can construct an experience for the viewer which pulls their emotions in different ways. Think of the terror of the beach scene in Saving Private Ryan, the romance of Lady and the Tramp, the fear of Jaws. All effective video communications rely on this attribute, even information heavy corporate comms should have a dash of emotion. If there isn't room for a bit of human emotion in your comms, you shouldn't be using video as the medium. That said, communications without emotion are not worth communicating as no one will remember them, because emotion is essential to forming memories.
 

Roche: LeanSixSigma - no matter the subject, animation is a great way of communicating information as it allows the addition of character and emotion effortlessly.

Anthropomorphic empathy

A strange quirk of this empathy is that we have a tendency to project emotions, motives and thoughts onto the characters that we’re watching. It doesn’t even need to be a real person in order to elicit this effect. To empathise with a character, we just need to be able to attribute what we perceive as human emotions and objectives to them. Once this has taken place, we immediately and unconsciously decide whether we a) like them, and b) can trust them. It’s this quirk that allows animation to work.

Whether we’re looking at a duck, a ball or a collection of pencil lines on the screen that make up a drawn character, the effect is the same. We do find it easier if the item has a semblance of a face. The more like us the characters are, the easier we find it to empathise with them. The concept and ridiculousness of this is brilliantly illustrated in Spike Jonze’s lamp ad.

Spike Jonze, The Lamp for Ikea

There are other things that a filmmaker can do to increase the amount we empathise with a subject. For example, we’re also programmed to empathise more with children or those with childlike characteristics. Characters that are small, have big eyes or have a cuddliness to them (i.e. that are cute) are more easily relatable. We feel more is at stake in their survival and so care more about their concerns. This is our base programming at work – human genes working to secure their own survival. Music also has the effect of increasing the level of empathy with characters that viewers feel, because it adds to the illusion of their own vitality and personality.


Whatever you are trying to achieve with your video project, it really helps to start off on the right foot. You can make sure you do this by taking a quick look at our handy guide to writing effective briefs. You can download it here:

DOWNLOAD BETTER BRIEFS

 

Topics: Production process, Being a better commissioner

POPULAR POSTS

BMW Careers

Casual Films of 2018

jakub-gorajek-188614

10 Video Trends to Watch in 2019

Recent Posts

rexfeatures_5885504a

What is a story and why do they matter...

Netflix Data Informed Content

Using Data to Inform Your Content