Over the past few years, in addition to doing a lot of storytelling for video, I’ve had the privilege of interviewing digital marketers from Cisco, Ford, IBM, Goodwill Industries International and NetApp among other companies that are innovating successfully with video. While, of course, there is no home-run “formula” (except for cute kids and keyboard-playing cats!), there are ten practices successful companies use that can improve your video storytelling outcomes.


1. Find a human story. The purpose of a great video is to establish a human connection with your audience, not to drown people in facts. Video is a storytelling medium, and at the heart of every great marketing message is a great story. Companies that have been successful with video understand that it starts with a compelling story rather than worrying about going “viral.” Viral is not a strategy. Most B2B videos will never go viral. Your goal is connecting with your specific audience, and your chances of success improve if the story behind your video is powerful, and shows some human passion. Create videos that appeal to your specific community.

This is where B2B can learn a lot from B2C. Panera Bread, for example, does a great job showing the passion of the bakers behind the company. Goodwill Industries International has some great videos that focus on changing lives. Product and service videos, for example, don’t do as well when they are focused on the technology and features because the underlying human story is lost. A great technology example is Cisco’s Valentine’s Day video – it never gets into technical detail. Instead, it’s a funny story that grabs attention. Story always trumps production.

2. Simplicity and brevity matter. Videos have mere seconds to grab attention. Companies that are successful focus on content that is simple. Simplicity, like humor, is the antidote to complexity. Ford, for example, encouraged devoted fans to submit their own 30-second videos focusing on their one favorite car feature and why they love it. Videos should be well under two minutes; 90 seconds or less is ideal.

3. Humor works, so lighten up! B2B does not mean ‘blah to boring!’ Humor doesn’t just work for B2C. So, please, B2B, stop avoiding humor. Part of the emotional range of the human experience is humor, and it makes for a great “marketing” connection. Humor is also a great way to break down complexity and that’s why humor can work well in B2B, especially when the technology is complex. A simple, fun story can cut through layers of noise. NetApp has a great example featuring a rap competition. Another great example is from Serena Software, called “Mash it.” Kinaxis, the supply chain management solutions company, cleverly parodies the “relationship” customers have with their supply chain management providers. CodeWeavers had fun by having the CEO and the CTO dress in drag to increase press coverage of their product, CrossOver, at Macworld with New York Times tech journalist, David Pogue. And Cisco has several funny videos that have done well (see Valentine’s Day above).

4. Honor your brand and values. While “authenticity” has sadly become a buzzword, it factors into video credibility. When humor works, for example, it is also because the companies using it are authentically fun. Humor must be part of the brand personality of the company, and consistent with what people believe the company truly is. B2B companies including Hubspot and NetApp have been successful with their humorous videos, in part, because fun is an authentic part of their culture.

Dollar Shave Club is a great example of authenticity. Its successful 2012 launch video, which earned over 4 million views in less than one month, is consistent with the company’s marketing voice. From its website to its product packaging, fun is a key part of the company’s brand.

Even a video of a CEO talking to a Flip camera is OK if it’s sincere and not scripted. Several years ago in response to JetBlue’s service crisis, the CEO responded via videos that were effective because they were apologetic without the “BS” PR-speak.

5. Let go of control. Empower the best storytellers, who, by the way, are most often found outside of the C-suite. Of course, Dollar Shave Club’s CEO Mike Dubin, who put a human face on his company, is an exception. The best storytellers outside the executive rank have talent and credibility, and, because they are often close to the customer, they know how to tell stories without the PR-spin. Ford, for example, interviewed on video the design team behind the Ford Explorer and it was compelling because it was real employees discussing their experiences. Cisco did this to great success with intern Greg Justice, who rapped about his reputation as the most interesting intern in the world. This also includes letting your best customers and fans tell their stories. For the Fiesta Movement, Ford gave 100 bloggers cars for 100 days and asked them to video their experiences. The results were compelling and funny, including this one about zombies. Ford empowered others to tell stories in a way that Ford itself could not have done.

6. Take risks. The risks don’t have to bet the farm, but successful companies try, experiment, fail sometimes, and learn from those mistakes. Every company that experienced video success also told me about creating videos that didn’t work well, but the downside of experimentation wasn’t huge – they weren’t betting the brand per se. Cisco, for example, vets its videos internally first to reduce some risk and to make sure everything fits with its message and brand. Still, there is no way to be completely risk-free in marketing and innovative companies accept that. Cisco has taken some creative risks by releasing some very funny videos. Taking risks is also about upending expectations. The Art of the Sale series, for example, helped to change IBM’s stodgy image. It worked well precisely because it was unexpected from IBM!


7. Forge your own template – then reinvent it. After the success of the Old Spice video, parodies proliferated across the Internet. Cisco even did one – and while its target market loved it, many pundits didn’t. Yet, the video was meant for its core audience, not for the press. Marketing is in large part an art, not a replicable science. What worked for Old Spice won’t work for other brands. There are many templates to be written and successful companies experiment to see what works for them. Don’t try to bottle a formula. It doesn’t exist.

8. ROI Goes Beyond Sales and Views. Successful companies have clear objectives before launching video campaigns, and they have multiple ways of measuring video “success” that goes beyond sales. These metrics include unique viewers, the amount of buzz and favorable comments the video generated, the conversations created, and lead generation among the most common metrics. Despite the fact that B2B sales cycles can be long and complex and that tying sales directly to video is difficult, videos can drive awareness, press coverage, customer conversations, and positive PR – all of which can increase sales, indirectly, over time. Innovative organizations recognize that they have to be both flexible in trying to measure ROI, and in allowing themselves freedom to learn what works without obsessing over sales in the immediate short-term. Still, measurement is critical and social strategies evolve with experience.
9. Think ‘Call to action.’ Add a strong call to action for viewers at the end of your video; think about what you want them to do after watching it.

10. Distribution. And, of course, a clearly defined distribution strategy – involving some push methods and the right partners – is key to success. Plan how you will promote your videos before you launch them. Make sure you promote your video across all online channels and partnerships, and across offline channels, too.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on video storytelling. Email me at kathy@keepingithuman.com.