Tom Foremski and Don Bulmer maintain that every company today must be a media company. I believe that to be true, but I also think it’s more fundamental than that. Every company must be good at telling stories in the world of new media. If content is king, stories are queen. We know who wields the power!

All great marketing requires great storytelling. The best stories connect viscerally and humanize. Organizations that successfully tell compelling, authentic, even humorous stories about products, customers, about their values and employees, and, in turn, embrace the narratives of their stakeholders, will be the victors in the changing world of new media. And aiding marketers in telling their stories better is online video.

If every company must be a storytelling company, every company should have a video storytelling strategy. It’s especially important in B2B where video storytelling has the ability to add a much-needed authentic human dimension to company communications. With video storytelling, success is often not about production values or huge budget. A Flip camera, for example, is inexpensive and video technology is ubiquitous (in cell phones and smart phones, among other devices). Video success today is not about PR talking points, or a factual analysis of features and benefits. The element of human interest matters most; it’s the basis for any great story as every journalist using social media knows. That hasn’t changed. It’s just that video today allows for better, richer and more nuanced storytelling than with traditional media.

Today, online video allows for meaningful two-way dialogue. Unlike traditional media, video storytelling often involves real customers in the story and in the process – that is customers can appear in company videos and they can produce their own videos about the company. Today, consumers don’t want to just view company content – they want to make their own. They want to be part of the story. There’s a back and forth that changes the direction and tone of the company’s narrative to the outside world. Video changes the narrative from a “brand” dimension to one that is multi-layered. If you know your customer is using video to tell their story about your organization, you have to be engaged in that conversation.

Video also forces communication innovation. You’ve got to use the medium to do what it does best. That means more creativity, even allowing employees of the company who are the best storytellers to go off the PR script and – how sacrosanct! – sometimes poke fun at themselves in the process. Yes, fun is a big part of it – but where there’s a fun video, there is also all the elements of a story, no matter how abbreviated: a main character, the challenge, plot, themes, resolution, even twists and turns, the good, bad, ugly, the humbling and the funny – are all parts of stories and parts of real conversations. Video that goes viral offers an emotional connection with customers.

Video Numbers and A Few Success Stories

There is growing demand for video. According to ComScore Media Metrix, U.S. audiences viewed an all time-high of nearly 34 billion videos in May 2010, and 14.6 billion of those May videos were watched on YouTube.

So what works with video? Well, there is no template. It requires originality, authenticity, honesty, vulnerability, human interest, and – yes, thankfully – sometimes humor. Most also seem to entertain, engage, and connect emotionally rather than use the “hard” sell.

Video enables creative integration of entertaining storytelling with meaningful product messages. Scott Monty, the head of Ford Motor Company’s social media efforts, for example, notes that the company has successfully used short 15-sec clips of real customers talking about their favorite feature of their Ford cars. Real customers can tell their short stories in credible ways that a PR talking head simply cannot. Ford also had huge success in July 2010 when it used online video to reveal the new Ford Explorer. On its Facebook page, the company featured videos of Ford employees who had passionately worked on the new model, adding a compelling human dimension to a discussion about cars.

Ford also had success with its Fiesta Movement campaign. For this effort, they picked 100 bloggers to chronicle their experiences with the Fiesta during a 100-day free trial with the car. With a few boundaries in place, the results were largely creative, and “un-Ford” as Monty claims, and thus, credible. In one example, a blogger humorously highlights how remote engine start and keyless entry allows him to escape the zombies, whereas the users of the “other” brands don’t. The result is a funny story that doesn’t push a hard marketing message told through the lens of creative and credible storytellers outside of Ford.

Tim Washer, the creative force behind IBM’s successful Art of the Sale videos and now a manager at Cisco, maintains that all great online videos add fun, surprise and a great story that grabs people. Brand comes second. In the Art of the Sale series, it’s not even clear IBM is behind the video series until close to the end of each video. There is no hard IBM sell.

Video lends itself to fun and surprise in a way that print media cannot replicate. In the case of IBM, a company not exactly known for its humor, the Art of the Sale videos (seven in all) upended all expectations about IBM. It was the surprise factor that a relatively straight-laced, white-shirt and blue-tie company could poke fun at itself that made such efforts a huge success. Fans have heavily parodied the video and the series has inspired a whole new way of looking at “serious” b2b video content.

While talking CEO heads aren’t usually the best examples of storytelling, sometimes real, honest conversation from an unprepared CEO can actually work. Take the Valentine’s Day Crisis for JetBlue a few years ago. Without time to prepare a “sewn-up” response, JetBlue’s CEO went completely off-script using a Flip video cam to record his rapid response to the crisis. Unrehearsed and real, the company’s video response earned some recognition for having responded effectively, quickly and telling the story that customers’ concerns matter. Disgruntled customers had their posted videos – JetBlue had to respond. (United could have handled the United Breaks Guitars issue better with honesty and humor). When real and off-script, a CEO “talking head” video can be effective. Unfortunately, it’s the “marketing” that gets in the way of many of these efforts.

Some of the best uses of video do not push a hard marketing message and, thus, don’t necessarily need high production values. It is also why every company can make video an affordable and creative part of its storytelling strategy. Several years ago, BlendTec swept YouTube by storm with its series of “Will it Blend?” videos. Without a big budget and without marketing polish, the head of small blender maker, BlendTec, filmed a series of short, fun videos that posed and answered the “will it blend?” question by blending the unthinkable. The videos showed the industrial strength of the blender as it blended golf balls, iPhones, and other devices no one would think of to blend, but everyone wanted to know if they would blend. Like IBM, BlendTec also showed that fun, serially produced videos that veered off the polished PR script could pull large online audiences again and again.

Finally, the best video strategies embrace a model that empowers the best storytellers in the organization. Most often, the best storytellers in a company are not found in the executive suite. So the bottom line is let go, let the people in your organization who are great storytellers tell their stories in a manageable way, let your customers tell theirs, and watch how video storytelling changes the company and product narrative for the better. Regardless of whether organizations tell their stories, customers will – for better or for worse. Today, it’s far better to be part of the conversation, than to be the non-participatory subject of it.

Consequently, every company today must be a storytelling company AND a media company.


If you are involved in the strategy and tactics of online video for your organization, please consider participating in The Society for New Communications Research’s ( video storytelling study.

The Organizational Use of Video Storytelling is a two-part seminal research study that focuses on how organizations are using video to enhance their storytelling both inside and outside the company. The results of this study will yield insight into best practices for organizations wanting to leverage video to reach audiences and tell their stories in new ways. All participants will receive a complimentary copy of the executive summary of the survey results and a special discount to attend the 2010 Society for New Communications Research Symposium & Awards Gala, which will be held in November in Palo Alto, CA, where the findings will be shared. The final results of the study will also be highlighted in the Society’s Journal of New Communications Research.