How Brands Benefit from Visual Storytelling – Tips from Pixar Alum Matthew Luhn
There can be no doubt that Matthew Luhn is a master of visual storytelling. At only 19, he became the youngest animator to join The Simpsons while in its third season. Luhn later joined Pixar Animation Studios and collaborated on the most commercially successful and well loved movies of our time: Toy Story, Finding Nemo, Monsters Inc., Ratatouille, Up, Cars, Toy Story II and Toy Story III.
From Hollywood to the boardroom, Luhn now advises Fortune 500 companies on how to successfully narrate their brand and connect to an audience through visual storytelling. On September 13th, the Chamber of Commerce for Greater Philadelphia hosted a seminar on digital storytelling and invited Luhn to be the keynote speaker. Mixing popular examples with his own experience, Luhn outlined how today’s brands can craft their own powerful stories that resonate.
Visual Storytelling Makes a Brand
Memorable, Impactful and Personal.
Statistics show that when you wrap a story around something, people remember it. Given the age of short attention spans and media oversaturation, how do we make a story wrapper that sticks?
Use as few words as possible. If you can’t explain something simply, you have to go back to the drawing board.
HAVE A GREAT HOOK
What if a rat dreamed of being a French chef?
Sound familiar? Pixar writers knew that people don’t like rats and especially don’t like them around food. What’s more, they don’t like uppity Parisians dictating good taste. Add this up, and you get the unexpected hook of Ratatouille.
What if you could fit 1,000 songs in your pocket?
Steve Jobs knew the importance of storytelling. Before unveiling the first generation iPod, he described the disappointments and drawbacks of his competition’s current technology. With the stage set, he gave his hook to create anticipation for Apple’s revolutionary products.
Don’t be clever or snarky. Be vulnerable and honest. Come from a place of truth and passion. Don’t be afraid to be bold because if you try to please everyone, the message will get weaker until no one is affected.
Never state the theme in your story. Make people feel it. This comes down to the old adage, “Show. Don’t tell.” The theme of Finding Nemo was: Being overprotective won’t lead your loved ones to a better life, letting them go will. However, no character beats us over the head by overstating it. Great storytelling has to be subtle. Dory the fish says, “Well, you can’t never let anything happen to him. Then nothing would ever happen to him.”
USE UNIVERSAL THEMES ABOUT CHANGE
Once you’ve hooked an audience, take them on a journey of change, be it striving towards impossible dreams, facing fear of abandonment and learning about love and sacrifice. Your consumer/user needs to play the role of the hero; not your product or company founders.
The Always #LikeAGirl campaign used video interviews where young girls, both before and after puberty, were asked, “What does it mean to do something ‘like a girl?’ How would you run ‘like a girl’ and fight ‘like a girl?’” The videos demonstrate that somewhere in puberty, girls learn that “like a girl” translates to weakness and is meant as an insult. If this was something learned, then it could be unlearned. So campaign creators set out to transform “like a girl” and make it a call for confidence, as in “try, fail, learn & Keep Going #LikeAGirl.”
Stories that are memorable, impactful and personal are about the kind of transformation that inspires us to make decisions towards our own change.
Video as a Rising Social Medium
According to Cisco, video will account for 69% of all consumer traffic by 2017. Both current statistics and trend predictions like this one indicate video’s rapid rise as a social medium. It’s clear that marketers need to include it in their content strategy in order to provide maximum exposure for their businesses.
What Does Video Bring to a Content Marketing Strategy?
- Maximized engagement
- Cross-device targeting
- Brand authenticity and communication on a human level
- Cross-promotion with digital marketing initiatives
Even Small- and Medium-Sized Businesses Can Leverage Video Marketing
One of the factors fueling video’s growing popularity is the decrease in production costs. With the advent of video cameras on mobile phones and desktops, wearable cameras like GoPros, and single-camera, documentary-style footage, great videos can be made at a fraction of budgets deemed necessary just 5 years ago.
With a lowered barrier to entry, video isn’t just for enterprise businesses with enterprise budgets. In fact, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg stated that over 1.5 million small businesses posted video on Facebook in the month of September alone in 2015.
When the opportunity for relevant video content presents itself, companies of all sizes should seize it. Here’s an example of how Zer0 to 5ive recently helped a client take advantage of such an opportunity to create a compelling video series.
Carnegie Mellon University: The Spotlight Series
Carnegie Mellon University’s School of Computer Science (CMU SCS) wished to showcase their innovative programs and visionary research to attract the world’s top undergraduates, graduates and faculty. CMU SCS faculty is teaching the next generation of computer scientists, working with industry leaders, developing new forms of AI, and building care-giving robots to best learn how to help people in need. In highlighting these impressive endeavors, the Spotlight Series was born.
Tips on How to Promote and Cross-Promote Video Content
After post-production, how can a marketer best promote and cross-promote video content online? Author Andrew Macarthy provides the following tips in his bestseller, 500 Social Media Marketing Tips.
Tips for Facebook
- Because videos auto-play on silent, hook viewers with a striking visual within the first 3 seconds
- Upload SRT caption files with your video to broadcast your message even while muted
- Keep your video to approximately 30 seconds for optimum viewer engagement
- Upload video to Facebook natively, as opposed to sharing it from YouTube, in order to increase reach
- Via the Video tab, organize your videos into playlists, tag people, and add descriptive labels
Tips for YouTube
- Keep your video to approximately 3 minutes for optimum viewer engagement
- Include keywords at the front of your video title and branding at the end
- Tag your video with keywords and keyword phrases in quotations
- Take advantage of YouTube’s interactive cards, the evolution of annotations
- If you have a series of videos, add all of them to a dedicated playlist so they run continuously and indicate the series name in the title of each video
Tips for Cross-Promotion
- Embed video in blog posts
- Embed a YouTube Subscribe channel widget on your website, which is also a way to advertise your video content and YouTube activity
- Tweet about your video with relevant hashtags, making sure to include “Video:” before the title
- Comment on other videos your audience is watching to increase your brand awareness
Now may be a great time for you to start considering video if you haven’t already. The benefits will continue to grow as demand rapidly increases, so why not take the leap now? You can start small and build up to a more robust content plan as your skills improve and as you get feedback from your prospects and customers.
The importance of writing well cannot be emphasized enough in public relations. For PR Pros, writing is a core competency that is a part of everything that we do – whether that’s a press release, a pitch, a blog post, or just an email to a client. Not only is your work being judged by those paying your salary, but your peers and clients also form impressions about you based on how well you communicate. How we write is a key part of our personal brand.
In listening to a recent PRWeek webinar, titled, “Tips for Breakthrough PR Writing,” I got some critical reminders about the importance of strong writing skills. Often, it’s the little things that count the most. These basic tips were great refreshers on how important it is to pay attention to detail and how be thorough in everything you write.
1. Frame the news
Hype is not news, as every editor will tell you. Words like “state-of-the-art, revolutionary, and first-of-its-kind,” should be thrown out of written vocabulary. Editors want you to get to the point, and fast. Think like the prospects you are pitching – what would make you interested in a story? The opening paragraph of any written piece should be as simple as possible and tell the most important elements to the story. If your first paragraph doesn’t do that, chances are, the reading will stop there. Make sure you know what is really newsworthy. Ask yourself, is it timely? Is there a reason to write about this now, or can it wait? Can you tie your story to anything happening in the world today? Making your writing relevant and keeping it simple are two key elements to PR success.
2. Master the 3 Cs…clear, concise & compelling
Tap into the power of simplicity, e.g. the Nike slogan “Just Do It”. If it can be said in three words instead of five, go with three. This avoids confusion and gets rid of unnecessary extras. After all, time is tight for those in media, so make it quick. Often we can’t just write how we talk, because our conversation is more casual than the written word. But think about how you would tell someone a story and, if you can, write it that way (taking grammar into account). Acronyms in emails to clients should be used sparingly, especially if they aren’t ones that are used regularly in their business. No one wants to have to send you a follow-up email just to ask you what you meant by your acronym shorthand. Finally, have you ever noticed that when you send emails to clients with multiple points and questions, it takes much longer for them to get back to you? Only include key points in emails. This will ensure that the important stuff gets read and answered.
3. Break on through… engaging subject lines & headlines
Always remember what the point of the subject line is in an email: to entice the prospect to open the email. If it’s wordy or takes more than a few seconds to comprehend, the email’s not getting opened. The subject line should help the editor or reporter picture the title of a potential article, so it should be just as short and punchy as the titles of the articles you are attracted to read.
4. Tone it for your audience
We can’t control how our tone sounds on the other end of emails. What might sound perfectly fine to us when we hit the send button can come across as angry, curt or blunt on the other end. Be mindful of how you “speak” in an email. One way to combat this issue is to have a peer read your email first before sending for tone. Getting an objective third party to review your email can help flag any possible misunderstandings before they are created. Never be condescending or presumptuous in an email to editors. If they made a mistake or missed something, there is a right way to ask them to correct it and a wrong way. Make sure that you know the difference!
5. Give grammar your best shot
It’s amazing how some of the smartest and most successful people still make common grammatical errors. No one is immune to these simple mistakes. Some of the most common errors include noun-pronoun agreement, subject-verb agreement, tense consistency, and sentence structure. Consider the image on the right – the first sentence sounds like we want to eat our grandmother, and the second sentence correctly states that we are telling our grandmother that we want to start eating, with her! Punctuation can truly save lives (or, at least, your latest pitch/memo/email, etc.!).
Post by Colleen DeVine, Director
It’s widely known that word of mouth and recommendations from peers are among the most powerful marketing tools in marketing. And for good reason: a compelling case study talks about your product from a customer’s perspective, which helps prospects create a vision of how your product can help them meet their objectives as well.
However, case studies can be challenging to write, particularly if you have busy customers with little time for interviews and approvals. That’s why it’s important to have a well-honed approach to case study development.
At Zer0 to 5ive, we’ve written hundreds of case studies over the years, and from that experience, we’re offering up 5 of our favorite writing tips that will help you make your next case study a work of art.
Image courtesy of OraSure Technologies
Before you clear the last thing off your desk, attend the holiday party and hop on the plane to Barbados, remember to add that one last item to your December check list: employee holiday donations. Despite the tough economy, millions ofpeople are planning to donate during the holiday season and many of them could be employees sitting right under your firm’s roof. It only takes a few quick steps to recognize these altruistic individuals within your company.
I recently worked with a client that had several employees actively involved in a local community event. We quickly discovered that spreading the “good word’ about holiday donations is a fantastic way to strengthen corporate morale, improve your firm’s reputation within the local community and help some truly deserving individuals during the holiday season. And it is fun for your employees! Here are five tips for spreading the good word about your employees’ holiday donations:
1. Ask around the office – Find out if your employees are planning
to participate in any holiday drives. If nothing is planned, suggest a local organization for your company to participate in. There are a myriad of deserving holiday charities to choose from. A quick Google search can help provide some options. The local United Way chapter and other volunteer organizations usually post the details of their holiday drives to their websites.
2. Draft a media alert and pitch to the local press – Draft a media alert with an event summary and send to local reporters. Writing an alert is a great exercise for creating content to later share with your company and stakeholders. Here is asample media alert from a recent client’s employee involvement that summarizes the details in a “who, what, when, where, why” format. Offer up a time for interview and photo opportunities with your employees and local volunteer organization reps.
3. Take photos and videos – Go to the event and take photos or conduct video interviews to capture all the details. All this can be done now with a basic digital camera! It’s a good idea to label photos with names of employees when sending to the media. Be sure to add your photos to your company’s website or social media pages later on.
4. Write a summary email – The summary email is important for building corporate morale within your organization. Pull a summary from the media alert (attaching photos of employees who participated) and send in an email to members of your organization. Take a shot at sending a few summary bullets and photos to reporters for their newspaper’s community section or briefs.
5. Post a recap to your company site – Create a wrap-up summary and post to your corporate website. Include any relevant media coverage in your news section. Recap the event in your next company newsletter and be sure to share your holiday story by posting to your company blog, twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Flickr.
These are some of the fun and easy ways to show the holiday spirit of your employees and solidify your company’s connection within the community. Follow the tips above and ensure your employee volunteers are recognized this holiday season!
Post by Mike Levey, Zer0 to 5ive Senior Strategist
Is it possible to put together a pitch template that will work for any pitch? I believe that 99% of the time, the answer is yes. Below is a sample pitch format that I’ve found has worked time and again. Have a look:
Reporters want an organized and compelling pitch that is easy to read, includes numbers and offers thought into the bigger trends and issues around a company or product. Here are the 1, 2, 3s that I believe will work for crafting a great pitch:
1. Here’s the story: This section gives the reporter company/product background and explains why he or she should cover. I try to keep this to 2-4 sentences at most. It’s easy to ramble on about the company and product. For example, the SmartSponge System can easily be described in five sentences, but this format helps me offer a condensed background, top-line product description, and tie it to an industry trend that the reporter will know.
2. Here are the numbers: I’ve found that reporters find numbers, facts and statistics helpful when building credibility for the importance of the story you are pitching. For example, hospital infections adding $30.5 billion to the nation’s hospital costs helps quantify the pain point in the market. The bottom line – reporters love numbers!
3. Here are the discussion points: I like to show the reporter how the pitch applies to his or her particular outlet. For example, in the sample pitch I target a business TV show that interviews CEOs of exciting businesses. Sometimes I will substitute this section with an “interview opportunities” section when relevant and offer industry experts and clients in addition to the company executive.
Some might argue that the sample pitch is too long, but for a new reporter that does not know much about a company or product, I think it’s important to keep the pitch a bit longer to help them see the big picture. Use these three easy steps and you will be ‘moon walking’ with your reporters.
Posted by Michael Levey, Zer0 to 5ive senior account strategist
I took my daughters to see the new animated Disney/Pixar flick,Up, last night. After hearing early reviews, we made sure we saw the 3D version. Truth be told, however, I didn’t notice the 3D or killer animation. The story was that good.
And this morning it hit me: What Disney/Pixar did with Up is what all PR pros should be striving for. Despite the whizbang technical prowess and army of the world’s best animators at their disposal, Disney/Pixar is first and foremost a storyteller. If we as our clients’ storytellers are doing our jobs correctly, the reporters and bloggers we pitch shouldn’t even realize they are being pitched. Because we shouldn’t be pitching; we should be telling (or helping to tell) stories (minus the traditional hard news stuff we do).
All too often, PR pros get lost in their clients’ marketing-speak, forgetting that the best stories — the best pitches — have heros, villains, supporting characters, conflict and resolution. Disney/Pixar knows this. We associate Disney/Pixar with great animated movies not because of the animation, but first because of the stories they tell and later because of how they employed their animation expertise to tell those stories better.
Because at the end of the day, it’s the stories we tell, not the products we pitch, that make us (and our clients and the reporters and bloggers we work with) successful.
How many presentations have you sat through where the speaker droned on reading every word of 12pt text on every slide? Too many to count, I suspect. It’s an all-too-common malady among presenters. Matt Helmke, a senior strategist here at 0to5, is one who is not afflicted with this illness. Recently, Matt produced a slide presentation where he discussed the best practices in presentation design, development and delivery based on Garr Reynold’s seminal book, Presentation Zen. Reynolds is an internationally acclaimed presentation designer and communications expert living in Japan whose clients include many of the Fortune 500. His book combines strong design principles with the tenets of Zen simplicity to help readers develop simpler, more effective presentations. While you can download a PDF of Matt’s presentation, I encourage you to watch and listen to Matt talk about what he learned from Reynold’s book and how you can apply its teachings to your next presentation.
Image Credit: Mike Finklestein via
Every brand has a story to tell. Finding that story is the tough part. Tougher still is crafting that story into something compelling.
As communicators, storytelling is at the core of what we do. We uncover, craft and find the right audiences for stories that convey — directly or indirectly — the messages we want customers to hear. In years past, telling our stories was simple: we pitched reporters, produced print ads and talked with prospects at trade shows. Today, we have untold numbers of channels with which we can potentially get our stories told — or lost.
This response by Hanson Hosein, the director of the University of Washington’s Master of Communication in Digital Media, on the topic of information overloaddrives the storytelling point home:
“It is not just about social media to me, it is also about really effective storytelling. If you are a good storyteller, you are always going to break through.”
Good stories don’t require 200 page manuscripts. They don’t require two hour-long screen adaptations. For some, all it takes is 140 characters typed on a keyboard. Or a blog post. Or, gasp!, an actual conversation. Good stories hook people, they reel them in with colorful characters, keep them engaged with conflict and resolution, and let them walk away with a sense that their time wasn’t wasted.
Hollywood writers don’t hold eminent domain on storytelling. Companies have stories too (more than they probably know). Can you find your Oscar-worthy company story? Have you built your syndicated run of episodic stories?