The Branded Mini-Doc: Harnessing the Power of Video for Your Brand

If you’ve been on any social media site in the past three years for more than 10 seconds, you’ve probably noticed a very apparent trend taking over your feed. Easily consumable video content like tutorials, recipes and lists dominate the branded content scene. These videos can get great metrics when done well, but think about this: if you make another how-to video on top of the 10 others someone might watch when scrolling through their social media, how do you expect to stand out and make a real impression on your audience?

You need to go back to the basics and use a tool that humans have had since the dawn of time: storytelling. A short documentary told from a human perspective can make your brand feel relatable, authentic and even inspiring to your potential viewers. Here are three tips on how to choose a great story for your brand, and how your brand can interact with that narrative in a non-disruptive way.

1. Keep Your Theme Flexible

As a marketer or brand, it can be very difficult to let go of control of anything that has your company’s name on it. If you think you can edit your brand into the story, or try to look for a story that’s directly related to your brand, you might be disappointed with the results.

You need to be flexible enough to choose a story that your audience can really connect with.

There are two routes you can use to get inspiration for a flexible theme. First, you can choose to search for stories that relate to something about your brand that is more open-ended, such as one of your brand values. For instance, Cricket Wireless created a branded documentary that followed a small group of people in Oklahoma looking to make an impact on their community through random acts of kindness. Cricket Wireless created the video because they wanted everyone to know that kindness was one of their brand values. The results? 18 million views.

Another way to look at your theme is to put aside thoughts of your brand, and instead think of your audience first. What video content does your potential customer want to watch? This is the crux of value-based marketing. A brand that does this really well is Patagonia. They create gear for outdoor sporting, but their videos don’t revolve around their products. Instead, their branded Upworthy + Cricket Wireless – “Fill My Basket” videos focus on other topics, such as living sustainably in a consumerist world. By examining their customer persona, Patagonia realized that people who buy their products also care about sustainability. These customers are much more likely to engage with a mini-documentary about sustainability because it’s a topic that rouses strong emotions — something a product-focused commercial would be hard-pressed to do.

2. Choose a Story That’s Satisfying and Authentic

Okay, you have your theme. Now it’s time to find the right story that fits that theme. But how do you choose when your topic is so broad? There are a couple of components to a story that make it pop as a great branded content piece.

A short documentary told from a human perspective can make your brand feel relatable, authentic and even inspiring

First of all, make sure your video has a “lead character.” A video that’s a broad overview of an organization or a group of people will not make as much of an impact if there isn’t someone relatable to lead the audience through the story. Let this main character tell the story themselves. That leads to authenticity.

Look for a story that follows a challenge, solution, impact model. That means your narrative will explore the challenge of your main character, the solution they came to to resolve the challenge and how that experience made a greater impact on their life and the lives of others. If you are missing one of these three parts, your story could feel incomplete.

Finally, it’s better to follow along with a story as it happens. Going back to the Cricket Wireless story, watching team members surprise shoppers by paying for their groceries is what delighted the audience. That sense of anticipation and payoff that comes with a big reveal keeps the audience interested in your story.

3. Keep Product Mentions to a Minimum — Let the Story Speak for Itself

This tip comes last, but it’s the most important point to take with you. You can’t do a documentary-style branded video and expect to have tons of product placement in every aspect of the story. It will completely negate any authenticity in the video that you were trying to achieve by creating a branded documentary in the first place!

If you absolutely need product placement, make sure it happens naturally. Can you choose a setting for a certain aspect of your video with one of your signs or storefronts in the background? Can you add your brand colors in across shots for a visual theme? Maybe one subtle shot of the product will do.

Look for a story that follows a challenge, solution, impact model.

Get creative: if you don’t, you’ll jar your audience out of the narrative with a clunky, commercial-like treatment.

Authenticity Comes First

You can have a massive impact on your audience if you put authenticity above all else. Remember, a branded documentary must maintain its integrity or else people won’t watch it. That means you walk a fine line between brand integration and overkill.

You’ll find success by carefully considering your goals and thoughtfully choosing a story that is both engaging and aligns with those goals. You don’t have to throw your brand by the wayside, but you might have to think creatively.

The result? Everyone will keep scrolling past those tutorial videos, and yours will stand out.

(Disclaimer: This article was originally published in The Science of Storytelling Issue 4: Automotive)

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