Strategic Storytelling: Using Video Successfully in B2B Branding
Video can build the emotional connection B2B brands need to stand out in a digital world
The need for powerful storytelling has become a common refrain among marketers as they think about how to better connect with audiences. With ever-increasing opportunities for brands and audiences to interact digitally, marketers know they need to find ways to cut through the noise and engage with audiences at a deeper level – and film is an increasingly important tool for doing just that.
As a B2B branding and marketing firm, we work with organizations to develop brand stories that resonate with their audiences – and often use film to bring that story to life in a compelling way. Given the prominence of film in brand storytelling, we thought we’d speak with Christine Bachas, Executive Producer at DB Productions, DeSantis Breindel’s full-service production company. We wanted to hear her thoughts about how B2B organizations can successfully use film to share their stories. This is what she had to say.
Q. First, can you tell us why you think film is so effective?
There are three key reasons I think film is great for B2B storytelling:
First, it’s emotional. Creating an emotional connection with your audiences is key to the success of any brand. But when a brand story is delivered in words alone, organizations miss out on the emotional advantages of film. Films combine words, visuals, and sounds, allowing marketers to connect with audiences on a deeper sensory level and forge stronger connections with them.
It’s also easy to process. With the volume of content we consume on a daily basis, our attention spans only allow us to stay engaged for so long. Given how easy video is to digest, films can help brands cut through the noise. In fact, studies have shown that four times as many people would prefer to watch a video about an offering than read about it. By using film to tell their stories, brands can more easily engage with their audiences.
Finally, it has greater reach. Videos are more likely to be shared and more likely to appear on a Google search than other content, which means that they make it possible to reach a larger audience. And now that marketing success depends on digital engagement, investing in highly shareable content – rather than more traditional marketing materials – can help B2B brands organically extend their reach.
Q. How is the use of film in B2B marketing evolving?
Film in marketing isn’t a new concept. The industry has been creating commercials since 1941. But what has changed is how film is being delivered and consumed. There are more digital platforms than there were five years ago. Now, with over three billion people on social media around the world, digital channels have become the primary source of communication. This means that digital engagement – films included – is no longer an option; it’s a requirement. And when you consider the fact that 60% of millennials prefer to watch a company video than read a newsletter – and that they’ll make up 75% of the workforce by 2025 – it’s critical that B2B organizations employ tactics that allow them to forge deep connections with those future decision makers—and employees.
Q. How can film assist in B2B storytelling efforts?
When it comes to B2B storytelling, there are a few things that film is particularly good at:
It helps visualize a unique point of view. Building a brand is about telling a compelling, differentiating brand story about what an organization stands for. A high-level brand film is a great way to make that distinctive point of view “real” for audiences, and one we recommend for many of our clients. For Stephens, an independent investment bank, we recommended that they take a different approach to bring their unique perspective to life.
First, we worked with them to build a brand, encapsulated in the line “Capitalize on independence,” that translated the firm’s status as an independent bank and its long-established belief in the power of independence into something relevant and compelling to external audiences. Given that Stephen’s prospective client base is primarily composed of individuals historically hard to reach through traditional media – senior corporate executives and high-net-worth individuals – we knew we needed to find a creative way to tell this story in order to drive meaningful engagement with the brand. And that meant going beyond a corporate brand video.
Thus, the “This is Capitalism” campaign was born. This series of documentary-style films showcases the amazing contribution that capitalism has made to America – and to the world – through profiles of fiercely independent individuals. Each installment of the series highlights entrepreneurial figures – from Alexander Hamilton to Chuck Williams, the founder of Williams Sonoma – who charted their own path to make an impact on our society. Without ever mentioning the business or the services they provide, Stephens has been able to translate the idea of independence into a topic that engages hard-to-reach audiences while conveying their unique stance as an organization.
It can also clarify complexity. Because of the inherent complexity common to many organizations in the B2B space, video can be particularly useful for helping audiences understand the details of a B2B value proposition. Whether explaining the features of a new product or conveying a complicated, technical concept, communicating through film can help make intricacies easier to understand and minimize unnecessary barriers between the organization and external audiences.
We experienced this firsthand when working with EXL, a company providing digital services related to data analytics and operations management. After we worked with the organization to build a new brand around the powerful combination of people and technology, a concept summed up in the line “Digital Intelligence,” we helped them tell their new story using film.
For the video that accompanied the launch of the new brand, we knew we needed to address the more technical details of their offering without getting mired in complexity that detracted from the clarity of the brand story. We decided to use data visualization to give viewers a sense of the technology underpinning the idea of “Digital Intelligence.” This approach made the technology easier to understand and instilled a sense of confidence that EXL had the capabilities to help organizations excel in today’s digital world.
It humanizes your story. While B2B means business-to-business, it’s really about people at the end of the day, because for any B2B company, the ultimate decision-maker is still a person. Also, unlike many B2C organizations, a B2B organization’s own people tend to be a big part of what they’re selling — their expertise, their knowledge, their experience. Given this, it’s important that B2B companies give audiences a real sense of the people and the culture underpinning their offerings – and film is particularly good at conveying the more human side of an organization’s story.
A great example of this is our work with the law firm Lathrop Gage. They wanted our help creating a video in support of the launch of their new brand, which is all about the organization’s holistic approach to issues and its ability to help clients take full advantage of the opportunities ahead of them. We knew that the most effective way to convey this idea was to showcase their people’s rich perspectives and contributions, which are key to the firm’s ability to deliver on their new brand promise. With this in mind, we developed a brand film featuring their own employees expressing the Lathrop Gage philosophy. Not only was this approach true to their new brand, but it also humanized the organization and made it easier for external audiences to relate to the firm.
It can help demonstrate impact. At DeSantis Breindel, we often work with our clients to build brands that go beyond focusing on what they do or the services they offer to tell a deeper story about what they enable for their clients or for the world. Once we’ve built those brands, we often find that there’s no better way for organizations to communicate that impact than through film. Not only does film have high emotional potential, as mentioned earlier, but it can make an organization’s impact come to life in a way that words alone can’t do.
We find client testimonial videos to be a particularly effective way for B2B organizations to convey the impact they have. In fact, research we conducted for the rebranding of Cenergistic, a leading energy consulting firm, revealed that their clients’ key audiences were most influenced by this kind of endorsement. Given this finding, we decided to create client testimonials as part of the launch of their new data- and technology-centric brand. Throughout these films, Cenergistic’s clients reflect on how the company’s technology made a concrete difference in their business. The client perspective brought Cenergistic’s brand promise to life and was much more effective than if Cenergistic had just talked about their own accomplishments.
Q. What are some important things to keep in mind when making a B2B brand film?
At DB Productions, we have a few rules of thumb we share with our clients again and again:
Above all, films should be an expression of the brand. When creating a film or a series of films, it’s important to make sure that all efforts are in support of the brand positioning strategy. GE is a great example of how to do this well. Their brand is built around the idea of ‘Imagination at Work,’ an idea that is clearly carried through the range of films they produce—from longer corporate films to short films zeroing in on key innovations to commercials demonstrating the important work employees do every day. Though each piece of content has its own unique take, together they convey a consistent point of view that reinforces what GE stands for as an organization.
Keep it authentic. As I touched on earlier, we are all bombarded with more and more content every day. Cutting through the noise requires creating something truly authentic and worth sitting through. As we strategize our video approach with clients, we explore ways to make that authenticity shine through. For example, when we were shooting an interview-based film for a client, one of the questions we asked employees was “What do you see as the future of insurance? What are you looking forward to?” Insurance may not be the most inspiring topic for everyone, but each of them lit up at the question. We hit on something they were truly passionate about, and that enthusiasm and commitment is exactly the kind of thing audiences want to see. When that gets conveyed through film, it’s so much easier to make a connection with the viewer. And because it’s not something that can easily be recreated, it helps continue to differentiate the brand.
Remember that a single film can’t accomplish everything. We find that focusing on a singular theme or topic is nearly always more effective than trying to fit everything into a single film. But, recognizing that it’s nearly impossible for one film to contain every single thing an organization wants to communicate, we often recommend creating a main corporate video and supplementing that with videos that dive into specific topics. For example, for EXL, we produced an overview film and then six additional films focused on each of the company’s business units. We also often recommend creating a primary film and then editing it for different uses. This can be an effective option for organizations that are on a tighter budget but still want to produce a series of films that meet different needs, audiences and channels.
Q. What should organizations consider when initiating a film project?
It’s important for brands to approach a film project strategically: have a clear goal and identify the key points that need to be addressed. As a producer, it’s important for me to ensure that I am well aligned with the client on how the film content will be used and where it will be seen. Once I’m sure we’re in sync, we can then develop a creative strategy and visual style that incorporates the key brand elements and effectively communicates the message.
As B2B marketers seek to engage with their audiences on a deeper level, film is a useful tool to have in the branding toolkit. Whether for building brand awareness or showcasing client impact, film should be built into brand activation and marketing plans to support brand-building efforts. Used strategically, it can help build the emotional connection B2B brands need to stand out in an increasingly digital world.
About the author Hannah Foltz is a Senior Strategist at DeSantis Breindel. When she isn’t stuck on the L train, she is diving into research and helping develop positioning and messaging platforms for B2B companies.
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