10 tips for Hollywood-style social storytelling

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by Sophie Loras

Content marketers can learn a lot from the formulaic success of Hollywood blockbuster movies, delegates at ClickZ Live Singapore have been told.

Brands should adopt Hollywood-style storytelling formulas to develop stand out content marketing strategies, a content specialist has told delegates at this year’s ClickZ Live Singapore conference.

Using brand examples from Volvo, BMW and Abercrombie & Fitch, Ronald Vining, chief brandaffeine at Singapore-based agency BrandInflux, outlined the 10 ways content marketers can enhance their storytelling capabilities.

He did this by asking, “What would Walt [Disney] do? How can I replicate the Disney experience in anything?”

As the master of all storytellers, Disney’s fairytale archetype: overcoming the monster; rags to riches; the quest; voyage and return; comedy and tragedy and rebirth, has become a timeless formula, epitomized by the success of Frozen.

Content strategy

Understanding what in fact is content forms a key basis for any digital strategy. Here is Vining’s list of highly social produced and user-generated forms of content:

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Coca-Cola Content 2020

In 2011, Coca-Cola released its Content 2020, to explain the business’s marketing shift from creative excellence to content excellence.

The Coca-Cola Content 2020 model continues to provide takeaways for content marketers, Vining said. These are:

  • Content should be engaging, with stories shared across all forms of media.
  • Stories are conversations or brand engagements that have value, substance and significance.
  • Liquid is the way each molecule represents the stand-alone story elements that come together to form part of a larger narrative.
  • Lifeforce is developing the content with compelling ideas that take on a life of their own.
  • Development is collaborative, adaptive, and a continual stream of ideas.
  • Resources can be internal stakeholders, brand fans, individuals, and creative agencies.

Here are Vining’s 10 tips for developing a content marketing strategy:

1. Getting started

“Going back to what made a PR person or marketer successful then is really what would make a content marketer or storyteller successful today,” said Vining. “It’s about growing your network, your circles of influence, developing brand messaging, understanding what perceptions are, and really capitalizing on those.”

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2. Planning for content marketing

While audience analysis, brainstorming and having a clear outline of your objectives are important, Vining also emphasized the importance of using a storyboard.

Here’s an introduction to storyboarding from Pixar Animation Studio’s John Lasseter:

Storyboarding helps to outline the strategy, but then it comes down to how to ‘nail’ the story, “and that’s the hardest part,” said Vining. He said a clear story must have a clear beginning, middle and end that the audience can follow.

A content map and editorial calendar also helps marketers establish what the message is going to be and when to send each part of it, helping to create a choreographed vision for the company or brand.

3. Cross-channel, multi-channel & omni-channel marketing

Vining cited The Voice as a perfect example of a brand mastering cross-channel, multi-channel and omni-channel marketing.

The judges drink Starbucks coffee, they tell the audience to Tweet about the contestants and then invite viewers to go to iTunes to download their favorite songs. The cross-promotion aspect becomes the key.

4. Discussion groups

Use discussion groups on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Flipboard, Google+, YouTube and Vine as platforms to not only place the content but to have a distribution channel and to listen and engage with consumers. A content strategy might involve the same or variations of content across different channels.

5. User generated content versus produced content

Encouraging your fans to be creative can be more effective and cost-effective than producing content yourself, Vining said.

User generated content (UGC) comes in all forms, including the ‘unboxing’ of products, as shown in this UGC example for a Dell product. This video has had over 125,000 views – at no production cost to the brand.

6. Product placement

Vining said earned media wasn’t dead, but brands needed to be creative in the ways they got media to talk about them. Using the example of sponsorship around a Jimmy Kimmel Live 2014 Oscar awards special, Vining compared the different advertising formats used by Hyundai and BMW.

Hyundai went for traditional advertising slots around the program but fared significantly less well than BMW, which had given the show free reign to use the brand for product placement in any way it saw fit.

7. Produced, accident, publicity stunt

When all else fails, remember that sex sells, Vining said. Vietnamese low-cost airline VietJet Air for example, claimed it was the victim of ‘leaked’ photos of its scantily clad cabin crew.

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Abercrombie & Fitch engaged topless male models at the openings of a number of its stores across Asia, garnering attention on mainstream media. It had a win in the form of UGC as men and women posed for selfies with the models and then posted the pictures to social media.

And in July, Chinese social media went into overdrive after a couple filmed themselves having sex in a Uniqlo Beijing store. Uniqlo maintains it was the victim of a publicity stunt but never the less has benefitted from the exposure, as did many other brands caught up in the UGC nature of Weibo.

8. Highly shareable video

Volvo Truck’s Epic Split featuring Jean-Claude Van Damme video on YouTube has become one of the most downloaded images of all time. “It’s not a commercial – it’s content marketing,” said Vining.

The imagery made the campaign highly shareable in both video format and photos. In addition, after going viral on social media, numerous spin offs were created including one from Chuck Norris doing the splits between two airplanes.

9. Highly shareable images

Highly shareable images are great, Vining said, but not worth any social currency if the brand’s logo is not present. “Who cares if 25,000 people liked your content if no one knows who created it?” he said.

He used this meme from the Life of Pi as an example, which has been circulated widely on Twitter, Reddit, Pinterest and Google+, but is attributed to no one:

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10. Infographics

And finally, infographics make great content too.

Conclusion

Watch a lot of good movies to become a good storyteller or a good content marketer, Vining said. That means watching videos like the Back to the Future trilogy to understand good storytelling. Last week’s celebration on social media of October 21, 2015, demonstrated the film’s ability to hold social currency 30 years on from its initial release.

“If we are stuck on our content marketing, stuck on our storytelling, go back to what works in just about all myths or fairy tales or legends,” said Vining. “Structure your stories in these ways, and adapt those to your message.”