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The Science Behind Storytelling: Why Narrative Cuts Through the Noise

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At the beginning of every year, most marketing teams set aggressive goals for their content. With lofty numbers hanging over their heads, they crank out content with the sole purpose of gaming an algorithm or converting leads.

Unfortunately, this type of content is more likely to meet traditional marketing goals than say, an original docu-series might. And because of that, marketers claim the data backs up their strategy — they’re moving the needle, making more people aware of their product or service. The problem with this strategy, however, is that this type of content doesn’t actually resonate with audiences in a meaningful way. Sure, it may reach them, but it doesn’t strike a chord with them. In other words, it won’t turn them into life-long fans of your brand.

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Storytelling, however, has the power to do just that. And lucky for us, neuroscience backs up that claim time and time again. Let’s take a look at the science behind storytelling itself, why it’s such a powerful tool for marketers, and how it can help businesses cut through the noise.

Before our ancestors could write about the dangers of their environment and teach their children how to maneuver the social dynamics of their community through books, they told stories.

It’s estimated that from the time humans started speaking to the time we started writing, almost two million years passed. During that period of time, the humans who learned how to survive their ruthless, prehistoric world through stories lived longer and reproduced more often than the humans who didn’t. As a result, natural selection shaped and hardwired our brains to crave, seek out, and pay instant attention to narrative.

“Humans who learned how to survive their ruthless, prehistoric world through stories lived longer and reproduced more often than the humans who didn’t.”

Today, brands that prioritize storytelling are tapping into their audience’s innate need for narrative. They’re the ones who will be able to get their audience hooked on their binge-worthy content. And not only that, but they’ll be the ones to inspire their fans to spread the word amongst their peers and friends.

Take, for example, how Taco Bell teased the return of their popular menu item — nacho fries — in their ad below:

To announce that nacho fries were making a comeback, the brand launched a fake movie trailer ad campaign with a witty and enthralling sci-fi storyline. By using a storytelling strategy, they were able to capture peoples’ attention in an entertaining way.

If a scientist scanned your brain while you watched Stranger Things, it’d look like Joyce Byer’s alphabet wall. Now, watching Stranger Things doesn’t lodge a Demogorgon into your brain. What it does do, though, is boost your brain’s neural activity, lighting it up like a Christmas Tree.

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Image Credit: The A.V. Club

When more parts of your brain are active at the same time, your ability to remember whatever you’re engaged with increases exponentially. Stories warned our ancestors about the dangerous dire wolf lurking at night and taught them valuable social norms like generosity and cooperation, so the fact that narrative can illuminate our brains and sear information into our memories makes complete sense. If stories didn’t have this effect on our minds, our ancestors wouldn’t have remembered how to dodge that dire wolf or why they should help their neighbor.

Today, stories haven’t lost a speckle of charm. In fact, in a marketing industry that’s filled to the brim with uninspired content, narrative-driven content is more alluring than ever before. So, trust the neuroscience — if you want to earn people’s attention and bake your brand into their brains, do it through stories that speak to the wants, fears, desires, and beliefs of your audience.

“If you want to earn people’s attention and bake your brand into their brains, do it through stories that speak to the wants, fears, desires, and beliefs of your audience.”

Playing on fear, Allstate Insurance successfully bakes its brand into the brains of their audience. They’ve literally personified mayhem into “Mr. Mayhem.” For every commercial, Mr. Mayhem takes a different form, whether it’s a car thief or a pesky cat.

In this ad, Mayhem is a cat who is plotting against its owners. Allstate illustrates several instances where a cat might wreak havoc on your house. If you’re a pet owner, these mini-scenarios remind you that having the wrong home insurance coverage (and not Allstate) might end up costing you!

Every marketer has heard the adage that humans are creatures of emotion, not logic. But how do you consistently form bonds with strangers, persuade them to buy your product, and convert them into brand advocates? According to neuroscience, storytelling is your best bet.

When we read, watch, or listen to a gripping story, the activity triggers the release of oxytocin in your brain, which pushes us to relate, care, trust, and help others. Within the context of a story, a brain full of oxytocin helps us empathize with the protagonist. In fact, we’ll empathize so deeply with the protagonist that the parts of our brain that would be active if we actually experienced the story switch on.

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If your audience can rely on your stories for a consistent fix of emotion, they’ll fall in love with your brand and keep coming back for more. In fact, humans have always revered great storytellers. In 2017, anthropologists discovered that the best storytellers in two different Filipino villages had a better chance of getting chosen to be social partners, gaining community support, and having healthy offspring. For brands, the benefits are equally valuable to their bottom line.

Nike has mastered the art of storytelling and other businesses look to them for inspiration. Their ads are famous for telling powerful stories, but they also showcase the brand’s values. Here’s a look at their recent ad “Dream With Us”:

Nike’s not just pumping up their brand here. In a world where women are marginalized, they’re encouraging women to tell their stories and inspire today’s youth to chase their dreams. However, the message still works to build their brand because people emotionally connect to the values being displayed.

Producing content that’s designed to game algorithms or convert website visitors might be able to generate a decent amount of views and leads for your team. And as a marketer with goals to meet and bosses to please, it’s tempting to prioritize your team’s own goals over your audience’s needs. But if you truly want to resonate with an audience, create a lasting impression on them, and, in turn, produce real long-term results, storytelling is the best path forward.

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Video Marketing

7 Fashion-Forward Video Series to Keep Your Eye On

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Who said videos about fashion were only made for the big screen? The Devil Wears Prada might be a pretty high standard to live up to, but in reality, tons of brands are already making innovative shows and video series to help move their businesses forward.

In fact, we recently stumbled upon four fashion-focused brands that are all creating entertaining, binge-worthy video series, that even Meryl Streep herself might be interested in watching. Businesses like Vans, Refinery29, Marc Jacobs, and Foot Locker stood out to us as top-dogs in the branded content space because their shows are so clearly focused on attracting a niche audience, which is a key part of executing an effective brand affinity marketing strategy. Plus, they’re just plain fun to watch!

Who doesn’t love a good surf video? Have you ever wondered what it really means to be a “sneakerhead”? Take a look at what these creative brands put out into the world and get some insights into what you can do at your business to make an awesome series yourself!

We bet you know someone in your life who owns a fresh pair of Vans. But if you’re not familiar with the brand, Vans is the original action sports footwear, apparel, and accessories brand promoting creative self-expression in youth culture across action sports, art, music and street culture.

Vans decided to showcase those company values with a video series called Weird Waves, which follows the gnarly journey of Dylan Graves as he introduces viewers to “the weirder side of surf culture and the characters who chomp weird waves.” In two seasons, he links up with people from the underground side of the surf scene to ride everything from waves in wintery Great Lakes to waves formed by falling ice in Alaska. This show is no joke — things get weird!

To successfully showcase what their brand stands for, Vans identified the perfect brand ambassador to be the host for an engaging binge-worthy series. While not everyone can relate to riding waves in unthinkable places like Dylan Graves and his friends, viewers can be entertained and identify with how Vans is a champion of creative self-expression.

In a more fashion-focused realm, Refinery29 is an online media and entertainment hub that appeals to young women who may be interested in style, health, careers, technology, and a whole lot more. To pique the interests of their target audience, they’ve created an award-winning video series called Style Out There exploring “the connections between clothing, community, and culture across the world.”

Style Out There features hosts Asha Leo and Connie Wang as they travel the world to learn more about “the ways clothing has given women a way to speak out, look within, and identify the forces that limit their potential.” In season one, watch Leo dig into Decora style in Tokyo and how it goes against the mainstream, or jump ahead to season three and learn about Afrofuturist fashion with Wang and why it’s more than just a costume for black women.

For someone interested in style, this series goes deeper than the outward appearance of an outfit or accessory. It shows the significance of fashion for people to express themselves around the world.

Now, if you’ve ever wondered what the inner workings of a high fashion label look like days before a runway show, check out Marc Jacobs’ The Making of RUNWAY.

This six-part series follows Marc himself, Joseph Carter, Creative Director of Runway, as well as many of the faces working to run the ship five days before Marc Jacobs’ February 13, 2019 show. From fittings and design meetings to set and music planning, they show you what it takes to make a fashion show a success.

Marc Jacobs is a world-renown brand, but the way they shot their behind-the-scenes footage could be pulled off by any company big or small. Whether you’re aspiring to work for Marc Jacobs or a fan of the brand, this simple series gives you an authentic look at the people, the work, and the creativity that makes Marc Jacobs what it is.

In the fashion industry, Patagonia is famous not only for leading the fight against climate change but also for spearheading the binge-worthy content movement with their visually stunning and thought-provoking documentary series.

To promote their signature line of work-friendly attire, they blended their passion for the environment with the art of storytelling to craft a video series called Workwear.

In this seven-part video series, you’ll meet farmers, eco-friendly automotive technicians, conservationists, fishermen, and more to learn what drives them to work so hard day in and day out and how they protect the environment while doing so.

Even though Workwear is meant to promote Patagonia’s line of work clothing, they don’t draw any direct attention to their products.

Instead, Patagonia focuses on the real reason each person in the video series chooses to make an honest living. And with over 2.5 million views on YouTube, they’ve reached and resonated with plenty of people who share the same “why” when it comes to their work.

Lululemon is an athletic apparel retailer with strong roots in yoga, running, and any other activity that makes you break a sweat and feel great. However, when they think about their marketing, they make sure not to just focus on the physical aspects of these activities. They also make sure to highlight the mental and emotional side of physical fitness.

To celebrate the International Day of Yoga, for example, Lululemon released a video series called Yoga Changed My Life to tell the stories of three people who used the power of yoga to overcome a traumatic experience.

From conquering teenage homelessness to a near-death experience due to a complication from Crohn’s disease, you’ll learn how powerful yoga can be for the mind, body, and soul.

Most athletic apparel retailers try to generate demand for their products by emphasizing the physical benefits of exercise, but Lululemon understands that truly resonating with an audience requires a message much more inspiring than that. You can’t just strive to look good — you also need to feel good.

Nike’s I Am Giannis tells the origin story of Giannis Antetokounmpo, a forward for the Milwaukee Bucks and one of the best basketball players in the NBA.

Giannis is known for having a strong work ethic and bulldog mentality that rivals the game’s most iconic players’. And after watching this five-part video series, you’ll quickly understand how his humble beginnings in Athens, Greece have fueled his fire to reach the upper echelon of the basketball world.

You can’t help but smile as you watch Giannis’s story unfold. From getting selected in the first round of the 2013 NBA draft to attracting thousands of Greek and Nigerian fans to each of his games to designing his own signature Nike shoe — the story is both uplifting and inspirational.

As marketers, we recognize that Nike knows how to tell a compelling story, especially with just a few words. But by venturing into long-form storytelling and spinning a narrative about one person’s life over 20 minutes of video content, they might have just told their best story yet.

After seeing the ideas these brands have come up with, we hope you’re feeling inspired to start creating a video series of your own! Start by figuring out what makes your brand unique and what your current audiences like about you. The next concept for the perfect video series could be right under your nose!

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5 Food and Beverage Video Series That’ll Make You Hungry for More Content

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Do you remember the iconic “how many licks” Tootsie Pops commercials from the 70s? What about the heartwarming snowman that thawed after eating a satisfying bowl of Campbell’s soup?

Many food and beverage brands are famous for their clever and memorable advertisements.

However, only a handful have taken their creativity to the next level and crafted full-scale video series that rival the very TV shows they place their ads with.

We’ve rounded up five of the best video series in the food and beverage world so you can draw inspiration for your next project. Read on to cook up some delicious ideas for your next show!

As the most popular energy drink in the world, Red Bull naturally gears its brand toward pro athletes who participate in extreme sports. One of the ways the company connects with this cohort is by crafting thrilling video series about the world’s most extreme athletes. From a video series about wingsuit fliers to one about the top athletes in their respective extreme sport, you can get your daily dose of adrenaline from a single episode.

But out of all of Red Bull’s video series, the arguably most compelling one is about the athletes who have overcome near-impossible odds to ascend to the heights of their extreme sport. It’s called The Way of the Wildcard.

In this wild video series, you’ll hear from a two-time cancer survivor who holds two world records in cycling, a former prisoner turned Iron Man triathlete, working-class brothers who won a silver medal at the 2016 Olympics in rowing, and many more impressive athletes.

All of the stories in The Way of the Wildcard are naturally chock-full of conflict, which grips audiences from start to finish. And by showing audiences how these athletes achieved their dreams with the odds stacked against them, it inspires viewers to do the same.

Growing up, a day out with your friends during the summer usually included a swim at the pool, a bonfire, and a can of soda. Was there anything more carefree?

Coca-Cola wanted to tap into this nostalgia to forge a closer bond with their audience. Their bold idea? A video series called One Last Summer, which follows a group of incoming college freshmen as they enjoy their last summer together.

Throughout the four-part series, you’ll learn all about this friend group’s future plans, watch them cross off their summer bucket list, and navigate the complexities of their high school romances.

Each episode of One Last Summer focuses on a single character. This approach allows you to get to know them personally, understand the dynamic of their friend group, and understand why it’ll be bittersweet for them to split up when it’s time to go off to college.

One Last Summer is sure to transport you back to your most carefree days as a teenager — and it might even persuade you to crack open a Coke while you’re at it.

When you think of Cadbury, you most likely think of rich, creamy chocolate. And when you think of chocolate, you might reminisce on the good old days when your mom or dad would slip you a piece of chocolate after dinner.

That’s why Cadbury decided to create Families Reunited, a video series that aims to reconnect parents with their teenage children by giving parents a crash course on their children’s passions.

In this two-part video series of 20-minute episodes, you’ll watch a dad learn how to pop a wheelie on a BMX bike just like his son. Then, you’ll watch a mom learn how to conquer the ice and figure skate with her son. At the end of each episode, the parent ultimately proves to their kid that they’re not as different as they think. Even better, they can also spend time bonding over a shared passion.

Almost every parent goes through a rough patch with their kids, especially when they’re teenagers. But Families Reunited lets parents who have drifted from their kids know that they’re not alone. It also inspires them to truly understand their kids before they try to rekindle their relationships with them.

Known for their fun, playful brand identity, Taco Bell stuck to their guns when they released The Taco Bell Show. It’s a game show that features celebrities — including Drake Bell and Spencer Pratt — known and loved by Taco Bell’s young target audience.

On the show, the host and the guest celebrity play Taco Bell-inspired games, like “Diablo Dare.” It’s Truth or Dare, but instead of doing a dare, participants have to drench a tortilla chip in diablo sauce and eat it. What a creative way to plug two of their products into one game — kudos, Taco Bell!

The Taco Bell Show draws you in from the beginning by immediately informing you what it’s all about — a game show with celebrities. It then keeps you glued to your screen by having the celebrities play fun, creative games. If you ask us, that’s definitely a recipe for binge-worthy content success.

Another brand that leans on humor and lightheartedness, Kentucky Fried Chicken released a series of satirical Shark Tank-esque pitches for outlandish business ideas called KFC Innovations Lab. These ideas include Colonel on Ice, a bow tie that also serves as a GPS locator, and a walking cane that doubles as a remote control for your TV.

All of these pitches relate to KFC’s founder Colonel Sanders in a creative way, which makes the video series one of the funniest in the food and beverage industry. After watching it, you’ll laugh so hard that you’ll work up an appetite, and KFC hopes it’ll be for some of their famous fried chicken.

Crafting a creative and compelling video series is just like cooking. It’ll be hard. It’ll get messy. And there’s a chance you might burn the dish to a crisp. But, hopefully, with these examples, you can put together a recipe for a video series that will please your audience’s palate.

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Video Marketing

Announcing “Built to Last”: An Audio Conference from Buffer and Wistia

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If you’ve watched an episode of Brandwagon or tuned into our Change the Channel event last year, then you know there’s nothing we love more than talking to people about what it takes to build a great brand. And now, we’re super excited to continue that conversation with Buffer, a social media management platform, throughout Built to Last — a free audio-conference for brand builders.

Taking place on August 19 and 20, this first-of-its-kind conference will feature guests (including our very own Chris Savage!) from companies that are invested in building stronger brands and creating compelling content in all forms. If you’re looking to learn how to foster organic growth, take marketing risks, or develop an audience of engaged advocates — this conference is for you.

Attending a marketing conference once meant spending an entire day in a windowless ballroom or glued to your computer screen for hours on end. By leveraging the power of podcasts, our conference sessions will be available for your listening pleasure no matter what you’re up to.

Wait a minute — what does an “audio-conference” really mean?

We’re taking the concept of an in-person conference and delivering it as a podcast. Built to Last attendees will receive access to a private podcast feed where we’ll release seven episodes over the two-day conference. Each episode will feature lessons and insights to help you craft memorable content and campaigns that create devoted audiences.

By signing up to attend this conference, you’ll get access to the content in real-time or on-demand (with show notes!). We encourage listening while making a meal, getting some fresh air, or moving your body. In other words — you do you!

Beyond the podcast episodes, we’re encouraging attendees to join our private community to network with each other, participate in facilitated discussions, and interact with select speakers live. Simply sign up to attend Build to Last and you’ll be invited to join — simple as pie.

We hope you’ll join us for this interactive podcast experience. If you’re as pumped as we are, then head on over to the Buffer site to register, see the full list of speakers, and get all the conference details. Oh, and be sure to charge those headphones so you’re ready to rock ’n roll!

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