How Video Storytelling Works and Why It’s a Powerful Marketing Tool

In a world filled with a growing number of distractions, brands today are engaged in a constant battle to capture people’s attention. Many of them succeed with video storytelling. Let’s take a look at what video storytelling is, and how you can effectively apply it to your marketing strategy.

What Is Video Storytelling?

Video storytelling is a marketing tactic that uses the naturally engaging video format to tell a story about a brand, company or product. Video storytelling guides viewers through relatable narrative-based content that gets to the heart of their pain points, ignites an emotional connection, and presents a satisfying solution. People get pulled into what’s happening due to a combination of factors, ranging from camera angles to the soundtrack, the characters and the emotion of the story itself.

Video storytelling is much more than a sales pitch, as it focuses on a story rather than a product. It is immersive and powerful, and very effective in driving engagement.

Video Storytelling Basics

During the early stages of producing a story through video, it’s essential to answer some questions that will guide the rest of the process:

  •     Plot: What story do you want to tell? What is its structure? (Powerful stories typically consist of an introduction, conflict or complication, and resolution.)
  •     Purpose: Why do you want to convey this story to viewers, and what do you want them to do afterward?
  •     People: Who are the main characters in your video story? How do they relate to your audience?
  •     Place: What’s the main location for the video, and how does that place shape the video narrative?
  •     Audience: Who will primarily see this video? Will they be new customers, potential customers, employees or another group?
  •     Distribution method: How will you share the video story with others, and where will it be hosted (i.e. YouTube, your website, somewhere else)?

Once you’ve figured out the answers to these questions, you’ll have a solid framework from which to operate. Think about how you can connect to your audience, what techniques would make the video especially memorable to viewers, and what could make it shareable, perhaps even with the potential to go viral!

How to Make a Storytelling Video

Excelling at the art of video storytelling requires first understanding how to tell a good story. Remember that people have short attention spans, and you want to tell a story that keeps them hooked from beginning to end. Use techniques to arouse emotions. Also, remember the key principle of “show, don’t tell”. Edit the video smartly, so you’re not spelling out every single idea to the audience, but only those elements that are necessary to weave a compelling tale that leaves them asking for more.

Here are 5 steps to make a storytelling video:

1) Identify your goal and target audience. Once you know what you want to achieve with your video story and which viewers you want to target, it’ll be easier to move forward with confidence.

2) Create a narrative. You may want to hire people with screenplay experience to get your story told well. It’s crucial that the plot of the video is clear, that characters are well defined and memorable, especially since most viewers will probably only see it once.

3) Decide on a video format (animated, live actors, special effects). This decision may largely depend on your budget. Your overall timeframe and other deadlines will also play a role in determining the video format, too. Filming a live-action video will take more time and resources than creating a story from stock video.

4) Assemble a production team or hire a production studio. When choosing professionals or companies to take part, find out about their prior experience and watch their previous videos to see if the style and vibe match your goals.

5) Create a promotional strategy to get your video seen. Your promotions plan may include social media coverage, press releases and even one-off local events that draw attention to your brand and let people know about the new video. Make sure you have the promotional game plan in place before the video goes live because you’ll need to start spreading the word immediately.

You also need to keep your visual storytelling budget in mind. If this is your first time diving into the world of video storytelling, you may want to hire a professional production company to steer the process and make trustworthy recommendations. Those experts can inform you of whether your budget is realistic for what you want to achieve, plus help you plan a reasonable schedule for creating your video storytelling piece.

Video Storytelling Techniques

Video storytelling techniques that are most suitable will vary depending on your primary aim. For example, if you’re making an explainer video, you might rely on animation or statistics to drive your points home. But if the video story is primarily aimed at selling a new product, you may want to use actors to tell a story that relates to the audience’s key pain point. Incorporating actors can strengthen the human element far more than animated video, and may boost customer relatability and engagement.

Here are a few video storytelling techniques that can turn a simple story into a powerful marketing tool:

  • Create a strong arc. This makes it easy for audiences to follow along with the story, become immersed with the twists and turns, and keep them watching through to the end.
  • Make your characters lovable and relatable. People should ideally see parts of themselves in the video’s stars. Avoid using polarizing characters because that may turn off certain audiences and prevent them from appreciating the message.
  • Edit the video for maximum storytelling effect. If there are aspects of the video that don’t do anything to push the story forward, cut them out. It may be useful to have an outside party, ideally someone who matches your target audience, provide feedback about whether there are any parts that take away from the story rather than adding to it.
  • Make it visually beautiful or appealing. Think about how camera angles, scenery, and eye-catching fonts could help your video stick in the mind of a viewer and make them want to watch it again.

Video Storytelling Tips

It can be difficult to know where to begin with developing a video story. Before you get started, consider these video storytelling tips to maximize the video’s plot and mood, and to grab audience attention and keep it:

Choose a proven plotline format:

If you look closely at different types of stories, they tend to follow certain plotlines. One type is called Overcoming the Monster, and it often involves the underdog eventually conquering their most significant challenge. Many sports films take this approach. Selecting a narrative where a hero embarks on a quest is another popular option that can work well for businesses. In that instance, the story’s main character may still encounter some foes, but the main point is that they have gone through a transformative journey in the process, often learning things about themselves that they didn’t know before.

Mind your audience’s attention span:

No matter what kind of narrative you go with, keep attention spans in mind. People often want to know the best length for a storytelling video, and the answer varies depending on platform.

For example, Socialinsider analyzed millions of Facebook posts with videos and found that the optimal length was between two to five minutes regardless of follower count. However, the chart below shows that some variation in maximum engagement levels still exists when brands have relatively high follower numbers:


You may even need to create several versions of your video story at various lengths. Software company SAP did that when it made online ads ranging from six seconds to one minute based on a TV ad featuring actor Clive Owen, who told stories of how the brand’s customers used its products.

Use emotional triggers:

Filmmakers use a variety of tactics to capture emotions visually and communicate the character’s feelings to the audience via the screen. For example, slow motion can emphasize the significance of a feeling or exaggerated facial expressions and can help the audience internalize the emotion of the scene. Video storytelling ads are shorter of course than feature films, however, the same principles can be used to create emotional triggers.

Harness the power of music:

The right music can take video storytelling efforts to greater heights by complementing what’s happening on the screen. Music creates powerful emotional associations that people link to events in their own lives.

The music you choose will depend on the mood you are trying to create in your video story. An upbeat track might seem to be the best, as it generates happy feelings, however, research indicates that people get positive benefits from listening to sad music too. Melancholy music has been shown to lead to better emotional regulation and sparks the listener’s imagination. If a slow, pensive track fits in with your plot and characters, you can definitely go with that instead of gravitating toward happy tunes.

Here are some extra tips that can go a long way to enhancing your video story:

  • Be relatable. Tell a story that shares a common human experience so more people can relate to it.
  • Be economic. Ensure that each part of the video drives the story forward.
  • Consider POV. Create a story from the point of view of a typical target audience member. See the story unfold from their perspective, rather than the company’s.
  • Use a natural, informal tone. This helps audiences better understand and connect to your message.
  • Take design and visual factors into account. These include lighting, wardrobe and color palette. When done right, these will better support your video storytelling goals and message.

Video Storytelling Examples

Visual storytelling need not be elaborate to have an impact. This method of reaching an audience often pays off when people can see something of themselves in the story. Take the example of a University of Phoenix ad where a woman feels the frustration of balancing work with traditional education but finally finds an arrangement that works for her.

Then Airbnb’s “We Accept” video narrative strikes a chord with audiences by showcasing some of the brand’s values. It has a simple design of rapidly changing faces that represent Airbnb’s customers and put the viewer in the center.

These examples show that sometimes, simplicity is the best route to take.

Here’s an example of a way more technically complex and richly narrated video story. It’s the latest Christmas video by UK department store chain John Lewis, featuring a blend of live actors and animation. The powerful background song by Bastille and the whimsical fantastical setting of the film made it a popular video storytelling example that successfully communicated the values of the holiday season (and the huge, soulful eyes of Edgar the young dragon certainly pulled on the heartstrings):

Best Brand Storytelling Videos

The best brand storytelling videos hold viewer attention by highlighting and resolving a problem that resonates with the audience. Plus, they incorporate other elements, such as humor, parody, fantasy, and plot twists to help strengthen the viewer’s connection to the story. Here is a look at a few recent and best brand storytelling videos:

Kia – Hero and humor

In 2017, comedy star Melissa McCarthy starred in an ad for the Kia Niro showing that it’s not always easy to save the planet, but it’s easy to drive a car that helps someone do it. The slapstick nature of the video poked friendly fun at the stereotypical environmentalist while using McCarthy’s famous comedic persona to inject lovability and familiarity.

IKEA – Addressing audience pain points

In this clever IKEA ad, the story plays on a classic pain point that most people can relate to – the mess in their living rooms! The clip shows various objects around the house coming to life and criticizing the mess in a rap song, embodying the “inner critic”. The family solves the problem with IKEA products that turn the living room into “fresh and clean” – and organized!

McDonald’s – Family and fantasy

This video ad by McDonald’s features the story of a girl and her “reindeer” playmate. Near the end of the video, the story switches from animation to live action and the audience sees that the reindeer is actually the family dog. The blend of family conflict, the loving resolution and the surprising reveal of the reindeer’s true identity make it a memorable and heartwarming example of video storytelling.

Corporate Video Storytelling

Video storytelling is a powerful and valuable way to stir emotion in viewers and engage potential audiences.

However, corporate video storytelling has another crucial angle that must be considered. With corporate video, it’s particularly important to be aware of where the video will air and which audiences will be exposed to it, and ensure that the chosen narrative can cross cultural boundaries. A video story may seem perfect for a certain market or culture, but can easily sink or get lost in translation in another.

Also, it’s wise to avoid controversial topics or those that arouse strong opinions. If you are skirting controversy, strive to get your point across in the most diplomatic way. In 2017, a Pepsi ad starring Kendall Jenner received scathing criticism on social media for making light of the police violence issue that disproportionately affects people of color. Pepsi ultimately pulled the ad soon afterward.

The Power of Video Storytelling

Video storytelling works so well because it draws people in, holding their attention spans and making them feel invested in what’s happening. Video stories can be educational, as with explainer videos. Other video stories don’t have a lot of dialogue but speak volumes visually and with the help of the right music.

It will take time and effort to make video storytelling work for you, but success can pay off in the form of thousands of views, increased brand recognition, and more. Even if you have a modest budget, it’s worth seeing what your visual storytelling options are and how you can use them to boost your brand and customer engagement levels.


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