Narrative can be a powerful tool for any organization. If used correctly, you can inspire your audience to act. Join Speak Creative's VPs and Ty Stinson for an off topic conversation on how narrative is used in video production, digital marketing, and development.
Influential Narrative | Episode 4
David Caffey: Hello everyone and thank you for joining us once again. Welcome back to A Little Off Topic, one agency's water cooler chat on digital marketing, business, and all the things that get in the way, presented by Speak Creative. Well, we're four episodes in and I think I finally got that intro perfected, but in addition to that, we have an unprecedented, monumental episode for you today. We have our very first guest joining us to talk about storytelling and using narrative in your marketing. For today's topic, we sought out our best storytellers at Speak. The cream of the crop in that area as of late has been our video production team. Representing that team today is our guest, Ty Stinson. Ty is a cinematographer at Speak and recently posted an excellent article on our blog at madebyspeak.com, which was our inspiration for today's chat. He definitely does not mask his passion for storytelling and narrative. So, I can't think of a better first guest for our show. When he's not on set or out on location filming his next project, Ty is a photography junkie and a sneakerhead.
I can definitely attest to that. He's always walking around the office in some top tier shoes. In addition to Ty, the Speak VP trio is with us once again. Of course, we have the two Matts. Matt Roberts, our VP Marketing and Sales and Matt Ervin, who is VP of Creative Services. Last but not least, can't forget Kindra Svendsen, who is VP of Client Partnerships. So we start off today with an interview with Ty on all things video production, as well as how his team has incorporated storytelling and perfected that aspect of the production process. Finally, we expand into the other departments at Speak and how we incorporate narrative and into our work there. Finally, we'll close today's edition discussing some examples of storytelling we've seen from organizations and brands that have really stood out to us and that have been effective. So let's dive right in. As always, thank you for taking the time to listen to our show. And I hope you enjoy today's episode of A Little Off Topic.
David: Alright. Once again, we're back. Kindra, hello again. Welcome back.
Kindra: Hey there!
David: Matt Roberts, the first of the two Matts. How are you today?
Roberts: I'm great, man. I do like being the first of the two Matts. That's great.
David: I think I'm going to have to alternate every week, maybe next week. I'll make a note of that. Finally, last but not least of the two Matts, Matt Ervin.
Ervin: Hey David, how's it going?
David: It's going good. Yeah, so we have a big event today. We have our very first guest, Ty Stinson, from the video team joining us today. Ty has been doing some really excellent video work for us. Ty, how long have you been at Speak? Time is no longer a concept for me for the last couple of months.
Ty: I've been at Speak only for about six months.
David: Oh wow, it seems like way longer than that. You've been doing some great work. Our conversation today that inspired this was your blog post on madebyspeak.com, quick little plug. I usually plug that in the intro and the outro, but you get a third plug today. So madebyspeak.com once again. Ty wrote a great blog post along with some other great content we have up there. Ty, I wanted to ask you about that. I think in general, that blog post is more about our process of making videos. Walk us through what you think the key elements of our process are for scoping out a video, shooting, editing, and putting that all together.
Ty: Yeah, thanks for having me first and foremost. To answer your question, knowing the subject or client is very key in the video-making process, knowing their mission statement, their vision, their values. From there, we'll be able to communicate with one another and try to see how we are going to roll this story out or how we're going to create this narrative.
David: Gotcha. You call out in the post that there are four pillars, and I think you just hit on one, but developing characters, quest, climax, and a resolution or call to action. Of those four, which do you think that folks in general either don't get right, don't really account for, or don't really cover well?
Ty: Oh man. That's a really good question. I would say the quest for developing characters. Sometimes we see ads on TV and see these characters pop up. We wonder where they come from, how they developed, whose idea it was. We want to be able to go back to the basics of actually showing and giving you a little bit of narrative within a narrative of how this main character or characters came into play specifically using them in branding. So when we look at this imagery, we see that we developed the characters, but then how do we get the characters from A to B so that you can see what's going on? That was not a pun about A, B, and C.
Kindra: It worked really well. It sounds a lot like marketing, I guess it's funny because in my mind, we're taking actions to get people to go there. When we're talking about video, you're scripting out the journey they're taking. So we are setting up to put the buyer journey in place and that narrative is walking them through it. So I love hearing the other side of it. This is fascinating.
Ty: Yeah, with the developing quest, a lot of people miss out because they do not apply it to today's culture. What that really means for relatability toward the audience, right? We want the audience to be drawn into your vision, your mission, and your narrative. But if it doesn't pertain to them today, what can they do with it?
Ervin: One of the things that stood out to me in everything that I've watched that you guys have put together is the way that you create the characters in the quest, which I never would have known to use those words until today. The way that you create them, you do it in such a way that you don't have to tell me a whole lot about them, but I can from watching just a few seconds, start to understand who they are and start to identify with them. One of the things that I think you guys do so well is you bring in that current context of the human element that we can all identify with. It's been really interesting to just see you guys take my ideas about video and blow them out of the water and really push it to the next level.
Roberts: I'm curious, Ty, when we talk about trying to put a one minute video in context of current culture and trying to develop these characters and make everything feel relatable and create all this action. There's a lot of thought that goes into that. How does that process work from a story conception and scripting sit down with a client to help them buy into some of these ideas? I mean, obviously it's an art and you're very good at it, but walk us through what that process is like and specifically how we can create some buy-in around some of those elements?
Ty: Yeah, for sure. Answering your question, what I would normally do is sit down with the client, do my research beforehand on their mission statement and their vision. Then, I ask them, "Are you okay with your mission and vision right now?" Sometimes they would say, "Oh we really want to tweak it." So I say, "Great, let's go off of that. What do you envision? What did you dream of changing right now to be related towards video?" Once that process starts, I then start to dream within my own imagination of how am I going to make this work? We just created an abrupt change. If we look at culture today, it's always changing, so that's easily adaptable. I can easily make that connection to appeal to today's culture. Understanding where they are and what they want from the developing characters story, if there are any characters. Sometimes they're not in character and there's just a mission through video and it's, like you said, an art. Our storyboard process is phenomenal. We then go out with our script and literally start to plug and play and take photos to create a storyboard, so that we can see how we're going to shoot the video. For example, we're going to do a close shot here or wide shot. Then we're just a step closer from executing the video in itself.
Roberts: I love that you said that you essentially talk with a client and then you turn on your imagination and begin to dream about what this could be. I think, certainly for me, I can from the outside see something like a video project as something to be just a thing to be done. To actually see something crafted as well as you guys have been able to craft these stories is just super impressive. I love that it is obviously a much more detailed process than just some super talented individuals coming together and hoping something awesome happens. You guys put a lot of care into what you do, and I think that's evidence in everything that you guys have been doing, so I love that.
Kindra: How do you get to like the exciting part for a client? Not every brand is super sexy or has a super passionate story to tell, but there is some value that we find with a lot of our clients, how do you mind for that topic and get to it?
Ty: I would consider it being the climax of the story, bringing in the audience and making them feel a part of it. Let's take Frosted Flakes, for example. It is just a cereal, right? It is nothing without Tony the Tiger, that is their branding. We all know that the key phrase, and I would say the climax of a commercial, is when he says, "They're grrreat!" because every kid can relate to it and every kid is drawn to it. Let's be real. It's just corn cereal with sugar. But they've been like the top cereal for the past, what 30 years? Being able to sit down with the client, no matter how boring you may think they are, it is our job as cinematographers to empower them and give them confidence in their brand so that we can draw that out of them and they can feel excited again as well.
Roberts: I love that we went with a Frosted Flakes example. That's perfect.
Kindra: I'm sitting here thinking about Frosted Flakes with different packaging and you're right it's not appealing. That's a good example.
David: This might've been something you just hit on there, but I think in our world and the type of people we work with, it's probably pretty common to film somebody that's never been in front of a camera and has never been exposed to that at all. So what is your process for somebody that we're doing a video project with and they're apprehensive? How do you get them comfortable? What would you say to somebody that's thinking that a video would work for them well, but they wouldn't think they would ever be able to do something like that?
Ty: Yeah man, that's a great question. That's probably 80% of all clients we deal with. Nobody really wants to be in front of a camera. In this season of life, people rarely want to be on Zoom meetings, because they're just not confident. My job as a cinematographer is to build confidence and laugh with them, and while we're on set, just have fun so they let that guard down. Most of the time, when it's like a talking head video, the way we shoot it is that they're not looking directly into the camera. They're looking at me as an A and B conversation. The camera is a side note, so they don't really worry about it. People let their guard down a little bit more. Once we put our magic twist on it and our editing skills, they're blown away with the project.
Ervin: I immediately think of the Jack tour episode of 30 Rock when you asked that question.
Kindra: I have to say, I've been on set with Ty and Jordan filming internal stuff. I wish they would follow me around in life. They are so quick to hype you up and say, "Let's do this. Everything is great. Hair looks good." I remember taking headshots and Ty was like, "I'm going to move this piece of hair. Is that okay with you?" And he's like, "Oh yeah, this is perfect." Like you just felt so good. They're so good at that.
Ervin: The Kindra highlight reel, huh?
Roberts: So Ty, how many times in a given shoot do you get asked, on average by someone, what they should do with their hands?
Ty: That is always the question. These days, people talk with their hands. I had a guy that was like, "ah, I don't really know what to do with my hands" and I just said "you're good." But no, that's a good question.
Kindra: Don’t overthink it.
Ervin: That's my wife's number one thing she says to me. Don't overthink it. That's not just on camera. It's all the time.
Roberts: I was about to say is that her direction to you while you're shooting a video?
Ervin: All the time, it doesn't matter – video or not.
David: What are some of the projects you've worked on that you've had the most pride in so far, what's been some of the highlights of the work you've done in the last six months in general?
Ty: Great question, man, I take pride in every single piece that I put out. Whether it's personal or with the company, it's just that art. That creativity that's there bled out of me. I can't let that go to waste, so I have to be super proud of it. But the most impactful piece that I've worked on is working closely with YMCA and how they're revamping things. It's really good to be along with that process because at the end of the day, yes we are the experts, but we're not the boss. We're there to serve our clients. We're there to steward them well and work alongside them and serve alongside them.
Ervin: I watched a couple of y'alls videos, but the two that honestly I'm tearing up here, I can't believe this. The Shelby County Sheriff Department one was amazing, but the two for the YMCA. The one where you interviewed the guy and he starts talking about when he had a stroke and talking about his wife and I mean, like that just hit me. Then the other with the little boy getting swimming lessons. I mean, I taught swimming lessons for a long time. Never ever did I have that impact on anybody. I wanted to be friends with the little boy and the girl and the kid's mom. I immediately loved all three of those people.
Ty: It's great to work on set because you really get to know those clients beforehand. We live life with them weeks before, just communicating back and forth. I can't take all the credit. Jordan Dudek is hands down phenomenal and a great team member. We're like yin and yang. We work in an equal balance and do everything to serve the client.
David: So we just had a great chat on narrative and video, but I feel like narrative applies to some of our other areas in both web design and digital marketing. I had a couple of questions for the group about how narrative reaches beyond video or even audio. So first of all, narrative is essential for video, but in your areas, how do you recognize and tell stories through, be it a written blog post, or even a social media post? How are you guys using story in your day-to-day areas?
Kindra: Well, I'm rethinking it all through the lens of a video now, but we certainly tell stories every day. I think that we touched on it earlier, but being relatable and drawing people in to feel like they're a part of something is a really important sales tactic, whether it's super salesy or not. Just being able to relate and be a part of a story, whether you relate to it for a specific reason or you can empathize with it. If you can provide the narrative that keeps your audience engaged, that's the best way to sell them something — whether it's a blog post video, a CTA on a website, whatever it might be.
David: I think in the SEO world, narrative is hard to fit in because it's very technical. It's very spreadsheet and keyword-driven. The one thing I feel like I could relate to SEO is the level of detail and preparation of understanding your audience. You might not be telling them a story, but you're answering a question in an effective way. I think one thing that I always say is try to distance and separate yourself from other people. Cause everybody's trying to target the same keyword and they're going to be putting the same content out to start targeting the same keyword. So if you can deliver that message, you don't have to tell a story about plumbers in Memphis to get that across. Putting a little more thought into it and making it linear to encapsulate the types of things we’re talking about. It might not help your "rankings'' but I think connecting with your audience is always going to be important once you get them on the site. So I do see some parallels in my world too.
Kindra: That's what I was saying when Ty was here was that with marketing and video, you're certainly going through the narrative, but on the marketing side of things, we're providing the solution to that story. When we're talking about a moving company, we want to show a family who is settling into a new house — not the stress of packing boxes and going through all of that turmoil, but you want to show the end result. You want to show the carefree sitting on the couch, unpacking, and smiling. You want to show the solution. So I think we create that narrative and that's why that user journey is so important, but it's so that we understand the end game and what people are looking for.
Roberts: Yeah, you just hit on exactly what I wanted to mention. I think about the user journeys that we create for our mood boards and thinking about the audiences for websites and helping a client visualize that they have five to ten different audiences that you're trying to talk to, and you're trying to tell a story to each of them about who you are and what you're about. To put that into a user journey that shows how we hope that this particular audience will behave on their website. Here are the story elements that we're going to create as part of their website to move them through to action, or engagement, or if they're used to thinking about a marketing funnel to move them down the funnel into somebody who's more engaged.
Roberts: I love thinking about website design in light of narrative because I feel like it marries a lot of the strategic elements that we have in place, but puts it in a framework that the people that we work with understand.
Ervin: There's another piece to it as well when you're talking about software development. When you use a certain methodology to do that, there's a thing called a "user story" and user stories define requirements. So if you take a very complex need that you'd have to try to solve for a client and you start talking to non-technical people about how to accomplish their goal, the best way for them to relate to you is to tell you, I need a user to sit down, see this, and then do this. So like if you find a business analyst who's really good at this, I immediately think of a friend of mine named Jeremy Reed, not Jerry Reed, a very different person. But Jeremy Reed, who is amazing at this. He's a great BA that could sit down in a room of four or five people and start asking them questions around what it is that they want the software to do. Then at the end of it, come out with pages and pages of very detailed, very well written, very easy to create and understand requirements. So narrative is used by us on the marketing side of things to get people to follow along with us or join in with us, and see our perspective. But on the software development side of things, it works in the opposite direction, where somebody has a need and the best way for them to explain it to you is to tell you a story. Then on our side of things, we have to be able to interpret that story into something that's technical and buildable.
Kindra: One thing that we do pretty regularly with clients is persona development and take 5 to 10 audiences and boil them down to maybe their most important ones, and we do pretty standard persona development. But then, I heard a speaker years ago, her name is Tamsen Webster and she has the red thread theory, and it's about finding the common meaning between them. I apply that to a marketing persona, so we'll have a mom with three kids, and then we have a young adult who is out of college and paying her student loans. And then we have a grandma who has several members of the family coming into town. So those are maybe three personas, but if we're looking at a zoo or an aquarium, what we'll do is find the red thread and find the common ground between the different personas. Usually, the client attaches to that because they understand all three of those people are looking for a source of entertainment that is within a specific price range, and that has something for everyone. So we can make a narrative story by finding that red thread between the personas. And I think that's a pretty common practice that we do, but it's something we revisit time and time again because we can really drive the story home for multiple audiences if we're focused on that shared value.
Ervin: Yeah and that's really important to people who don't have unlimited money because we could develop actions and items for user stories for every potential customer of your site, but that's going to take a long time.
Roberts: Do you know anybody with unlimited money?
Ervin: Uh, Jeff Bezos.
Roberts: Oh, okay.
David: Is it pronounced bee-zos or bey-zos?
Ervin: I don't know, Mr. Amazon.
David: We're obviously not the only ones using the strategy in our messaging and marketing. As consumers, are you guys affected by narrative and can you tell that you're being affected by narrative? The example that came to my mind when I thought of this question was in Dumb and Dumber when he's watching the commercial from the phone company, just openly weeping at it, and it's affected him so much. Does that happen to you guys on a normal basis? I feel like I'm kind of cynical with it. If I see somebody trying to do that, I get it, we're not doing that, but you guys feel like you get affected by it? and can you tell?
Kindra: Now's the time I admit I watched Dumb and Dumber this weekend.
Ervin: That’s a milestone right there. Brilliant piece of film.
Roberts: I probably shouldn't go first because I don't have a great example, but it is not unusual for Elissa and I to be on the couch watching television and something comes on and she looks over at me and says, "Are you crying?" So I guess I am a little bit of a sucker when it comes to narrative because I do find myself moved more often than seems normal.
Ervin: What is an example of one that has tugged at your heartstrings?
Roberts: You know what, I can't think of one right off the top of my head, but I'll do some, some clicking around the internet here in just a second. I'll see if I can find a good example that I've seen recently, because I know I could probably dredge one up. (Here’s an example of what made Roberts cry: Google Super Bowl Commercial)
Ervin: We can put it in the show notes too.
Roberts: Yeah. This is what made Matt cry.
Kindra: The show notes are going to be longer than the podcast at this point. I would say yes and no for me. I see a lot of commercials and I'll get teary-eyed. The Johnson and Johnson baby commercials always get me. But then when I'm watching TV shows, I am the worst to watch with because I like pointing out plot holes and I’m thinking, “Oh yeah well that’s manipulative.” I can tell what the writers are writing. I think of it from a “trying to find the hook” perspective, not taking it in as an audience member’s perspective. So in that sense, like in This is Us, I'm so over it because I can tell when they're going to try to make me cry. Commercials every now and then still get me.
Ervin: I'm more on the Kindra side of things than the Matt Roberts side of things. I have to work on my cynicism a little bit because it could be a problem.
Ervin: Right? I'm revealing so much about myself that no one knew. For me though, I more identify with the narrative when it's related to either a brand that I really like or an activity I enjoy. So if I see a commercial that is about somebody cooking, I'm hooked. I want to see what they're doing. I want to see what tools they're using. If it's about somebody cooking really good food outside, then I'm even more intrigued because that's one of my favorite things to do. I continually work on being able to cook better and better, and then I love to do it outside as well. So with something like that, it's going to catch me if I'm interested in it, but for a general service, I feel like I'm a little bit immune.
David: With that question in mind, Ty, I'm going to ask you, not only is there any narrative you find yourself consuming, but is there any rule of video, any brands that stick out to you that are doing that especially well? I'll ask the group that too. Anything you're seeing, is there any brand that sticks out to you right now that's doing a very effective job with narrative?
Ervin: YMCA Memphis.
David: YMCA Memphis. #1.
Ty: Yeah, they do a really great job. I'm really personable when it comes to narratives and a lot of cinematographers stick out to me. Their mindset behind the brand affects everyone. So going back to that question, I get it. I'm the same way as Kindra and Matt. I'm watching something thinking, “Oh no, I can smell what you're putting down.” But if there's someone important to me, such as my wife, I think about her. I know her story or narrative. I'm going to be drawn to that narrative. I'm not going to totally write it off. So the narrative is just as important to us as the next person that we know and know the story of. So I can sit here and write off dove commercials all day, but I go buy Dove products and my wife is consumed by Dove products. I have to sit and listen. So I would say everyone's super affected by narrative. I mean, narrative is all around us, right? Your life is a narrative and your son or your daughter's life is a narrative. Narrative really is everywhere. It's in subliminal messaging and ads everywhere. So it takes a special person, i.e. all of you, to grasp that and understand there's power in narrative.
Kindra: Yeah, I think that Dove is a good example because Dove probably isn't trying to reach you. But the fact that they were able to reach you to share it with your wife or do something nice for your wife, or even think about your wife who does connect with it, that's hook line and sinker. They got you and that's great.
David: Well, awesome. Ty, I don't think we could have said it better than that as far as wrapping up this, this chat on narrative. I think Dove is honestly a great example too, because like I said, I'm cynical earlier about marketing messaging. But they've been doing that campaign for forever now. Before that, I would've just thought "it's just another soap" but I think that's so memorable, even catching somebody like me. I think that's a perfect example.
Thank you guys again. I think we covered a lot of good topics today. Like we said, I think a hundred times, the show notes are going to be exhaustive today. We're going to have a lot of stuff in there, but there's going to be plenty of stuff to check out. Once again, thank you guys today and we'll see you on the next one.
Ervin: Thanks, David. There's also a 30 rock where Tina Fey says, "It's like those dove commercials never happened."
David: Well, that is it for today. I hope you guys enjoyed it. Once again, I want to thank Ty for going down in the podcast history record books as our very first guest. As we mentioned several times today, we will have some exhaustive show notes to check out. Most importantly obviously is Ty's blog posts, which will be linked there. That article goes even more in-depth on what we covered today. So if you liked today's show and today's chat, you should definitely take a look at that for some more info.
In addition to Ty's posts, we're continuing to update the blog on a regular basis. We may even have a little sneak peek here, we may even have a new post coming up, focusing on my area of SEO. So be sure to stay tuned and check out madebyspeak.com for new posts. As always, if you have feedback we'd love to hear from you. You can find us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn. Wherever you are on social media, we are right there with you, so send us a message. If you enjoyed the show, I'd ask you to subscribe to be the first to know about our next episode, as well as leave a review on your podcast platform of choice. So again, from myself, our guest Ty from the video team, and all of us at Speak, thanks for getting A Little Off Topic with us.
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