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3 things ALL brands can do to achieve standout

You don't need to be Nike

People involved.

We all know the heroes of branded video. Nike. Adidas, Redbull. John Lewis at Christmas!

A small number of brands regularly produce memorable videos that drive mass attention and engagement. They define the category, win awards and grace content marketing presentations across the globe.

Yet such videos bear little resemblance to the real world of branded content.

As a film-lover and content marketing advocate it pains me to say this, but most brands churn out mediocre videos that generate minimal impact. They aren't bad per se, just bland. Forgettable. A bit ‘meh’. The plain vanilla ice-cream of the video world. And worrying, many marketers seem to think it’s good enough.

I get it: You’re not Nike. You don’t have gazillions to spend on your next campaign. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t strive to stand out.

In this fourth post of my Pause for Thought series, I want to question the idea of ‘nice content’ from the perspective of creative. I’ll also share 3 practical exercises to help you create standout videos on any budget.

A false sense of security

As I emphasised in my introduction to this series, brands tend to overestimate video marketing performance because video is hugely effective in general. When asked how they feel about it, most marketers report high levels of satisfaction. For instance, Wzowl recently found that 87% of video marketers say that video, in general, gives them a good return on their investment. But here’s the rub: Branded videos perform well compared with other marketing activities, yet compare with what branded videos could achieve, they may be drastically underperforming. It’s a bit like congratulating a greyhound for outpacing a pug.

Given how much video has going for it, I believe brands could – and should – get far more from their investment in the medium.

But here’s the rub: Compared with other marketing activities, branded videos perform really well. Yet compared with what branded videos could achieve, they’re massively underperforming.

Given how much video has going for it, I believe brands could – and should – get far more from their investment in the medium.

Competing for cut-through

Your target audiences have finite time and attention, yet endless content options – from videos shot by passionate solo creators through to TV series crafted by giant media monoliths. As content continues to proliferate, the competition will continue to steepen.

In this context, it seems naïve to congratulate ourselves on outperforming our own eNewsletters, whitepapers and social media posts! Why would a viewer spend time watching boring, basic content that’s made to fill a space in a content marketing calendar?

Mediocre content simply won’t cut it. To stand a chance, marketers must learn how to stand out.

What defines standout videos?

There are several dimensions to creating videos with cut-through. In my second post I stressed the importance of a single, clear message and in my third I advocated driving meaningful, measurable actions.

Here I’m going to focus on creative. To me, standout videos are:

• More likely to get noticed

• Easy to distinguish

• More likely to be remembered

Let’s look at this example from Calm:

Some points to highlight:

• Unusually slow pace and simple graphics attract and hold user attention in a refreshing way

• The creative embodies the relaxing, meditative brand experience of the app

• The creators avoided clichéd meditation imagery, such as people sitting in meditation posture, lotus flowers, temples and yoga mats!

This Instagram example is also tailored to the medium, making good use of the thumbstop to disrupt scrolling. I’ll talk more about tailoring next time!

As Calm shows, you needn’t be as high-octane or entertaining as the likes of Nike and RedBull. The trick is to positively differentiate yourself from what everyone else is doing. Whatever space you play in, and however ‘unsexy’ your brand is, you can still create content that stands out.

How to create standout videos?

Let me share three practical exercises to get you started.

1. Identify tropes

Tropes are recurring characteristics within a genre. A bit like clichés. If we want to create standout content, it helps to know what others are already doing – and what audiences might expect.

Exercise: Make a list of video elements you often find in your space.

If you like, you can broaden this to include all sorts of marketing characteristics within your area/sector/product category. Have fun with it.

For instance, if you work in premium hotels you might write:

- Sandy beaches with bright sun and blue skies

- Attractive, sunkissed couples and families

- People smiling, laughing and relaxing

- Calm, generic voiceovers

- Fun outdoor activities like swimming and snorkelling

- Waiters serving seafood and cocktails

- Neutral ambient music

- Luxurious soft-lit bedrooms

- Zero meaningful dialogue between actors

- 2-3 minute videos

- Etc.

When you finish, review a sample of your own branded content. Notice how often your videos rely upon the established tropes of your category or sector.

You can also do the same for your competitors. Ask yourself: If all names and logos were hidden, would I know which brand had made which video?

2. Distinguish yourself

You can probably guess where I’m going here. Now you’ve identified tropes, you can explore creative ways to distinguish your content from the rest of the pack.

Exercise: Write down video elements rarely or never used in your space

I suggest going back through your list of tropes and coming up with an alternative for each one. Don’t worry about whether they’re good ideas yet, just get creative. Look for ways to twist or subvert the norm.

To continue with the hotel example, you might write:

- Grey British skies / tropical storms

- Normal people / extraordinary people

- People arguing / trying to resolve problems / people working on holiday

- Someone real and relatable weighing the pros and cons of a hotel/destination

As well as video content and storylines, make sure to think about other elements too, such as video titles, thumbnails, soundtracks, colour grading and tone.

Tropes exist for a reason and can often provide useful cues to viewers, so I don’t recommend throwing them all away. Instead, try to identify a few ways to distinguish your videos from the competition – in alignment with your brand values.

Ideally these elements will be flexible enough to apply across multiple videos and channels, differentiating your brand overall besides increasing the impact of specific videos.

3. Respond to change

While standout brands build coherence and continuity, they also embrace change.

Courtesy of Covid-19 we’ve been through a strong collective experience which offers fertile ground for creative exploration. While there are countless possibilities, here’s a quick exercise to get started and help spark some new ideas.

Exercise: What new questions might your audience/brand/sector want answered?

To continue with our hotel example, some questions could be:

• How will it feel to go on holiday again?

• What fears do people have about venturing out into the world?

• What are the things about holidays that people miss(ed) most?

Future videos could reflect, explore or answer these questions directly. You might also use them to sense-checking the relevance and suitability of existing content ideas, which may no longer feel appropriate.

You may also find that a small tweak to your content is enough to align messaging with recent events and strengthen creative relevance. See Dove’s video, Reverse Selfie, for example:

Whatever you do, I wish you luck in striving for greater standout in your video marketing.  I appreciate how easy it is to stick with the status quo and settle for ‘good enough’. But I also know from experience how rewarding it can be when we set our sights higher.

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