Just over a year ago I found myself in New Zealand as part of our Muse Storytelling workshops. Though I was in the country for a short 22 hours, it was a memorable experience. Sitting in the back of the room was this large blonde dude with a funny accent (at least to me) who was in charge of marketing at Wipster. Now we'd been using Wipster for some time and had become huge fans, so it was pretty rad that he had signed up and was there to take in Muse with everybody else.
At lunch I told him about our experience without Wipster for our first documentary, #standwithme, and the massive difference with Wipster for our second doc Our Journey Home.
He was pretty jazzed with what we were doing and shortly thereafter reached out and asked if we could do a video testimonial. The problem? Me talking into a camera about how much we love Wipster is pretty damn boring to just about everybody.
So I wrote him back and agreed to the project on one condition. I'm sure you can guess what it is... :)
It had to be a story.
Now realize that this is more than just a creative discussion. It also means that we went from something that could be a quick setup, shoot, and delivery into something that would need a script, locations, and a real budget.
I share this with you because it's a challenge I know most of you deal with. We get presented with a project that you feel is crap (or to put it more politely, one that doesn't inspire us), but because of the pressure to pay the bills and all that jazz we often just take it on.
In this case I knew that if the concept was strong enough and we could communicate it well, they'd be able to see the clear return and be willing to finance the story we wanted to tell. All three of those components are HUGE and we often get so enamored with our creative that we forget to ensure it's communicated just as well. And it is super rare that we're also considering the return (what we affectionately refer to as the ROS or Return On Story). Okay, time to get back on track.
So let's look at how it took just 4 steps to story for this Wipster case study.
1. Find your Heart.
We started by thinking about who our main character would be–the Heart of the story. The product, Wipster, is a video review service and so we wanted to really look at the people and roles where this service would have the most impact.
That quickly brought us to Stillmotion's editor Jeremiah, or our producer, Annabel. Two roles that are massively impacted by the feedback and review process of a video, whether it's good or bad.
Now if you've met Annabel in person, you'll know that she is quite the character. She's often seen wearing her yellow snuggie around the studio (even in the summer) giving her the nickname Bananabel. She's an Aussie with a fierce nut-allergy.
2. Follow her Desire.
There are three main things that make for an irresistible character. Chief among them though is desire–what the person wants beyond what they already have.
Now if we were telling Annabel's story we'd be exploring her larger life goals. Since this was a focused case study for Wipster we wanted to consider her desire as it relates to her role as a producer. And for Annabel she'd love nothing more than to deliver a story on-time and on-budget.
She's super detail-oriented, as all great producers are, and is always looking at how every decision relates to the budget and timeline. This desire was both strong and relevant–the perfect fit for this story.
3. Uncover the conflict.
Hopefully you've been around here long enough to know that conflict is an essential part of a strong story. It helps to draw the viewer's attention in, and it also forms your central dramatic question, or what we call, the Core Question.
So we have our producer, Annabel, and her desire to deliver a project on-time and on-budget. Now what's a real conflict we all deal with that could block that desire? The purgatory of an endless feedback cycle.
We've all had those projects, sadly it happens more often than not for most, where the client's feedback comes in late and it's all over the place. For our team, one challenge we often face is that our members are travelling so much that it can take weeks before we can all sit in the same room.
That means we'd often end up with one, or more, of the following super not-awesome situations:
- somebody gets left out of feedback cycle for the sake of efficiency
- the feedback that comes in isn't clear enough
- feedback from one person contradicts that from another
- some of the requests are a reversal, or digression, from what's already been done
Each one of these situations hurts the final product and slows you down. That's real deal conflict right there.
4. Build out a journey to bring the audience to the Answer.
Now if the conflict is what helps you create the Core Question within your piece, one of our last main plot points is then the Answer–how we resolve the conflict.
One of the critical elements here is to remember the proper structure, or ratio, for each portion of your story. If the journey is too short then the Answer isn't felt nearly as much. But if the journey is too long then you'll lose your viewer and they won't hang around to see what happens.
This is where that magic 25/50/25 ratio comes in. As a reminder, here's an overview of story structure from the Muse Storytelling process.
Alright, so let's recap.
After you've spent your 10,000 hours building stories, this process can happen rather quickly.
We start by finding the main character, the Heart of our story. This was Annabel, our producer.
We then look at her desire as it relates to the project we're working on. In this case, that was her strong drive to deliver the project on-time and on-budget.
Then we look at the conflict that blocks that desire. For us, that is often related to how we're all traveling and it can be impossible to get feedback from everybody in the right way, and in the allocated timeline.
And lastly we build that desire and conflict into a journey that brings us to the Answer–which was Wipster in this case.
In the end, rather than a fairly dry video testimonial we have a story first approach to sharing Stillmotion's love for Wipster. Check out the final film below!
Pretty rad, ya?
Now back to that original question I posed about pushing for a story over something we weren't inspired by. In this case, we were able to convert the project into one that was a ton of fun to make. A big part of your ability to get your clients on board with story is how well you can communicate the ROS (return on story) over going with a more commercial, or facts and features, approach.
So I reached out to Andre and asked him why a video case study was so important to them. Here is what he said:
Nine out of ten people look to online product review and social media before making a purchase decision. People are consuming more video content than ever and your customers are more likely to watch a video than they are to read a lengthy written case study. Video case studies are a really powerful way to communicate the value of our product.
You can see that, in this case, our client really saw the value in the content he was creating. And so it naturally follows that if we could express why and how story would convert better than a simple video selfie, than he'd surely be on-board.
Now of course, I totally cheated. Andre came to our storytelling workshop where I spent a day indoctrinating him to the value of story. So that made my case much easier to make.
But the lesson there is that when you know your stuff, and can communicate in a way that clearly shows it will help maximize the client's objectives, you are far more likely to get support for your proposed idea/budget/suggestion.
I personally LOVE the research. The actual studies that objectively prove how story converts better than stats. I wrote one of our most popular posts on that exactly right here. And when I'm with a client I'm not afraid to share that research and take the time to educate them on why story works.