Creating documentary-style videos for your business

Content creation takes many forms these days, but video continues to grow in popularity. Here’s how you can use the documentary format in your brand’s marketing.

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Ah, content marketing. Ever-present and ever-evolving, producing relevant and valuable content for your customers and prospects through engaging storytelling continues to be at the heart of this marketing channel. The idea is not to push a sale, but to educate. ‘Good’ content attracts and delights customers, it brings new visitors to your site, it turns them on to your brand, and that, in the end, will generate revenue.

Blogging is very much still a well-used method for generating content, but content marketing now goes way beyond just a helpful blog post. E-books, whitepapers, infographics, email, social media, games, quizzes, webinars, and video can all form part of a content marketing strategy. And with consumers now watching more videos than ever, if you’re not creating video content, you’re behind the curve.

YouTube’s 2 billion users worldwide sure show that video’s in demand. Users visit to watch all sorts from DIY videos to parodies, but how-to guides, vlogs, product reviews, and educational videos really rack up the views too. Why are they so popular? Well, they’re informative, helpful, useful; they don’t just sell a product, they give it context. And that means they’re a great way for a brand to tell its story.

Sharing your brand’s story through documentary-style video

Remember when we all went nuts at the beginning of lockdown and binged Tiger King? And I can’t be the only person fascinated by Steven Avery’s story, plus I know you tuned in for Fyre. We were compelled by the stories. The tales being told, the way they were unfolded, and the authenticity behind them makes for addictive great viewing. And I think brands should be inspired by this in their video content marketing.

I appreciate that marketers in certain industries might struggle more than others with finding and sharing compelling stories about their brand, especially in the B2B space where the consensus is that the industry is ‘boring’ or ‘starchy’. This is where the documentary-style video can be really powerful in communicating the brand story in an interesting way. Before you start, there are some considerations:

What is the goal of your video?

Ask yourself what success looks like. Ask yourself what you want to achieve with your new documentary. Ask yourself what its purpose is. Here are some examples to guide in your decision making:

  • Educate customers
  • Promote brand awareness
  • Encourage engagement online
  • Generate leads
  • Nurture leads
  • Make sales
  • Increase conversions
  • Increase traffic

These are common objectives for all content marketing, but the way in which you achieve them doesn’t have to be common. You may not be the only brand in your industry offering advice, observation, and thought leadership through video, but the way you do it, using your brand’s own personal voice, is something no one else can offer. 

Users may click for the content, but they stay (and come back) for the personality. If you’re working in personal finance, don’t just talk about the state of the mortgage industry today; provide depth and insight through personal experiences of troubles in applying for a loan, success stories for happy applicants, and tips or analogies for understanding the landscape. Brand guidelines might mean you have to be careful not to be too informal, or too opinionated, but blending the rules with creative flair is an art and may take some practice to get just right.

Who is your audience?

You might have a vision or an idea, and you and your team might love it… but you are at the mercy of your audience. If they don’t love it, your idea is crap. It’s all very well knowing your industry inside out – and make no mistake, that is very important – but you need to know your audience too. You have to study those guys and find out what makes them tick. You have to discover what interests them, what they like, and what they don’t, and you have to mould that information into creative opportunities. 

Beyond stats like age, gender, and location, it might be valuable to know what your audience’s living arrangements are, whether they have a family, what they do for work, how much they get paid, and stuff like what they do in their spare time – do they indulge in documentaries? Ultimately though, you need to know what their problems are and how your brand can fix them so you can apply it to your content.

Why would your audience choose your video?

When you know who your audience is, you need to understand why they’d ever choose you over the 100s (if not 1,000s) of other brands offering the same thing. How can you show them you’re a cut above the rest? Become your audience.

Well, not exactly, but creating a buyer persona is pretty close.

A buyer persona will help you weave your brand story into your documentary-style video. They represent the prospective user who is most likely to ‘get’ your brand message. Your video resonates with them, you turn them on to your brand, you build loyalty and trust in them, and they keep coming back to you for more. All those stats above are a great starting point, but you need to make some assumptions, and you need to be prepared to alter those assumptions if you don’t’ get it quite right the first time.

Think about who you market to. Think about who will be delighted by your content. And think about these things too:

  • What stage they’re at in the buyer’s journey
  • Where they spend time online
  • How they consume video
  • Whether you can consistently deliver in this space
  • Whether you can compete against other players in this space

You need to communicate with this buyer persona and so you have to walk like them, talk like them, and then entice them. It’s no good trying to bowl them over with eloquent prose or an expansive vocabulary if they don’t speak that way, so incorporate the language they use and fold their humour into what you create. Be explicit in how you will help them specifically not just in the video itself, but also in the video’s title, its description, and in its teasers. 

Be as helpful as you can, but there’s no need to try to solve all their problems at once. Stick to fixing their one important problem and don’t confuse things with tangents addressing too many issues all at the same time in a single video.

Creating a documentary-style video

When you know to whom you’re talking, you need to make sure you know what you’re saying. You need to find a story to tell. Take your audience’s problem, take what’s important to them, and take what they need to know, and have your brand meet those expectations. Where these two forces meet is the heart of your documentary’s story.

Writing your story

I already talked about how certain industries might find it more difficult to identify a compelling story, but it’s not that they aren’t there. They just haven’t been discovered. Find out what else is already out there and take a look at your brand’s own library. Maybe your brand hasn’t done video content marketing before, but stories (or at least the beginnings of stories) exist in old blog posts, brochures, testimonials, and interviews. It could be that your objectives are clouding your judgement and there’s an idea right in front of you, so formulate your story and then align it to your objective, rather than the other way around.

Always be on the lookout for inspiration too. Build a database of ideas and resources, and capture ideas for documentaries whenever you find them – you never know when they might serve your creative process! Even smaller, more personal stories can be powerful.

The hero’s journey

To take your story idea and give it a hero to help tell it. Your documentary then becomes their journey and the video shows how they overcome relevant obstacles in order to reach a clear goal. And relevance is key here. Your buyer persona, and therefore your target audience, needs to relate to your hero. Your hero must be interesting, and they must be able to communicate with your audience – that means it might not be your CEO, and it might not be your HR manager. Maybe it’s the intern, maybe it’s the Health & Safety officer, maybe it’s your first ever, or longest-serving customer? Your hero should be whoever can emulate your brand voice most vividly.

Build a strong team

Be mindful to manage expectations of your brand’s stakeholders. Silence any talk of going viral and instead focus on who you expect to interact with your video and how. If you expect a certain number of views, subscribers, or customers, make sure you define those numbers. Don’t be afraid to bring others in on the project, and harness the knowledge of others who also live and breathe your brand’s ethos. 

If you don’t have the resource to create professional video, don’t hack it. Find a professional with experience in producing documentaries if you don’t have the luxury in-house. Someone with a proven show reel should add so much value to the project, it will justify the cost.

Documentary-style videos to help create the curiosity gap

Successful content, no matter the medium, grabs and holds your audience’s attention. I hate clickbait, but it’s principles apply here. Your documentary creates the bait, but just make sure it delivers on its promise. Think like a documentary producer and consider what your audience already knows and what they want to know. Think about how you can answer their questions and solve their problems in an exciting, authentic way with a relatable hero, and an inspiring story.

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