If you’ve been a marketer for very long, you’ve probably experienced that moment when you realize your campaign (video or otherwise) doesn’t seem to fit with any other aspects of your brand narrative. I stress brand narrative here. This isn’t about the incorporation of your tagline, branded bumpers, company typeface or the color palette. No, I’m referring to content that doesn’t fit into any real narrative at all. And frankly, I’m talking about most of the branded content out there.
Narrative marketing themes aren’t just for ad campaigns. They can and should guide larger, more complex content marketing campaigns. The ultimate goal of a brand narrative is to align the big idea behind your video and content strategy to your brand. It’s the central chassis you should be able to plug all of your campaign ideas into.
One of my favorite definitions of brand is “the sum of what the market thinks about your business.” As you work to create more exciting, effective, on-brand content, make sure the market doesn’t think that your business has multiple personality disorder. Ideally, this type of creative planning is done in tandem with your annual marketing plan. For many marketers, that time is right now.
So, let’s take a look at why so many marketers struggle to develop a big idea that can guide all of their various content campaigns. During my own work with hundreds of enterprise (and midsize) B2B brands over the last decade, a few challenges have been commonly cited:
- “We’re too big.”
In enterprise brands, size is the challenge. With scale comes siloed marketing departments: brand marketing, acquisition (demand gen) marketing, channel marketing, product marketing and customer marketing. Then there are different business units – each with many of these same marketing functions. And to top it off, global companies often use regional teams that operate with a surprising level of autonomy.Organization complexity leads many enterprises to a common conclusion: the cultural nuances of different geographies and the variety of marketing goals across teams are just too hard to direct from central leadership. Instead, they opt to leave the various teams and geographies to operate from a common set of branding guidelines. My experience with these teams is that they’re looking for a little more. This is where a brand narrative can provide a common theme to steer strategic planning.
- “Isn’t this a brand thing?”
You might think this type of direction should come from the brand team. But many of the largest brand agencies in the world tend to bring an outdated approach to this type of planning. Namely, they focus nearly all of their energy on how to talk about the company. More relevant is how and why their customers buy – and what’s important to them. The best campaigns and content focus on helping and connecting with customers, not patting your brand on the back.
- “We’ll nail down the story later.”
For small- to medium-sized businesses, video is often a one-off. When the annual marketing plans are drafted up for the year, creative strategy isn’t typically the focus. Most SMB organizations begin with business goals that quickly branch down to discrete budgets for events and other marketing table stakes. Maybe there’s a content budget for the year – but rarely is there a cohesive creative vision to accompany all of these things. Again, whose job is that? In a world increasingly obsessed with marketing tech, automation and attribution, business executives are beginning to overlook the intangible aspects of marketing planning.
What does an integrated strategy look like?
In the agency world, we’re often helping our clients to make their solutions “easy to sell” and “easy to buy.” When it comes to developing your brand narrative, the purpose is to make your story “easy to tell.” In other words, a killer integrated creative strategy will allow you to connect all of your content and campaigns into a simple, central idea.
Here’s a great example of a campaign that launched during the last month for Gusto, a software startup that’s helping HR directors with all the crazy things they do.
The central idea for the campaign: HR people do nearly everything. Gusto understands that and creates software for those people. This simple idea takes their video strategy into lots of different angles to show all the different things that HR people do. Notice that these videos are about the audience – not Gusto. They’re designed to make an emotional connection with the audience by laughing along with them at the crazy things they deal with every day.
Tips for avoiding random acts of video creation
- Step up and lead
Who should own integrated video strategy and theme development? It could be the brand team. Or, it could be anyone in the marketing organization with a vision. If you have an agency, turn to them. If not, it could be you. Change agents and creative leaders come from everywhere. I’ve seen modern marketers from all stripes lead sophisticated creative strategies for their organizations.
- Don’t get overly prescriptive with your video branding guidelines or your marketing themes.
When you’re documenting brand guidance for larger teams, avoid overly prescriptive video guidelines. Instead, focus on central themes, personality, and tonal direction. The same goes for thematic planning; keep it simple enough that you can take it in a few different directions.There’s nothing wrong with variety across your branded video. On the contrary, it’s necessary when you look at all of the roles that marketing content has to serve. From exciting awareness content to product demos and customer testimonials, your creative strategy has to be flexible.
- Evolve your ideas with your business
If you have an agency, have them put together a theme proposal for the year. During quarterly business reviews, check back to review the central ideas. If they’ve shifted, update them. Today’s economy is highly agile – so reserve the right to adapt your marketing strategies and themes as well.
Share your actionable tips on how to think about big-idea thematic planning below!