labyrinth copyright B.DeLouise120 Million viewers worldwide. It’s an enviable demographic, let alone for a PBS show. Downton Abbey has proven to be the most-watched Masterpiece series in history, with fans from China to Norway to Brazil.  What makes it work? According to creator Julian Fellowes, who won the screenplay Oscar for Gosford Park, it’s the universality of its themes. While factually British, “most of the stories are about emotional situations that everyone can understand” he told the New York Times in a recent story.  

When I’m asked what videos work best for social web (and also for live events)—I say the same thing: bring the audience into emotional situations they can relate to, even aspire to. Whether you are promoting a charity or a membership association, a corporate enterprise or a commercial product, your video needs to connect to your viewers/donors/buyers on a personal level. Videos that get the most shares, embeds, likes and forwards are usually those with a first-person storyline, authentic voices, in relatable situations. They don’t include “an introduction from the CEO,” nor are they heavily branded with logos and taglines.

So here are a few Do’s and Don’ts for your 2013 video projects, based on the wildly successful Downton formula:

  1. DO use the number of characters people can follow for the length of viewing. Downton has about 15 characters, but it is a weekly, 90-minute drama; so if your video is only 90-seconds long, don’t include 5 interview subjects! Try no more than 3 people per 120 seconds, for a max of 6 in a 10-minute show (which is too long anyway).
  2. DON’T use your CEO, Board Chair or other head honchos on camera unless they are funny, or willing to be seen in an unconventional or even unflattering light (a la CBS’s “Undercover Boss” or the IBM spoof of The Office “Mainframe: The Art of the Sale”).
  3. DO find compelling “plot lines” that show your organization’s effectiveness in real situations or highlight the reason your product or charity exists.
  4. DO be willing to let your viewers contribute their own ideas and provide opportunities for them to follow your “characters” in other online and offline venues.
  5. DO put as much production value (i.e. budget) into your video as you can possibly afford—people notice, especially in HD.
  6. DON’T be afraid to be traditional—just do it well!

I look forward to seeing many of you in my workshop on “Repurposing Video Content to Social Media” at GVExpo on Wednesday, November 28th and “Brand U” on Saturday, December 1st during Women in Film and Television International (WIFTI) Summit. Or join me @brandbuzz with any follow-up questions.

Filed from the National Association of Broadcasters Convention, Las Vegas.

Convergence. Multi-platform distribution. Mobile TV. Integration of social media into the viewing experience. These were the buzzwords on the floor and during workshops I’ve both given and attended at NAB this year. The future of broadcast, and all mediums really–whether web or mobile web– is creating dynamic content and interactivity with the user/viewer at the center. For content-creators, the challenge is creating programming that works whether someone is viewing it on an iPhone or a ginormous flatscreen Hi-Def TV, and that has social content that the user can interact with while viewing. For content distributors, the challenge is rethinking broadcast, and creating standards that work for an entirely customized and mobile user experience. For viewers, the opportunity is taking their content with them, on any device, to any location they wish.

What’s the takeaway for the non-broadcast community?

The Consumer is at the Center. For-profit and nonprofit organizations large and small need to ensure that their communications strategies encompass a multi-screen, interactive world. The time for the billboard approach to PR and marketing messages is long since gone. The personal user experience is the focus–whether that means your donors, your association members, or your customers.  If your content is not focused on what the audience wants to take with them, they’ll leave it–and you–behind.

Powerful Stories Matter More than Ever. In a multi-channel, overly-busy world, compelling stories–real people, real issues–are still what is engaging viewers. Authentic stories are what is sticky in social media and in video, in all its formats and delivery devices. It’s true on television. And it’s true for nonprofits and companies who have good stories to tell. And now you have so many tools to tell them, and to distribute them to your audience. So for every new product roll-out, for every fundraising campaign, ask “what is our story?”

With YouTube now the second most-used search engine, plus the exponential rise of mobile web and convergence technologies, organizations realize that producing video content is as important as updating the website. Here are a few key questions you need to answer to be sure your video has impact.

1.  How does the video fit with your brand? You have a great story—someone touched by your organization, or some important piece of information that needs to be disseminated to the public, a hilarious short video sure to get loads of follows. Great. But how does it fit into your overall brand plan? Will your name or the name of a particular product/service be mentioned? Do you want people to take some kind of action, linked to a new product roll-out or campaign? Are you trying to promote organizational recognition? Gain new supporters? Engage the existing ones?  What will support the video content? (i.e. direct mail and/or email campaigns to drive traffic?)  Will there be other lives for this content (see #4)?

2.  Do you know your target audience? Or, as often happens, do you have too many audiences for this video and need to break it up into multiple streams of content?  Think about sub-demographics and what kinds of content appeal to them.   If your story has multiple parts/levels, consider breaking into smaller pieces and placing the content with different headings/links in order to attract the right audience.  If your story has multiple parts or levels of detail, consider breaking into smaller pieces and placing the content with different headings/links in order to attract the right audience.

3.  Can you afford what you need? Can you afford not to produce this well? It’s like what your mother once told you about buying a dining room set–buy the best you can because you want it to last. Many organizations make the mistake of thinking that if something is going to appear on the web, it can be produced on a shoestring because it’s a one-use item.  To the contrary, every penny you spend should be powerful, credible, and the source material should be useful in multiple ways. For example, if you have an interview-driven story, outtakes can be used for other projects. So can the background footage (“b-roll”). My personal preference is to shoot high definition, widescreen video because it makes a bigger impact when it is compressed for the web, since it degrades less.  But whatever your format, a polished production, professionally produced, will also allow you to “multi-purpose” the end-product more reliably, pulling parts for your website, your intranet, an email campaign, or a large-screen projection at a major donor event.   Many organizations have effectively teamed their in-house capabilities with outside vendors to achieve both cost efficiencies and good quality.

4.  Is it short enough? I produce a lot of short form projects for live event venues, but these are not short enough for the web, where the average drop-off comes after 90 seconds. When watching an event production, the audience is engaged together, with a common mission and few distractions. When someone watches your video on their laptop, desktop or mobile device, chances are there are other distractions in the room.   So make every second count. That means using visuals, music, audio, graphics–everything at your disposal–to make a message with impact.  And then cut the length in half.

5.  Are you prepared to measure impact? So many organizations throw video on the web and then have no real method for measuring its impact beyond views.  What is the drop-off rate? Where does it happen? Where do people go next after viewing? Do they return? If you can’t answer these questions, you’re losing valuable insights to help you refine your approach the next time.

Join me for social media and video production workshops at NAB/Las Vegas.

Fiat is not having a stellar year. Last month the Italian carmaker had its worst results since 1996.  (Of course Fiat now holds a majority stake in Chrysler, whose sales rocketed up 27% in its best September performance in 4 years. ) Clearly the European debt crisis is affecting sales. But Fiat‘s new 500 is not selling well even in the US.  And I read in my new issue of Advertising Age  that the problem is simply lack of visibility. Fiat’s Chief Marketing Officer is quoted as saying “I don’t think we have a car problem; people love the car. I think we have an awareness problem.”  Even a spot with Jennifer Lopez couldn’t jump-start sales. (bad car joke) Here’s a little behind-the-scenes clip, if you want to know how driving scenes get made

“Amy, I know you love cars,” you are thinking, “but what on earth is your point?!”

What I’m getting at is there are plenty of organizations that have wonderful products or programs that no one knows about. An Awareness Problem, just like Fiat. And they don’t have the bucks to hire J-Lo. So what can they do?

Get your fans to promote you. And help the process along. Give them a great video they can send out links to. Create a “how to” downloadable tool they can pass along (after giving you an email address for the free download). Or simply create a Twitter hashtag for a new program, service or event. That way you and your fans can promote these but also track how well they’re faring.

Design communications that suit your customers habits on many different channels. Social networks, mobile applications, and SMS are just a few of the newer ways consumers are engaging with your content. Add that to email, direct mail and e-newsletters. The trick is what kinds of content they want from each channel. Market segmentation has been around a long time. Now the mantra is content segmentation and editing so it is the right length and style for the medium.

Timing is everything – As this great infographic by KissMetrics shows, when you send info is just as important as how.

Ask questions—A short survey can help you find out how someone reached you to make that recent purchase/donation/request for more information. And it’s amazing how many organizations don’t ask their members/donors for input. That will help you make better decisions about reaching that same customer or donor again. And how to reach others.

Measure results. In my next post I will discuss some simple metrics you can use to track your success with different outreach strategies. Stay tuned…

It’s a little disconcerting to find Steve Jobs behind the curve. But that’s what Apple’s announcement of its cloud computing services yesterday seemed to be. In case you missed it: cloud computing is the ability to store your data on someone else’s larger digital storage units, instead of inside your own PC or other mobile device, thus allowing you to access it as you need it, to/from multiple devices.

What’s so useful about cloud computing?

Whether we know it or not, we’ve all been in the cloud for some time.  The books on the Kindle are housed in the cloud.  Your Gmail account is on the cloud.  Facebook and Twitter? Yep, the cloud.  I wouldn’t consider myself in the avante-guarde of technology, but I’ve been using the cloud for a long time. Since I work in multimedia, email is not a good way to send around cumbersome photo and video files.  So my clients, vendors and I use YouSendIt, DropBox, and Basecamp to share files and messages housed on the cloud.  I’ve also stored music on my Amazon cloud account, which preceded Apple’s newly announced music-sharing option.

What concerns should we have about relying on the cloud?

Recently I was cleaning up my DropBox folder in between projects and noticed that in my upgraded account I can now delete files and later restore them.  So even when they appear to be gone from the cloud, they’re not.  Comforting. Or disturbing. And this is the essence of the dilemma posed by the cloud for both individual or corporate users.  On the cloud, our file-accessing habits, keystrokes, time spent reading a particular page, membership in groups, and uploaded photos are all living outside of our own devices, making them easy targets for those culling marketing data or having more nefarious intentions (as Congressman Weiner recently learned). Earlier this year, the federal government released a cloud computing strategy and The Washington Post today published that the Office of Management and Budget reports 25 federal agencies have listed 78 applications to move to the cloud this year.  With that quantity of data moving to cloud storage, it’s pretty easy to fathom the national security impact.  And the personal impact. Whether we have moved there ourselves or not, every American–in one way or another–will be in the cloud.

Lately I’ve worked with several law firms who are upping the ante in terms of their brand presence.  But with the recent demise of Howrey (who changed to the fashionable one-name brand as part of its re-branding campaign a few years back, not so many months before going belly-up), many may wonder if re-branding is not only a waste of money but also a portent of impending corporate doom.

I’d like to make the case that it’s not re-branding that’s the problem, but what goes on behind it.

The motivation for re-branding is the key to its success. If the goal is to put new packaging on an old product (The Gap), then it probably won’t work. If the goal is to re-present an old brand to new audiences (“it’s not your father’s Oldsmobile”) it can work, but needs to be thoughtfully designed. And if the goal is rolling out a new brand, then the success lies in whether that product or service really has an audience in the first place.

In the case of Howrey, the re-brand was preceded by a decision to streamline the firm’s business lines into several key areas: anti-trust, litigation, and intellectual property. The problem with that strategy–it became clear in hindsight–was that Howrey could no longer be an all-purpose corporate law firm.  When times were flush, that worked. But as the firm expanded and swallowed up competitors, it became more and more likely to have conflicts of interest and have to turn down work. Enter the recession, and the whole thing was over.  So it wasn’t the re-brand that killed Howrey, it was the strategy behind it.

So what kinds of strategies can support a re-brand? I believe in an integrated approach:

1. Use social media. Still frightening to many corporate and nonprofit leaders, social media allows organizations to engage clients and members with a personalized voice. It also gives them a way to receive feedback from clients, and tools for mining existing contacts for prospects. But social media requires having internal guidelines and teaching staff how to use it most effectively. It remains a task that is often foisted on the newest/youngest members of a team, rather than its most seasoned players, who are often your best brand ambassadors.

2. Advertising. Placing the right ad in the right venue can support other marketing initiatives and enhance name and brand recognition. One of my colleagues in the nonprofit space says her organization gets some of its top hits from a tiny, 1 inch sidebar ad in The New Yorker magazine. Knowing more about your target audience (which you can do through social media!) really helps in making an advertising strategy effective.

3. Logos, names and taglines. Re-brands tend to come with new identity packages and tag lines. Some are great (“Take your ideas to the world.”–Baker & Botts). Some are so generic you wouldn’t know what a company does  (“A tradition of innovation”–you know who you are, or do you?).  The key with logos, names and tag lines is not that you have them, but what you do with them. If your strategy is to put them on your new web page and sit back, waiting for clients to arrive, then they probably won’t make a difference. If you can position them in ways to grab attention and re-enforce market position, then they can help put you ahead of the competition.  Frankly, even The Gap gained loads of attention and a good read on customer loyalty to its original brand identity when it got negative reviews of its new logo.

4.  Web 2.0. Many organizations are still somewhere around 1.6, while some in the commercial world are fast approaching 3.0. Web 2.0 simply means the death of the web page as road-side billboard, with more interactivity,  more opportunities to refresh content, a recognition of the role of search engines, and the integration of tools like comments and video.  It is now what consumers expect of their vendors and non-profits.

5. PR Matters. This is where the softer touch of public relations comes into play. Buying sponsorships at your local AA ball park or supporting a local food drive could be just the right places to roll out your new brand, and provide better visibility and more targeted market segmenting than pure advertising.  Closing the gap between “hard” and “soft” marketing can also be accomplished with educational tools like a podcast series, that helps prospective clients see your expertise and talent in action, then link back to your products and services.  PR is also essential when something goes wrong with your brand–such as the recent debacle over the high-priced pre-term birth drug rolled out by KV Pharma.  Trying to drag out the PR hoses once the barn is already on fire is harder than having a strategy in place to begin with.

6. Use Real ROI. Counting the number of hits is out. Understanding who the hits come from  is in. Whether you use analytics tools from Google,  Lithium or Radian, you still have to decide what it is you are measuring and why. And since most service industry and non-profit marketing is cumulative, putting a value on the quality as well as quantity of your social media interactions is key.  (more on this in a future ROI post)

Takeaways: Re-branding isn’t perilous in of itself. It just must be accompanied by a strong strategy and an organization whose actions and words are consistent with its mission.

For a web video project, I recently interviewed Sheena Iyengar, author of The Art of Choosing.  She is a professor and researcher who famously conducted the so-called “jam” experiments at a farmer’s market. Shoppers at the booth with the most flavor choices purchased the least amount of jam. Those with fewer options purchased more. When it comes to social media and the internet, I’m starting to feel like the first group of jam shoppers. Overwhelmed.  Iyengar’s research points to our need to choose from among a smaller group of pre-identified choices.  When we do this, we actually have better outcomes.

So who’s helping us choose?

On the internet, there is much talk of “influencers.”  These folks are supposed to know something, and if we follow them on Twitter, or join the groups they lead on LinkedIn, read their blog posts or friend them on Facebook, we will have some assistance in our discernment.  So where do we start finding these people?  If we are in a particular field, then the thought leaders in that field are an excellent place to start.  But in the social media field itself, there are many self-titled experts. Some have thousands of followers on Twitter mainly because they’ve figured out how to game the system and get lots of automatic follow-backs.  Following them could make us the lemmings headed over the cliff.

Last in, first out.

This expression usually refers to hiring and firing. But it could easily apply to how we are processing information in a world with too much of it.  According to behavioral economist George Loewenstein of Carnegie Mellon University, we are wired to pay the most attention to the most recent piece of information we receive.  So in a daily barage of emails, the last couple we get before we leave the office might receive undue priority.  This is making us particularly bad choosers.  Unless we purposely learn to screen out some of the input. On days when I get very productive, it’s usually because I’m only reading emails every couple of hours. I know, that sounds crazy. Remember the days when there were Never any emails, and people had to bother to call you about something so it had to be important.

Can technology help?

Maybe if technology got us into this jam (pun intended), it can help get us out.  For example, James Bridle manages a blog called Open Bookmarks that is a discussion forum to hash out rules for social reading. That is, sharing your bookmarks and annotations in e-readers. Publishers, booksellers, educators, and social reading application developers are all working on a solution together. So that one day, you could potentially get the social bookmarks of your favorite thought leader on books that he or she recommends. Certainly a more useful step beyond simply jotting down their reading list by helping you think through the text in a new way.

Who shouldn’t be choosing for us?

The other question the internet brings is who is already choosing for us and we don’t even know it? So, for example, when you see a trending topic on Twitter, you might not realize that persistently popular memes don’t always appear.  And in an effort it claims was to deprive content-farm websites of high traffic volume, Google recently changed its search algorithm to penalize websites that it deems ‘not very useful.’  This sounds helpful, but do you want Google to be the one making your choices? (Maybe you do. They have a point about those annoyingly un-useful sites that just list other people’s content.)

I wish I had all the answers here, but it’s still an open question. How can we become better choosers in a world with exponentially increasing choices? In the short term, my strategy is to frankly ignore some of those choices. I can already hear my stunned techno-saavy friends (the ones who tsk tsk me for not ordering the new iPad or the very latest app). But hey, they can help me choose!

In philanthropy, the saying is that people give to people, not causes. Connecting at the level of hearts and minds has always been critical to building long-term relationships with donors, and also with grassroots supporters. And the best way to do that is through storytelling.  Now that YouTube and other Web 2.0 tools are giving so many nonprofits a “channel” for their stories, personal narrative is being rediscovered.  But to tell a compelling story requires critical elements.

What makes a compelling story about mission?

1.       Focus on outcomes. Everyone loves a success story. Reality TV is filled with them: obese person becomes thinner, aspiring chef wins the prize, talented singer gets a record deal.  Think of the success stories in your organization, but instead of listing them as bullet-points, express them through anecdotal stories.

2.       Focus on people. The people who make it happen and the people whose lives are changed. Who are the teachers who made a difference in students lives? What are those students doing today? Who is the volunteer who went into a community and changed it for the better? What is happening in that neighborhood now? What would have happened to that child without a medical intervention paid for by others? What kind of life does this child have today?  Interview-driven narratives are highly successful at building the case for donors and volunteers.

3.       Show why your organization matters. Somewhere in the narrative, you need to show viewers why your organization made a tangible difference in the outcome.  It wasn’t just random acts of kindness that led to this success. It was your people, your dedication, your/their dollars at work.

4.       Engage viewers in their own narrative. Make sure there is a call to action somewhere in your story, usually at the very end. “How can you make a difference just like Alice did?”  “With just 20 cents per day, you can change the life of a child like Shawn.” “Join us at our XYZ event to make your voice heard.”  Think about what story viewers want to create for themselves after watching yours.

5.       Provide follow-up options. If a viewer is moved by your narrative, they should easily be able to click somewhere next to the video or case study to do something–sign up for the conference, make a donation, become a member.  Despite the tendency to want sheer numbers—hey, our video got 20,000 views!—you really want qualified viewers. You also want the video to be the entrance point to engage them with other content, either on your web page, Facebook page, etc.  So be sure you provide that option in your web video interface.

Telling and hearing stories is our oldest human instinct. Web 2.0 just makes it easier to share.

It’s time to kick off the New Year.  Are you ready? Here are some of my resolutions, when it comes to branding and marketing, that is.

1. Add more video content. YouTube is the second most popular search engine after Google. So it’s important that people searching for a brand find the content there. I’ve been primarily using Vimeo, because I prefer its copyright protections, but this year I may have to give in and post some clips on YouTube.  I already have video clips on my site, but I could do more to keep them fresh–I am a video producer, after all!

2. Set aside less time for email, more time for social media.  According to Neilsen Research, social media has now surpassed email for communication. I want to be sure I’m working in this space and not still getting sucked into the batting-away-emails mode.  Facebook also just surpassed Google in terms of most sought website. So maybe I have to suck it up and put a professional page there, in addition to my personal one. What do you think?

3. Be a more consistent blogger. I’ll admit this year I fell off the wagon a few times and didn’t post weekly. That reduces pickup by Google and other search engines. Guest posting was really successful and I want to add some more guest bloggers this year. Let me know if you’d like to be one!

4. More speaking engagements.  I got pretty tied up with content production this year, and only did a handful of engagements. This year I’ll be giving 5 workshops at the NAB Convention in Vegas, so I’m already on my way to doing more presentations in 2011.  It’s a great way to meet people, and take time to consider the big picture of social media, marketing and brand strategy.

5. More comments from you.  I’ll admit it, I’m a little anxious about posting on controversial subjects. It gets more hits but the comments can get rough. But I’ll try to be a little more daring this year. Shoot me a topic you’d like to hear more about.

Happy New Year to you and yours. May it be a great year for advancing your mission, raising awareness about your issue, or bringing more impact for your company.