Recently, a prospective client called looking for a video that would dazzle investors and entice them to commit millions of dollars to their startup idea. As we discussed Planet Nutshell’s process, some past work, and other details, one of them asked a simple question: “Can you prove why your approach is the best?”

Now, I’ll let you in on a little secret: I have no definitive proof that our approach to making animated explainer and educational videos is the best. We’ve never run a scientific test comparing our approaches to others.

So, I stammered a bit, casting about for an answer.

A few things flashed through my head: First, there are lots of statistics that attest to the power of online video, and most people get that video is a crucial online marketing medium right now. We’ve also gathered some very positive data from our clients, including Google and The Environmental Voter Project, about viewer behavior after they watch our work.

But what makes a good video, a truly effective one? That’s a tougher nut to crack, but here’s what we’ve settled on, and what I told the prospective client: Story is what matters.

Now, the words “story” and “storytelling” are two very overused terms in marketing and communications right now. That said, it can be a meaningful term. Storytelling has been with us for millennia. Before writing, it was how we effectively transmitted information in a memorable form.

So, what’s a story?

A story is about things happening, a chain of cause and effect that arrives at a destination. That means that a good story does more than impart facts or bullet points. For example, consider this video we recently created for Roca, a Boston-based non-profit. We convinced them to focus on a single character, Andre, and let his journey to redemption and a brighter future stand in for the hundreds of people Roca has served over the years.

 

 

Good stories also depend on empathy, emotion, and viewer identification. To help drive awareness of Arctic oil drilling we suggested that the World Wildlife Fund focus on two things: A story their audience already knew about (the Deepwater Horizon disaster), and dramatic imagery that would drive empathy of the plight of animals, people, and habitats that would be endangered by drilling. This is the cardinal rule of storytelling: Show, don’t tell.

 

 

You might be thinking, well, my company or product isn’t about redemption, or journeys, or environmental causes, or spiritual quests or any of that stuff. How does story apply to me? The answer is that it applies to you more than you may think! Even the slightest story elements can make your explainer video more memorable and relatable. Consider the simple love story embedded in this video for WhatsApp:

 

 

The next time you want to make people feel more excited about your idea, perspective, or product, consider telling them a good story instead of explaining it to them. Let me know how telling stories has made an impact on your communications. I’m always up for a good story.

PS: The client hired us.

(artwork by John McGowan)