As an agency with over five years of experience, we reflected on some of the pitfalls to avoid and pointers to strive for in creating and growing a content production agency. So, here are some of the takeaway points that we believe will allow every content agency to flourish, and get its story heard.
1. If you are for everyone, you are for no-one
It goes without saying that you are founding a content agency for a reason – you have a story to tell, or the tools to tell one – something special that sets you apart. The first thing you need to do when growing a content agency is to focus on these key business values that you bring to the table and consider how you plan to use them to make a name for yourself. What is your unique selling point? Can you meet the needs of a niche customer base with a particular point of view?
It’s important to know how your agency makes its mark, because if you haven’t nailed down your own unique value, how are you going to sell it to clients? For example, here at Nucco Brain, we combine intuitive storytelling with innovative technologies in animation, VR and AR to visualise brands’ messages in a memorable way. One such example can be seen below in our VR project for EDF Energy.
EDF Energy || Nuclear Symphony
2. HR & processes matter
As a content agency, your team is going to be made up of creative souls – we get it, we’re the same. However, you have to make sure that, amidst all of the brainstorming, crafting and creating, the operational side of your businesses doesn’t get lost. HR and processes matter, and it will take time and effort to get them right. This will develop as you grow as an agency – at first, everyone in your team will have to multitask and play more than one role, but as you expand, it’s important to ensure that everyone is clear about their individual role and responsibilities.
This will ensure that externally, the client knows who they are talking to, and internally, there is no breakdown in communication through the production process which could harm the quality of your projects. The magic is in the process, not just the end product. With each project you take on, pay attention to your process and adapt it based on what works and what doesn’t – and then ensure these changes are implemented throughout your team.
3. Stay Up to Date
Whilst it is vital to know what sets your agency apart, it is also important to root yourself and to know your place in the market you are entering. With no sense of your wider creative environment, you will become lost, and struggle to signpost your presence to clients navigating the market.
So, stay up to date with market and global trends in all areas – not just your niche, and practice the art of adapting what you know to capitalise on current trends.
4. Don’t Mistake a Spike for a Trend
As we’ve said, it’s important to be plugged into market trends, but at the same time, don’t mistake a spike for a trend. Agencies that constantly try to remodel their entire process to match every fleeting viral obsession lose their sense of identity and struggle to survive in the long term.
Agencies can grow and die off of one account – don’t build your business model over one project alone, without thinking of the journey that takes you there. Similarly, be wary of serving that one client that eats up all your resources and finding yourself with no project afterwards. Treat your agency holistically, and always keep an eye on the long view.
5. When Business is Good Don’t Forget About Business
This leads us to our final point: when business is good, don’t forget about business. Creatives can often be tempted to lose themselves in their art – but you must resist this urge in order to keep growing as an agency! Don’t become absorbed within a single project, remember to keep the practicals in mind.
This means marketing your services, networking with other companies and industry figures, and taking every opportunity to grow your resources and nurture your talents. And, of course, don’t forget about new talent – new blood brings new perspectives and opportunities to innovate.
At Nucco Brain, we believe that storytelling allows great marketing content to generate a response and get repeated. Why? Because stories have proven to be the most effective communication tool since the beginning of times.
Let’s travel back in history. In ancient times, civilisations made extensive use of mythological tales to explain the world around them. This oral tradition of telling stories enabled our ancestors to both teach and remember – two goals still relevant for brands to achieve today. Over time, the evolution of storytelling has always followed technological advances. Many compare the impact of the Internet to that of Gutenberg’s printing press invention in the 15th century, which enabled the written word to surpass the oral tradition of storytelling as a mass communication tool. Now roughly 20 years since the Web’s commercialisation, what impact is it having on our ways of telling stories today and how can brands use new narrative forms to their advantage?
UNDERSTANDING MODERN AUDIENCES
Successful storytelling always explicitly or abstractly reflects the times we live in; and so should today’s marketing campaigns. More than ever before, we, as audiences, use digital technology extensively in our daily lives. Mobile and wireless technologies born out of the Web have revolutionised not only the way we communicate but also the way we think and perceive reality.
According to media theorist Douglas Rushkoff mobile and wireless technologies fracture our perception of time to only value the present above all by allowing us to communicate in multiple virtual spaces at the same time from one real life location. There is no beginning or end to notifications or the quantity of content available online. As such, past or future become meaningless compared to the present of: what can I watch on YouTube right now? Messenger alert, who can it be? What’s the latest news on my Twitter feed?
Within this context, the challenge for brands is not only to compete with other brands, but the entire media landscape. Creating content that stands out of the crowd is therefore crucial, and using new narrative forms is the best way to ensure constant engagement through marketing campaigns.
MOVING TOWARDS THE POST NARRATIVE FORM
Whether it be movies, novels, or even adverts we are accustomed to the classic linear form of storytelling. Something along the lines of: a relatable hero with a goal in the beginning, undertakes a journey full of obstacles in the middle, to finally fail or succeed at achieving the goal by the end. Rushkoff argues that the perpetual state of “now” we experience through our regular use of mobile and wireless technologies is shifting the types of stories we are interested in away from this linear format. He refers to this emerging narrative format as the “Post Narrative Form” where the aim is to expanding on a fictional universe and characters rather than concluding the story of a single protagonist.
Hollywood’s reboot of Star Wars, the increasing popularity of TV & Netflix series, Game of Thrones and its multiple storylines, these are all examples of the post narrative format resonating with audiences worldwide. Satisfying stories nowadays don’t have a resolution but give us a sense of continuation through the perpetual growth of their fictional universes.
HOW CAN BRANDS USE THIS NEW FORM?
The post narrative form is perfectly in line with modern audiences’ desire to keep the “present” going and have access to multiple points of view from one location. Applying this to a marketing perspective, brands should aim to produce content that satisfies this need for continuation and as such, expand their own identities through different media experiences.
This is already happening today, where marketing a brand across different social media platforms is common practice. However, brands should push this even further by approaching content not just as a way to tell stories but as a way to offer a variety of experiences to immerse in. Augmented and virtual reality technologies now offer such possibilities. By approaching content production as “experiences” to build on and expand, brands will prompt their audiences to interact with them regularly and thus ensure constant engagement.
There are two questions agencies must ask themselves when launching a corporate communications campaign: what does your client want, and what does your client need? Let’s start with a simple answer: it depends. There are as many measures of success as there are types of businesses. A small family-run pizza chain measures success very differently to a multinational tech company. That’s why the first consideration for any agency looking to answer these questions and run a successful corporate comms campaign should be defining business objectives.
How do you define business objectives?
Business objectives usually comes down to the bottom line: the ability to stay relevant, remain competitive, and keep costs down. A company wanting to provide better training for its employees might ask itself how it can spend less on expensive educational programs while improving their quality. Perhaps the client is launching a new initiative, or pushing a new product, in which case their business objectives could be to raise awareness or maximise social engagement, for less money.
How do you measure the success of consumer campaigns?
The best way to measurably define how well a campaign has achieved its business objectives is through key performance indicators. Although universal measures of success exist, there can be a great many KPIs to consider when it comes to the murky world of corporate comms, and these vary greatly from client to client. For example, the John Lewis Partnership defined their objectives as limiting the volume of phone calls received at their help centres to a certain number. Other clients might define success as achieving a specific increase in conversion rates. The types of questions we might want to ask ourselves include ‘did we spend enough money on training our staff this year?’ and ‘did our hiring campaign employ the right people?’
Measures of success vary wildly between different types of organisations: a charity’s needs are very different from those of a bank. By nature of the fact that the charity sector tends to be less competitive than the banking sector, non-profit consumer campaigns are usually aimed at external organisations and the public in search of more donations. Banks, on the other hand, are more interested in both onboarding new clients AND retaining existing ones: if, for example, a bank decides to launch a bank account targeted at millennials, the success of the campaign would be measured by KPIs like sign-up volume and adoption rate.
When we launched our campaign for InnovateUK, a government body that provides funding for innovative businesses that make use of emerging technologies, we had to consider both the industry landscape and client-specific challenges: entrepreneurs were largely unaware of the grant program, and applications were few and far between.
To track the performance of this campaign, we defined our KPIs as:
1. Engagement through social channels – this KPI is useful because it’s an accurate indicator of user behaviour. Data analytics tools built into social media platforms also allow us to view detailed metrics, analyse trends and patterns, and measure changes over time.
2. Engagement with trade publications – this KPI was of primary concern to the client, because of the authority these publications bring to the table.
We saw an 860% increase in average video views, a 650% increase in YouTube subscribers, and no fewer than 125 trade media publications picked up on the content release (not to toot our own horn or anything).
You can’t always measure KPIs. In certain firms, you’ll get partners who just want something. People want what they want; that’s how the world works. Great marketing teams simply attach purpose and meaning to it. Sometimes, the client criteria essentially come down to ‘we want something better, something new.’ You can’t really measure that with any given KPIs- it’s a matter of personal preference. This kind of situation is rare, but it does happen- where possible, try to assign those KPIs anyway.
So what makes a successful internal corporate communications campaign?
This is all very well for a consumer campaign, but for an internal corporate comms campaign aimed primarily at stakeholders and employees, it’s much more challenging to define KPIs or to achieve measurable outcomes. So what are we looking for?
In a nutshell, the purpose of an internal corporate comms campaign is to influence the behaviour of a group of people within an organisation. There are challenges – some people might shift their habits more slowly than others, and by and large the cost of this process can be very high in the short term. The key is to think strategically: the cost of not implementing procedural change can often be much higher in the long term. And the benefits are worth the expense: effective internal communications can be the key to building a unified corporate culture that fosters mentorship and gets the most out of each employee.
To run a successful campaign, we must identify exactly whose behaviour we are trying to influence, what that behaviour is, and how to measure changes in it. With a diverse workforce, composed of people of different ages, backgrounds and preferences, we have to adopt a line that resonates with them all. Of course, one size doesn’t fit all, but if we want to see a behavioural change from the majority of our audience, we need to find common ground and a unified voice.
But is there a way to actually measure behavioural change?
In short, yes there is. But only if the campaign is launched with clear objectives, and the tools to track them. You need these tools to record and check how change occurs – they can include anything from the ratio of emails opened to the response times for questions answered. You also need a system to judge the metrics – XAPI, for example, reads campaign data from different sources to monitor behavioural change.
The technology does exist to measure this in detail. For more high-tech campaigns, response times can be numerically recorded and analysed, increases in heart rate can be tracked, and other tools used to find out how our viewers are adapting and evolving their behaviour. Of course, this level of technological innovation isn’t available for every internal comms campaign, so for more ‘down to Earth’ initiatives, our KPIs come back to the bottom line.
So, Nucco, how do you action corporate comms campaigns that deliver measurable results?
It’s all about setting the scorecard. Some briefs can be fluffy: the more stakeholders are involved, the more everyone’s idea of size and effect varies. Get everybody on board, agree on criteria and use the same language: uniformity across the board is the surest way to avoid miscommunication and confusion. Don’t be afraid to challenge the brief: what the business needs and what the stakeholders want are often very different things. Solving specific communications challenges needs fresh perspectives from people who know what they’re doing, so allow yourself to be the expert. John Lewis Partnership asked us for a series of 15 videos for their internal communications- instead, we created 3 videos, 10 infographics and a number of characters to populate the world we’d built. That’s because we anticipated the needs of the business, held the fort and ended up delivering a smashing campaign.
For consumer campaigns, novelty pretty much always works: delivering something your audience hasn’t seen before generates interest. But for internal corporate comms campaigns, something new isn’t always the main driver, and doesn’t necessarily mean that employees will listen and take note. You need to take a good look at the organisation you’re working with, and the people it’s composed of. Who are the audience and stakeholders exactly? The marketing department of said organisation may be innovative, but some of the workforce may be resistant to change. Anticipate that, and proceed accordingly.
Sometimes, if you’re working with a small enough set of people (a targeted campaign for senior individuals, for example) you can be so granular and particular with your approach that your campaign can deliver immediate behavioural change. Companies are diverse and mutable things, with a wide range of cultural personalities. This means that being avant-garde with technology and UX design can work with a restricted set of stakeholders at general meetings, annual events and staff awards. But this type of success isn’t particularly measurable.
Not everything can be analysed as pure data. Measuring video views or social media engagement is one thing, and getting a sense of how inspired people are by your output is quite another. For example, we created a breathtaking VR experience for EDF Energy, shrinking viewers to the size of an atom and taking them on a journey through a nuclear reactor. We wanted to educate the public on the science behind nuclear energy, and get them excited about how it could be used to power the future. To get a better idea of the campaign’s performance, we also released it in 360 degree video format on YouTube. Not only did we hit 6 million views (a measurable outcome) but we also were able to gauge the personal reactions of our audience by looking at the comments section. This is perhaps the most rewarding yet intangible part of creating innovative content for us: inspiring, educating and opening minds.
And, finally, how does the Nucco approach to corporate communications set you apart from your competitors?
At Nucco Brain, we don’t just wait around to be given instructions – we’ll build the brief for our clients. This means that we’re highly consultative at the brief stage, and we go through an in-depth exploratory phase before delivering our campaigns. If one of our clients asks for an animated video, we’ll ask them why. What’s the purpose of this content? How can we prove that it’s been a success?
We take the persona approach to the user experience. This means envisioning an idealised individual that represents the audience we’re trying to talk to, before actioning the campaign. We created three of them for the John Lewis Partnership, and each piece of video content we delivered was tailored to one persona. All of our aesthetic and design decisions were made with that persona in mind. We don’t just create stuff we like, or our clients like. Above all else, the persona has to like it. For further information on building relatable characters, you can check out our creative insights.
One of the core values of our agency is timelessness: the content we create will remain relevant for the foreseeable future. Novelty lasts a heartbeat, but effective change in corporate communications takes far longer. That’s why we avoid gimmicks, in favour of engendering lasting change.
We’ll leave you with a cheeky example of our work. Take a peek at our internal comms campaign and animated infographic for Deloitte Digital, which educates employees about the history of industry from 1850 to the present day.
The Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC is a pretty cool museum. They have everything under the sun, from flight simulators to complete T-Rex skeletons.
They also have an incredible planetarium.
But that wasn’t always the case. Back in 1981, the planetarium show was a little dull. So the museum asked the legendary science fiction writer, Ray Bradbury, to help them liven it up.
Ray sat through the show, impassive. Afterwards, he was asked for his thoughts.
This is what he said:
“You’re teaching and you should be preaching. A planetarium is a CATHEDRAL. A cathedral of space, where you go to worship the universe. You’re trying to teach science in there. No, no, get out of the way and let me celebrate the universe. Let me shout and scream for you. And if I do a good job, people on the way out will buy your damn books. They’ll go to the library, they’ll borrow the books. But you can’t put the books on the ceiling. Put the exhilaration up there.”
Ray had hit the nail right on its tiny metal head. If your factual and empirical display about the unimaginable, mind-blowing scale of the cosmos is making people snooze, how on Earth (pun intended) are you supposed to get them to pay attention to the things you care about?
You need to excite people. Exhilarate them. Connect with them. Make them care. Then, if they’re interested, they can go read the fine print. Until then, you may as well be showing them statistics about orbital vectors and Lagrange Points (look it up.)
The first question to consider is:
Who are you talking to?
This is Storytelling 101. You need to understand your audience completely before you start writing. Empathise with them. Place yourself in their shoes. What are their hopes, dreams and fears? What keeps them up at night? When you’re addressing them, you need to get at the heart of what makes them tick for your message to resonate. Otherwise, their attention will go in the blink of an eye.
A good way to do this is to start with a question, one they may have already asked themselves time and again. ‘Yes, that relates to me!’ they’ll cry. Then, articulate the problem before hitting them with the solution. It’s a classic storytelling structure that gets to the heart of what makes us human.
Don’t sell. Tell.
Writing effective copy isn’t about selling something. This might sound counterintuitive but hear us out.
Today’s audience is bombarded from all sides by exhortations to ‘buy, buy, buy!’ Advertising is almost everywhere we look and listen: on billboards, on the airwaves, and in our digital spaces. We’re so desensitised to it that the average online attention span is negligible: 5 to 8 seconds. So grabbing and holding the attention of your audience rests on nailing your tone of voice and telling a story that they can connect with emotionally.
Your call to action can wait until you’ve created interest and engagement. The CTA facilitates the user journey by linking your content with a tangible product or service, but without an emotional response, all you have is a glorified infomercial. You must first humanise your audience, and fully immerse yourself in the user journey.
The User Journey
You’re browsing a social media feed on your smartphone. As you scroll, you view a mixture of your friends’ content, influencer photos, trending videos and branded stuff. From time to time, some of this content jumps out at you, causing you to pause and watch. This initial ‘wait, let me just check this out for a second’ moment only happens if you see or hear something you like. Your brain isn’t quite engaged yet, so the response in the first split-second will be an instinctive one. Either you’re drawn to the content, or you’re not. Engineering this moment depends on catchy headlines accompanied by colourful and intriguing visuals, or the right music.
So now your attention has been grabbed. Congratulations! But that doesn’t mean you’ll stay long. In a matter of seconds, your attention might waver, and you’ll move on. That’s where storytelling enters the picture: if the viewer feels understood and empathised with, and if there’s an emotional through-line, then you may have a conversion on your hands.
Framing the Story
Copy is important because it adds structure to the brand narrative. The creative process must begin with a strong copy line, from which designs and visuals can be extrapolated. There can be no visual story (and no content) without the words on the page.
Your first consideration is, of course, who you’re talking to. A retail assistant will not respond to the same touch points or engage with the same language as a financial services executive. In the former scenario, it’s best to limit the use of jargon and focus on making your voice clear and relatable. In the latter, hard data, growth statistics and business buzzwords go a long way, but remember that you’re still trying to make your message as simple and resonant as possible.
It’s about striking a balance between accessibility and authority.
Next, consider what the story will be. You’ll often have to condense a great deal of information about a product or service into a short video, usually 60 to 90 seconds long. Please refer to our piece about how to create the perfect explainer video for more guidance on how to condense a complex value proposition into a short, snappy and entertaining piece of video content.
In the meantime, here’s a structure that often works for us, helping us to narrow our focus and shave off all that extra (irrelevant) information. Of course, there are as many different ways to tell a story as there are human beings on Earth (more, in fact), but it’s a good starting point.
Copywriters, at their core, are storytellers, and this approach to storytelling is as ancient as it gets. There is no narrative without conflict, and branded stories need their conflicts to be resolved. After all, your service offering is the solution to the conflict within your story. It’s a structure that accesses the lizard brain depths of your users’ minds- it just makes sense to us humans on a fundamental level.
To begin with, hook your audience with the central conflict: a question or problem, preferably one that’s relevant to their lives. For example, you could ask an audience composed of marine biologists, ‘how can we prevent overfishing of the world’s oceans?’ Alternatively, you could state the problem: ‘Overfishing is draining the world’s oceans of their biodiversity.’ Which approach you choose is entirely dependent on which tone you’re trying to achieve, and for which purpose. Just remember that your hook will only be effective if you ask yourself which emotions you want your audience to feel as they engage with your content, and connect with them on that level.
Once you’ve set up the problem, you need to talk about why your audience should care. Not in as many words perhaps, but you do need to find a unified emotional through-line that makes the difference between, ‘OK, I’m interested’ and ‘Where is the skip button?’ The trick is, of course, to understand your audience. What do they want? What are they afraid of? And how can your service offering help them? These touch-points will vary across audiences, so avoid one-size-fits-all messaging. Our work for the De Beers Group, for example, involved designing and writing three separate brochures: one for corporate sightholders, one for luxury buyers, and one for retail staff. These audiences are all involved in the diamond industry, yet each has preferences and concerns that necessitate a highly distinct tone of voice.
Crafting a Tone of Voice
Brands speak to their customers in very specific ways. Your choice of language, the way your sentences are constructed, even the way you spell certain words- it all needs to be in service to the brand, and to the audience you’re speaking to. If your audience are mainly high-flying CEOs, you need to know what you’re talking about, using the right jargon in the right ways. Business leaders can see right through complication for complication’s sake, and appreciate a tone of voice that cuts through the fluff to make a pertinent point about their industry. If your audience is mainly composed of teenage girls with an interest in fashion, your tone of voice could be light, current and aspirational, speaking directly to their interests and day-to-day lives. Really, it all depends on your brand’s values and aesthetics. A colourful, exuberant brand will often use very flamboyant language, while a more corporate entity will keep their messaging subdued and informative. Your job as a copywriter is essentially to make sure you can hit those emotional notes and get people excited within the framework of your brand values.
Our work for HSBC’s Belt and Road Initiative is a great example of this: as one of the world’s leading banks, HSBC is investing in the future, partnering with businesses of all sizes to take part in China’s global development programs. Any piece of content that describes these infrastructure initiatives has the potential to be extremely dry. However, we avoided corporate-speak, using an open, inviting and optimistic voice to talk with know-how about the endless possibilities for investment in the vast regions that make up the Belt and Road. We even focused on the legacy of the Silk Road to frame our message within a much larger and more ancient story, spanning thousands of years.
Lay out how it all works
Another important point to consider is making the steps for using or actioning your service offering as simple to follow as possible. The common denominator is the only fraction that matters, and using language that your audience can understand, without talking down to them, will allow them to connect with your message on their terms. The animated video we produced for Deloitte broke down complex changes in taxation laws in the Middle-East region in a way everyone could understand: this is what’s happening, this is why you should care, and here’s everything you need to know. We didn’t assume our audience knew the terminology or complexities of financial policy- we tied our message directly to the ways in which their lives might be affected, and offered simple solutions to their concerns without making them feel ignorant or uninformed.
Your service offering should always seem easy-to-use (even when it isn’t.) There’s nothing today’s digital audience hates more than going out of their way to activate a product or service that requires time and effort. A great way to avoid this is to lay out how it works, step by step, and taking a structural approach. One of the first things we learn as children is the ‘one, two, three’ rhythmic formula, which never really leaves our developing brains. A numerical progression taps into this subconscious ‘comfort zone’ in an actionable way. Short and punchy lines of copy that take your audience through the process can also be a great opportunity to tell a story through your visuals. For example, Nokia commissioned our studio to create a video explaining their phone insurance proposition. Instead of blandly laying out the terms and conditions, we made sure to condense these into essential bites. We then conceptualised separate scenarios for each type of damage covered by the insurance program, starring an accident-prone animated character with a penchant for damaging his phone in various ways. The step-by-step copy line and appealing visual story made a potentially rather unpalatable topic feel fresh and memorable.
Go out in style with a bold conclusion
Once you’ve outlined the problem, introduced the solution and shown your audience how it all works, you can bring everything full circle by condensing everything we’ve learned into a couple of catchy lines. This is a good time to bring in some form of pithy slogan, as that’s what your customer will be left with when all is said and done. It also helps your content to feel more whole and rounded out: few things are more jarring than content that abruptly takes the user out of the experience without a suitable conclusion. Make sure you mention the name of your service offering once more, as this really makes a difference when it comes to brand retention.
The trick to catchy copy is to read it aloud as you write: doing so allows you to anticipate the voiceover, and make sure it all sounds nicely lyrical. Avoid overly long sentences and complicated sentence structures and try to make each segment digestible yet informative. If you’re not sure whether a particular line is necessary, or whether it really adds anything to the point you’re trying to make, cut it out. Be ruthless, because your audience will be twice as ruthless in skipping your video if they start to lose interest.
Here are a couple of examples to get you started, from our recent work:
‘Because if you love diamonds, your customers will too.
Go beyond the 4Cs. Discover a story billions of years in the making.’
• De Beers, 2018
‘The fuel retail business of the 2030s is fraught with risks.
But for retailers willing to innovate and adapt to a rapidly changing mobility industry,
It’s a world of opportunity.’
• BCG, 2018
‘Adarga understands and presents insights to the user in a digestible way,
Helping you to find the needle in the data haystack.
This is the future of data, and it’s powered by Adarga.’
• Adarga, 2018
It’s a real and strategic initiative helping to shape the world of tomorrow.
It’s time to start thinking ahead.
Fast-track your way to BRI opportunities with HSBC.
• HSBC, 2018
And finally, hit them with your CTA
The mistake a lot of copywriters tend to make is to over-emphasize their CTA, and to call their audience to action far too early. Remember that your viewer will usually seek further information if you have stated your case well enough. Begging them to buy your product and visit your website isn’t going to help unless they’re interested in what you have to say. The purpose of a CTA is primarily to direct traffic towards a point of contact within your organisation, so it needs to be as clear and direct (yet unobtrusive) as possible. We like to call our viewers to action right at the end of a piece of video content, usually as a form of branded ‘calling card’. It’s confident, doesn’t beg for traffic, and respects the audience enough to allow them to make their own decisions about whether or not to seek further information.
Incidentally, if you’d like to learn more about the cool stuff we could create together, be sure to get in touch!
The movie ‘Finding Nemo’ is widely considered one of the most successful animated features of all time. For a period, it was the best-selling DVD of all time, making an estimated 400 million dollars for Disney from video sales alone. It featured iconic characters, and cemented Steve Jobs-owned Pixar as the indisputable overlord of 3D animation studios.
‘Finding Nemo’ was the brainchild of Pixar writer-director Andrew Stanton. It was inspired by multiple life experiences, including his relationship with his son and his fascination with marine life. So when Stanton pitched his idea for a film about a clownfish father crossing the ocean to find his lost son to Disney executives, he was understandably comprehensive about his vision. He spoke for more than an hour, exhaustively laying out his vision for a rich underwater world, revealing every plot point and character design in detail, and even doing the characters’ voices.
After the pitch, Stanton waited breathlessly for the executives to say something… anything.
When they finally did, the feedback was unanimous:
“You had us at ‘fish’.”
And the rest, as they say, is history.
At Nucco Brain, we love this story because it perfectly illustrates one of our core creative principles: sometimes, simplicity is the best way forward. Getting people excited about something can be more about finding a hook within the bigger picture than getting bogged down in the details. Complex ideas can always be simplified, and we’ve found that attracting and retaining an audience relies on making these ideas accessible to everyone.
Defining Complex Ideas
Complex doesn’t mean complicated. This is an important distinction to make, because it’s the key to making sense of potentially dry and technical ideas. ‘Complicated’ means unnecessarily convoluted and hard to understand. ‘Complex’, on the other hand, is layered and made up of many disparate parts. But it can always be broken down into more digestible chunks.
We’re not just pulling this out of where the sun don’t shine. René Descartes, one of the founding fathers of Western philosophy, talked about the importance of breaking down ideas into the sum of their parts way back in the 15th Century. He was also a pioneer of the scientific method, a set of principles and logical directives that is as applicable to storytelling as it is to physics or chemistry.
We apply the scientific method to every story we tell. Let’s take a look at one of the principal models of scientific content marketing: the information engagement funnel.
The Information Engagement Funnel
This little thought experiment asks us to visualise an inverted funnel, into which information is poured. It becomes narrower and narrower, until it tapers to a point. The viewer’s attention is filtered away as it passes through each of the funnel’s layered sections. The human brain can only take so much information overload: retaining engagement depends on using the right medium to communicate the right type of messaging.
The top, widest section is the hook. It’s the emotional draw that attracts the attention of your audience. Its job isn’t to communicate information, but to empathise with and speak directly to the viewer’s ego. A short, punchy video is an excellent way to build a strong hook that provides momentum and drives the user journey through each subsequent section.
The next section is building awareness. Here, we expand upon the initial hook and build brands based on visual cues such as colour, motion and character. Our messaging is still subliminal at this point, so it’s important to keep them aware that the brand exists without bombarding them with facts and data. The key difference between this section and the next is that the hook is all about generating raw emotion, and awareness is about brand recognition.
Once we’ve created awareness, we can move on to communicating basic info. Theseare our essential points of interest, and they must be concise enough to provide an overview of the service offering, and vague enough to be intriguing. A longer explainer video is the ideal medium for this stage, because we’ve now started a dialogue with our viewer. They’ve made a conscious choice to absorb our message and to discover more about who we are.
Basic info gives way to detailed info. This could include a description of the service offering, frequently asked questions, a model of the user journey, testimonials and other commercially available information. Because this can often be too much to convey over the course of a two minute explainer video, it’s best to use infographics and interactive PDFs to support this stage.
The Fine Print
If our user has stuck with us this deep into the funnel, we can finally show them the fine print. Our clients care a great deal about fine print, but for the user it can be a bit of a slog. Nobody wants to read pages and pages of Ts & Cs on a white sheet, and that’s why it’s essential to find an appealing visual language and layout.
If our user has made it all the way down the funnel, we can usually consider this a successful conversion. A strong CTA ensure that we’ve effectively capitalised on user interest, and that we’ve established convenient points of contact. If the viewer has to search for a way to get in touch, their interest will wane very quickly.
Ferrying people down the funnel
This is the tricky part, otherwise known as Storytelling 2.0. The content that corresponds to each section of the user engagement funnel must be able to both represent the wider content strategy and to stand by itself. Promoted posts and media-buying can be a good way to give the wider strategy a kick-start; and although we prefer organic traffic, putting a little oomph behind the initial push won’t hurt. Our work for Innovate UK ticks all these boxes, encompassing a variety of content types backed by paid media.
We ensure that our audience are provided with multiple points of access for each content offering. And from each point of access, they need to be able to jump right in without having to refer to any other point. For example, the reason that Marvel Comics has enjoyed greater success than DC in recent years is quite simple: DC has convoluted, obscure plotlines requiring a deep understanding of the lore, whilst Marvel allows its readers to jump right in with very little context. (unless, of course, you don’t know how Spider Man got his powers, in which case we’re not angry, just disappointed.)
Navigating the modern attention span
The sad fact of the matter is that the world is shallow, and getting shallower. We need more and more stimuli to satisfy our increasingly limited attention spans. When we tell stories, we need to be aware of rhythm, pacing and placement: namely, where we place the juiciest bits of content. If some of our messaging is deep or emotionally charged, we need to make sure we use entertaining hooks to space out the heavy stuff and earn those coveted 15 seconds of user attention.
The Finding Nemo story above is a great example of how to intersperse more demanding content with fun anecdotes and case studies, as the ‘hook’ organically gives way to the text body.
SIMPLIFYING COMPLEX INFORMATION: A HOW-TO
And now, without further ado, we’ve put together this guide on how to get down to brass tacks and turn complex ideas into exceedingly simple truths that resonate with a modern audience.
Never assume that people know stuff.
People might know what your phylogenetic mapping service is all about. They might. But they probably won’t. Even if you’re aiming your message at ‘bacterial morphologists based in London’, a lot of people are going to look at your content and decide that it just takes far too much mental energy to even attempt to process it. When we created a series of videos and VR content for EDF Energy, we made sure to speak to nuclear scientists and experts while keeping their thoughts and opinions accessible to a wider audience.
Find out what makes your viewers tick, and speak to them in language they’ll understand. Even if you know exactly what all of the industry jargon means, some terms might be more palatable than others. Some financial services buzzwords are synonyms: ‘working capital’ and ‘cash flow’ for example. But cash flow sounds much more pleasant, because ‘cash’ and ‘flow’ are usually associated with positive things like wealth and running water.
Be painfully aware of the context.
By context, we mean the media context in which you’re telling your story. People will rarely watch a seven minute YouTube video because it involves an awkward chunk of time that’s neither short and snackable or long-form enough to be engaging. Instead, they’ll either pay attention to a two minute trailer, or a fifteen minute documentary. And if you can’t summarize seven minutes’ worth of information in two minutes, you’ve gone wrong somewhere. Our explainer video for Deloitte, in which we laid out changes to taxation policies in the GCC region, is a prime example of how to relay complex information in a limited amount of time.
If your message simply won’t fit into that two-minute window, you can think within the context of a series. Distribute your content, and the more interest you’ve generated in your initial instalments, the more people will watch it. Just remember that human beings tend to make connections by association rather than rigid categories, so you’re going to have to find a way to serialise your content in a way that makes organic rather than logical sense.
For example, a story presented in a rigidly taxonomic way might make sense for a methodically minded engineer, but not for an artist who works by matching colours and shapes. Fans of the movie ‘Twilight’ might be more interested in love stories or Robert Pattinson than vampires, and may not necessarily enjoy ‘Interview with the Vampire’ (or Tom Cruise.)
Find out what matters to people.
Humans are selfish. We’re sorry, but it’s true. People just want to know what impact your amazing new product or service will have on their lives. That’s why you have to find a way to let them know how you can improve their day-to-day. Astronomy may seem like a lofty topic, but talking about how the cycles of the moon affect observable phenomena like the tides makes it appear far more tangible. We actually tried our hand at cosmic themes with our European Space Agency Business Applications explainer, making sure that instead of attempting to communicate the complex principles of orbital science, we focused on real people and businesses that are making a success of space technology.
Anyone who is fascinated by a particular topic, be it flightless birds or the toothpaste industry, will happily delve into dense scientific journals to find out more. But a scientific journal isn’t exactly snackable content – it’s the fine print. Of course, you need enough hard science to make you look like you know what you’re talking about, but remember that the emotional response comes first: that’s your hook. If you’ve generated enough emotion, people will get to the fine print on their own.
Open a conversation.
If you want to really speak to people, don’t just exhaustively share every single tidbit of information at your disposal. You may have generated a great deal of interest, but if your video gives your audience complete closure, then you’ve done a great job as a content creator but not as a marketer. If the lecture is done and dusted, you’ve closed yourself off from any form of dialogue with your users. Our hero video for John Lewis & Partners internal comms was laden with touch points for our audience to engage with and seek further information about. It required active participation from viewers, and ended up being a grand success story for our studio.
Make sure that whatever you’re talking about, it can immediately be connected to some form of user response. Make what the viewer needs to do once they’ve consumed your content immediately obvious. They need to know that they have the power to contribute something extremely valuable.
And there you have it: the science of making content resonate through simplification. But within this framework there’s a near infinite amount of ways to etch yourself into the hearts and minds of your audience. You just have to be ingenious.
The scientific method is a heady mixture of empirical data and intuition. While historical data may future-proof your content, you can’t create anything truly new without intuition. And if you just copy what’s already out there, you’ll never make something worth talking about.
Because without ingenuity and intuition, all you have is data, data, data.
Modern workplaces are changing rapidly, and the typical in-house 9-5 office job model is evolving in asymmetrical ways. These changes bring with them complex challenges for HR departments, who need to communicate new ideas and ways of working to a diverse, multi-generational workforce. Processes such as hiring employees, introducing new policies and providing high-quality training are all becoming more complicated.
Everyone processes information differently, and it’s vital to ensure that your message is inclusive, accessible and unforgettable. One way to do this is by crafting stories worth sharing.
Drawing on our years of experience in design and corporate communication, we’ve put together this handy guide on how to solve HR comms challenges through visual storytelling.
Nucco Brain helps brands to solve comms dilemmas.
Every company under the sun encounters HR challenges from time to time. Even household names face difficulties in their attempt to communicate complex or sensitive information to their stakeholders. That’s why they turn to us: we find creative solutions to their communications dilemmas.
Typical HR comms challenges and how we’ve solved them:
We’ve tackled many HR challenges over the years, and here are just a few of them:
1) Engaging Employees Across Multiple Time Zones
Not all work takes place in an office. With more and more employees working remotely, sometimes from multiple time zones, engaging them through effective communication has become paramount. The challenge lies in ensuring that this message is accessible to everyone, from anywhere, and across cultural barriers.
For example, our work with HSBC took a visual approach that weaved statistical information into a human narrative that could be universally understood, regardless of language or culture. HSBC asked us to help them to translate dry infographics and financial reports into engaging videos about the China Belt and Road Initiative, aimed at their international stakeholders. These videos were embedded into the HSBC online platform for investments in China, allowing them to be accessed from anywhere in the world.
Our point is that engaging dispersed stakeholders in a global context depends on updated storytelling techniques that transcend language barriers, and the effective use of digital platforms.
2) Sharing New Pension Schemes
Communicating policy changes can be tricky – especially when they relate to pensions. Pensions are complicated by nature, and it can be a challenge for employers to lay out new terms in a way their workforce will find intelligible.
Complicated processes and legal issues aren’t easy to explain. If done wrong, employees could end up both overloaded with information and unable to remember key points, which helps absolutely nobody. As employees gain more responsibility with regard to their own pension plans, they need to be provided with the tools to make informed decisions.
To make this information more accessible to everyone in the company, we recommend taking a simplified visual approach, as with our work for the John Lewis Partnership.
Our goal was to make changes to the John Lewis pension scheme easily comprehensible to their partners. To achieve it, we worked closely with the internal comms department, ensuring that we prioritised accessibility: we needed to speak directly to all John Lewis and Waitrose employees across a range of departments. That’s why we chose animated video and simple infographics as our main channels of communication.
3) Recruiting and Retaining Star Employees
In today’s dynamic employment environment, people tend to switch jobs every few years. That’s why it’s important to ensure that employees feel that they are both valued and have enough opportunity for progression. Especially if you want the good ones to stick around!
Social media is one of the most effective tools out there for attracting top new talent. Most people will check out companies’ social media accounts before accepting a job offer to get a feel for the company culture. Therefore, a clear social media strategy and proper training on social media practices are a must.
For employees to proudly advocate the company they work for, they must have a solid grasp of that company’s values. To this end, we created a video in partnership with Rolls Royce Engineering that informs employees of the company’s social media policy and promotes social media awareness in the workplace.
Audiences want to be informed and engaged, and we’ve found that one of the most effective ways of communicating your values is through storytelling.
4) Providing Relevant and Engaging Training Opportunities
Finding the time to send employees to training days and workshops can be a tough ask. These away days can be expensive, eat up valuable schedule time, and have the dubious reputation of being a little… colourless. But they’re a necessary evil. Training and development opportunities are absolutely essential to keeping your team motivated and up to date with the latest knowledge and trends.
One way to make this more viable is to provide employees with online training materials. Our long-standing collaboration with Deloitte has resulted in an ongoing series of successful training programmes spanning video and infographic content. To use but one example, we wanted to teach the concept of VAT and Excise taxes to a business audience in the Middle East who were unfamiliar with these processes.
By explaining this concept visually, we helped Deloitte to communicate a huge amount of complex tax information simply and effectively. Ultimately, this highly snackable video eclipsed the need for a time-consuming workshop on the subject.
5) Dealing with Sensitive Subjects
As a company, you will sooner or later have to share sensitive information with your colleagues, stakeholders and employees. Developing and maintaining trust in working relationships is no cakewalk: it relies on seamless and effective internal communication.
Remain honest and straightforward in your delivery. Glossing over uncomfortable issues will only harm your credibility in the long run.
If you’re trying to communicate changes that will affect your employees, try to explain how these alterations will fit into the company’s overall strategy and the benefits they’ll bring to the entire business. This will help to put possible disruptions into perspective and make everyone feel that they’re working towards a common goal.
Simplify. Creating a simple, accessible narrative will help eliminate any confusion and avoid the need for further (and more difficult) questions.
How creative storytelling can help:
At Nucco Brain, we strongly believe that the most effective way to get your brand’s message across is by telling stories. After all, the art of storytelling is as old as humanity itself. We combine the past, present and future of storytelling, staying true to established narrative techniques while integrating innovative VR, AR and animation technologies. In doing so, we create content that allows our audience to visualise and retain any message.
To really captivate your audience, find a personal angle that makes your content immediately relatable. This could be through the creation of stylized characters with unique personalities. For example, in our video for John Lewis Partnerships, we included characters that mirrored their employees, such as floor managers and cashiers.
Visual approaches are also excellent at simplifying complex information. Explainer videos, like the one we created for ESA, can capture the imagination of your audience regardless of the subject. Explainer videos work best when they hook the viewer in the first few seconds, before guiding them towards each point one at a time. Introducing complex information in digestible chunks makes even the most dense content breezy and memorable.
Taking an integrated approach:
To get the maximum engagement possible from your content, an integrated approach is best. This means incorporating multiple forms of media into your strategy.
For example, our project with John Lewis Partnership wove an engaging story into animations, infographics, posters and letters. Including a flow-diagram infographic enabled us to clearly and concisely answer questions from partners, and the video brought all these disparate elements together in a visual narrative. This multi-pronged approach ensured that everyone in the company was comprehensively informed, from fishmongers on the shop floor to top accounting managers.
Planning a social media strategy is another essential step. Marketing your brand over multiple social media channels is now common practice. The internet is bursting with competing messages, and it’s easy for yours to get lost in the crowd. To be heard above the noise, your content must become an experience. Approaching content in this way will encourage ongoing interaction and stimulate constant engagement.
How to get started:
To get your communication strategy off the ground, the first thing you need to do is to clearly establish the message you’re trying to get across. Keep on point by starting with the end goal. Avoid information overload by shaving down key points to their simplest possible expression.
You also need to know your audience inside out. Which sector of your workforce are you trying to reach? Knowing your audience is key to developing content that’s relevant, retainable and relatable.
Set out a storyboard. A productive brainstorming session can result in imaginative solutions to age-old problems. Be sure to include your target audience in the process. Ask questions and collect feedback to stay on the pulse.
Even the most complex HR communication challenges can be solved through simple, creative storytelling. Building on human narratives that are accessible to all, from delivery drivers to senior directors, will ensure that your message is heard.
Let us help you break through the noise and create a story that connects with your workforce.
Charities, NGOs and activist groups have a clear mission: to share their story in a way that elicits a meaningful emotional response from their audience. This content is often highly sensitive in nature, dealing in distressing themes and images. With this type of communication, the message has to be clear, unambiguous and backed by exhaustive research. If content creators fail to nail the right tone, or portray their characters inaccurately, the message runs the risk of being misjudged and misunderstood.
At Nucco Brain, we are well-versed in creating animated content for traditional commercial brands, but it’s our work for NGOs like The International Red Cross, WaterAid and World Animal Protection that really challenge us to get the message absolutely right. Here’s how we create powerful storytelling content that raises awareness without heavy-handedly manipulating our audience.
Finding the Angle
When we tell a story that involves some form of tragedy, human or otherwise, we first ask ourselves: what are our primary goals in telling this story?
Our aim isn’t to make our viewers feel guilty, it’s to generate awareness of the message. So, while the use of distressing imagery and intentionally emotional narratives have their place within the messaging, we refrain from overuse to the extent of exploitation.
We avoid any cheesy or clichéd call-to-actions that plague content of this kind. If we’ve told our story right, our audience will have stepped into the shoes of our characters and entered their world. The audience should decide to care about the message because they’re moved by the narrative, rather than guilt-tripped by shocking images and sad music.
Charities need to tell personal stories within the environment they are seeking to change. And if viewers reject these, they’re essentially rejecting a part of their humanity.
Doing the Research
At Nucco Brain, we do extremely thorough research into the themes, setting and characters we want to portray. Depending on the subject matter, there may be a cultural divide between the creative team telling the story, and the people being portrayed. Staying culturally sensitive and refraining from being perceived as condescending takes constant self-awareness and communication. We have to ask ourselves, both as individual and as a group, ‘what’s missing here?’
We certainly have a diverse and highly flexible team, but that’s not always enough. Animation, after all, is a collaborative process. We have to share our work frequently, asking all the difficult questions first. Our portrayal of different genders and ethnicities is constantly being vetted, and we have to welcome multiple points of input.
Sometimes, the creative process allows us to work with those who have experience in the field – this is invaluable to understanding the issues being addressed on a personal level.
When we made ‘Brides of the Well’, we were able to glean insights from writer/director Shekhar Kapur, who hails from the area of India where the narrative took place. This allowed us to populate our storyboards with visual elements that would allow the film to feel authentic, from realistic saris to trees from the region.
Creating Believable Worlds and Characters
No matter how stylised the final content may be, our designs are grounded in reality. ‘Brides of the Well’ takes place in a real desert region, and we took visual cues from the geography and anthropology of the Punjab. With this foundation, we could then set the tone or mood of a specific scene. We used darker, lighter, warmer or cooler lighting and colours depending on the needs of the story, while retaining the authenticity of the setting.
One of the most common mistakes made when agencies or brands create sensitive content is to under-develop the characters. All too often, the West has perpetuated the ‘child in distress’ narrative, to damaging effect. To portray people from developing nations as empty husks in need of saving is both disempowering and wrong.
Our two heroines in ‘Brides of the Well’ are real people. They talk, laugh and fight like friends, and there is a universal truth to that element of teenage life that transcends cultural boundaries. People are people, after all. They’re imperfect, but that is what makes them human. Developing them as such will help your audience to connect with them, and by extension, your message.
Even when characters aren’t human, they can still be developed enough to create an emotional response from the viewer. Our video for World Animal Protection featured a baby elephant, taken from the wild and subjected to life as a riding animal for tourists. Everyone can identify with the fear of separation, displacement and cruel treatment. Our poor little elephant displays enough recognisable fear and sadness to make our audience empathise with his predicament.
Choosing the Right Style
As a visual storytelling studio specialising in animation, we strongly believe that animation is perfect for sensitive messages. That’s because animation and stylisation gives space to the imagination in ways that live-action can’t.
When the human brain is presented with distressing live-action footage, the immediate neurological response can be to reject the message. It’s a protective instinct that makes us shy away from traumatic and disturbing imagery, and may lead some viewers to tell themselves themselves that ‘it doesn’t concern me, and I don’t need to change.’
So why exactly does stylised animation serve to make a message more universal?
You can focus on the message.
Animation allows us to focus on the core message, leaving only the most essential level of communication. Live-action footage is a detailed snapshot of reality, making it more difficult to leverage colours, shapes and visual metaphors. Stylisation, on the other hand, lets us take what we want to use and leave what we don’t.
You’re free of physical limitations.
Animation frees us from physical constraints. It makes little difference to our budget whether we’re animating a dog or a dragon. We can travel in time more freely, without having to source authentic costumes or fly an entire film crew to the desert for several weeks. We can also work closely with our clients to realise our vision, allowing us full control of everything from planning to design.
It’s more relatable.
Animation allows the viewer to step into the shoes of our characters. When the story’s protagonists aren’t photorealistic in appearance, it’s easier to imagine oneself as them. That’s why so many animated Disney films give their villains distinct physical traits, while the heroes are a little more… ‘heroic-looking’. The more detailed a character, the more difficult it is to slide into their slippers and feel what they feel.
It connects with the audience.
Animation makes the message more digestible for casual viewers. With the right animation style, no story will ever look so cartoonish that it won’t be taken seriously.
Striking a balance between a lighthearted visual style and a heavy narrative allows us to connect with human emotion rather than visceral specifics. And that’s a surefire way to ensure that the message is heard, processed and shared in a crowded content marketplace.
Showing Without Telling
There is power in the abstract, or not showing something; in letting the viewer’s imagination fill in the blanks. If we suggest that terrible things are happening using silhouettes, contrast, shadows or visual metaphors, the human mind will connect the dots. It will internalise this message more effectively, because it’s co-creating it.
Our video for ‘World Animal Protection’ implied rather than explicitly showed the most distressing moments in our baby elephant’s life. His mother is killed by poachers off-screen, although the resounding crack of the gunshot is enough to make us fear the worst. This is arguably more effective than forcing our audience to watch her perish.
Similarly, when we made ‘Brides of the Well’ for WaterAid, we didn’t explicitly show the human impact of drought and starvation. Instead, we showed a starving cow to indicate scarcity, and used the background as a character to help tell our story. We wanted to build an immersive world with painterly colours, textures, and small visual details like these to fill in the gaps.
Forced child marriage was a major theme within this story, but we felt that the implication of this practice would be both more powerful and more tasteful than explicitly showing it on-screen. So we showed an old man asleep, while his teenage wife awoke alongside him. Imagination did the rest.
Developing the Brand
Most NGOs prefer to generate conscious awareness primarily through their message, rather than traditional commercial branding. This gives us a lot more freedom to be creative.
The key is to generate an interplay between content and branding that enhances both. In ‘Brides of the Well’, we used very few bright colours throughout. The browns, oranges and yellows of the desert suggest aridity and a lack of moisture. It isn’t until the very end of the video that we finally see the WaterAid logo: a lavish and beautiful water animation in bright blue that, by contrast, brings home a refreshing and positive message.
Making the Viewer Care
It may sound like a no-brainer, but to really make something that resonates with audiences and helps enact the change you want to see in the world, you have to give a monkey’s. Because if you don’t care about the human impact of drought or the cruel elephant-riding industry, why should your audience?
Sensitive messages are much more powerful when they’re subtle, and when they do more than plead for donations. Treat your characters and their stories with the respect and sensitivity they deserve. Let art design and visual cues tell the stories that words can’t. And above all, care about what you’re creating.
A key part of what we do here at Nucco Brain Studios is creating explainer videos, and we’ve gotten pretty good at it over the years. Thanks to a potent blend of experience and expertise, we’ve perfected our formula for distilling dry or complex information into fun and engaging videos, animated or otherwise. If you want to grab the attention of your audience, informing them without overwhelming them with information, look no further than Nucco Brain’s recipe for effective explainer videos.
Before we continue, it’s important to define explainer videos and find out why they’re such a vital part of your content strategy.
What is an Explainer Video?
An explainer video is a promotional piece of content with a twofold purpose: to generate brand awareness, and to explain a complex proposition or service simply. An element of complexity in the information you want to convey is an essential ingredient: most of the explainer content we produce primarily involves untangling and explaining complicated concepts in an easily digestible way. One great example of an effective explainer video is the video we created for ESA with the goal to expand their international partnerships with other businesses in the space technology industry.
Why is an Explainer Video useful?
Explainer videos are primarily distributed digitally, and can be appended to an official website, posted on social media or shared via third-party channels. One of paid online media’s great advantages is the fact that you can use detailed parameters to select the audience that will see your video. Therefore, a video about mortgages can be shown to homeowners aged 35+, and one about graduate school options can be shown to students aged 22 to 35.
Blasting your video around the internet is not enough, however. With an average attention span of around 5 to 8 seconds, your viewers need to be drawn into the world that you create. They need a hook to pique their interest and keep them from straying too soon. They need to be able to quickly process your colour scheme and associate it with your brand. And they need to absorb information as they follow a narrative that keeps them engaged. Using this strategic thought process, we developed an explainer video for John Lewis which clarified their new partnership pension scheme.
A good explainer video will leave your audience interested in your proposition, impressed by your technical know-how, knowledgeable about your product or service, and engrossed in your brand story.
What to do:
Ask stupid questions.
In many other industries, asking the painfully obvious is stigmatised. Not so here: chances are, your clients are so emotionally and intellectually invested in their business that they will be happy to talk about it at great length and clarify every single aspect of what they do. While this information may be very clear to your clients, it’s nowhere near as clear to their customers. This means that instead of being as clever as you can, you have to take the layman’s perspective.
Assume that your audience knows nothing about the industry, nothing about your brand, and nothing about your product. Ask the banal and idiotic questions: the potential humiliation of sounding uninformed in front of your clients isn’t even remotely comparable to that of creating a video that nobody watches or cares about. It’s an explainer video, not a university lecture.
Develop a clear and appealing style.
This is paramount, and applies to both your chosen tone of voice and visual aesthetic. When developing your style, you have two main considerations:
First, make sure you do not forget the importance of the brand in informing your colour palette, geometric design and communications approach, similar to how we used the Iagon brand colours throughout their entire explainer video communicating their computing system, a branded way to communicate a complicated idea, simply. Wherever possible, avoid emulating what your competitors have created. For your brand to truly shine, it must carve out its own identity in the marketplace and become instantly recognisable as such.
Second, embrace simplicity. Your video exists to explain complicated concepts simply; therefore, adopt a clear and well-defined style. The right visuals will enhance and demonstrate without detracting from your core messaging. The wrong visuals (dry, unimaginative or unconnected with the brand) will simply confuse and irritate people.
It might sound self-explanatory and really rather simple, but humans are visual beings: speak their language. Ask yourself how you can show without telling. Simplify your script, and determine which information can be communicated through shape, colour and movement rather than words.
Many of the briefing documents we receive from our clients are highly detailed and verbose, and a large part of our job involves expressing these in the appropriate visual language. We ask ourselves what we can suggest without explicitly spelling it out. Once again, we have to engage our audience in dialogue by introducing an element of passive absorption, which is primarily visual in nature.
Be pedantically aware of short attention spans.
Consider the context in which your video is being viewed: digital audiences are losing their ability to concentrate on one stimulus for extended periods of time. An attention span of 60 to 90 seconds is all you can really ask of your viewer. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to condense everything you want to say into one minute, but you do have to consider breaking down your message into shorter and more digestible chunks of content if it’s too long. If one video isn’t enough, make a series – it will cost you the same, but the return will be much greater.
If you’re creating a video for B2B or internal enterprise communications, you have more control over the context in which it’s shown, meaning that you can stretch the length a little if you desire. However, it’s inadvisable even then to do so by too much, as you risk eroding the goodwill of your audience.
Invite the viewer to find out more.
One cardinal limitation of the explainer video is that it can never be fully exhaustive. You can never cover everything there is to know about a product or service in a 60 to 90 second video, due to time constraints, budget and the nature of the format. But don’t despair: that’s not the job of an explainer.
Its job is, funnily enough, to explain the key function, proposition and features of whatever it is you have to offer. Leave out the minutiae and the irrelevant technical specs. Give your audience an incentive to find out the rest for themselves: after all, no matter how impressive your technology or original your idea, if people can’t apply it to their lives, you might as well be peddling leashes for goldfish.
Explainer videos are collaborative experiences: you create the content, and the viewer absorbs and engages with it. Cultivate this relationship and continue the dialogue by generating a Call-To-Action that exhorts them to take further action.
What not to do:
Now that we’ve identified the main ingredients for a perfect explainer video, remember that your project can also burn down the kitchen if you don’t consider these caveats. You’re welcome.
Don’t cram all the information into one video.
Your product or service may have several million incredibly useful and mind-meltingly technical functions, but attempting to list them all in detail would be a grave mistake. Focus on the overview: what are the key features of your offering, and why should your customers care? And if you absolutely have to tell them more, consider turning your explainer into a series.
Don’t assume your specs are enough to keep people interested.
The number of mega-giga-maxi-pixels on your super-smartphone camera is certainly a very important touch-point, and can add a lot to your value proposition. However, these details aren’t enough on their own to carry your product through. Focus on the benefits, which you can then back up with specs. Tell your customer that a certain number of mega-giga-maxi-pixels is more than what their current phone has, and will improve their life by allowing them to take extraordinary pictures of the people and places that matter.
Don’t use too much jargon.
Just because you have a client that specialises in highly technical wording, like an engineering or Blockchain company, does not mean you can assume that customers will understand all the jargon you throw at them. If you want to talk about an industry that might seem inaccessible for some, make it accessible: skip the jargon and use language that caters to the lowest common denominator.
That’s not to say you have to dumb it down completely: after all, you want to make it clear that you have the technical know-how and expertise to back up your claims. Make sure that you use your technobabble wisely and in support of your message, rather than as the message itself.
Don’t follow an A-B-C structure.
This is an explainer video, not a textbook. Information shouldn’t necessarily be given in logical, chronological or alphabetical order. If you want to generate curiosity and engage your viewer within that critical 5 to 8 second window, the exciting material needs to come first. Create a reason for your customers to be interested in your offering that goes beyond ‘first we do this, and then we do that.’ There are very few people, ourselves included, who can really engage with a dry list of ordered key points without any real hook or angle.
Don’t flub up your pacing.
In any film, novel or TV series, pacing is everything. If the action moves forward too slowly, the viewer loses interest and seeks out more dynamic fare. If it moves too quickly, the viewer has no time to breathe, get to know the characters, or find a reason to care about what’s happening. The human brain is hard-wired to absorb narratives at Goldilocks speed (just right!)
Because your explainer video won’t quite generate the same amount of mental engagement as the latest episode of Game of Thrones, you’re going to have to find a way to spark their attention. Articulate your complex exposition with something simple and entertaining that doesn’t get bogged down in the details.
We practice what we preach when it comes to explainer content. For example, we were recently approached by Deloitte, who wanted their customers to know about complex economic changes currently being introduced into the Gulf region. A video about VAT implementation in GCC countries could have made for very uninspiring viewing; however, we found an angle and a visual style that both simplified and added an emotional dimension to the subject matter.
We decided to implement the following narrative: there’s a complex change occurring in your region that has never previously been of concern to you. But Deloitte has been working with tax for many decades. We’re well-placed to let you know what’s happening, what you need to be aware of, and how we can help you.
It’s a simple message, but it speaks directly to the viewer, informing them, alleviating their concerns, and building trust in the brand.
Ultimately, the secret to the perfect explainer video lies in gathering a great deal of information about the offering that you aren’t necessarily going to use. This ensures that you know exactly what the most important talking points are. You can then get to work wording and ordering them in a way that flows naturally and keeps your audience engaged.
The right characters can imbue a narrative with pathos, humour, and above all, relatability. A dry brand story can be transformed into an emotionally affecting experience when the viewer identifies with the on-screen sprite, or is familiar with the type of individual it depicts. After all, most of us know (or know of) a Brian – your typical 21st Century millennial hipster, and the bearded face of our studio.
A relatable character isn’t necessarily one that looks, speaks and acts in a familiar way, however: even an opera-singing Nile Crocodile can be a relatable character with the right design and animation. In fact, this kind of stylisation is often a very effective character-building strategy because it invites audiences to suspend their disbelief, allowing them to use their imagination to flesh out the narrative world.
So, what is a character?
In order to understand what makes a relatable character, we must first define what a character is. The best way to do this is through the lens of animation: a word which means, quite literally, to bring something to life. In essence, a character is an entity or symbol that is brought to life by animation, writing, or live action. This could encompass anything from a realistic representation of a human being, to a two-dimensional bouncing ball that interacts with the on-screen world. The idea here is to lay out a visual metaphor that also serves as a reference point for the audience.
Characters act according to a set of rules laid out within their world, and are shaped by stimuli within that setting. Our work for World Animal Protection starred a baby Asian elephant captured from the wild, separated from its mother and forced into a life of slavery as a riding animal for tourists.
We see the development of this character from carefree and innocent to hopeless and downtrodden. This is entirely due to the rules of the setting and the actions of the other characters, as our poor little elephant has found out the hard way.
One of the wonderful things about characters is their ability to write themselves. Once the design, context and motivation of a character has been established, it will act according to the rules of its world, much like a real individual. And audiences will identify with that character’s appeal if it serves a real purpose within the narrative.
Why include characters in a brand story?
Characters aren’t always necessary. While they bring development, personality and momentum to the table, they’re just not required in certain types of content, such as highly technical explainer videos. So the question of whether to characterise or not to characterise is this:
Do we want to make our audience feel empathy?
If the answer is yes, then characters are, hands down, the best way to achieve this.
If creating an emotional response isn’t really the objective, as in more complex digital, financial and tech explainer content, characters aren’t essential. Even when people are a necessary part of the message, they don’t have to be defined or fleshed out quite as much.
The video content we produced for the European Space Agency, for example, used vague human silhouettes rather than full-fledged animated beings.
These figures don’t demonstrate agency, action or motivation – they’re simply human shapes intended to contextualise the visuals. Because the purpose of this video is to explain the applications of space technology and satellite networks, adding characters would serve no practical purpose. Characterisation is certainly a budget consideration, but sometimes it can actually detract and distract from the true focus of the video.
Our work for WaterAid, on the other hand, focused on a character-driven narrative that takes the viewer on a journey. The story of a young girl living in poverty and married to a much older man, and her remarkably human spirit in the face of adversity, elevated our message beyond the sum of its parts to deliver a heart-wrenching yet uplifting emotional punch. This is exactly the kind of visceral reaction that any self-respecting NGO wants from its audience.
Saraswati and her best friend, Paras, are heavily stylised, painted with tiny eyes and broad brush strokes. She’s not an abstract stick figure, but also doesn’t look anatomically realistic. The girls are recognisably human, yet painted and animated in an appealingly cartoonish way.
They’re enough removed from lifelike that we can focus on telling our story and anchoring it to the setting, without attempting to fully depict complex social issues in the Rajasthani desert. To find out more, refer to our how-to guide on creating content with a sensitive message.
So what makes a character relatable?
That really depends on whether the character in question is created using live action or stylised animation. Live-action characters involve real actors, with all of the facial expressions, movement cues and emotional complexity that come with the world we live in. We use live-action when we want to specifically depict the real world, or create a contrast between different types of animation that visually enforces our message. To use but one example, we deployed a live-action character alongside 3D animation to great effect for InnovateUK.
But because these characters are realistic in nature, they aren’t always relatable to people of different genders, ethnicities and sexual orientations.
Stylised animation is much more fluid. We prefer this approach as it allows us greater freedom to tell different types of stories, as well as being easier on our wallets. Because animated characters don’t physically resemble the viewer (depending on the level of stylisation) they can stand in for a diverse range of backgrounds and identities. This eliminates the problem of alienating some of our audience by featuring realistic human characters whose lives they simply can’t relate with.
Our Lycamobile Tortoise and Hare don’t belong to any recognisable ethnic or social background. They’re fun, modern incarnations of characters from the classic fable.
Their motivations aren’t complex – essentially, to win. But the narrative of overcoming adversity through perseverance and outside-the-box thinking is a universal theme across every culture on Earth.
With animation, anything can be a character, from our speed-junkie tortoise to a simple directional arrow. And the very fact of its inclusion can breathe humour, empathy and life into an otherwise dull explainer.
How are great characters designed?
Even if a character does not move, act or animate in a meaningful way, stunning design and art direction can still carry the torch, engaging the viewer by populating a stylised and eye-catching world that embodies the brand.
We created a vivacious setting for InnovateUK: Audiences of the Future, with memorable characters that pop out of the screen. Each frame is a tableau taken from human oral history, with scenes that breathe, pulsate and change like the stories we hand down across the generations. The characters, however, are very simply animated.
That’s because they serve the tableau, and don’t require heavy development. And yet, this Witch Doctor has become something of an icon for our studio.
At Nucco, characters are usually described as part of the script, either because they’re called for by the client, or because we believe that their inclusion would best serve the story. We start thinking about character designs early in the process, although we initially keep them very vague and avoid locking down each detail. At the visual development stage, once the script has been signed off, our art directors, illustrators and concept artists are tasked with fleshing out the finer details.
Great character design relies on a few key considerations:
The character must be a fit for the brand colours, tone of voice and wider visual language. Because brand-building and world-building go hand-in-hand, it’s important to consider each character within a much wider context: that of the current overall style, and that of potential future content.
We ask all of the tough questions right at the very start of the process to get a sense of the client’s preferences. Sometimes, our client will know exactly what they want, and their personal taste will inform the project. They may even provide animation references.
In such cases, we create a moodboard that collects these references for approval. Some might think this limits creativity, but we say not so! It simply helps us to understand what the client likes and dislikes, after which we can include our personal preferences and caveats.
Sometimes, you have to go with what you feel to be right. That said, it’s not a complete stab in the dark. Our illustrators study the brief, and present three distinct character design variants to the client. We ask them for their pick of choice, although in most cases clients prefer one aspect of one design, and another aspect of another. We then provide a unified concept that incorporates elements of both (or all three.)
If our client doesn’t know exactly what they want, then it’s open season. We suggest options based on what we love, and avoid showing our clients the options we don’t.
Mixing and Matching Influences:
The creative process can’t really be taught: everyone expresses their vision for a character in a different way. One way to appease that Artist’s Block is to take cues from existing animated characters, and extrapolate something new.
Another of our preferred thought processes, however, involves taking two or more distinct things, and mashing them together. For example, if we wanted to create a character for a cleaning company, we could use the concept of maintenance, and add something unexpected – like an aardvark. And just like that, we’ve invented Mr. Aardvark, the Anteater Janitor!
Even if we are thinking about more realistic characters, there’s still an element of mix-and-match. After all, real people are by far the most confusing mix of influences!
What limitations does every character creator need to be aware of?
The answer is simple:time, budget and groupthink. Time and budget are the bane of character designers and animators everywhere, because they limit what it’s reasonably possible to achieve. If one or the other is lacking, then a character may not come to life as completely as expected, because we’ve hit that technical wall. Groupthink, on the other hand, occurs when the project becomes too collaborative: too many cooks spoil the broth, and too many animators muddy the creative vision. We’ve learned that it’s best to let one (or at most, two) of our supremely talented animators take the creative lead.
Characterisation, when done right, can be the key to content creation success. Here at Nucco Brain, we simply love to conceptualise, visualise, design and animate the characters that fill our rich worlds and stories. And now that we’ve spilled the beans, we’d love to see what you come up with!
Terms that are flung about willy-nilly these days to try and reinforce the fact that “WE HAVE MANY CHANNELS NOW AND YOU SHOULD USE THEM ALL FOR COMMS!!!”
“Companies with the strongest omni-channel customer engagement strategies retain an average of 89% of their customers, as compared to 33% for companies with weak omni-channel strategies.” – Aberdeen.
So, in reality, omni-channel is important for obtaining and retaining customers.
Simple as that.
With that said, having the knowledge of how to maximise production (i.e how to create content that works across all these fabulous channels) is still something of a rarity. This leads to duplication, lack of consistency and poor use of budget and time.
This means marketers are left with less time, less budget, less freedom to try anything new or bold.
Traditionally, advertising, marketing and communications agencies might have helped out here. They develop strategies to bring consistency and ‘one voice’ to the communications. They plan production pipelines to deliver in line with the strategy and available budget.
With the need to produce a range of different content, in an agile, multi-channel manner, the traditional agency model is being tested by shifts in the market (specifically the less time/budget/freedom to try anything new or bold conundrum).
Internal marketing teams are either taking production in-house or are asking a number of specialist studios to provide a different piece of their content marketing puzzle. This can come with its own set of problems – from the ‘Chinese whispers’ effect of communication between studios to the different ways of approaching production – and can actually lead to more issues than were encountered with a more traditional agency approach.
A Production Workflow designed with Cross-Channel in mind
At Nucco Brain, we have developed a bespoke production workflow for cross-channel, agile and scalable production. With this workflow, we can produce visual content that works in more traditional ways (visual branding, animation, etc) but then expands them across the range of digital channels (interactive videos, gamified learning/training content, digital OOH, AR, VR, etc).
We call this workflow TrueTime Rendering – leveraging game engine technology to produce content in ways that can be upscaled in an agile manner. We can produce flat video content with it. We can then turn it into a 360º video, using the very same assets. We can then add interactivity to this content with a few extra clicks (I’m oversimplifying but, again, it’s the same assets and the same engine). We can then develop this further, to an AR or VR experience (again, using the same assets and the same engine).
There’s no need to export to another format and ‘adapt’ it to another engine to scale up the experience. The TrueTime Rendering workflow means we can reuse all the assets and add on the bits we need, as and when needed. No more ‘I wish we’d built that with VR in mind’ moments – our workflow allows for these considerations to come up as and when fits the business needs.
Cut out the rendering time
One of the main benefits of utilising a game engine for the development of content is the rendering times.
Traditional 3D content production, using the likes 3DS Max, Maya or After Effects, comes with its own set of problems. While the power of these applications is undeniable, for some things it’s just not needed.
You may be familiar with the idea of having to change a production asset, or animated sequence, or lighting setup, or whatever other change you wanted to see happen in the content you were making. You then have to hit render and go for a walk/go to lunch/leave it running over night. The main issue with this is, after waiting all that time, you may want to make another change… that’s a lot of dead time for some potentially minor changes, even with access to a render farm.
The TrueTime Rendering workflow is based on using a game engine – one built for real-time rendering on a multitude of devices. Given the engine itself is built to render in real-time, the render time for any piece of content should be about as long as the content itself.
Producing a 1 minute animation? Don’t like that last animated sequence? TrueTime Rendering will have your changes ready to view in approximately 1 minute. Want to add in some additional interactivity? Once you’ve set the parameters, give it about 1 minute and you’ll be able to test them out.
From a client/studio point of view, this means you can iterate away without the dead time that’s plagued production processes for so long – rendering! This means you can try things out without the fear of a wasted iteration, taking hours to put back to where it was (instead of the minutes it would take with TrueTime).
Style = Substance
There are some cases where TrueTime isn’t the answer. Photo-real CGI, live action or photography, Hollywood-level VFX – that’s not really what TrueTime is about.
We developed the workflow specifically for high-output, multi-channel communications. Video series, interactive learning, AR walls, virtual reality experiences – that’s TrueTime’s bag.
For TrueTime to work at its best, we need to turn to the power of stylisation. Bear with me while I go a little off-pitste here and talk about comic book theory. I promise you, it’s relevant to B2B and corporate communications too.
Scott McCloud, a leading comic’s theorist, shows us why stylisation works wonders when trying to engage with a broad audience (he talks about comic book readers – I’m drawing the parallel to communications). We live in an increasingly symbol/icon/emoji-based world and already engage with the idea of stylisation – these symbols can be understood as an image utilised to represent a place, person, object or idea.
McCloud says humans are a“self-centered race”, unconsciously looking for ourselves in what we see. In this way, a simple cartoon such as a circle with two dots for eyes and a line for lips silently communicates to its readers that this is a face. Importantly, it is impossible for the reader not to see a face, because our minds are programmed to recognise and relate this icon back to ourselves.
So, back to the point of why stylisation works for what we’re talking about here: B2B and corporate comms.
When we talk about illustration, animation, infographics, CGI, VR, AR, etc – stylisation enhances storytelling because it lets the audience focus on the message, as opposed to whether or not the characters in the story are an accurate representation of who they are.
The message comes through stronger and connects with the audience effectively.
The well-oiled production machine
For large businesses with many stakeholders (their customers, their suppliers, their employees, their shareholders, etc) getting a consistent, effective, engaging content calendar together can cause headaches. Constant engagement of these various audiences – coordinated across a number of marketing teams spread over a number of international markets – well, that can keep people up at night.
As technology and creativity become more intertwined, there’s no need for B2B or corporate comms to suffer from a lack of innovation when it comes to content production. If the marketing team’s job is to define the vision and mission of the business, this shouldn’t be obstructed by convoluted production approaches.
TrueTime Rendering offers a real solution for creative visual content production, giving time and flexibility back to marketing teams. The ability to scale an idea all the way up from print to a VR headset leads to increased campaign longevity, more cost-effective budgets and an agile timeline that responds to the needs of the business.
At Nucco Brain, we’re excited to share this workflow with the world and are hosting a dedicated event on Wednesday, 12th September, from 8:30am – 10:30am, at Runway East Moorgate. We’ll be delving into how it works and will be looking at the use cases we have already applied this method to.
If you’d like to find out more, you can sign up at the Eventbrite page here and learn more about how TrueTime can help maximise your content marketing calendar.