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How To Utilize Branded Content To Tell A Story

Caitlin Barry | August 25, 2022 at 1:00 PM

Once Upon A Time...

Storytelling can be crucial when it comes to creating content for your brand. The story you create can say everything about your brand and your values. It can be highly advantageous for your brand to partner with an agency to help cultivate branded content that successfully appeals to consumers with the perfect storytelling format. 

Recently, our CEO Stacy Jones, sat down with Zach Slingsby, the founder of Human Factor Media, an award-winning branded storytelling company, to discuss how he uses branded content as an effective marketing tool for his company - which specializes in crafting stories. In this blog, Hollywood Branded shares the importance of creating stories instead of ads and interruptions, and how to find the right narrative for your brand that resonates with your audience. 


EP320 How To Utilize Branded Content To Tell A Story

A Little More About Zack

Zach Slingsby is a professional writer, branded content producer, and the founder of Human Factor Media, a collective of writers, filmmakers, and artists who are working to redevelop branded content in order to tell a meaningful story through video. He and his team have perfected creating branded content that doesn’t feel overtly sales-like by appealing to consumers’ emotions through strong storytelling.

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Interview Transcript Highlights

Question: I always start off by having our listeners learn a little bit more about what got you here today; how are you this mega king of the branded content world? 

Answer: I had a pretty traditional creative background. I grew up loving writing and story and, you know, screenplays and movies and books. I kind of was totally unaware of what the market applications of that could be, right? I just knew that I love these things, and I think most people who are creative know what they love to do, but they don't know how they're going to kind of apply that to, let's say, a career or lifestyle or anything like that. And I really didn't know for a while. Then after kind of having some frustrations throughout my 20s, I saw examples of branded content, which might be more appropriately called branded entertainment or brand narrative. I was very surprised that they were coming from brands, and I thought, you know, that's something we could do were qualified to do that, and a lot of people that I knew were at least as creative as the ones making that kind of content, and I thought we could try it. So, I was living in DC at the time that we started this a little over five years ago, and we just started making videos for small businesses and slowly got better at it and slowly got a chance at other accounts, and now here we are.


Question: What has been your biggest learning lesson? What is it that brands think they want and they don't necessarily want?

Answer: It's not one size fits all. You saying that reminds me of Henry Ford; he said, "if we had just listened to the customer, all they would have asked for was a faster horse." I think there's a demand for very polished ads right now. Very polished, quick, exciting, you know, highly produced 15-30-second ads, and they kind of think, "okay, we'll make a ton of these, pepper them all over social media, and we'll get an ROI," and usually they're right. But there's a shelf life to that strategy, and you're competing in a kind of a culture where the digital noise decibel is just gotten blaring, right? So, we kind of are losing our ability to parse out those messages. And I think that that strategy has to be compared to the alternative. The alternative would be, what if you made something people actually want to watch? What if you made something that's not disrupting the consumer experience? What if you made something that's trying to appeal to people as human beings and connect with them the way they connect with their favorite show, their favorite movie, or their favorite book? It's a whole other realm of their brain that you're getting into. And that's, you know, we talked about brand loyalty that surpasses, you know, any kind of brand loyalty you could achieve with a direct ad or product-focused piece of content.


Question: What are the typical hurdles that you're coming across when you're selling a brand this idea that they’re going to come forth and create awesome content? What are the objections you hear?

Answer: I mean, understandably, this is not always a high priority because brands, sometimes, they're a young company. They have certain runway, certain capital investment; they have to hit certain second, third, fourth quarter benchmarks. It doesn't always make sense for them to do it. That's true. I mean, it really doesn't. Sometimes it depends on where they are, if they're at a certain level of maturity, or if they want to be trying something out of the gate that's going to have an outsized impact, right? The famous example is the Dollar Shave Club which took a huge chance and obviously got like a billion-dollar valuation a couple of years later off one very good video. That's a Cinderella story. It doesn't always happen; it doesn't usually happen. But I think that a young company can take that chance; I think they should, but I understand the objection.

So, your question was, what are the objections? One would be, well, how do they know what we do right? How do they know what we're selling, and how do they know where to buy? If we're making a three-part web series for a cereal company—we're making a three-part web series around the golden moments that happen among families over breakfast, let's say. And it's going to cost a certain amount of money, and we want to get a return on that and, in the short term, we want to know that they know that it's 'us' that put it out, even though we're working with two or three influencers and it's going to be spread across a couple channels. Well, what I think is really magical about social media that was not true in the commercial age is that you don't have to constantly mention the company. The reason is because it's just the technological switch. When you ran a commercial, you had to say, "brought to you by Duracell," because people were on their TV, they didn't know who was bringing it out there. When Duracell makes videos now, their brand is always a click away. Always no matter where those videos go, always right above it or right below it is the Duracell link to their page— the Duracell link to their social page or their website. Met Life has a really ingenious mousetrap for this, where they have branded content stories on their LinkedIn ads. So you run a LinkedIn ad, you click it, and there's the story. If you scroll past it, they have all the different insurance options for small businesses right below the video. So the video is for you. It's an interesting, inspiring kind of vignette, and then below that they have—the "shop now" button on TikTok and Instagram and Facebook; that's kind of another, you know, branded content manager's best friend—I mean, there's a lot of these small little ways to link what you're doing, which is emotional resonance and story value to your product.


Question: What are some of the mistakes that brands can avoid along the way? What are the red flags that you kind of make sure don't happen?

Answer: You can trick yourself into thinking you're making a story and you're not. If it's a very thinly veiled, self-interested piece of content and it appears to have a kind of vessel of the story, I think that is not worth too much more to you in the long run. I mean, if you're trying to get someone's attention only at the, you know, 90-second mark to kind of start selling them what you've been doing, what you're working on, you know, that's, I think, in the same bucket as an ad. So, I would just be clear about the strategy. I think that there is nothing necessarily inherently wrong with that; it's just a different strategy.

I think that if the point of the video is a product and not something about the consumer you're trying to reach/the person you're trying to reach, then I think all that also falls into the bucket of an ad and not a story-driven piece of content. I think those are some classic mistakes. Fear-based campaigns—I think if you're creating a campaign in a terrified state about the quarterly earnings debt, that's going to show up, you know, and on so many of the choices. So I would try to do something out of a sense of inspiration and enthusiasm rather than just abject terror failure. I think it's a misconception to think, "this isn't totally in our interest," I guess, but you know it's a misconception to think that one video is going to be the parachute to success that you know you thought would be.


Question: What advice would you give to our listeners today?

Answer: I would take it back to what we said; I would think through as a consumer what do you watch and what do you skip. What do you read, and what do you delete, you know? If that is not totally in keeping with how you're operating as a brand, then I think that a meeting internally is worthwhile. I think that everybody has great ideas. Here's a good one: I read to my kids Aesop's Fables; they are thousands of years old, and it's so interesting to read them because so many of the lessons are applicable today. One of them is the bell the cat, "who's going to bell the cat" is the name of it, and all the mice are sitting around kind of figuring out, "well, how are we going to stop from being eaten by this cat when he comes along." They're sitting there, and they said, "well, we'll put a bell on the cat when the bell comes; we'll hear the bell rings; we'll know if we have to run away." And they say, "oh, this is a perfect idea," and then someone says, "well, who's going to bell the cat?" And then there's dead silence. So you know, when it comes to kicking around ideas in a meeting, I think everyone's really excited, but when it comes to how we're going to execute this—how we're going to make this happen—there's tends to be that silence. You know, who's going to bell the cat? I would say that this is a way to execute the ideas you've had for a long time about what your brand stands for, what the values are, and how you actually want to be known to people in the world; I mean, there's nothing more important.


Check Out The Podcast!

Zack has so much great information about creating branded content that resonates with audiences and achieves set goals. Check out the podcast below to learn more about creating the perfect story for your brand!

Every week we have a marketing professional on our show to share their tips, tricks and lessons learned from their professional experience. Check out some of our other podcast blogs from earlier this year:

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Topics: Podcast Interviews, Podcast, HB Podcast

Caitlin Barry

Written by Caitlin Barry