Storytelling is really the key to capturing your audience’s attention. Because telling a good story—no matter what the subject matter may be—casts a spell over your viewers by creating an emotional connection.
I’ve seen a lot of content producers get distracted by production mumbo jumbo. Don’t make this mistake. Lose anything and everything that isn’t advancing your story. Don’t break the spell.
YouTube data can tell brand marketers a lot about why the format of television ads and other highly-polished, overproduced content doesn’t always work when it comes to delivering value to YouTube viewers and getting videos liked, shared, and viewed.
A brand may have a strong story to tell, but traditional 30-second commercials often present that story the wrong way to YouTube audiences. The data shows time and time again across a variety of different industries that viewers are looking for engaging, longer-format content on YouTube, and not short-format commercials. By trying to “wow” their viewers with an explosion of special effects and storylines crammed into one short television spot, brands end up doing too much while failing to convey a meaningful story that moves their audience.
You need to cast that spell—but think more Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, and less Magic Kingdom. You don’t want to dazzle your audience so much as, in Hawkins’s immortal words, make them yours. And don’t let them “run around” either (i.e. clicking away to related videos, rather than taking the action you need them to take after viewing your content).
So how can you make sure your video is telling the right story to viewers? Does the secret simply lie in being more “authentic” by using lower production values, et cetera? Not necessarily.
It’s worth sharing a few lines from era-defining cinematographer Harry Savides regarding the art of visual storytelling. The late Savides wrestled with the same problem when he moved from making some of the 1990s’ most acclaimed music videos to making feature-length films in an era when audiences had become too savvy for Hollywood’s tricks.
Despite his striking visual style on videos for artists from Nine Inch Nails to Michael Jackson and Madonna, Savides maintained that “some of the most beautiful movies I’ve seen haven’t been very good.” Replace “YouTube content” with movies, and you get the point. Your focus should be on communicating something that resonates with your audience—and if you’re more worried about cameras, light, and lenses… you’re completely missing the point.
A teenager reviewing a product from her poorly lit bedroom—face lit up by her laptop’s LCD screen, tinny voice from a headset talking to her super fans—feels 100% right to a YouTube audience. Viewers aren’t seeing the low production value from this vlogger. They are hearing a trusted friend imparting her real opinion towards a real product in a totally believable manner.
Put professional makeup on that same girl and have her practice lines and shoot 300 takes before adding filters and suddenly viewers aren’t buying that world anymore. Maybe they’re wondering which brand is paying her to review its makeup or if Jenna Marbles and her dog made a similar video they can check out instead.
Overproducing a video often means breaking the spell.
So the next time you are tempted to create a full-length cinematic extravaganza complete with custom soundtrack, dogs, cats, celebrities, Flo Rida, a van full of clowns, and an industrial locomotive all in one 30-second video, remember the following tips.
Top Five YouTube Brand Video Production Tips:

  1. Everything in the frame tells a story, so first and foremost: eliminate anything that isn’t telling YOUR story. It could be a mistake or oversight, like that poorly concealed lavalier mic on your talent’s collar, or any of overproduction’s seven deadly sins; baking the talent with your insanely overpowered lights, using that unflattering super-wide prime on your sheepish guest, or, yeah, explosions. (I admit, I’m guilty of that last one.)
  2. Do control your shoot environment enough that viewers can see your subjects and hear the audio for your video. There is a difference between authentic video and unwatchable video.
  3. Don’t try to be funny if your brand is anything but. Make content consistent with your brand personality, and viewers will recognize your authenticity and come back for more.
  4. Don’t produce in a vacuum. Watch other YouTube videos from top vloggers and brands within your industry to see what’s hot and what’s not—and don’t be afraid to emulate (or outright steal) the things that are working.
  5. YouTube is a two-way community. Create videos that address audience comments/requests. If you are struggling to fill up your content calendar, chances are that your audience has already given you clues on what to produce next.

YouTube gives every marketing team a golden opportunity to be better brand magicians and tell stories the right way—without a costly distribution model or year-long production cycles. Every brand has a story to tell. So, just tell it.
And always remember the timeless words of Screamin’ Jay Hawkins: put a spell on them, because that audience is yours.