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Marketing Showrunners

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By: Jay Acunzo on February 14th, 2020

Show Spotlight: YETI Stories Reveals Two Types of Subjects Our Videos Need

Every Friday on Marketing Showrunners, the staff picks one branded podcast or video show to profile for inspiration and insights, pulled from our popular post, The World’s Biggest List of Branded Shows. Here’s this week’s Show Spotlight…

I own one YETI product: a big metallic tumbler gifted to me by a friend for being in his wedding party. The brand always felt somewhat cool to me. A lot of outdoor brands do, actually — maybe on account my being such an indoor cat. There’s an aspirational nature to lots of outdoor apparel and gear brands. But YETI always had an edge in my mind, not because of their product, but because of how they turn their aspirational brand into aspirational stories.

In my career, I’ve learned that most people who claim they tell stories really don’t. They talk about insights and teach you things — valuable to be sure, but not a story. They write tiny anecdotes, similar to the one I wrote above about owning a tumbler from YETI. Those are nice little additions to our work, too, but not quite “stories.” To me, stories require two things: people and tension. A story is about a character, and for the narrative arc to, yanno, arc, it has to disrupt some flat moments with spiking tension, conflict, stakes, or questions. “I wrote this post, and it turned out well.” That’s flat. “I was writing this post when, halfway through, my daughter screamed from her bedroom. I had to run to see what happened.” That takes a flat moment, a status quo (writing this post) and begins to arch it upward. We now have the potential of a story.

YETI tells stories — stories of people who face friction in their lives, who understand something is at stake, and who march headlong into some kind of tension. Most of the stories they tell aren’t grand. There’s no world-saving hero, no innovative product transforming the way we do anything that gets discussed. YETI Stories is just that: stories. And for me, that’s enough.

Let’s break down one of my favorite examples from our World’s Biggest List of Branded Shows.

What it is

YETI Stories is a series of highly produced, medium-length videos — films, really — produced in that familiar docustyle found in travel shows on TV. They inevitably feature a person or a group of people in pursuit of something. That’s their hallmark, their bent on each story, even while each story appears to be disconnected from the others.

For a representative episode, watch “Hometown.” This is an example I often share with MSR‘s consulting clients (we do consult every so often). The reason I share it so much is simple: this is a story about a person. You learn bigger things than the details of his life. You feel different emotions not typically found when someone talks about their day job. But your ability to learn and to feel kick into high gear because this is a story about the person behind a business — not the business, not the “logo.”

Who it’s for

YETI predictably has a broad base of customers, given their wide range of coolers, drinkware, bags, gear, and more. To be honest, I had a tough time writing this section. Who IS it for? Clearly, it’s for people who want to go deeper with the feelings YETI’s overall brand promotes. The more I dug into their company, however, the more I found this insistence on building products the right way. I saw language that seemed to shrug and say, “We don’t need anything fancy. We just do good work for good people.” The fundamentals, the first principles, drive YETI.

I think that’s who YETI Stories is for, too: people who insist on doing things because, well, that’s what I’m here to do. I’m in pursuit of better, of more, of fulfillment. I’m not sitting down to weigh a pros and cons list, craft a detailed business plan, and eventually sell my business or become famous on Instagram for my craft. I’m doing this because I feel it in my bones.

Did that make sense? Even a little? Let’s move on before we think too hard about it…

Why it works

1. The two types of characters

If you watch a travel show carefully (or obsessively, as I have with my storytelling idol Anthony Bourdain), you’ll notice some commonalities with the people they meet. When the host (or the producer behind-the-scenes) talks to someone on camera, they become one of two types of “characters” for the episode: a local or a guide.

A local is someone who lives the themes of the show or the episode each day. They’re the cap driver taking Bourdain to his next stop, or the restaurant owner YETI Stories meets. A local can explain WHAT is happening. They share story details, facts about the setting, and more.

Whereas the local shares WHAT is happening, the guide can explain WHY it’s happening. They’re the professor or author living in Mexico City that Bourdain meets after his cab driver, or the parents of the restaurant owner profiled by YETI Stories. They provide the “color commentary,” the analysis of what’s happening. They may live in the same place and also be “locals” in other ways during their lives, but they have the added ability to join our shows and discuss insights, not just facts.

You may not make travel shows at your brand, but it’s still worth considering using both locals and guides for a well-rounded, irresistible story. Speaking of…

2. Human-centric stories

I used to write about sports in college. I loved it because sports are a microcosm of society, a subsection of everything you’d want to write about, neatly packaged into this self-contained snow globe you can view and discuss. When I entered marketing in 2008, I remember looking around at what a lot of marketers called “stories” and thinking, “Wait, was there some missing content I didn’t see here?” They’d talk about taglines, and 30-second ads discussing products. “That was this brand telling its story.” Wait, what?

Stories are simple, people. They’re about people. Simple! YETI gets that. And that’s a huge reason it works. We don’t need to over-complicate what this is. There’s not some class we took like Theory of Brands 205 that now says that we can wave our hands and make some grandiose point to a classroom of fellow marketers that, behold, this advertisement that talks about our product is a STORY!

No. It’s not. Your home page copy isn’t story. Your How-To blog posts are not stories.

Stories are stories. And stories are about people. Characters. Protagonists that make you feel something. YETI nails that.

3. Establishing shots/B-roll

This is a weird one, because it’s such a specific technique, but so often I see in-house video teams fail to capture this simple thing: establish a sense of place. Yes, you might be interviewing someone about their work, not home. Yes, you might be creating a case study instead of an actual story. Regardless, we’re just so much more gripped by these videos as viewers because each and every one establishes where you are, a few little shots at a time.

You’ve been the recipient of establishing shots and B-roll before, I’m sure. It’s that shot from the ground, you gazing up with the camera from the grass, a mailbox to your right, a road to your left, when a pickup truck zooms across screen, left to right. It’s that sunset or sunrise that establishes time of day, or that random cat that occupies that restaurant napping in a ray of light on the front stoop. These silent little. moments, set to music or even spoken over by a character off screen, turn the experience from something commodity into something exceptional. It sets the tone. Without spending a ton of budget, any marketer with a camera can create that travel-show-like feel.

And one thing YETI could try to improve…

Subscription. This is SUCH a challenge for so many brands, as we’re uncovering with our work at Marketing Showrunners. Companies ranging from Mailchimp and YETI down to small startups seem to lack the community-building offerings to the audience to turn that audience from interested viewers to passionate superfans.The tendency these brands have is to invest heavily in great content. That puts them miles and miles ahead of most companies. I love that so, so, so much.

But when I find myself loving their content so, so, so much … I’d like to subscribe. I’d like to go deeper! Can I get bonus content? Early access? Exclusive anything? The only email CTA on the YETI site talks about products AND other stuff — and I just want more good content like their Stories. I want every Story as soon as it’s live! But I don’t have an option anywhere in the experience for doing so.

Getting audiences on an email list is the most practical, effective way to measure revenue per subscriber, to switch our marketing mentality from measuring “totals” like views, to measuring the impact our shows have on our brand. (I wrote a big piece on how to do this here.) But so often, brands whiff at this.

People want to subscribe. They want to go deeper. And you want the ability to build community AND measure its impact. This isn’t that difficult: Give us the option.

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Founder of Marketing Showrunners, host of 3 Clips and other podcasts and docuseries about creativity, and author of Break the Wheel. I’m trying to create a world where people feel intrinsically motivated by their work. Previously in content marketing and digital strategy at Google and HubSpot and VP of brand and community at the VC firm NextView. I write, tinker, and speak on stages and into microphones for a living. It’s weird but wonderful.

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