When was the last time you were on Netflix? Last night. When you were planning on binge watching Stranger Things. But then you saw the incredible variety of documentaries and docuseries available, and you couldn’t help but sit through four and a half hours of Ted Bundy interviews. Documentaries are just that compelling. But what about a branded documentary? Will people sit through 5, 15, or 30+ minutes of longform video content when a business is telling a story?
When done right, the answer is an emphatic “Yes.”
Branded Documentaries Put Storytelling Center Stage
Documentaries are enjoying unprecedented success, both on streaming services like Netflix and at the box office. From Won’t You Be My Neighbor and Making a Murderer to Frye and Apollo 11, these films cover an extensive spectrum of topics in a way that captivates audiences. Brands, too, are recognizing the potential of documentary storytelling; their audiences crave authenticity, and this style delivers a slice of real life, a behind-the-scenes vantage point, true emotion, and a sense of connection.
There has been a marked shift in consumer habits, and your marketing strategy must reflect this. Your target audience doesn’t want to buy a product. More importantly, they don’t want you to sell them a product. They want an experience, and this dovetails perfectly with documentary storytelling. With branded documentaries, you’re not selling them the sunglasses; you’re giving them a glimpse into the vacations they could wear them on.
The beauty of branded documentaries is that they work for businesses of all stripes, B2C to B2B. But, you may think, I have an offering that’s… mundane. Boring. Well, look what Geico did for car insurance, one of the top five most boring products in existence. Documentary-style content can do the same for your brand. Remember, you’re not selling the product/service. You’re selling the experience, the potential, the possibility for betterment. You’re selling the story — and that’s what customers want to buy.
Intel did this masterfully with its “Meet the Makers” series of short films. They build processors, also one of the top five most boring products in existence. But the story of Shubham Banerjee is anything but. The then 12-year old became interested in how blind people read. His parents told him to Google it. He went a few steps further.
Shubham started building a braille printer with a Lego robotics kit. When he finished, he began using more sophisticated parts (including the relatively inexpensive Intel Edison Processor). And he went further still, creating a company that builds these printers — and changes how people access words and knowledge.
Intel didn’t focus on their product; they told a compelling story of what people — including a motivated, passionate 12-year old boy with extraordinary Googling and engineering capacity! — can do with it.
Still think your product/service is too mundane? Maybe! But your stories are not.
How People Watch Content
Your prospects and customers want authenticity; documentaries deliver. They also align with how people watch video content today. Roku, for example, recognized the demand for branded videos among its customers and launched a branded content hub on their own Roku Channel.
Vice president of ad sales and strategy, Alison Levin, says, “For [brands], it was truly an opportunity to not only get scale to an audience they were looking to reach but to find a more engaged user, a cord cutter, someone they simply couldn’t reach in the living room any other way.”
The first videos they launched were sponsored by beer giant MillerCoors. Viewers watched about 70% of those videos all the way through, spending more than 851,000 minutes on the content in a four month period. Levin says, “The fact that we saw consumers pick to watch it and watch it almost to completion shows much much they value the content.”
Documentaries are strong performers across channels, from YouTube and social media platforms to your own brand website.
Social-First Branded Documentaries
More brands are leveraging the power and reach of social media when it comes to putting their branded documentaries in front of the right eyes at the right time. GE Healthcare, for example, turned to Instagram to tell a powerful story — one minute at a time.
While traveling in Southeast Asia, Africa, and India, Terri Bresenham, GE Healthcare’s president of Sustainable Healthcare Solutions, saw that women play a critical role in providing quality healthcare to their communities. As nurses, educators, midwives, and primary caregivers, women are truly on the frontlines of healthcare. While they account for 75% of the total global healthcare workforce, only 38% hold positions at the highest levels.
Bresenham says, “To create meaningful and sustainable change in the disparity affecting women’s and girls’ health, we need to increase the number of female leaders in the global health sector. Including women's voices can have a tremendous impact on actions and outcomes; what's missing is the opportunity to do so."
30 Days in the Life
So Bresenham created her own opportunity. The goal of GE Healthcare’s documentary film series, Heroines of Healthcare, is to reach people and convey the message that when we NGOs and public and private organizations come together, real, sustainable change can occur. Bresenham also wanted to tell these women’s stories and empower others to become leaders, problem-solvers, and world-changers.
The series focuses on three women in three countries as they work to make a difference in their communities. Bresenham recognized the power of documentary style video content, saying, “In a Netflix, media driven world where platforms like Facebook may be the new ‘TV,’ we decided to release the documentary via social media.”
The finished film is 30-minutes, and GE Healthcare released one minute each day on a dedicated Instagram account. Brilliant! Many people do not watch longer videos on social media platforms, and many don’t even turn the sound on. These captioned one-minute shorts were ideal for this type of consumption; people could watch continually, or they could see one minute here and there. The story still made sense, and it was still compelling.
After releasing the video over 30 days, Instagram viewers were invited to receive the documentary by email: 70+ quickly did. GE then premiered the full film on their Facebook page and linked it to their Sustainable Healthcare Solutions website, a great example of leveraging one asset in multiple — effective — ways depending on the platform and audience.
Heroines of Healthcare has over 3.1 million views; more than 10% of Instagram users watched the videos completely, and almost half a million viewers watched 50% or more of the branded documentary on Instagram and Facebook.
While GE did not “invent” social-first documentary, they certainly set the bar. And high, at that. From production to distribution to management, every aspect of Heroines of Healthcare was beautifully executed.
Find your own compelling stories, and then think innovatively about the optimal way to share them with your audience. Like GE, you can employ a mix of video marketing strategies to maximize results. AGP is here to help you every step of the way.
Examples of Branded Documentaries
As mentioned, branded documentaries work for B2Bs, B2Cs, and we’ll add non-profits to the mix too. Here’s how these organizations made the format work for them:
Carmel Youth Assistance Program: “Fostering the Love”
CYAP’s mission is to “help strengthen youth and families through community involvement.” The non-profit organization is also on a mission to continually raise awareness of issues faced by at-risk children. In this AGP-produced piece, they tell the story of an Indiana family that become complete with fostering and adoption. Powerful and authentic: the keys to an effective branded document. Take a look:
Starbucks: Rebuilding Memories
Starbucks has a unique challenge: there are so many of them! Streets are crammed full of the coffee shops, and they have to convey the message that they’re still a “hometown” type of establishment. They did just that with their “Rebuilding Memories” doc. It tells the story of Rosario, who lost her daughter, but ending up finding comfort, community, and friendship through a scrapbooking club held at her local Starbucks.
They’re not selling coffee. They’re selling the chance to connect on a meaningful level.
Google AdWords: Zingerman’s
In a quick two-minute mini-documentary, Google tells the story of Anne Arbor, Michigan icon, Zingerman’s. This small business wanted to grow while remaining true to their roots. AdWords helped them turn a local eatery into a $14 million national company.
Ready to Get Started with Branded Documentaries?
Don’t think about your products or services; think about what they can help people overcome or achieve. Think about the stories behind them, behind your brand. What do you want your prospects and customers to feel? Ultimately, this will help guide them towards what you want them to do (i.e. choose your solution).
AGP is more than a corporate video production company; we’re a team of producers, writers, storytellers, and creative thinkers who can help you unearth the compelling stories behind your brand and bring them to life for your audience. Branded documentaries offer you the powerful potential to connect, elicit emotion, and drive action — when you tell your story. Differently.