We definitely hit a nerve with this idea.
I didn’t come up with it, but I did see tremendous value in it for our clients. We’ve pitched it numerous times and it almost always elicits the same response: “We didn’t know what it was called, but THAT’S WHAT WE NEED!”
The challenge, however, is that often it’s very unclear where to even start. So I listen. And listen, and listen, and listen. We work so hard to uncover the story our clients want to share with the world and then distill it down to its core.
Every brand has something to say, but most of the time it’s very difficult to articulate. Why? Because it’s full of nuances and intangible feelings and attitudes.
When we get it right, it’s amazing to see how the words we write for a script actually begin shaping the message of an entire organization.
Case in point: Simmons Foods “Never Stop Building”
Simmons is a great company run by wonderful people. With nearly 6,000 employees and $1.4 billion in sales, they must be doing a lot of things right. However, when I first met with them, they had difficulty articulating what makes Simmons a great place to work. Most employees at Simmons would agree it’s a great company, but the language people used to describe it was all over the board.
I just listened. And listened, and listened, and listened.
What began to crystalize was this desire for Simmons to always be growing, always pushing forward, day in and day out. So, we wrote a concept and script titled “Never Stop Building.” They loved it. It’s so rewarding to hear the words we wrote become part of who they are.
Here is the final piece:
I see it all the time. Company X hires Company Y to make a video. Company Y finishes the work and Company X posts the video hoping it “goes viral.” Then…crickets chirp. Friends and coworkers share it out of obligation or sympathy. It gets a couple hundred views and spends the rest of its days living in shame wondering what went wrong.
So, what went wrong? Why didn’t it get more views? To answer that question, here are five reasons nobody watches your videos:
1. Your videos aren’t authentic.
Customers want to know who they are buying from as much as, and sometimes more than, what they are buying. Video is the best way to reveal the human side of your business, but creating authentic video content feels risky and takes a ton of time and energy. It is especially tough for businesses who want full control over their messaging because, to seem authentic, you need a living breathing human being to get in front of the camera (without a teleprompter) and be themselves!
Tone It Up is a great case study of how powerful authentic content can be. Karena Dawn and Katrina Scott built a multi-million dollar fitness brand by simply being themselves. Seven years ago, they started posting workout videos to YouTube of the two of them working out on the beach. By staying true to who they are and creating authentic content, they were able to succeed in a crowded space full of other fitness brands.
2. You aren’t giving people the kind of videos they want.
When I worked at Soderquist Leadership, we assumed our followers wanted a particular kind of video. So we produced a bunch of “talking heads” sharing their leadership wisdom. Turns out, they wanted that, but they also wanted something totally different–they wanted to be entertained. LeaderSkilz changed the game for us and became the primary lead generator for the organization. Leads started coming out of the woodwork. We got calls from the talent development teams of Facebook, Northwestern Mutual, Humana, Tyson Foods, and Walmart. We produced 18 episodes of LeaderSkilz while I was there.
3. Your videos are pretty, but they don’t tell a great story.
Remember a few years ago when digital SLR cameras became a hot commodity and suddenly everyone was a photographer? The Mamarazzi movement was born and now every child’s birthday party is documented like a royal wedding. The same thing is happening with video. Anyone can get their hands on a cheap camera, shoot some pretty footage, edit a slick demo reel, and advertise themselves as a video producer. But pretty footage isn’t enough. People don’t share videos because they’re pretty. They share because it added value to their life in some way. The real value comes from crafting the story and telling it in a way that captivates an audience. This requires a very unique skill set and a lot of experience to do it right.
I’ll use a documentary I produced as an example. It’s called The Making of a Family and it shares the story of adopting our daughter from China. We’ve been amazed by the response it’s gotten. It doesn’t matter that most of it was shot on a tiny point-and-shoot camera. The story is what resonated with people.
4. Your videos don’t solve a problem.
People are constantly looking for ways to make their lives easier. They have problems you can help them solve. If you solve a problem for someone, you’ve not only made their life easier, you also just gained a customer. This is a huge opportunity that brands are starting to pick up on. Just look at the explosion of how-to videos on YouTube. Anything and everything you’ve ever wanted to know is in a YouTube video somewhere.
As an example, we worked with Clairol to produce a series of videos on how to dye your hair at home. Clairol realized that women wanted to dye their hair at home, but they needed some tips on how to do it. The videos have done extremely well and have hundreds of thousands of views.
5. You haven’t produced enough content for people to care.
Your followers want to know you’re committed to consistently providing something of value, not just a crumb every once in awhile. So often we see one-off videos that don’t create any click-throughs or conversions, and it’s tempting to throw your hands up in the air and call it quits. It is incredibly difficult to consistently create content worth watching and sharing, which is why you need a content engine that is running all the time, cranking out videos, blog posts, tweets, Instagram posts, etc. It’s also not enough to just hire an in-house “video person” unless you have a crystal clear strategy and need someone to execute it day in and day out. Otherwise, you’ll waste a lot of time and money hiring someone and buying equipment.
You really need expertise to help you find the sweet spot. That’s where we come in. Our team can work with you to develop a strategy and help you produce content that your followers and prospective customers will actually pay attention to.
The past two years have been…in a word…hard.
Someday I might write about it in detail, but for now it’s enough to simply type those words.
For the first time in my life, I just could not get my sh!# together. Everything I did felt reactionary. No plan. No leadership. No intentionality. I was in a constant fog. Every step, no matter how small, felt like I was walking through molasses. Some of you know this feeling and some of you don’t. If you don’t, I pray you never do. I never knew it until now.
My mind kept telling me to snap out of it, but emotionally I felt stuck. I kept thinking, “What’s wrong with me?” I knew I was better than this (or at least I had been before) but it was like a sad stranger was living inside me, screwing with my head. I wanted this stranger to disappear.
Somewhere along the way, I lost my voice. I stopped writing. I stopped creating. I stopped connecting.
Why? Because I let fear get in the way. Fear told me, “You made your bed, now sleep in it.” I let fear convince me that all these things that were happening were my fault. I chose to listen to fear instead of love.
I have to remind myself that I don’t have to be afraid. I didn’t cause these things to happen, and the people who matter are the people who love me just because I’m me.
So, who am I? I am a creator. Buried deep within my genetic code is a need to make things. I need to send ideas out into the world. Not because I think the world needs me, but because creating is how I stay connected and engaged to something bigger than myself.
I haven’t created in a long time. Not just for the sake of creating anyway. But I have to start somewhere. So I produced this spoken-word piece set to visuals from a variety of sources. It’s about choosing to listen to love instead of fear.
More coming soon…
Great work by the Verge Videos team on another successful project for Clairol! Here’s a little sizzle reel from the series.
The first series we produced generated over 500,000 views, so they came back to us for more. Check out the full spots on Clairol’s youtube channel -https://www.youtube.com/user/clairol and see some behind the scenes photos by Novo Studio at http://ow.ly/ZFtka
What is it?
More Than Expected is a campaign we helped develop for Walmart.
What was the challenge?
Create the flagship recruiting tool for all careers within the company. For an organization with 2.2 million associates, that’s a big ask. Many stakeholders were involved. The requirements were: 1. It had to be relevant to all areas of the organization (corporate and store), 2. It had to celebrate the scale of Walmart while dispelling negative perceptions about the company, and 3. It had to contain an element of surprise.
How did you approach it?
After the initial discovery meetings, we got to work developing some creative concepts. The first idea we presented was to take a bunch of interesting facts about Walmart and quantify them visually in an unexpected way. For example, Walmart sells enough milk in one year to fill 1,000 Olympic-size swimming pools and enough pillows to circle the earth’s circumference. They thought it was an interesting idea, but we all agreed that the message should be about people.
After several drafts (and legal’s stamp of approval), we had script lock and started moving into pre-production.
Normally we would put together a shot list, determine locations, and start scheduling shoots. This project was a little different because there were several pieces of the script that couldn’t be staged. For example, the line about being “quick to help when disaster strikes.” We could either wait for a disaster to strike (not a great plan), or look for existing footage. Fortunately, we have a great relationship with Walmart TV and they were willing to release some of their footage. We also pulled footage from some of our previous projects with Walmart.
One of our mantras at Verge is, “Done is better than perfect.” In a perfect world, our team would have shot every piece of footage so that it looked exactly the way we wanted. As artists and creatives, it’s often difficult to sacrifice the ideal visual for something more practical. However, we know that the most important thing for our clients is delivering on concept, on message, on time, and on budget. I believe this is one thing that distinguishes Verge from others. We care way more about doing what’s best for our clients than our own artistic agenda.
What were the results?
In the end, everyone was very pleased with the finished product (including several top executives). The spot is permanently featured on the homepage of walmartcareers.com and a shorter version may end up as a commercial for broadcast.
I’m so proud of our team for all their hard work on this project. It was a challenge to be sure. But, they say doing good work leads to more work. We’ve already started on derivative versions of More Than Expected for Walmart.com and Sam’s Club. I’d say that means we’re doing good work.
“Man, it must be great to be your own boss.”
I hear this statement a lot.
There is something sacred in our American, capitalistic, independent, damn-the-man culture about the idea of starting your own company. It’s in our blood. It will always be considered a sacred occupation.
Yet, like a lot of things we hold sacred, being your own boss isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
Let’s start with that phrase. When you own a company, you ARE NOT the boss. Your customers are. Add up your customers and that’s how many bosses you have. You thought having one boss was tough? Try having 20 or 50 or 100.
If your primary motivation for becoming an entrepreneur is to “be your own boss,” don’t do it. Please.
I’m not writing this to scare you away from starting a business. In fact, you would be hard-pressed to find a stronger advocate for entrepreneurialism than me. I’m writing this to share some of the things I’ve learned.
1. Nothing is more important than the work. And nothing is easier to get distracted from.
We moved into our office in January. In September, we put a sign on the front. We jokingly ascribed a “minimalist aesthetic” to the interior because we didn’t have time to decorate. We were too busy working.
I see a lot of businesses spend an incredible amount of time trying to create or fix things that don’t directly relate to the work. I’m not just talking about decor and t-shirts either. Processes, policies, font choice, strategies, brainstorming…there are a thousand things we could have done. And honestly, a lot of them would have been more fun and easier than cranking out work every day.
2. Done is better than perfect.
Perfectionism is a horrible strategy for growing a business. I’m still trying to accept this one. Every video we push out the door has at least one thing I want to tweak. And just let me say, this has absolutely nothing to do with the competency of our team. They do amazing work, better work than I could ever do. No project will ever be perfect. The anxiety I have about releasing imperfect work into the world is a problem with me, not the work.
3. Don’t spend time doing something you should be paying someone else to do.
My accountant was shocked when I said I wanted him to handle all of the “back office” financial stuff for our company. He said most entrepreneurs he deals with want to do it all themselves. They tell him, “I took an accounting class in college, I can figure this out.” I took a lot of those classes getting my MBA, but my time is better spent growing the business than banging my head against the wall trying to figure out what counts as a Section 179 deduction.
4. One hour of taking care of yourself is worth at least double that in productivity.
It feels so counter-intuitive to spend an entire hour of your day exercising or reading or journaling or blogging or cooking or whatever it is you do to stay sane. But that hour pays dividends far beyond an equal hour of sending emails or surfing Facebook or sitting in meetings or pretending to be doing something important. I have to constantly remind the workaholic in me not to feel guilty about spending this hour taking care of myself. Then I remember all the late nights and early mornings I invested in starting this business. And I don’t feel guilty anymore.
5. Fit work into your life, not the other way around.
This truly is one of the main perks of being an entrepreneur.
Not everyone has this option and I feel very blessed to have the flexibility of fitting work into my life instead of arranging my life around work.
Yet, despite the benefits, I find it even harder to turn work off because so much responsibility rests on my shoulders. The pressure you feel as an entrepreneur can be overwhelming. I did freelance work for three years prior to going out on my own. Freelance is different. When you’re freelancing, you have your full-time job to fall back on. Unless you get fired, that paycheck is coming every two weeks. As an entrepreneur, it’s your responsibility to make sure you and your people get paid. This keeps me up at night more than anything else.
6. Iteration is key to moving quickly.
Iteration is the act of repeating a process with the aim of approaching a desired goal. “I’ll send you this now, it’s not perfect, but you get the idea, send us your feedback. Trust me that it will be better on the next version, in the interest of making progress.”
This relates to the point about perfection. It’s scary to send a half-baked project or idea to a client. Sometimes they don’t get it. But that first knee-jerk reaction can provide real insight into what needs to change.
7. There’s no way I could this without the support of my wife, best friend, and top advisor
To say I’m a lucky man would be the understatement of the year. The support, advice, and encouragement Mandy gives me is invaluable. She is a badass business woman, and if she were running this thing, we’d probably be a Fortune 500 company by now.
When you go to work for most companies, you are assigned a job description that includes a section called Key Duties and Responsibilities. This section outlines the things you will be asked to do. In some ways, it is the basic recipe for success in your role.
As an entrepreneur, and in many smaller organizations, no one assigns you Key Duties and Responsibilities. You have to figure out (usually on a daily basis) what needs to be done.
In my mind, my job description reads, “Everyone is counting on you. Work until your eyes bleed if you have to. Just get it all done.”
I really let myself go the past few months. Stress, poor diet, lack of consistent exercise. It not only affected my mood and my health, it also affected the quality of my work. Did I get a lot done? Sure. The business has grown more than 100% over last year. Is it worth sacrificing my health and happiness? No way.
So lately I’ve been getting myself back on track.
I’ve been exercising everyday (Side note #1. Let me say something important about exercise. You don’t have to go nuts. If Crossfit, marathons, 5k’s, and triathlons, are your gig, then great–go for it. But personally, I think a little bit of exercise goes a long way. For me, it’s a short run or a 20 minute video workout. I don’t live to exercise. I exercise to live. Sorry for the cliche, but it’s true. And like so many things in life (maybe everything), it’s way more about consistency than performance.) Anyway, the whole point is that I feel so much better when I exercise, my mind is clearer, and I’m able to be more effective.
I’m also trying to scale back on the caffeine, eat healthier, sleep more, and trying, trying so hard not to be addicted to social media (Side note #2: I’m working on a post about how we’ve cured boredom with social media and how terrible that is). I read somewhere that when it comes to things like eating healthy and exercise, 80% is perfection. That gives me a 20% margin to screw up. I can live with that.
Here’s what I’m getting at. I think every job description should include a responsibility to take care of yourself. Maybe even responsibility #1.
Responsibility #2 can be: “Craft and execute key strategies leading to deeper market penetration of the flux capacitor.”
(Side note #3: If you are the author of job descriptions, please, for the love of all humanity, use words a normal human being can understand.)
My friend recently met with a tech startup in the area. During the meeting, he asked the founder how the business was doing. The founder enthusiastically replied by telling my friend how many people he had on staff: 12. Not too long ago they had two. They’ve been busy raising capital over the past few months.
Another business I’ve been watching is renovating an office. A nice office with a bunch of custom stuff. The owner is doing a lot of the work himself. Their social media stream used to be full of interesting updates about their products. Now they incessantly post pictures of the new office. I’m sure it will be a very nice office when it’s finished, complete with a slick automatic espresso machine.
And a young couple we know is building a big fancy house. They want to build big because this is where they will live happily ever after, which of course they know for certain after being married for a whole two years. No kids yet, both working full time, living the D.I.N.K. life (Dual Income No Kids).
Don’t get me wrong, hiring people is exciting, big new offices are often necessary, and buying a home makes you feel warm and fuzzy inside.
But unfortunately, these and other big decisions are often acted on prematurely.
Doing them is fun. Undoing them sucks.
I’ve experienced the not-so-fun flip side of undoing them. I’d like to tell you about it so that hopefully you don’t make the same mistakes.
Early in my career I helped a company raise capital to expand. We had tons of borrowed cash and a big idea. We just needed people. So we started hiring. It was really exciting. Our team nearly doubled in a matter of months. $2 million dollars and a failed business model later, the money ran out and people had to be let go. Guess who got that job?
I’ll never forget looking across our big conference room table at a mother of three, sole income provider, and telling her she no longer had a job or insurance because of the stupid decisions we had made. The pain in her eyes made me physically sick. It was one of the hardest things I have ever done.
One thing that sidetracked the company during this growth phase was the renovation of a bigger office. It was a huge project, and it took the owner’s full attention nearly everyday until it was finished. We really didn’t need a bigger office, but the mindset was that someday we will, and we have the money now, so why not go ahead and build it?
When Mandy and I were looking to buy our first home, we almost bought a modest house in an affordable neighborhood. The deal ending up falling through which gave us the chance to reevaluate and start looking at other houses. We quickly found a nicer house in a more upscale neighborhood. It was nearly finished and we had to act fast if we wanted it (i.e The Scarcity Principle. Makes people do all kinds of crazy things.). I remember vividly one conversation we had in the car, realtor in the back seat, contract in hand, about the monthly mortgage payment. We could just barely swing it, and I remember justifying all kinds of ridiculous things in my head. A year later, we got a nice little letter from the bank stating that our payment was going up $300 per month to cover the taxes on the house (apparently, you only pay taxes on the lot the first year). Gas prices had also spiked, and we were commuting 60 miles everyday. I was so defeated when I had to tell the bank we couldn’t make our payment. The day we sold that house was one of the best days of our lives, despite losing our life’s savings and $30,000 in equity.
For me, these experiences have been painful, disappointing, stressful, and most of all invaluable.
They taught me the importance of waiting until the time is right. It’s so easy to get caught up in the excitement of now. We want things now. But getting ahead of yourself can make you do things that are really hard (or impossible) to undo.
Doing things prematurely taught me some important lessons that, if you’re still reading, I leave with you:
1. Debt is a cruel bitch. Stay as far away from it as you possibly can. It’s so easy to convince yourself you need it. And people will tell you that you can’t grow a business without it, can’t get a degree without it, can’t buy a car without it, and on and on. Don’t believe them.
2. Create margin in your life. It might be painful getting there, like it was for us to sell the nice big house, but it was worth losing all that money and equity to reset and start living below our means. Having margin insulates you from the unexpected and empowers you to make sound decisions and try new things.
3. Always ask yourself, “Do I really need this right now?” If you’re honest with yourself, the answer is usually no.
4. In business, I’m now fiercely opposed to buying anything that does not directly impact the quality of our work. Only when the time is right (and the cash has been saved) will we have a nice office, hire support staff, or buy a fancy espresso machine.
Until then, I’ll wait.
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