Corporate Eye

Digital Stories: Unlocking Online Video’s Narrative Power

I invited Joseph O’Brien—a writer with an interest in media and technology—to write a post for us about online video and storytelling.

video-storytellingOnce upon a time…more like Once upon a click: video narratives are increasingly the medium in which people choose to tell their brand stories. The power of narrative storytelling transcends different media, but storytelling and video particularly thrive in the digital marketplace. The power of online video as endlessly interactive and shareable content is a no-brainer. Video storytelling is here to stay and here’s why…

Why is telling stories so effective?

Brand analysts have been telling us for years that to engage with our audiences we need to tell stories. Storytelling knows no bounds and transcends industries, from Fortune 500 high-tech companies to pet stores: everyone is doing it. But what makes storytelling such an effective way for brands to interact with consumers? Here’s the lowdown on telling stories:

  • Basic instincts: Stories take us back to our primeval roots, to the origins of speech, language and culture. In earliest human societies, bards and storytellers were responsible for weaving everything into comprehensible language. Stories were used to explain everything from the beginning of the Universe to childbirth and the four seasons. Storytelling is hardwired into us.
  • Supremely sharable: The story format, with its beginning, middle and end is a format that works. People understand it, they inherently ‘get’ it, so they are happier to share it with friends and family. Which is great news for brands. After all, why spend hours crafting something, only to let it sit in a hidden corner of the internet?
  • Emotionally compelling: A story format often makes dull things like data and facts more emotionally compelling. For example, human interest stories are often used to raise awareness and build up a research and development community for a whole range of rare illnesses and conditions. Emotions are a powerful tool, and when there is solid data behind, the possibilities are limitless. Just check out Skype’s emotional video on two girls born with the same congenital condition. Here a branded online video hits all the emotional buttons, as well as educating viewers on a rare congenital condition.

Why is video the perfect medium for storytelling?

Video storytelling success is due to its immediacy, accessibility and endless flexibility. Here are some key reasons why video storytelling works:

  • Emotive Medium: Its ability to intimately explore human and animal faces, sounds, and fully immerse the viewer in a specific surrounding, makes video the perfect vehicle for carrying an emotional message. Behavioural psychologist Susan Weinschenk has outlined the main reasons why people emotionally respond to video content:
    1. Human Face – If/when presented by a human face in a video, information becomes more credible.
    2. Human Voice – Hearing a human voice in a video instantly increases the meaningfulness of the content.
    3. Body Language – We are sophisticated interpreters of body language; the right body language helps us create a relationship with the video.
    4. Movement – By engaging our eyes and minds, movement helps to keep our interest levels high.
  • Clarity and Directness: It’s not true to say that spoken word is always more simple than text (just ask the Ancient Greek rhetoricians), but there is a level of clarity and directness that comes with spoken language that makes it attractive. As a medium that doesn’t heavily rely on text, video is supremely direct and clear.
  • Personal and Accessible: Online video is reaching more people than ever before; in the UK it reaches up to 80% of the population, and it’s almost 75% in the US. Online video has also been adopted by a lot of niche community groups, as well as being part of millenials’ everyday life. Online video is where people go to tell their stories; it’s also a genuine conversation starter- creating new stories all the time.
  • Supports Many Characters: Dialogue in written text can be tricky- something even accomplished writers struggle with. In video switching to a new speaker or topic is easier as visuals guide the message. This means a video story can be comprehensive and complex, without being too confusing or the messaging becoming too diffuse.

Video technology and storytelling

One way in which video has the edge over other traditional mediums is its immersive quality. Video’s ability to overlay music, sound, text and integrated motion graphics means that one video can tell many stories at once, weaving different narratives. Animation is also a great way to tell stories that can move between different audiences and industries easily.
Remember, even a very simple story needs a whole raft of technological expertise before it becomes a compelling online video.

Other stories online video can tell

Online hair tutorials, grassroots stop-motion clips, vlogs, gig videos – the ways in which online video can help marketers, people and communities tell stories are endless. Stories aren’t always big and flashy; they can also be fleeting moments of everyday narrative you just have to capture.


joseph-obrienHi, I’m Joseph O’Brien, and as a writer the culture of storytelling and its digital afterlives fascinate me.

Thank you to Aspect Film & Video for their insights into video storytelling techniques.

Find out more about me and my freelance writing on my blog.

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