Visual storytelling conveys personal and emotional content in ways other media cannot. Here’s how your videos can cut through the clutter.

By Neal Wolff

When was the last time a talking-head video really grabbed you? While a great speaker can captivate, there are better ways to craft a video that take greater advantage of the medium.

The most effective videos are less about words and more about images–and the emotions the images convey. We get to meet real people, or actors who convincingly portray them. (Hint: Hire pros!) We get to know the characters, not just by what they say, but by what they do. (A furtive glance can be telling.) We get to share their experiences. We identify with them.

It turns out these kinds of videos, what marketers call high impact videos, are especially effective in the B2B world.

And length matters too, especially on the Web. Before the Internet came along, five minutes seemed a good length. Back then, videos were often screened at meetings and events, so you generally had a captive audience.  As the Internet era began, that length swiftly dropped to about three minutes, then two. Now, many are shorter.

Here are some examples and thoughts about why they work:

Kyler’s Story

Kyler’s Story was never supposed to be made, but a McDonald’s crew was already on location at a Ronald McDonald House when they discovered young Kyler. They recorded his interview on the spur of the moment. The lesson: Be open to new ideas, because you never know where they will come from.

The casting for this video – sudden as it was – was great. The story is character-driven and it unquestioningly has a personal and emotional appeal. It’s open and authentic, and it’s a perfect fit for the Ronald McDonald House brand.

McDonald’s Whole Wide World

This McDonald’s video is quite different from Kyler’s Story. Regardless of whether you would travel to the other side of the world just to eat at McDonald’s, you certainly can identify with the idea of finding a place to eat in a foreign country. The hero of this video, a young man on a quest to find a McDonald’s in various global locations, overcomes numerous language barriers to reach his goal. The video makes a simple point: You can find a McDonald’s almost anywhere. The style is authentic, personal and emotional. In short, it’s fun!

Google’s Reunion

At 3-1/2 minutes, this video is probably a bit longer than necessary. But I won’t quibble. It tells a compelling story–one that’s highly relevant. After all, the technology in the story that helps bring together two old friends is Google technology. Without Google, one might reasonably conclude, this touching reunion would never have happened. The story is personal, emotional, character-driven–and relevant.

A World Made Simpler … by Xerox

With nearly one million views, this is one of the most successful videos Xerox has made for the Web. It’s highly original. It has one clear and compelling B2B message: Xerox innovation and technology make the world simpler. The message is reinforced with a few well-chosen, human-centered examples. It’s a high-budget video. But Xerox ranks it at the top for return on investment. Quality counts. (And it’s just two minutes.)

Engage Your Audience

A Corporate Executive Board survey found that B2B buyers who engage with video and social media are twice as likely to become customers.

The key word here is engage. That means reaching audiences in a personal and emotional way. Each  of  these high-impact videos tells a story. They deliver a message that triggers action. They’re personal, and more about the customer (a lot more) than about any offering.

Making engaging videos takes teamwork. Marketers should clearly identify the audience, and what that audience responds to. Then producers can help craft a story to get that audience personally engaged. Finally, you need a solid distribution plan that takes advantage of platforms your customers use. But let’s save that story for another time.

Neal Wolff is a producer, director and writer, and the owner of W Productions. He’s been target-marketing companies like Xerox since 1995. Follow Neal on Twitter at @njoewolff and check out his work on Vimeo.