We are no strangers to the benefits of storytelling in content marketing. Knowing that audiences are more likely to remember (and share) stories that connect in an emotional way has allowed marketers to develop truly unique content. But storytelling is an art that requires finesse, integrity and a touch of humility, and there is possibly no greater storyteller than filmmaker Steven Spielberg.
With more than 30 films, 7 Academy Award nominations and 3 wins, Spielberg has the uncanny ability to strike a balance in being prolific, technical, sentimental but still progressive. There is much for brands to learn from his success over the past 30 years.
1. Work with the right collaborators. Spielberg has a penchant for working with people for long periods of time, including film editor Michael Kahn, composer John Williams and cinematographer Janusz Kamiński. Each professional brings their talent to the table, Williams adding emotional, epic scores, Kahn crafting the perfect story and Kamiński lending a dreamy, ethereal look. Spielberg knows that his work is only as good as his partners and has fostered long-lasting relationships to get the best results. Just think of ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark,’ and I’d bet $100 that you just heard the main theme in your head. That’s great storytelling.
2. Get up close and personal. In ‘E.T.’ Spielberg employed the use of low angles, both to imbue the same sense of wonder Elliott felt and to give adult viewers the feeling that they were children again. The effect is decidedly sentimental, but effective. When crafting brand stories, marketers have the opportunity to use similar ‘tricks’ to better connect with audiences and partners. In fact, Spielberg even went as far as surprising the child actor in ‘Close Encounters of the Third Kind’ with a man in a gorilla suit off-camera to elicit the desired response. Get playful, and don’t shy away from the emotional stuff.
3. Know when to repurpose great stories. Do you want to know one of the reasons why ‘Jaws’ and ‘A.I.’ are so memorable? They are just modern interpretations of ‘Moby Dick’ and ‘Pinocchio’ respectively. Spielberg is a master of taking allegories from the past and reinventing them with his own spin. Content marketers, take note: you don’t always have to start from scratch. Find inspiration from your brand history (or cultural touch points) and go from there.
4. Delight in the process. Spielberg once said, “I love editing. It’s one of my favorite parts about filmmaking,” but how can something so solitary and laborious bring such satisfaction? Because it is the culmination of hard work and vision. If your organization doesn’t have a strategy in place or the resources to create custom content, don’t fret. Figuring out your approach and the stories you have to tell are as important as kudos from the press and comments from your followers. Take the content marketing process once step at a time and don’t rush through the particulars.
5. Story first, technique second. Take a step back for a second and think of the scene in ‘Goodfellas’ when Scorcese has a long, moving shot in the bar that introduces all of the gangsters. It’s beautiful, but clearly showing off his technical prowess in a showy, back-patting way. Spielberg is capable of the same, but the effect is decidedly more subtle, and always in favor of the actual narrative. When crafting an effective brand story, it’s not about the bells and whistles: always come back to a moment that is real and relate-able.
6. Learn from your mistakes. In the 90s, Spielberg was affiliated with a number of somewhat questionable projects, ranging from executive producer credit on ‘The Flinstones’ to direction of ‘Hook’ and the second film in the ‘Jurassic Park’ franchise. So what did he follow his rollercoaster decade with? ‘Saving Private Ryan.’ Even if your organization has fallen off the content wagon (or even suffered a PR nightmare), it’s never too late for a stellar comeback.