As you’ll have noticed, last week saw the return of a real-world Dreamforce in San Francisco as Salesforce returned to the ground for its biggest event of the year. As ever, and as can be seen from diginomica’s dedicated coverage here, it was the usual smorgasbord of information-packed sessions, both product and non-product related.
But I think one of the things that really draws people in is Salesforce's focus on its customers - its so--called Trailblazers. This year, to help showcase the work of some of its non-profit and education customers, Salesforce leveraged its production partner Sound Off Films to create five short films.
I spoke with Sound Off CEO and Executive Producer Adrienne Hall about the films her company created for the show as well as the wider importance of B2B content and human storytelling.
Telling stories with impact
It's not enough to create videos that talk about your products anymore. You need to talk about your customers. The product is important, but a foundational element to the story. Think about it this way - no-one talks about how great the foundation is on your house. They talk about how it's architected and beautifully decorated. Customer stories should be told the same way - you talk about the architecture and user experience, but keep the details of that foundation to a minimum.
This isn't the first time Sound Off has worked with Salesforce. It's their second Dreamforce, and they've also worked on the Education Summit and another non-profile summit for the company. Sound Off is a production company specializing in social impact films, ads, and other content for tech and consumer brands. So, it makes sense that they would lead the work to create films that showcase the efforts of organizations like Year Up, USC's Annenberg School, the Dutch Cancer Society KWF, and QUT College.
Sound Off was formed in 2014. Its background is in environmental and advocacy documentary storytelling, but early on, Hall says they connected with people within some of the largest tech companies who were drawn to the concept of human storytelling, and they quickly found their stride in producing this type of content:
We're a mission-driven production company, and core to everything we do, we try to think about our environmental impact, the way that we're building production from a top-down in terms of who's telling the stories with us internally. And looking at just the overall stories that we tell as a huge priority, like what are we celebrating, what are we representing. I think that our track record and our background to be able to support projects like this that are supporting non-profits and education across the world was a natural fit.
Sound Off also gives a portion of its profit margin to non-profits or foundations at the end of each fiscal year.
Working with Salesforce and its customers
Hall has a background in tech storytelling and nonfiction entertainment storytelling. Her company was connected to Salesforce through a producer she worked with before. She argues that Sound Off aligns well with Salesforce's brand ethos and mission. To create these five films, Salesforce identified core partners and stakeholders that best represented the overall themes and subjects they wanted to cover.
Sound Off then worked with one core creative director at Salesforce to identify priorities and the stories they would tell - from choosing characters and subjects to making sure they could position human storytelling at the forefront while also demonstrating how the product helped. It was a story balance they needed to strike, Hall says.
The videos themselves were filmed across Europe, Asia Pacific, and North America, she recalls:
We covered all those territories, looking at the ways that Salesforce.org supports education and non-profits. So we just got to highlight some of the coolest work being done and some of the most innovative ways that people are approaching education globally. It's always an exciting process for us to learn from that too and understand what those touchstones are for allowing to shape minds that are being educated, as well as creating the crucial impact our world needs so much and positive ways.
One of the most important things for this work was communication. Hall says it was critical that the non-profits and third-party partners knew what the production company needed. Post-production also went well. Salesforce was clear on their goals and what it wanted from these projects, she notes:
We would have teams that sized anywhere from eight to 15 people working on-site with us to make sure that these went off without a hitch and were up to the professional standard of everything that Salesforce does. With the eyes and the viewership of Dreamforce, making sure that we would be able to hit our marks in that capacity as well, and again, we worked with teams from all over the globe to tell these stories, which was really exciting.
Something that Hall appreciates greatly was that Sound Off not only worked with the non-profits or education institutes themselves, but they were able to do additional shoots that showcased the end user impacts of the technology:
And that was like another great opportunity as well to integrate it not just to show the people in suits who are at these non-profits, but really get to showcase the on-the-ground impacts in a way that some other companies don't always celebrate or recognize the value.
There is no direct path to creating videos like this, Hall explains. But there is also no better way to celebrate what you do than human storytelling and showcasing the impact. And these films are not just for external partners and customers; they also help internal people see the impact of their work, something that often drives employees to be even better at what they do.
There was a time (and that time is still now in some cases) when brands were making this type of content just for the sake of creating content. Content for the marketing flywheel, whether it was true or not. And it dilutes the value of this content significantly. But consumers and audiences are getting smarter, and brands are constantly thinking about the value behind a piece of content like this. What are they standing behind?
Katie Martel said it well when she observed:
I know morality doesn't pay the bills, but companies know there is a financial incentive to being a part of this consideration set. This idea that I want to buy based on values. I want to buy from companies that align with my values.
Salesforce kicked off Dreamforce this year by donating $25 million to education, focusing on teacher and student well-being, bringing the total donated to over $165 million worldwide, while its employees have donated nearly one million hours to schools with the Circle the Schools program. For Salesforce, sharing these stories is about showing how non-profits and educational institutions work hard to create a better world for people.