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Visual storytelling and AI - why the secret to success is knowing your customer

Barb Mosher Zinck Profile picture for user barb.mosher June 3, 2024
Customers struggle to create enough high-quality digital content that meets their customers’ needs - or at least, that’s the view of TJ Leonard, CEO of Storyblocks, a video creation platform. Is AI coming to the rescue? It can help, but it's only part of the answer. The wider answer lies in telling the right stories at the right time.

what's the story

Video is important to every brand’s marketing strategy, and the ways brands use video range from product videos to webinars, social media, customer testimonials, and more. It doesn't matter whether the video is short or long; what's important is that it tells the right story for the customer.

So, how do you figure out what the right story is? Chris Savage, CEO of Wistia, explained one way to use video storytelling:

They're trying to uncover problems. They're trying to work through hard issues or trying to learn new skills. They may not be talked about as much [in a viral sense], but there's a lot of educational, instructional, how-to that's kind of like the backbone of the content that people are consuming when they're consuming content at work or they're trying to solve problems in their day-to-day.

For his part, Leonard argues that creators need to ask what the objective of the story is that they  want to tell. Ultimately, it's about connecting with your customers, he says, and you want to get an emotional response that can influence their behavior.

To create this emotional connection, three things are necessary:

  1. Understand your customers.
  2. Create a compelling medium and narrative.
  3. Create trust.

Leonard says brands need to show empathy. They need to crawl inside the daily lives of their customers and tell the stories that help them solve problems:

So the way to build a great product, and I think the same is true of the way to tell a great story, is you want to really be able to crawl inside the daily life of your target customers. You want to understand their workflows. You want to understand what makes them anxious. You want to understand what makes them feel accomplished. And so empathy is a substitute for asking them, what do you want. If you understand again, their everyday experience, you can go out and you can meet their needs."

In the same way brands build great customer-focused products, they build great stories by creating content that addresses customer needs. At this point, you might be thinking, “Duh!” but it’s surprising how many brands still don’t truly understand their customers and create stories that speak to them.

The nature of storytelling changes over time, notes Leonard. Today, it’s all about trust. The challenge is that customer sentiment shifts faster than brands can keep up, so they are always a bit behind.  He says:

We're living in a time where trust and transparency matter a lot in the relationship between the customer and the brand. And now we have this new technology [AI] that has the power to obfuscate and confuse in a way that we've never experienced before over the course of human history. So it's a pretty big challenge for brands - how do I leverage the power in this new technology, which is real, but do it in a way that is still responsive to the current mood in the market, which again, is one that values trust and transparency?

What AI brings to the video storytelling process

There is little argument that generative AI's strength is not creative writing. However, generative AI does have much to offer the video creation process, which speeds up the video storytelling process.

According to the recent Wistia State of Video report, the biggest challenge for video creation is time and bandwidth (61%), followed by resources and capabilities (44%), cost and budget (36%), and ideas and content strategy (32%). What is needed are tools that help speed up ideation and creation time. Generative AI can help here.

Storyblocks is one of the tools a brand can use to source video and audio for videos. The platform stores 2.6 million assets in its library. Each asset has fifteen to twenty pieces of metadata, including titles and descriptions. Much of this metadata is added by platform contributors, and its quality varies.

The company uses AI to analyze contributor-reported data and combine it with performance data (e.g., what customers are searching for, downloading, and hovering over). The result is a new and more accurate repository of video and audio content. Searching and finding the right assets is now much easier and quicker.

Another way Storyblocks uses AI is through recommendations. As customers search for assets for projects, the AI makes recommendations, such as what audio pairs well with a video. If you create videos, you don't have to imagine the time recommendations can save.

These are AI capabilities that work well today. But how can AI help speed up the storyboarding process in the future. Right now, the process is very time-consuming. You must create a concept, search for assets, download samples, write the script, collaborate, and get feedback. Once approved, you need to go back and license the content, edit the video, and complete the project. A process this involved makes it hard to show multiple concepts.

Generative AI will give creators that rough cut, Leonard says:

A process that would have taken weeks before will now take minutes or a couple of hours as you work through different prompts.

Storyblocks has two types of customer. First, there are the creators who use the platform to find content. Storyblocks is responsible for helping them speed up their creative workflow and improve the quality of their video output.

However, Storyblocks also has a global network of contributors who create video and audio content for the library. Leonard explains that Storyblocks is responsible for protecting its contributors' works and rights and ensuring they are properly compensated:

So when we think about the role of generative and AI, it's always to those two lenses. How can we help our customers speed up their video creation process so they can drive better results for their business? And then for our contributors, how can we make sure that again, their original work is being protected, is being respected in a way that allows them to earn a living?

My take

Put AI use in perspective; focus on the customer.  Leonard puts it well:

If brands have made a mistake, it’s a mistake that repeats itself over technology cycles. In the beginning, the technology is the star right? We're doing all of these proof of concepts to showcase what the technology can do, quite often at the expense of solving an actual customer problem. Over time, that changes. Brands catch up, and they realize that, okay, this technology may help me better solve a customer need, but the reality is, it's not going to be a complete replacement for the previous solution. It's probably going to be an evolution on it...Customers do not care how you solve your problems, but they vote with their feet, and they will move toward products and companies that help them solve their biggest problems most effectively.

We spend so much time thinking about generative AI and what it can do, in many cases to the detriment of listening to and understanding our customers' needs. The fixation on technology overrides the work that has to happen to step into a customer's shoes and understand what they need to help them do their job.

Can generative AI help? Yes, there's no question that it is playing an important role. But brands need to remember to step back and spend more time listening to their customers and learning what it's like to be them. This perspective is what will help them develop the right stories, regardless of how the form that story takes. Bridging the customer disconnect must come before the technology.

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