Released earlier this month, the documentary “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” has been a huge success. Impactful documentary films, such as this hit about iconic children’s television host Mr. Rogers, play an important role in today’s media, and can teach us five important things about reaching our audience as marketers.

An article written by a story strategist for a film company reveals that businesses and nonprofits can take cues from documentary films to produce “content that your audience not only wants to consume but will seek, content that’s deeply and personally relatable, content that people interact with and share with their networks.”

Denise Roberts McKee explains the essential elements of an audience-grabbing documentary as they relate to marketing:

1. Help people belong

In 2001, apparel brand Vans sponsored the feature-length documentary, Dogtown and Z-Boys, chronicling the early skateboarder culture of Southern California…

Why is the series effective? Why do people watch it? Everyone wants to belong to a culture or community. People want to see inside the world of like-minded people. Vans customers and non-customers alike watch these shorts to experience subcultures and characters they either identify with or are fascinated by. Though Vans’ first film project was released in 2001, the brand is still creatively knocking it out of the park in 2018.

2. Set a story landscape

At the heart of documentary filmmaking is the art of telling a good story… For a documentary film to resonate with an audience, it should feel authentic. A brand-made documentary must be honest and true to the brand’s values and culture. Just as importantly, it also has to appeal to the target audience’s interests.

It is important to keep your audience in mind while also staying true to your brand’s values and cultures in every piece of content you produce. Examples might include putting your logo on your social graphics, your voice and tone in a magazine ad, or your colors in your fundraising email appeals.

3. Identify the hero

The strongest stories in any format feature a hero facing some type of conflict. Frodo taking the ring to Mordor. Rocky fighting for the championship belt. Every doctor on every TV show who persevered to save a patient’s life. Documentaries are no different. Before you begin crafting a story, you must identify a hero and his or her conflict.

It is critical for both businesses and nonprofits to set up the need for the company or organization. The problem/solution storytelling format can apply to almost any piece of content that you generate: from fundraising appeals to Facebook ads, direct mail packets to discount promo codes.

4. Find your brand’s story

McKee gives five tips for how to find your story. People respond to stories, which can be told for a variety of important purposes.

  1. Always be looking. Create a story database and capture interesting ideas when they surface even if their use or relevance isn’t immediately apparent.
  2. Don’t take your own stories for granted. What might be routine to you could be fascinating to your audience.
  3. Be creative. Don’t let your objectives rule your concept development. Ideate the stories, then map them to your objectives to see what aligns.
  4. Think about the voice. Who’s the best fit to share the story you’re telling?
  5. It doesn’t need to be epic. Often, the smaller, more intimate or personal stories can be the most powerful.

5. Don’t always do it yourself

You wouldn’t have your company’s payroll accountant do your root canal, would you? Work with professionals who know how to create and produce documentaries with a proven track record (and a proven show reel). If you have professional filmmakers and storytellers in-house, great. If you don’t, find them elsewhere.

McKee explains that if a brand is to actually make a documentary, they should bring in the experts. We at OPUSfidelis believe the same thing regarding marketing any aspect of your company or organization. If you need expert consultation or production from a team that lives and breathes marketing, talk to us!