Two Awesome Video Storytelling TACTICS!


Today I’m going to share two video storytelling tactics that you can use in your marketing videos to sell your product, service or new business process that I think are truly awesome.

Video Storytelling Editors

A Real Life Video production Case Study

Recently, I was asked to work on a video for an  an amazing organization that helps young people with disabilities learn competitive vocational skills and get better jobs.

Before we had our first planning meeting, I received links to several videos that had been produced for the organization in the past.  (This, by the way, is a great way to help a video producer learn about your ideas and where your thinking and preferences are.) I watched all of the videos, and gave special attention to the one that they said was their favorite.

The client’s favorite video started off like this… “Our organization was started in Cincinnati by Joe Rogers who was the founder and who worked as the director of the emergency room.”  From there, it continued with a brief history of how the organization developed.

This video went on to present a lot of good information and it resonated with my client, but even though my clients connected with the video, it did not have the content to engage someone outside of the organization.  

Gently, I explained that viewers aren’t emotionally moved by learning where an organization started or who started it.  No one engages with that sort of content on an emotional level. In order to engage emotionally, the viewer needs a reason to care.


Backstory Graphic

VIDEO STORYTELLING TACTIC #1:  Setting the Stage with a Backstory

Instead we needed to demonstrate a backstory or setting that would lead up to a question and that one big question would set everything into motion.

So after I asked a series of probing questions, we realized that the most moving content to provide a meaningful background was the parents.   We started the video off with family members briefly describing their concerns or worries for their child’s future. We showed through video interviews how they wondered if their child would be able to support him or her self.  Hearing parents give glimpses into these realities set the stage for our video and gave a meaningful backstory.

A meaningful backstory is step one and it’s value is huge.  However, it doesn’t function alone. It works in tandem with the next storytelling tactic – The Inciting Incident.


Inciting Incident Graphic

VIDEO STORYTELLING TACTIC #2:  The Inciting Incident

The Inciting Incident is a question that thrusts the story into motion and insists on a resolution.  Because of the backstory, the viewer or reader has a strong emotional desire to know the answer to the question.

In the case of this organization, we subtly presented the question, “is there an exceptional way to prepare disabled young people to learn skills and gain a higher level of employment.”

Commonly, on TV shows, the Inciting Incident question enters the story without us giving it much thought.  An antique collector sets out to find a rare piece that he has heard might be in the next town over (will he find it), a crime is committed and the detective sets out to find out who did it (will he catch the criminal), we see a person desiring love, she meets someone and we wait to see if the two (will come together or end up heartbroken).

So to use storytelling tactics to sell Products, Services or a new Process, we have to start off with two things.  First we have to give a backstory that will make the question meaningful. If we just start off with the question, or inciting incident, it’s perceived value is maybe 10 to 100 compared to 1,000 if we use the backstory.

Finding the Backstory

It’s not always easy to articulate the backstory that leads up to your Inciting Incident, but without it you won’t have an emotionally compelling video.  Some questions that help to discover the backstory are:

  • What was the situation that led to the need?
  • Why did our company come up with this product or decide to offer the service this way?
  • What is the problem that this solution grew out of?

Finding the Inciting Incident

Defining the Inciting Incident can often be a tough process.  Often people embarking on a video or another kind of communication piece are tempted to present several ideas in one project.  Sometimes a team of people will have various goals and so they approach a project with a collective goal of “let’s try to get all of these ideas in there.”

It’s understandable, but it’s never ideal as far as the viewer is concerned.  Keep in mind that the person absorbing your content does not approach it with the same emotional interest as they do their favorite TV show.  They are probably approaching this with a lot of distractions surrounding them and unless you can engage them emotionally and focus their attention on to one meaningful question, your video will most likely be forgotten soon after it is viewed.

A Reality TV Show

About ten years ago, I had the opportunity to work on a Reality TV show.  Actually, the producers liked to call it a “Docu-Reality” show. This was mainly because they didn’t know for sure where they wanted to land.

They bought tons of nice cameras, mics and lights.  They even bought a tour bus and for three months we toured all over Texas interviewing well-known Texas singer-songwriters.  The goal in the producer’s minds was to go around interviewing these artists about their struggles and hopes in the music business.  

After we had collected an unbelievable amount of footage, we began to edit.  There were scores of shooters and producers, but only three editors and I was one of them.  

None of us had any experience producing a docu-reality show.  And after we put out the first show, we quickly realized that people weren’t coming back after the first commercial.  Why? There was no question in place. There wasn’t an inciting incident.

A Broken Car

In the second week, one of our junior producers had been traveling with an unknown young artist across the state and her car broke down.  She pulled out her smartphone, (the fancy cameras were already at the gig), and she started recording the stress of this young artist. She had been feeling like this was a really important opportunity to open for this well known artist.  She only had one hour to get there and her car was broken down.

Even though we spent a ton of time an money recording endless other stories, this is the story that gained the viewer’s interest.  This is how we got people to come back after the commercials in the second week. And this is how I began to understand the importance of “The Inciting Incident.”

Acknowledge the Foundation

Most meaningful ideas are born out of a need to improve a situation.  Many are trying to be more efficient. Many are aspiring to take a part of life to a higher level.  

When businesses and video producers take the time to find the backstory and the best question for the piece, they end up with a video that connects with viewers and has the potential to take them down a path to a meaningful action.

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