In the seconds it takes to read this sentence,  over 360 minutes of video will be uploaded to YouTube.


Making video is easy, anyone can do it, and they do.


But you want video to create a moment, a pause that opens your audience for inspiration.   It’s the experience that matters and that’s why story is important.   Here are some tried and true principles I use to structure it.

Go beyond


Well-composed video invites the audience into a moment where they’re open to inspiration. A video must do more more than explain how your product solves their problem. Why? Trust.

To get the moment right, a video must tap other motivations. Trust is built from many touch points and you want to activate more than one. A good video experience will do that, and that’s why story matters most. It all starts by understanding what motivates customers.

Story first,

budget second.

Video is only worth it the when it achieves an outcome better than other types of marketing. The role of video is to show your customers a situation that words can’t describe and pictures can’t fully capture.

A great video will inspire them to engage in the outcome you desire.  It’ll make it seem obvious so they’ll wonder why they haven’t done it yet.

Now the ideal story might be beyond the budget, but analyzing why it’s ideal can inform how you create a story that does fit budget.

Nurture the story

to life.

Good video takes hard work.   To do it well, people have to be invested in making it happen.  Great ideas can come from anywhere, and that’s why clients must be involved. Just as important is a strong creative team, passionate about making everything resonate.

When done right, you can see story, visuals, animation, and music come together  and create the right rhythm and mood to inspire your audience.    Only when everyone involved is engaged and invested, does the project take on a momentum of continuous improvement, continually raising the bar so it’s completely worth your customers’ time to watch.

Start basic,

then prune.

There’s a rule so old and basic that the newest rule is to break it.  “Tell them what you’re going to tell them. Tell them. Tell them what you told them.”    Pruning involves replacing show with tell as well as using cues that lead the audience to presume what you want to tell them.

When done right, the video will be both familiar yet different.

Yes, you can stick to the rules and break them all at the same time.  And that’s what today’s audiences demand.

Open with

a riddle.

Would you watch more than a few seconds of a video that wasn’t worth watching? Good video makes you watch until you know what happens next.

What’s a riddle? It’s a paradox or an unanswered question regarding something the audience cares about. It can be about a character, the future, or just something they always wanted to address but didn’t know how to.

Cast wide,

spare the darlings.

Creativity is a process. And that means avoiding the mistake of fixating on one idea, too soon. Great ideas can come from anywhere, including parts of ideas that weren’t that good to begin with.

There’s an old saying, “kill your darlings”. It should be dissect your darlings. Tear them apart and hidden inside you’ll discover signposts to where better ideas lie.

Show me

you know me.

If the audience doesn’t feel the story’s about them, they’ll be less interested in watching.   They have to see themselves in the characters, or at least empathize with them.

If the characters, their motivations, and aspirations aren’t integral to the story, then beware.   The audience might find your video talks at them, but doesn’t speak to them.


the audience.

Good video should be magical in its ability to deliver a message. It guides the audience, without forcing them.

What makes your video worth watching is how story is placed in context of a larger transformation. It could be as simple as a character breaking free of their mould. Or it could be a larger social question or aspiration. But whatever it is, you must trust the audience to draw the connection between your product and why it connects to the core of who they are.


the obvious.

Every story’s been told before; but you have an advantage. Your product brings a new, unique perspective to the world.

Your video is the runway for the audience to connect your new perspective with the reality they already know and trust. And your story must show how the veneer of everyday life that we take for granted, is the only barrier between us and new opportunities.


Bring order from chaos.  And make complicated ideas clear.

Don’t settle for

the obvious.

Set a high bar, search for the elegant solution, and discard the easy. Ask yourself, “Who do I know that would show this video to their friends, at a party?”
And then ask, “Are those the right people to use, advance, or evangelize my product?”

Suspend reality in the story,

not in post-production.

When text and graphics pops on-screen out of nowhere, it knocks the audience out of the story.  It’s easy to add informative text in post-production; car commercials do it all the time. But if you make the text part of the story, then you get the best of both worlds.  Can the text be placed into a billboard, a heads-up display, or any other mechanism that’s part of the story you are telling?

Stick to the structure
and keep asking “why?”

Good video takes the audience on a journey to your point of view.   The structure of that journey must work  in partnership with the story and the timing of events, conflicts, and opportunities for your characters.

Why is this character located where they are?  Why does she make the choices she does?  Why does one event happen and not another?  Asking “why” ensures that structure, story, and timing are all in unison to create an authentic and believable story.

Don’t be oblivious
to the obvious.

There’s a whole list of rules from visual storytelling 101 that should never be forgotten.   They’re all embedded in the design principles above.  But it’s always good to ensure none got overlooked.


Tell a good story.  Tell a good story.  Tell a good story.  Above all, tell a good story. People remember stories more easily than facts.


Show, don’t tell.  Iterate until you get it right.  Know why the audience should care.  Throw out your darlings.   Use real life use cases.  Make sure the audience feels the story is about them.  Involve the client in the creative process. Keep the creative process transparent.  Embolden the creative team to  make this different from anything else out there. Be new, yet familiar.


Always be authentic and true to your brand.

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