By George Lange, Creative Content Consultant and artist-in-residence at Instagram
We all wake up each day searching for connections—with our families, our friends and our colleagues. We find those connections by being honest, human, and truthful. And, by sharing what makes us special, unique—and hopefully astonishing.
I have traveled the world for many global brands and am always blown away by the stories I uncover—employees reaching out in a real ways to make a difference and executives who swell with emotion in how their company is really changing the world (for example, did you know Horizon gives over a thousand gallons of fresh organic milk a week to Community Food Share?). Researchers who dream so large our brains will literally work millions of times better and be infinitely healthier from their efforts (Hello, IBM).
When we live amazing lives everyday, why then do we share the doodle on the top of our coffee? Why do we share pictures of what things LOOK like rather than what they feel like? When a company is doing so much good in the world, why do they water their message down or miss it entirely?
Social messaging is built on experience, culture, and what makes us all unique, including businesses. People come to social media for connection and to share in a personal experience in an incredibly intimate way—on their phone. They are holding your story, your picture in their palm only inches from their eyes. Like talking to a friend eye to eye—you need to tap into that same type of connection.
Most brand content blends into the background on social media because, while people are incredibly passionate about what they do, sharing the heart of that message on social takes a whole new way of looking at the brand. Old style ads are not “content” and they fail to connect with a generation of people who have trained themselves to ignore that very thing. Brands that fail to represent themselves as entities with soul, feelings, values and ideas are the ones that set themselves up to be overlooked.
There are couple of reasons why this failure occurs. The first is fear. Companies (and the people they employee) don’t want to take a risk and tell the world who they really are. The second reason is that they aren’t doing the work to really get to know themselves and the greatness they have within. They don’t believe in the good stuff they have to offer because they haven’t bothered to look for it. They fear how they might be perceived because they aren’t even sure of what they have to show.
Of course, identifying and communicating what makes a brand special isn’t easy. Like people, all brands are different and have offerings that are unique. Drilling down and finding the essence and the narrative of a brand doesn’t emerge by applying data or some business formula; it’s an art like any other, and requires a deep dive without preconceived outcomes. All the stories that make your brand unique and alive and astonishing are sitting there to be shared, I promise. Finding them requires someone (preferably an outsider) who can dive into discovering what makes you amazing.
My process, whether I’m collaborating with a business on their content strategy, or working with a singular subject as a professional photographer, is to approach each situation as if it was a kiss. This sounds rather romantic, but it is essential. When you’re kissing someone, you’re engaging all your senses. You’re closing your eyes, getting in close and listening, smelling and, of course, touching. I look beyond what is right in front of my face. I engage all my senses as I search across all divisions and departments of a company to uncover the overlooked moments, people, ideas and shared experiences that a brand can and should be showing to the world.
I listen to the stories of the people who work there, I look at how they create and work together daily. I get a feel for the relationships and personalities driving the business and then brand. All of this helps me understand their mission, culture and place in the world. Often the best stories sit right on the end of our noses and we look past the best material.
Once I have absorbed all of this information, I translate it into a framework for a compelling content strategy. I create images and stories that are rich with the human side of the business and people can relate to. More importantly, I show a brand how to do this for itself.
The brand no longer has to rely so heavily on product, because they know they are about so much more than that. The value of this exercise goes beyond building a strategy to get people externally engaged with a brand; it extends to helping the company and the people who work there get to know themselves better, and appreciate their value.
Once brands let go of that fear, engage all their senses and get down to why they really do what they do, we’ll see more stories that really connect, get shared, and get under our skin.
George Lange is a branded content expert currently working with Facebook and Instagram’s Creative Shop as their first artist in residence. A professionally trained photographer, George helps brand clients tell the stories that truly set them apart on all the new platforms available for communication. An expert in helping companies uncover and tell more powerful stories, George has worked with brands including Crocs, IBM, Cardinal Health, White Wave and others.