Brand Journalists CEO and well known franchise lead generation expert Thomas Scott was recently interviewed for Social Geek Radio by Deb Evans, President Deb Evans Consulting, and Jack Monson, Global Head of Strategic Accounts, Manalto, about the compelling case for documentary style video used in franchise development.


Here’s the transcript of the interview:

Jack: Thomas tell us how long have you had Brand Journalists up and running.

We started in 2008 and really kind of hit the ground running real hard and heavy in late 2009, early 2010 doing franchise lead generation. Our background is we’re mostly former newspaper journalists. We believe that storytelling and the craft of journalism made sense for the direction buying behavior was going in terms of trying to communicate with a company. Using a conversational, journalism style communication — could be videos, could be blogs– made a lot of sense in terms of what people were trying to do. I think we really see big disconnects in the way companies market and try to influence their customers or connect with them. Story-based marketing really cuts through a lot of the noise. It’s been a great ride.

Jack: I remember a lot of the origins were getting stories in newspapers, and now it’s grown so far beyond that. I think you were the first guy I ever heard use the term brand journalism. You were probably also the first guy I ever heard use the term content marketing.

I think we were really pioneering. When we started telling people, “Look, you need to write in a conversational style. You need to make really long web pages and you need to understand how to connect with people with stories because we believe the story is the essence of communication.” As humans we use stories to make sense of the world around us, to make decisions, to understand and relate to each other and to relate to goods and products and services. Storytelling is not something that’s really easy to learn, but the power of a well told story is you don’t realize you’re being sold to. It’s interesting and you like it and it’s fun to read and it gives you helpful information.

It’s been a wild ride. We’ve really grown a lot since the early days. We work pretty much in the franchise space. That’s become the mainstream form of lead generation, brand journalism style article format, recruiting websites and content marketing campaigns and email campaigns. That’s kind of the norm now but that was pulling teeth in the beginning. It’s very counterintuitive to what people thought they needed.

Jack: Five years ago we were deep in the land of portals and all of those other things that I think we’d like to forget about, right?

That’s right. Bombarding people with bullet points and cheesy ad slogans. It’s an election year so this is a really topical thing. There was a really good article on NPR recently and the reporter was talking to a strategist of some kind. He said, “The ad spends for TV advertising are way down, it’s historical lows.” Donald Trump, like him or love him or hate him, whatever your issue is, he hasn’t spent any money on TV commercials. The reason is that people now view commercials as inauthentic and fake and not really believable and it’s a total waste of money to do that because that form of marketing is dead.

It doesn’t exist, it doesn’t produce near the results that it used to. We see that parallel in all types of marketing. We work in franchise recruitment which is helping franchise companies generate leads and recruit franchisees. That’s a big ticket item, it takes a lot of research. It really makes a lot of sense to use storytelling and brand journalism, not just in the written word but on websites and in social media and in PR, and particularly in video. You brought up that point, that’s the cutting edge, we’re in the video cutting edge of brand journalism where we were with the text 5 or 6 years ago. That’s real transformative. That’s fascinating to learn about.

Deb: Your videos have changed, too. You’ve done videos for a while but your video style now is more of a documentary versus a commercial.

That’s exactly right Deb. One of the things in franchising that’s really fascinating is there’s a demographic shift in who buys and researches franchises. It historically has been baby boomers which are a very large demographic group. If you pull baby boomers in FRANdata, a big franchise consulting firm’s release data, they would say that 8% or 9% of baby boomers associate with an entrepreneurial career path, meaning they’re open to owning a business or doing something entrepreneurial. It’s a single digit number which makes a lot of sense. Baby boomers as a group were conditioned to go to college, get a job at a big corporation and retire with their pension.That’s the safe career path.

In the meantime the millennials, which are people 32 and under, they’re a much larger demographic group. It’s frightening how large that group is. They have a very different view coming to the recession of career path, working for a big company is a risky, not safe thing to do at all. As a result, 60% of millennials associate with entrepreneurial careers or are open to doing something entrepreneurial. When you understand that that’s the future in our space, franchise recruitment. As a demographic group they also have very different buying behavior and online patterns in what they do and very different expectations of content in what they do.

From a video standpoint you think of it as the YouTube generation. I’m a guitar player and I want to learn a song, I go to YouTube. I like to cook and I want to make a sauce or learn how to grow something, I go to YouTube. We do a lot of operational videos for company but what we began understanding is there’s a parallel with YouTube’s influence and then this real desire for authenticity and the real deal. The millennials don’t want the over-fluffed watered down, kind of glitzy big chains. If they go to a restaurant they want to go to the cool hole in the wall restaurant in their neighborhood because it’s real and it’s authentic. We see that in franchising. here are lots of small franchise chains that have a very authentic feel to them.

They’re franchise chains, but they’re not like the Taco Bell, KFC, Pizza Hut variety, they’re the other end of the spectrum. They’re very unique, you wouldn’t know they were a franchise chain. When it comes to video you have a surge in interest in documentary style filmmaking, which is a very different form of video. It’s very cinematic, lots of motion, some handheld. High production value in terms of it’s technically difficult to produce because you have to equipment the average person doesn’t have, but it’s also very real and authentic. It’s not over-polished, it’s a real story. It’s the kind of thing you’d see on public television or if you went to South by Southwest, the short movies that documentary filmmakers make. What we’re finding now is when you can create a 4 or 5 minute doc of a brand story or a 4 or 5 minute doc in video format that’s posted on YouTube and embedded on the website or used in emails or in sales lead nurturing campaigns, that gives you insight into somebody’s real personal story. You can spend the day with somebody and see them explain their business and operate their business in a documentary style. It iss an amazing emotional connection for people, we call it a gateway piece of content.

People will decide to investigate based on that because that type of video, because it’s real and authentic, creates curiosity and earns a read of all the other information that follows behind. We see video as … At the recent franchise conference in Atlanta we went to for leadership and development we did a survey of franchise recruiting websites and less that 40% had video. People go to an annual conference, where they have all their franchisees together and they set up a video photographer in the hall and they drag the franchisees out of the session and they stand them against the wall in a logo shirt with a logo behind them.

It’s like you held a gun to their head and say, “Say something nice about training and support.” “Say something nice about your franchise … ” whatever. “Why you like it.” It’s not authentic, it’s the same thing we see in political ads. It’s not believable because it’s not the real deal. That’s been a real challenge so we recruit filmmakers on our staff, we have people, that’s what they do for a living, make documentary movies. Then we apply that franchise marketing but it would work in any industry. It’s fascinating. It’s absolutely fascinating how people respond to that.

Jack: It really seems like there’s this perfect storm that you’re riding the wave ahead of with millennials and videos and how the video really connects with people more than a typical printed piece. But also, these cool franchise concepts that aren’t the typical Taco Bell, McDonald’s and Wendy’s, but something cool that would be appropriate for these young entrepreneurs to get interested in. This is all sort of lining up all at the right time it seems. Tell us a bit about this documentary style that you’re talking about. If someone would like some tips on how to juice up their videos or make them a little bit more accessible to people in this manner, what should they do? Is there a certain length that they should shoot for? Is there a certain level of information packed into the video? What do you recommend?

That’s a great question. It’s similar to building a website. We build recruiting websites that are very deep and rich in content. The pages are very long and people may say that’s so much content who would read that? The answer is the person that can relate to the content. If you are interested in a topic and the content of the video or website or writing relates and helps you answer the question, you have an appetite for a much longer video than you think. I think it’s easier to talk about it in terms of what not to do. What doesn’t work is super high production value, flashy with cheesy music and animations. This doesn’t look real, it’s over lit that’s what people have invested in and that doesn’t work at all. It doesn’t look real.

It’s an abstract of what the real thing is. On the other hand of the spectrum, a shaky handheld video with an iPhone looks cheap, it’s distracting. I think for documentary style, people use two camera setups and things called sliders and gyroscopes for handheld stuff that’s nice and smooth and even so that it’s not distracting. It’s lit well but it has a natural feel to it, like the real world. So if you went and spent a day with that franchisee in this case he would exactly like you saw there. It’s not glossed over. The trick is the story has to take center place. The story always stands out. If the content is interesting, we have a video. Look at our brandjournalists.com, if you look at our portfolio page you’ll see a bunch of examples. There’s a real good story, I Love Juice bars, a really amazing Nashville based juice franchise we do a lot of work with. The founder is this really charismatic guy who was overweight and watched one of those documentary movies about all the junk that you eat and started doing juice cleanses, which is something that franchise does a lot of. He sells a lot of franchises but people watch the video and they associate with him, they understand, they get his personal story. He says, “It was really hard. It’s not for everybody. After day 3 all the cookies and candy started oozing out my pores.”

He didn’t make it sound really positive, it was a Herculean effort on his part. Then he talks about what happened afterwards, it changes his life. It’s this really worthy brand, because that’s the other thing people want. They don’t want to just make money, at least in recruiting for franchisees, they want something worthy to do for a living. They want to enjoy what they do. They want it to be fun. They want to feel good about it. They want to enjoy going to work. Video is a great way to create that emotional connection around the worthiness of something to do, using a story to wrap that up.

Jack: Who is usually in the video? Is it typically the owner of the brand or people from the brand or do you have current franchisees participate? Who do you really like to have as the talent of the video?

It varies. In our projects when we build recruiting websites we’ll create what we call a brand story, a 4 or 5 minute piece that really makes the brand come alive and gives somebody an emotional connection to brand. It will have the CEO and maybe some franchisees and customers and cinematic images and b-roll of different things going on at the brand. That’s really helpful just to give somebody some overall context. That’s usually a home page, your first introduction to what the brand is, trying to create some momentum and activity and a little sense of the culture and what the brand is all about in 4 or 5 minutes.

That’s really helpful, that often will get people oriented to the brand and create curiosity about the value proposition. The next piece that’s really valuable is doing the documentary style videos of, in this case, franchise owners where you spend a whole day and you get to see what their day looks like. You get to see them do their business. We did a really interesting one for Aamco, the transmission franchise. We followed around a 35-year veteran in New Jersey…he’s like right out of a gangster movie. He’s an amazing guy. He starts talking about, he’s like, “You know I worked on cabs, I drove a tow truck and I’ve been a mechanic. I always wanted to be in a position of authority, I wanted to be the boss.” He’s like this amazing, over the top guy, runs a fabulous business, but he’s the boss. If you’re a mechanic, he’s who you want to be when you grow up. A very, very successful business owner he’s totally got control over his domain. They’ve done really well with that. It resonates with their core audience of people who buy an Aamco franchise. It’s been really helpful to understand that you can spend 35 years in business and end up with a really awesome beach house on the Jersey shore. You can raise a whole family, that’s what people want. The video is gritty and real, it’s not polished. It would be worth looking at if you want. We do that kind of thing on a regular basis.

Videos answer common questions. If you want a piece of content, whether it’s a video or text to relate to people, start with what are the questions they have and what are their objections and where are they hitting the wall and create a piece of content that’s in the story based form where somebody explains. We were working with Expedia Cruise Ship Center and one of the big issues with that brand is where do they get their consultants, because you open a retail travel agency and then you hire a bunch of freelance travel agents who work under you, kind of like a real estate office but they sell cruises. Video is a really good way to show people what the team looks like and how it’s managed. You can see who the people are and then in your head you can wrap your head around it as an entrepreneur. That type of video done in a documentary style, with good clean sound and good, solid filmmaking skills, it’s powerful stuff. It’s transformative for a brand. It’s amazing what it will do. People will tell us, “I bought this franchise because I saw that video and I really liked what it said.” They get stuck into reading about the brand, next thing you know they discover they want to buy the franchise. It’s the gateway piece of content.

Jack: The gateway part of it really makes sense because I could see a video attracting the attention and bringing someone in and making some sort of emotional connection with them and then they can do the research and read up on whatever other information that you want to share with them. If you’re sharing that information first they’re not going to make that same kind of connection that they would with a cool video, right?

That’s what a value proposition is. That’s if you’re going to buy a business the value proposition has to relate to you. That’s a real important thing the video does, is it gives you the ability to create that curiosity about what the value proposition is.

Deb: I love the approach. Going back to the I Love Juice guy, it’s a story. His story wasn’t pretty at first, he was a sad person and he needed to lose weight and then got interested in the juices, that’s what I think made it really real. It was very realistic and you can relate to that.

Yeah, if you’ve seen that video and if you went to an I Love Juice franchise today, you would relate to that brand on a very deep emotional level, much deeper than you would if I said, “Grab a slice of success, buy this franchise.” It doesn’t work. People just tune it out.

Jack: If people are interested in making videos like this or at least experimenting with them, should they be hosted on a specific page for that company or are you also putting these same videos out in other social places like YouTube and Facebook?

That’s a great question. We tend to use YouTube as our hosting for videos because we embed quite a bit of video on web pages. YouTube by itself doesn’t help much for business goals, it’s hard to generate leads off of a YouTube page, it’s difficult to optimize…but it’s designed to show videos and not to accomplish your other business goals. You need to put them on your website. I’m a big fan of Facebook for videos, like the Facebook advertising platform for creating and promoting videos to a much broader audience based on likes and demographics is fascinating to me. Take that Juice Bar video on Facebook, it does amazing things. People who like juice will really get into that video. It’s like, “Wow, I love juice and I can make a lot of money. It would be worthy, I could help all these people live healthier a lifestyle.” That’s for the people who buy that franchise, that’s what they’re really looking for. I think that Facebook’s really good, YouTube’s really good. Embedding it on your website is really good. You can’t embed a video in an email but you can take a screenshot of the YouTube video and put that in the email. People click on it and it goes to your website and they can watch the video there. That little trick does amazing things for email conversion rates which we really recommend.

Jack: You’re hitting people everywhere. You’re hitting the people who are already in a database with email, you’re hitting anyone who might be searching for information, you’re hitting them on the website, maybe on YouTube, and then for all other human beings on Earth you’re basically hitting them on Facebook, right?

Yeah, all other humans. You can use it in other places. I think if you think about it as a gateway, it’s a bit like breadcrumbs in the forest for Hansel and Gretel, you need to create interest and then you need to give somebody a clear path to follow, to go deeper in their awareness of the brand, like staging a house or like what a builder does to a model home, it’s designed to keep you there for a long amount of time and create visualizations about what it’s like to live in that house. That’s why people like to buy the model houses. That’s the marketing strategies not just the video itself. It’s equally important that you have good video and you use it correctly. When you connect it to a deeper brand journalism style approach where you have layered content where somebody can spend an hour reading about whatever they’re interested in.

We call it licking paint, people get so excited they want to lick the paint off the wall, because you’re giving people what they want. It’s like if you go to a restaurant and you sit down with your wife or your spouse and you look at the menu and you can’t decide what you want to order, when you ask the waiter what’s good, you want the waiter to tell you a story about what’s amazing. You don’t want them to say, “Everything’s good.” You want them to say, “Wow our margherita pizza is over the top. The guy comes in at 3 in the morning and makes dough by hand and we grow heirloom tomatoes in the back. Man it’s a really good margherita pizza.” It’s positive reinforcement because I already want to make a decision and a story helps me make the right decision, or it makes me feel good about it at least, which is the same thing.

Jack: Very good. This is Social Geek Radio and tonight’s guest is Thomas Scott, the CEO and founder of Brand Journalists. Thomas in a few minutes we have remaining, if people have additional questions about brand journalism or content marketing or even more specifically some tips on these videos, what’s a good way for people to reach out and ask you a few more questions?

Our website is brandjournalists.com; our contact information is there. My email is tscott@brandjournalists.com. Definitely look at our portfolio page. We’re happy to answer questions. I think brand journalism has become mainstream for website creation and content marketing. That was big in 2012, but the video part of it is really fascinating to see where that’s going because I think if you look two years into the future we’re going to be doing everything on smartphones. There’s not going to be laptops, it’s all going to be smartphones. That’s the tool you’re going to have to use to influence people.

Jack: Very good.

Deb: We will see you in San Antonio in a few short weeks at the IFA 2016 convention. Looking forward to it.

We’ll be there. Definitely look us up if you’re going.