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Lessons from Skype: Your Story Is about People (Not Your Technology)

Whether you sell technology or toasters, your marketing should always be about people. In other words, your customers should be at the heart of your content, not your products.

Your product might be as revolutionary as an escalator to the moon, but your story isn’t about that: It’s not about what you do or what you sell, it’s what you do for others. How does your product help people? How does it shoulder their burdens? How does it ease their pain? How does your product live in the world?

That’s a subtle shift. But focusing on how your business connects with people makes a huge difference in your content. It makes the customer—not your product—the hero of your story.

In the business-to-business space, especially, it also gives puts flesh and blood on the dry bones of a “solution.”

That’s why I really like this new video from Skype, which tells the story of a girl named Sarah from Nappanee, Ind., and a girl named Paige from Auckland, New Zealand. The girls share a unique bond: Each was born without a full left arm. They initially corresponded eight years ago over Skype and (in time) became best friends. But they had never met… until… well, watch this, titled Born Friends.

(And unless you are made of stone, you might want to have Kleenex handy. Or, if you’re a softie like me, an extra-absorbent Sham-wow.)

Here’s why it works, and what we might learn from it:

Tell a bigger story. (Just like other favorite content programs. I say this a lot. I know. But it’s that important.)

Skype is, of course, a video and chat technology company, acquired by Microsoft in 2011. But its story isn’t about call quality or global penetration. It’s not about VoIP as an alternative to mono-voice telephone communication, and there’s not a single mention of data packets. Instead, more subtly, it’s about how those things help humans connect with other humans.

… but that story should not be in a vacuum. The video series is not a random act of content, in other words. It’s not just a good story Skype decided to tell because… well, it’s a cool story, bro.

Rather, this story was curated from a bunch of other stories Skype’s been collecting. (More on that in a minute.) The strategy behind it, as articulated by its agency Pereira & O’Dell, is that Skype sought a way to redefine its role in people’s lives and elevate the brand beyond the occasional video call. In its increasingly competitive world dominated by new ways to communicate (texts! tweets! status updates! friends! followers! fans!), Skype wanted to reassert itself as the leader of peer-to-peer connection since the legacy dot-com era.

Notice how I didn’t say “peer-to-peer video calling,” but instead I said “peer-to-peer connection”? Because the idea is bigger than video and chatting: Skype’s strategy is to assert itself as the go-to brand for real human connection in a wired world.

Table for one

Table for one

Face-to-face is ideal. But when that’s not possible… well, When did it become okay to text Mum happy birthday? Skype’s first-ever global brand campaign launched last summer. This latest content program, of course, aligns with those same bigger business themes. (And as a nice touch, each of the highlighted stories also aligns with a relevant charity.)

Tell a true story well. The spot—the fourth in Skype’s family portrait series—does have a slight after-school special feel to it; in other words, Skype was definitely milking the setup to “maximize throat-lumps,” as Adweek’s Tim Nudd wrote. (I love that description.)

But the story is true and 100 percent authentic, which is why it works. These are real girls in a real situation connecting with real emotion. It’s hard not to get invested in their story: Will they meet after these 8 years? When? And what will it be like?

Make it stupid-easy for people to contribute and share. The story of Sarah and Paige was one of many stories submitted this past June and July via a Skype microsite. More than 962 people submitted their real-life stories of how they stay in touch for a chance to win a $10,000 travel voucher and an opportunity to have their portrait produced by mixed-media artist John Clang, who combines Skype video images with digital projection and photography to bring loved ones “together.” Four of those stories thus far has been told by Skype; one won the whole contest.

What I love is how Skype made the submission process stupid-easy: embedding a web form right in the site that accepts both stories and photos. (And still does, even though the contest has ended.) And then, of course, encouraging them to share the stories on Facebook, Twitter, and via email. Sarah and Paige Skype

Let content beget more content. The best content ideas often fuel more content. What’s interesting is that Skype used its program as an opportunity to eek as much content goodness out of the stories as it could: Showing behind-the-scenes of photo shoots, video taping, and real-life meetings on its blog.

Break a few rules (but only if your story is strong enough). As my buddy Tim Washer and I espouse, the number-one rule for video is to Keep It Tight. In other words, respect the audience’s time, and don’t expect them to invest more than 60 to 90 seconds in your online video. (Or in any content, for that matter. Is it ironic or justified that this is a 1,000-word blog post? I’ll have to think about that later.)

But in the case of this particular video, the story of Sarah and Paige was so compelling that I sat through the whole three minutes of it. And I’m encouraged you to do the same. And I hope you did. As you know, an Internet minute is like a dog year… so a 3-minute video is really seven times as long.

(I’m kidding.)

(Kind of.)

The bottom line is this: A strong story wins you a pass!

So the question becomes, for you, me and all our brands: How are we keeping our customers close, at the heart of our content? How are we involving real customers in our bigger story?

Total Annarchy

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22 Responses to Lessons from Skype: Your Story Is about People (Not Your Technology)

  1. Dr, Rae says:

    Brought heartfelt tears… Thank you Ann for sharing this beautiful story! ~Rae

  2. Great story.
    I totally teared up.

    This is the kind of content that hits home and leaves a mark that lasts. So much marketing out there is fleeting – it exists for the nanosecond its being consumed, and then – poof! – it’s gone from our minds and our memories.

    Stories like these, however, carry weight. They make the abstract concrete. These are the stories that stick.

    Love it. Thanks for sharing. :)

    • Ann Handley says:

      Darn it, Jamie… you nailed it: “Stories that stick” would’ve been a better title! :) But yes, to your point: I think that’s the inherent value in telling a bigger story. You align with a value inherently more… well, valuable.

  3. Ann, the way Pereira & O’Dell make this a simple story is what makes it so compelling. There’s a lot going on in terms of multiple, complex back stories to give us context about what Sarah and Paige are up against (and what they clearly overcame). That ability to “keep it tight” is amazing (because I find delivering “simple” really hard). Plus, I see many of Pixar’s 22 Rules of Storytelling weaved into the content. You can’t help but root for Sarah and Paige to make their dream come true. Bravo, Wow — what a moving, memorable, and remarkable piece!

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  7. Robert Anthony Delos Santos says:

    This was an amazing post. This is the type of content marketing that I aspire to achieve. I will do my best to keep the customers “at the heart of the content”.

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  10. Nenad says:

    Ann,

    A good one. It makes sense to me. But let me ask you what some CEOs like to ask me if I mention sth in your lines. “This is so beautiful. But how is this going to sell my products?” (I don’t want to mention their PR personnel question, such as Where is our CEO, he’s not in the story? – oh, no, I just did it :)

    Thank you, Nenad

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  12. DJ Waldow says:

    I love you Ann – for bringing this amazing video to my world … and for telling the bigger story (within the story). Thank you. LOL.

    • Laura Click says:

      Holy smokes, that’s awesome! Such a beautiful story. I got goosebumps when the girls met!

      What makes this so awesome is that Skype is the hero of the story, but it’s not in your face. And, it makes me want to go and Skype my good friends and family I never get to see. And THAT is why it works. Thanks for sharing and thanks for DJ for sending me this way to read it!

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