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Make Your Customer the Hero of Your Story: ‘The Fault in Our Stars’ Video

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The Fault in Our Stars opened this past weekend to become number-one at the box office. Which thrills me – because I’m a fan of the young adult novel the movie is based on and of its author (and video blogger) John Green. But more importantly: It thrills me because good writing deserves to find a wide audience.

But that’s not why I’m writing about it. Instead, I’m writing about it because the movie’s soundtrack video trailer is a great content marketing example of what I talk about all the time: Make your customer the hero of your story.

In this case, the “customer” is (of course) potential ticket buyers and fans, who were made “heroes” when the The Fault in Our Stars (TFIOS) franchise solicited their images to crowdsource the theme song’s music video, Ed Sheeran’s All of Our Stars.

The result was like catnip to Lord Tubbington: The video (with 5.6 millin views) has become the most “liked” movie music trailer in YouTube’s history. (Previously, One Direction: This Is Us held that title.)

If you don’t know The Fault in Our Stars, think Love Story for a new generation. Here’s the Ed Sheeran video:

So what are the broader lessons for brands here?

1. Stars for a day.

One way to highlight your fans is also a kind of “content hack”: Curate, don’t create.

In other words, monitor social feeds for fans creating content about your products or at your place of business. Seek republishing permission and republish in your social feed or site, with attribution. You’re recognizing your customers and making them a star for a day, while also sharing relevant content with your own audience. Here’s how a small business might do it. Win-win, right?

In this case, All of Our Stars producer Atlantic Records collected more than 3,800 pieces of fan photos over three days via #TFIOSencouragements via Instagram. It used a technology called Chute to organize and secure permissions to use the photos, which were displayed in an online gallery where fans could view, share and vote on their favorites.

One of the challenges in making your customer the hero – especially for bigger brands — is, of course, uncovering those “stories” or submissions on social networking sites – and then managing the process (securing permissions, for example) and measuring success. That’s where Chute comes in, because it helps brands to collect, manage and display user-generated images sourced on social media platforms, as well as analyze metrics.

Other companies — including Olapic — do this, too. (Here’s an example of Olapic technology embedded on Lancome’s site.)

2. Make it stupid-easy for your fans to contribute.

If your goal is to create a lot of activity and broadest awareness, make your user-generated content programs stupid-easy to participate in. Hashtagging an Instagram photo is easy; requiring fans to create a video and upload it to YouTube or write a blog post wouldn’t have been nearly as effective.

Yet often brands put too heavy a mantle on the content they solicit; they set the bar too high. (Am I mixing metaphors? Yes, I am.)

Of course, some user-generated content programs intentionally set the bar high, as Airbnb did with its Hollywood and Vines film. But the broader lesson is to be sure your goal matches your UGC requirements.

3. Create a culture of contribution.

Wait. Maybe your “product” is not nearly as sexy as a book and movie that already has legions of teenage fans. Maybe its author isn’t a social media-savvy video blogger whose channel has two million subscribers. Maybe its source material wasn’t a bestseller that Time magazine named the top fiction book of 2012.

But the root of user-generated content programs isn’t an existing platform; it’s an ongoing commitment to a culture of contribution – not a one and done campaign. (Incidentally, that’s also the root of a successful content marketing program, period.) Find a way to consistently grow and tap into your community.

John Green

John Green

Success like this takes creating a culture of contribution, says Gregarious Narain, Chute’s CTO and co-founder. Gregarious says his company works with many other large brands and publishers (including Benefit cosmetics and Carnival Cruise Lines) to solicit and manage user-generated content.

“The community surrounding The Fault in Our Stars is a great example, but it can be achieved by any brand, across any industry,” Gregarious told me. “All it takes is consistent engagement and collaboration. Your fans want to hear from you, talk to you and be recognized by you. They are no longer happy just consuming the one-way stream of content brands historically produced.”

It’s a thrill when brands engage directly with us on social channels, isn’t it? I’m not sure why it’s a kick, exactly. But it is.

4. Embrace visual.

This one is a little bit obvious for many content creators, I know – and maybe it’s a little bit like telling bloggers a decade ago to “embrace words.” I might have a book coming out this fall that’s all about creating ridiculously good marketing writing (Everybody Writes will be published in September), but that doesn’t mean I don’t believe in the power of visual. As my friend Doug Kessler says, “If you can tell a story using an image, you probably should.”

5. Recast social media as a platform for story, not just sharing.

The smartest companies are wisely using social media platforms as a place to create and share bigger stories, not just shill their stuff. In doing so, they often connect online to offline. DiGiorno Pizza does on Twitter. Also:

  • Comodo, a Latin American restaurant in NYC, crowdsources utility in an “Instagram menu” to help customers decide what to order.
  • The Toronto Silent Film Festival, an annual celebration of silent film history and art, uses Instagram in a surprising and genius way, replicating the silent film experience for a new age of film buffs.
  • One of Oscar De La Renta’s Pinterest boards has, since 2012, shown the behind-the-scenes at its annual bridal show.

Here, Atlantic Records crowdsources stories from Instagram, effectively culling and mashing up those smaller stories to create a larger brand story. (It’s content begetting more content.)

6. “Don’t Forget To Be Awesome.”

If you’ve heard me speak in the past year or so, you might’ve heard me say this in relation to content marketing. It’s the catchphrase of TFIOS author John Green (and his brother Hank), so I’m compelled to include it here.

“Awesome” is one of those words that pop culture has made sterile and neutered. It’s a word “Americans use to describe everything,” says Urban Dictionary.

But you know what? “Awesome” is the tremendous opportunity we all have before us – to change the air in the way we interact with our audiences: In writing, in images, in the experiences we create through our content, period.

The title, The Fault in Our Stars, comes from a line in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, where Caesar says,

“The fault, dear Brutus is not in our stars,
But in ourselves, that we are underlings.”

In other words, it’s not fate that often dooms us; it’s ourselves.

So the choice between awful and awesome? It’s entirely yours.

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14 Responses to Make Your Customer the Hero of Your Story: ‘The Fault in Our Stars’ Video

  1. Heidi Cohen says:

    Ann–

    As usual you’ve hit the nail on the head!

    More broadly, your customers, influencers and fans are the heroes of your marketing. Without them, your marketing has no heart or emotion. It’s no longer person to person. It’s empty words.

    Happy marketing,
    Heidi Cohen

    • Ann Handley says:

      So true, Heidi. This is really the opportunity of the newest iteration of content marketing, to me: It almost *requires* a shift from corporate-centric messaging to customer-centric content.

  2. Chris Marr says:

    Hi Ann,

    A great article about how we can learn to place our customers at the heart of our story.

    I’m really getting a great feeling about the direction of marketing.

    Thanks Ann.

    Chris.

    • Ann Handley says:

      Thanks, Chris. I like this example because it literally brings the “customer” into marketing (also I’m a fan of John Green’s and a crazy fan of good writing!) But I think the lessons apply more broadly, too.

  3. Great post, Ann!

    I was an adolescent right when John Green really began to gain a huge following, (I was a sucker for Looking for Alaska and An Abundance of Katherines) so I really appreciated this post and the references. I also love the concept of good content curation. Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s HitRECORD series is entirely centered on user contribution, and it’s shaping up to be pretty successful. Thanks for sharing, it’s exciting to think about all of the possibilities for creative content.

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  5. I like the focus on creating something WITH your fans. It is easier when you create together, and people like to buy when they are a part of creating something bigger with you. Thanks for your post!

  6. Mary-Frances Makichen says:

    Hi Ann,
    I’m wondering what your take is on this when it comes to B2B marketing. Especially when clients often wish to stay anonymous.

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  8. Mervyn Smith says:

    Hi Ann,

    I recently went for this movie and its amazing how you related this to marketing by making our customers the hero of our story. I was actually glued to the article and went word by word.

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