Ryan Jenkins, internationally recognized speaker and consultant who helps organizations better lead, engage, and market to Millennials and Generation Z, recently interviewed Tribe CEO Vern Oakley on the Next Generation Catalyst Podcast. The topic was how business leaders can use inspiring brand videos, among other types of corporate video, to connect with Millennials and Generation Z, and all generations for that matter.
Some of the topics covered:
- Why is video so important today?
- Why is video important to Millennials?
- Why is being on camera now part of the job in today’s digital society?
- How have you seen video impact company culture?
- How have you seen video impact the bottom line of a company?
- How can leaders use corporate video content more at work?
Opener: Welcome to the Next Generation Catalyst podcast, where it’s all about helping leaders thrive tomorrow with talk about today’s tools, trends, and talent. Now your host, Ryan Jenkins.
Ryan Jenkins: Thanks for tuning in. I’m your host, Generation’s keynote speaker, author, and in columnist, Ryan Jenkins. On this podcast we talk with innovative leaders about how to manage, engage, and develop Millennials and Generation Z. We also talk about emerging workplace trends and how to prepare for the future of work. We’ll get today’s content in a second, but first if you’d like to grab a copy of get a free sample chapter of my latest book, The Millennial Manual, The Complete How-To Guide to Managing, Engage, and Develop Millennials at Work, you can visit TheMillennialManualBook.com. Again that is TheMillennialManualBook.com. The book includes 47 how-to strategies for solving nearly all of the challenges managers face when leading Millennials. If you’d like to have me keynote your next event or speak to your organization about strategies to lead, engage, and sell to the emerging generations or across generations, then email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org. Lastly, please consider rating the podcast on iTunes by going to Ryan-jenkins.com/itunes. Thanks for listening and enjoy the episode.
Welcome back to another episode of the Next Generation Catalyst podcast. I’m your host Ryan Jenkins, and today we have the pleasure of having Vern Oakley on the show. Vern, how are you today?
Vern Oakley: I’m great, glad to be here.
RJ: Excellent, we are thrilled to have you here. Now the topic of today’s episode is why video is key for leaders to connect with any generation. Before we get into the meat of the content let’s take a couple steps back and Vern, tell us about yourself and the important work that you do.
VO: Sure, my company Tribe Pictures has been around for 30 years. We got started when it was film, and went to video, went to digital, went to online, and throughout that entire time our premise has been that people want a human connection, and that human connection actually can be well served by using film to connect to disparate audiences that are particularly around the world, or around the country, or outside your building. If you present authentic and true information people can start to follow you and you can be the leader of a tribe.
RJ: Now how did you specifically get interested in video so much so that you wrote the book about it?
VO: I actually started in theater, which I loved, and I was directing plays off Broadway. I was also editing TV commercials and corporate films, and doing both of those sort of simultaneously. I had a couple of mentors, one was a gentleman who was a Broadway play producer named George George. He was the son of Rube Goldberg of those crazy drawings fame, and the other was a gentleman named Arthur Penn who was a movie director, who led the Playwrights and Directors unit at the Actors Studio where I got to study with him for a number of years.
I think what inspired me to sort of write the book is Arthur passed away a few years ago and I was reading his obituary, and one of the things that I didn’t know about his background other than directing Bonnie and Clyde and The Miracle Worker, things like that, is that he had actually be hired to catch John F. Kennedy in the Nixon Kennedy debates. A lot of people don’t realize that’s sort of the beginning of the modern leader being on camera because the people that watch the debates on camera saw a poised, articulate, confident Kennedy, and sort of a sweaty, unsure Nixon. A lot of people credit those debates with actually having him won the election. I realized that information had been handed down to me verbally, and that the kind of things that I’d been doing with leaders over the last 30 years had never been documented and put in a book.
I felt that if we’re going to move this country in a positive way, if we’re going to move this world in a positive way, that leaders not only need to be authentic, real, truthful in person, but they also need to be able to achieve that on camera because that’s the way most members of these new generations, Generation Z, and the Baby Boomers, as well as Generation X and Y need to connect with these folks.
RJ: Boy, now more than ever video is just everywhere we look it’s video and I think you probably know this step better than I do, but I think it was Cisco that predicts that over 80% of the consumer internet traffic will be video by 2020. Am I fair in saying that?
VO: Yes, you’re fair in saying that and I think the statistic’s just a tad misleading because video requires a lot more bandwidth, but I think if we look at our own personal behaviors would we rather watch a video or read an employee manual? Would we rather watch a video or go online and look at all the things that human resources is trying to do for the company? I think the video will win 99 times out of 100 almost.
RJ: Yes I would agree. I think if everyone hacks their own behavior would you rather consume the content in written format or would you want it delivered to you in a very dynamic video format? Like you said, 9 times out of 10 I think people would choose that video. If for no other reason then there’s at least an audio component where I can play it and then maybe multi-task while I consume the audio version of it, maybe that’s just me being Millennial, multi-tasking Millennial I am, but I think that makes it powerful as well.
VO: That’s an interesting, that when you start to just drill down into YouTube, which is the second most popular search engine on the planet, 60% of the videos there are how to videos. How to change your flat tire, how to fix your sink, how to buy a generator after there’s been a flood like in Houston, but the other 40% are really broad mix of things. What we talk about in my business is that if you can make a video that has an emotional connection it really cements the relationship between the person who’s commissioned the message and the viewers who are watching it.
RJ: Yes absolutely, so you eluded a little bit to the generations, so I’m curious how does video impact or what are some of the video preferences, let’s just take the Millennials for example, are they different across generations or how does each generation approach video?
VO: I think it has to do with the speed of the uptake. If you look at the Millennials, they grew up with cell phones and the iPhone was only invented 10 years ago, and then you look at sort of the behaviors that happened over those 10 years. It’s only been in the last three, four years that video is something you could watch on the iPhone. I’m flying back from Chicago having seen my wife’s family and they want you to connect with your own screen device to watch it off the wi-fi, as opposed to the old days you’d have the screen on the back of the seats. The whole viewing habits are changing and it’s this ability to push video down broadband at an acceptable rate so people can actually watch it. Five years ago you couldn’t watch it on your phone at an acceptable rate.
That’s really just changed the way the behaviors are, and it’s only going to get better, and better, and better. I think if you look at the boomers, as an example, they grew up going to movies and watching television and the boomers, wasn’t that long ago that there were only three or four networks. Now what do we have, 500, I think my cable station has 1,000. The viewing habits were started back with movie theaters and back with television, and now the consumption of media has just changed in terms of the screen. I think it has to do with the way we pull this stuff into our lives and that the older boomers, in my observation, are a little bit more tech reticent because how do I get on the wi-fi, how do I do this particular thing? I feel that there’s a fearlessness in tech and technology for the Millennials. My kids are both Millennials and you can just see them, “Hey give me that device.” They start hacking around and they’re not afraid it’s going to blow up on them or you’re going to erase all your pictures or whatever.
RJ: It is so intuitive and it’s just so fascinating kind of how that’s happened. It does seem just much more natural to them and I’m an older Millennial, but for me still I mean YouTube is often my first, it’s not the second search engine for me, it’s often the first and if I’m trying to learn how to use LinkedIn as a networking or prospecting tool I’m going to LinkedIn and looking for tutorials. The other behavior I’ve been aware of just for me personally over the last few months, is now for every YouTube video that I’ll watch I’ll hit the little gear icon in the bottom right and I will 1.5X the speed of the video just so I can consume it that much faster. It’s almost hard for me to listen to a video that’s actually at a normal pace now, which I think is fascinating.
VO: That’s a great hack, very cool because we can process audio quicker than it actually comes out of the speakers.
RJ: You touched on the power of video with human connection, creating emotional connection, give us some other reasons or maybe go even a little bit deeper as to why specifically being on camera now is part of the job in today’s digital society.
VO: There’s been some amazing brain research has come out in the last five years and people are understanding that we actually … The way I like to say it is that information leads to understand but emotions lead to action. The majority of our brain processing power is really in this emotional area, some people estimate it to be 98%. Film is the best way to sort of penetrate and go into the subconscious. If you are a company that is working with an accomplished filmmaker or who understands how to tell stories in an emotional way, not just give you information, which unfortunately a lot of people are using this tool for, you can connect with your audiences and build your tribes. What people, I believe, want out of their life is they’re seeking some sort of meaning. Why am I on this planet? The big why, and one of the things that’s so exciting in the last few years is that many of the larger companies are trying to figure out their purpose, their why. What are we doing and why should people work for us?
When a company figures out their why it’s a great differentiator in terms of getting the right people in the door to work for their company. Video is the best thing at telling that story and really connecting you to it and building your tribe in a way that they’re going to be loyal, they’re going to be helpful, they’re going to be thinking of the greater good. Emotional storytelling and video is the strongest way to connect with all the generations I believe.
RJ: As humans we’re visual beings. If I was to say the word orange water bottle I think the image comes up in the listeners brain, not the words orange water bottle, it’s this image. I think just we naturally gravitate towards images, and like you said, video’s becoming more and more accessible and so I think it’s natural that we’re craving it more and thus we should be delivering it wherever we can as well. Certainly for my behavior, if I’m looking to consider working with someone or considering certain services, I’m looking for videos on the home page. I want them very accessible and I want it, in your words as well, to tell a compelling story as to why I should take a next step to do business with X, Y, or Z company, so good points.
VO: I think that’s a really important thing, when you think about you’re looking at these videos and what some people that are commissioning these don’t realize is it’s your brand, it’s the way people are experiencing your company in that moment and on those screens. If you were to say I think I’m going to do business with this company or I’m going to apply for a job with this company, or I’m going to contribute to this kick starter campaign, and they have a lousy video I bet you you’re not going to give money or apply for the job or do business with those folks. It’s sort of binary, like oh God that’s so cheesy, or that’s not the kind of company I want to be involved with, or hey I’m not supporting that person.
RJ: Yes, and I think there’s a natural inclination too to I want to see the leaders of that organization, I want to see the people that make up that organization, and I want to see the workspace or whatever it might be, or I want to actually see someone using the product. All really compelling things that can be really hammered home via video. I’m trying to put myself in the shoes of the listeners here and I get a sense that part of them are like yes we get it, video is important, I use video in my personal life, I might be Facetiming with my grandkids, or I might be watching more and more videos on my Facebook feed or on LinkedIn feed. Let’s take the conversation a little bit further and how might an individual, say they’re a manager, senior manager, or a leader inside an organization, how can they start using video to impact company culture? How can we use it more from the corporate setting to, in your words, build our tribe inside our organizations?
VO: You can use it in the same way that you just talked about in terms of your Facebook feed or Skyping or any of these kinds of things. You’re talking to your college roommate and you’re doing a Skype call or a Facetime, you get feeling much more connected to them seeing their face and talking to them, and hopefully they’re real, they’re authentic, they’re not putting on a mask, and that what happens in corporate America is because of the way video gets done, is it frequently is these senior executives and the CEOs have a mask put on them that you’re kind of going, “Well who is that person? That’s not the person I’m experiencing. I’m used to being talking to my grandparents on Facetime, I’m used to talking to my fraternity buddies on Skype. That feels very real, but something doesn’t feel right to be because the way the leader is presenting themself seems very artificial.”
We need to break down that artificial barrier, the mask that keeps people from really connecting with them and there’s a whole series of things that are important in terms of that both on camera and off camera.
RJ: I’d be curious Vern, in your line of work and working with folks closely on video, how have you seen it specifically impact company culture?
VO: Well we do a lot of work in the merger and acquisition space, and it’s a scary time because another company is assuming the company that you’ve been working with for five or 10 years, and what is this new company going to be like? The first thing you want to know is sort of what you were saying, is who are the leaders? What’s the vision? Hopefully the company’s really thought about their purpose and their why because that’s going to keep me motivated, and excited, and attracted to being there. We’ve seen it working for one of our clients, Colgate Palmolive, is that they do a series of videos every year that feature their very best employees doing extraordinary either good deeds, or saving the company money, or improving the safety record.
By highlighting and telling the stories of these special individuals, the senior management and the CEO are holding those people up and saying, “This is the kind of behavior that we, at Colgate, believe.” It’s talking about their values, it’s talking about their vision, it’s talking about their mission in a way, and that kind of moves through the company in a way that people go, “Oh, that’s what this company values. That’s why I need to do something different or better.” Those kinds of things create very strong cultures.
RJ: Yes I can see that being compelling. Is there a certain way that’s better to capture video? Take Colgate for example, is there just someone down there using an iPhone to record the video, or did they perhaps hire a team of videographers, or is there any kind of hard and fast rules on how we should approach that?
VO: All kinds of companies have ways of telling their stories, so you want to tell it in the brand voice of your company. I’ll give you an example, we did a lot of work in Silicon Valley back in the early 2000s, and there was a very aggressive power rock kind of vibe that was going on back then and that felt very true to them. We’ve done work in the energy industry and the particular clients we’ve worked in that industry have a much more humble attitude, much more we’re doing this together. You want to capture things in the brand voice that is specific to the companies you’re working for.
I think what people really, really want is they want to see something they feel is truthful. In that a lot of storytellers polish it up and make it look too perfect and there’s no way to sort of penetrate the story. The other thing that many of our clients do is they actually send us around the world to actually see what these people in South Africa are doing, or what the Colgate rep in Tibet is doing. You kind of go, “Oh my goodness, look at that. Look what they’re doing there, that’s phenomenal. I didn’t know that they had grocery stores selling toothpaste in Tibet.” You kind of go, “That’s pretty cool.” Film has always been able to take people to places that they can’t go, whether it’s the top of Mount Everest or the bottom of the ocean, and using that power of film is so important in good storytelling, particularly in corporate America.
RJ: I imagine you’ve got to know your audience. If it’s a video, again in Colgate’s case, that was just a video that was going to be circulated internally so it’s not like they had to go to extra lengths to really polish it and make it really shine or moviesque. Move of a DIY factor to it probably connected better with employees, but certainly if it’s going to be more external facing then maybe spend a little bit more time tweaking and making sure that video is done properly. That’d probably be a good rule of thumb wouldn’t you say?
VO: I think that that’s a general rule of thumb. I want to give it a little bit of an English spin on that.
RJ: Please yes.
VO: One of the great business leaders of the last 50 years, a gentleman Peter Drucker, had a saying, “Culture each strategy for breakfast.” What he meant is you could have the best strategy in the world, but if you don’t have a culture of people that will actually embrace it and deliver on it you don’t have anything. When you think about culture and a lot of the current crop of CEOs are doing this, Uber’s dealing with this issue right now, Salesforce with Marc Benioff certainly understands this, is that you want to spend the kind of money and professionalism on your internal work as well as your external work. Because if your people are seeing sort of poorly produced, not well thought out videos internally, what are they going to think? Then they see you bought some time on the Super Bowl and did an incredible commercial, there’s a disconnect. It isn’t about whether you’re doing it as user generated content on your iPhone, that could work on a Super Bowl commercial or internally.
The way we like to say this is is good good enough? Is it good enough that your CEO is shot on an iPhone with somebody who doesn’t know how to direct him? Well maybe it’s okay for retirement party tape, or maybe it’s okay for sorry I can’t be there at the next meeting, but maybe it’s not good enough when you’re doing a $25 billion merger and you’re talking to 14,000 new employees. This is the question that most people don’t ask which is so crucial, when is good good enough?
RJ: Good point, and as you were saying that I’ve been on the receiving end or have seen videos of leaders inside of organizations that are communicating with their teams via a video. It might be a weekly vlog or monthly vlog where they’re giving updates and some of them are so painful to watch, especially as a Millennial that grew up watching videos and vloggers, and watching teenagers that have incredible lighting and millions of views. I would say in some regards Millennials expectations for video are pretty elevated. It was painful watching some of these leaders very stoic and you could tell obviously there was a cue card behind the camera that they’re reading, they’re far back, the lighting might be bad, there’s no mic. You bring up some good points, so let’s take it one step further. Outside of buying your book, Leadership in Focus, Bringing Out Your Best on Camera, what can folks do, what can leaders do to get better at communicating via video?
VO: Here’s a couple of quick tips. The perception of a lot of leaders about video is, “Oh damn, somebody scheduled me to do a video. I got to walk down the hallway and be there at 2:00.” Whoa, whoa, whoa, shake the Etch a Sketch here for a second. You’re not doing a video, you’re creating your persona and your messages on a piece of digital media that’s going to connect with hundreds, thousands, millions of people, that’s the opportunity. It’s not the video at 2:00 that I have to film. You need to change the mindset, that’s crucial.
Now when you change the mindset then you’re going to think, “Well maybe I ought to prep for that. Maybe I ought to know what I’m talking about. Maybe I ought to get some lessons. Maybe this is a skill that I don’t have.” I can tell you consistently, having worked with hundreds of CEOs in the last 30 years, that there are a lot of type A personalities in that crowd. They think they can do everything well right out of the gate and that’s probably true, but not always. The false equivalency is hey, I Skyped with my kids so I know how to be on video. That’s not quite the same thing as making a cogent argument with succinct messages that are two to three minutes that are going to be impactful, that’s very different than a 30 minute speech or a 60 minute speech, that’s very different than a two-hour presentation over PowerPoint. Understanding that this a skill in and of itself that is a little bit different. Yes it’s a sport but there’s a difference between ice hockey and basketball.
The other part of it is that I know I don’t think I’m the best person on camera, I’m not holding myself up as the person, and I think part of the reason I wrote the book is I was struggling with this, I was kind of shy, I was a little bit of introvert. I’m working through my own things and trying to own my own inner person and carry that through on camera. Some basics people frequently forget to breathe when they’re there because they get nervous. I like to say, “Fear is just excitement without the breath.” Then if you look at people that are on camera who are professions, who are trained, who spent years of training, one of the tips I like to say is, “Make sure you watch the blooper reels at the end of any feature or TV show.” Then you can see how professionals deal with mistakes, they laugh at them.
It’s so rare to see any of the leaders that I’ve ever dealt with ever laugh at their mistakes. They are so hard driven, so A personality, that they make a mistake the first thing out of their mouth is, “I’ll get it right next time.” I’m going, “Well Meryl Streep never says that after 17 takes.”
RJ: It’s so true you just got to laugh about it. I think it’s classic to see videos, I was just watching a video yesterday, it was a university that was filming different scenes around campus and the opening shot was always the person in mid-walk, frozen, and then you could tell they nod their head and then they begin walking. You could tell it doesn’t feel authentic, or you see the leaders that are, “Is it on? Oh it’s on?” Then they start. It’s like well that’s not the best way to start your video.
It does take practice and I think those are some good tips that you gave out. Anything else you’d add before we move on?
VO: I guess the thing is I think the enlightened leaders that we all want to follow understand the need for authenticity and for truth, and for clear communication. Translating that into being on video is a secondary skill, it’s not the primary skill. The primary skill is what I was talking about. Just being on video is a subset of that, which has it’s own particular issues and niches and things. I would say that one of the best things that somebody who was doing that can have with them is somebody in their corner, somebody who is actually directing them, or advising them, or talking with them, and being honest with them, not criticizing them, but being a good listening post and absorbing what they’re saying so that they have some objectivity about what they may need to improve.
RJ: Let’s switch gears just slightly as our conversations concluding here. I want to touch a little bit on augmented reality and virtual reality. I know you’re doing some work in that space, so what can we expect video to look like and how we might be able to see AR and VR start infiltrating more of our personal and work lives?
VO: Virtual reality is just at the beginning in it’s infancy in terms of where it’s going to go. I mean there was a great article just last week about doctors using it to separate two conjoined Siamese twins. There is work that’s going on right now with people that are paraplegic in terms of taking them on journeys, climbing a mountain, or diving underwater that’s just incredible. Companies are also using it to tell their story. We just finished some recruiting films for the German chemical company BASF, and we were able to take the potential employees into the gas plants down in Texas, into the labs over in Tarrytown, into the chemical plants and paint manufacturings in Detroit. You really can take people in places that are there.
The issue really is that you have to wear the glasses or the headset to get the full experience, and I’m sure over time those will become less cumbersome. Augmented reality is just another variation and kind of a trickery that’s really fun in that ultimately what every communicator is looking for is attention and it’s the rarest of commodities. We’re at the beginning of these things and as storytellers come in and learn to use them well they’re going to captivate our attention. The ones that do it well, and then your messages will be heard more than the other people who don’t know how to use the medium.
RJ: I’ve experienced lightly with AR and VR. Folks I’ve spoken to that have seen the cream of the crop as it relates to VR. Some of them have serious concerns about a virtual world being so immersive that it trumps reality, it’s going to become conflicting as humans, again because we’re drawn towards video and video is so engaging, and as you said our attention is drawn there. Do you share that danger of those environments and those virtual worlds becoming more enticing than the real world? I’m just curious.
VO: It’s possible. There was a story about the astronauts coming back to earth after they had sort of seen this magnificent jewel of a planet from hundreds of thousands of miles away, and that when they came back one of them, I think it was Buzz Aldrin said, “Now I have to find heaven in a flower in my backyard.” There’s this quality that yes we can have these extraordinary experiences and peak experiences, and they may occur in virtual reality, but as humans trying to find our own meaning and our own center and our own spiritual connections, that trumps this other world I believe.
RJ: Yes I guess time will tell. I’m certainly excited to see what’s next for AR and VR. Thanks for giving us some insights there. Our time is up, so before we go though Vern, how can listeners connect with you and or learn about your book and the work that you do?
VO: Sure, our company is Tribe Pictures, TribePictures.com. We also have a website that’s dedicated to the book VernOakley.com, and it’s available on Amazon and bookstores near you. Please, if your listeners want to reach out and connect with me my email’s right on our website.
RJ: Well very good Very. Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you for parting with your time, energy, and your insights. We are all certainly better for it so thank you.
VO: Thank you.