March 21

Video Storytelling: A Strategy for Building Your Brand’s Content Engine


by | Mar 21, 2024 | Featured, Strategies, Podcast

Video storytelling is one of those keys to success in higher ed marketing that everyone agrees on, but we all struggle to execute well.

Many higher ed marketers recognize its importance, but few of us grasp its true nature and potential for resonating deeply with our target audiences.

Beyond that, there are the logistical and budgetary challenges of getting your content engine humming along. 

Creating consistent, ongoing pieces for video storytelling is costly, and it can be difficult to plan out all the moving parts.

For these reasons, many higher ed marketers find themselves scrambling to find where their next piece of video storytelling content will come from.

John Azoni come on to the Higher Ed Marketer podcast to show us how video storytelling can powerfully move your education brand forward. That’s why we spoke with John Azoni, Owner and Executive Producer at, on The Higher Ed Marketer podcast.

John is big on getting on the ground with students and finding stories to build a content repertoire.

In this conversation, John gives us some actionable advice on how higher ed marketers can use what’s already in front of them to create and maintain their “content engine.” 

Video Storytelling Comes to the Brand “Through the Back Door”

Early in our conversation, John explained his overall philosophy on video storytelling. 

For him, video storytelling is a powerful way to show the education brand’s value to the prospective student without directly saying what the value is. 

In a radical “show don’t tell” kind of way, video content should visually demonstrate the brand’s values and/or promise (or rather, state the unique selling proposition). 

This is what John Azoni calls “arriving at the brand through the backdoor.”

[Good content marketing] boils down to creating emotionally resonant content. We know that emotions are the major driver of decisions for prospective students, and we want to create content that hits those emotions. 

A lot of people know that, but they don’t really understand what it means to create emotionally resonant content. 

It’s not just pitching your school’s features and benefits over an inspiring soundtrack. I mean, I see a lot of that [where the] video is a poetic voiceover, or an emotive soundtrack, [with] some poetic scripts and a lot of information about the school. 

When we watch any show that we binge, we’re not coming back to that because it’s like an infomercial [with] a lot of great information that we’re learning. 

[We come back to watch because of] the story, the characters, the journey of the characters, and the way that we relate to the characters and find ourselves in their shoes. 

This concept of “arriving at the brand through the backdoor” is just that. It’s a technique of storytelling that’s really just talking about something else.

John gives the example of how many schools can say that their faculty is world-class. But instead of saying it, why not tell the story of a faculty member’s accomplishments in a video?

By telling the story of how a faculty member invented something, changed an industry, or contributed to the overall wellbeing of society, you’re showing rather than telling that your faculty is world-class.

Talk about something else that’s not the brand, that’s not the product. 

Take viewers on a journey through trial, through hurdles, and [challenges] like that to eventually arrive, or illustrate a point that arrives, at the brand and the value of the brand.

People make decisions by emotion, and then they justify it by facts.

So taking prospective students and their families on an emotive journey through video storytelling brings them closer to making a decision in favor of your educational brand.

Creating Video Storytelling Content in Higher Ed Marketing

Many of us higher ed marketers feel like we’re telling stories because we have videos with a lot of (smart!) talking heads.

Unfortunately, this doesn’t translate into the kind of storytelling content that grabs heartstrings and wins the brand loyalty you need. 

Great video storytelling is about telling a compelling story that shows how incredible your school is without explicitly saying it.

Just because you sit on the marketing team for your college, that doesn’t qualify you as a storyteller necessarily. And just because you created a video and put it to a nice soundtrack does not mean you necessarily told a story. 

[Video storytelling] is about taking [another story] and bringing it around to the brand. 

John gave us a brilliant example of this from Western Sydney University. 

There’s a good video that came out from Western Sydney University. It’s kind of a storyboarded film, and it’s very short, about a minute long.

It’s [about] this guy who grew up in Uganda. He was kidnapped by this rebel army, forced to become a child soldier, and he was eventually rescued by the United Nations, landed in Sydney, Australia.

It ended up that Western Sydney University [accepted] him. He taught himself English, taught himself how to read, lived out of his car, all this stuff. He ended up studying law, and he became this well-known defense lawyer. Now he works on global injustice [cases], kind of like what he faced. 

[Perhaps] your small liberal arts school isn’t going to have a story that dramatic, but it’s the point of saying, “How can we say we have a great law program without just saying we have a great law program?” 

Or, “How can we say we’re making an impact without just saying our school is making an impact?” 

It’s the idea of showing versus telling.

Strategies for Putting Stories into Action 

1. Go on an internal roadshow.

The process of storytelling involves listening. Sometimes storytelling is just listening to people. It’s not telling the story, it’s listening to their stories, because when you learn of stories within your midst, the execution of those becomes so much easier because you’re going to be compelled to want to tell those stories.

Some ways that I advise schools to start listening for stories is getting out of the marketing office. Lauren Keane, she’s in communications at Southern New Hampshire University, I think she said it best. 

She said, “It’s about going on an internal roadshow.” 

You get out of the office. You talk to professors and stakeholders and people that are on the ground with students because they’re the ones that are really [living life with the students].

It’s getting out of the office and talking to stakeholders.

2. Do market research.

The other thing is using market research as an opportunity to collect stories. 

Go beyond the quantitative survey and have more qualitative discussions with students to find out what they think of your school. Use that as a market research opportunity.

In that process, find out where they come from and what their story is and what they feel about that. [Market research] is a great opportunity to find stories. 

3. Seek out the stories among your alumni and faculty.

We have to remember as marketers that alumni especially relate to our schools through their professors, who tend to become their mentors.

For that reason, a lot of those stories that you need end up getting buried in the emails of the professors.

If you create a story capture system, you can start logging those stories—with the help of your professors!—and placing them in some kind of shared storage, like Google Drive or something more fancy. 

You need some kind of process in place to have a way to start gathering these stories.

Then, when you’re ready, you can then craft them into marketing content pieces. 

4. Craft the video with a strong call to action.

The ways that you craft a video really depends on the context that you’re going to [publish it] in. 

If it’s a Facebook ad, it’s going to be very different than showing a video at a conference or a capital campaign event where people have nothing else to do except for watch this video.

It could be you have the main story and then there’s a call to action, a strong call to action from there.

Then, you have breakout videos from there that are just pieces of [the larger video]. [These are] little teasers …that are going on TikTok or Reels, or LinkedIn, and they’re pointing to the main video.

There are so many ways that you can craft that strategy, but the point really is [that] the content that we put out into the Internet is just like a mist in the wind. 

[Once you publish it] it’s gone in a couple of minutes. So you really want to make sure to have a strong call to action. 

Wherever you’re [publishing your content], you really need to have a next step. 

One thing I see schools don’t do a lot of is they don’t give people the next step to take in order to get the information that they would want from hearing that story. 

5. Leverage your content engine.

John brought up an intriguing concept that I think is so important. 

In order to produce consistent results, John recommends creating and leveraging your content engine. 

Basically, that means creating a long-form content channel and then breaking it up into smaller content pieces that allow you to squeeze out all of the potential traffic from the content that you can.

When I do my podcast, I get five to ten snippets out of each one [which gives me] so much more reach out of one long episode. 

We can take that approach to video storytelling. 

You can get so much more life out of something if you just do the [long-form content piece] and then break it up into shorter topical videos and schedule those out. 

That’s been the lifeblood of how I market my business. As soon as I started doing that, as soon as [I created] a content engine (which for me is the podcast), it just made everything so easy!

[With my content engine] I’m not thinking every day about what to post. I’m already going to do the long form thing and then I’m just going to break it up. Schools can do that, too.

Discover more when you listen to the podcast!

There are so many more practical insights into leveraging your content engine, but as you can see, this blog post is already getting pretty long!

Be sure to listen to the full interview with John Azoni to get even more insights into:

  • Kicking off a content strategy for your brand (6:42)
  • Why you need to listen to your audience (13:28)
  • How to utilize your evergreen content (18:48)

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