There's a new story at your business every day. Maybe you dreamed up a great idea or shot down a bad one. Maybe a customer surprised you with the way he or she uses your product. Perhaps a client or an employee came to you with a suggestion for something you'd never thought of before.
There are hidden opportunities in these everyday moments. They make great stories—and in today's business world, you're missing an opportunity if you ignore a good story. That's because great brands are the ones that tell the best stories. Sure, good products and service matter, but stories are what connect people with companies.
At 37signals, the Chicago software company I co-founded, we've always been big believers in storytelling. On our blog, Signal vs. Noise, you'll find explanations of our design philosophies, details of our business decisions, arguments about our approaches to technology, opinions about what's going on in our industry, new ideas that excite us, and more. We've written books and articles about most of these things, too.
But just about all of these things have been expressed with words, not images. We've probably written close to a million words over the past 10 years; in that same period, I'd guess that we've taped fewer than 10 hours of video. And that began to seem a bit off. Video is a great way to show off a company's personality, people, culture, and customers. It helps humanize a business.
So a few months ago, we decided it was time to change our approach to storytelling—and start recording on camera what happens here.
We're far from complete strangers to video. But when we have opted to record something, we've outsourced the work to our friends at Coudal Partners, a design and product development shop down the street. Steve Delahoyde, Coudal's resident filmmaker, has shot, edited, and produced a variety of videos for us—including customer testimonials, trailers for our book, and interviews with entrepreneurs.
Unfortunately, outsourcing isn't exactly compatible with spontaneity. If we have an idea right now, we want to get it on film right now. So we decided to hire a full-timer. We put a job ad up on our blog, describing the role and why we wanted to fill it. We listed the kinds of projects we had in mind (customer stories; documenting the way we work together; even showing our lives outside of work, because we have a lot of interesting people here). The key was that every video had to be interesting. (You can view the full ad here.)
The applications came rolling in. I was quickly surprised—as well as relieved—to see how many really good filmmakers there are in Chicago. We got more than 100 applications, narrowed those down to about a dozen, and then asked those finalists to produce a three-minute video about a person or business they found interesting. They were given just about a week to do it. The video was to be shot, edited, and produced entirely solo—no crew or assistants allowed. Their only direction was to tell us a good story.
One applicant made a video about a guy who ground prescription eyeglasses in his house. Others profiled a glass blower and a physicist in his lab at Northwestern University. All the videos were pretty great. We shared them around the office and asked Steve, our soon-to-be former contractor, what he thought. We wound up hiring Shaun Hildner, a Chicago-based filmmaker who worked at a digital media school. We liked his eye, his approach, and his ability to make people feel comfortable in front of the camera. Further, he had experience in motion graphics.
Shaun just started, so we don't have anything to share just yet. But we're really looking forward to telling our stories and sharing our ideas in an entirely new way. The plan is to produce at least 25 videos next year. So, as they say on the set: Action!
Jason Fried is co-founder of 37signals, a Chicago-based software firm, and co-author of the book Rework.