Veteran filmmaker Vern Oakley knows how to use video to create a powerful connection with an audience. He directed short films, the feature film "A Modern Affair," and even the popular television show "Reading Rainbow."

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As founder of Tribe Pictures, he brought his storytelling talent into the business realm, creating films for Fortune 500 companies, nonprofit organizations, universities, and their executives. He's worked with American Express, AT&T, Pfizer, Princeton, and many other clients from all sorts of industries.

By coaxing out the "person" behind the brand (or "the soul behind the suit," as he's been known to call it), Vern helps brands to showcase their humanity and create a lasting connection with their audiences. Through video, he's helped companies communicate with potential investors, manage crises, recruit the best talent, and roll out new products and brands.

I invited Vern to Marketing Smarts to discuss his book, Leadership in Focus: Bringing Out Your Best on Camera, and to offer valuable tips for marketers who want to take advantage of the unparalleled power of video to connect brands with their audiences.

Here are just a few highlights from my conversation with Vern:

Tell your origin story "warts and all"—don't leave out the conflict (03:25): "Storytelling is so different in the corporate arena because some of the really great ways that we tell stories in the entertainment business are kind of moved to the side when you're working in corporate America. For example, corporations don't always like to look down the center when they're talking about a conflict, which is the essence of good drama. They like to take the story from 'we're doing good and we're getting better and we're going to get even better,' as opposed to 'oh boy, we really had a huge problem and we really had to overcome something.' That's why sometimes the origin stories of companies are just so fascinating, because that's when the founders are trying to do something and nothing was going right and they had to figure out something that was just incredibly different. That makes for a really powerful story, much like the entertainment stories we have in television and Hollywood."

Most B2B business problems are actually human problems, and human problems make good stories (04:08): "When you think about what we do in terms of telling stories for the Fortune 500, stories really collectively build up to a brand. What's interesting about these kinds of stories is that they're really human stories. Most business problems, when you get down to analyzing it, are really human problems. How do we get the right people? How do we communicate the vision? What markets are we going to enter? All those have a human component, and if we can find the human beings that actually can express these key messages, and let their passion, their authenticity, their hopes and dreams come through in the business world, we actually can make films which are...interesting and exciting and that people want to share."

Before you create a video (or any piece of content), define how you'll measure success (18:39): "So much depends upon which department you're working in, but in terms of Human Resources, if we're making recruiting films, you want more people to be applying for the jobs and you want more qualified candidates to be applying for the job. In terms of investor relations, you really are hoping that people start to understand a more comprehensive story of the company. These things can be measured if you set up the metrics properly. Not everyone has the time, energy, and money to devote to that, but when you take the surveys as to attitudes prior to watching the video and attitudes after watching the video, sometimes since you don't always do that, you can talk about the number of views.... Sometimes the return on investment is just that your CEO loves the video."

To learn more, visit or, or follow Vern on Twitter at @VernOakley, and be sure to get your copy of Leadership in Focus: Bringing Out Your Best on Camera.

Vern and I talked about much more, including getting executives to invest in video content, and the anatomy of an effective video, so be sure to listen to the entire show, which you can do above, or download the mp3 and listen at your convenience. Of course, you can also subscribe to the Marketing Smarts podcast in iTunes or via RSS and never miss an episode!

Intro/Outro music credit: Noam Weinstein.

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