David Beebe was once told by a military lawyer that he’d never amount to anything, after being discharged from the U.S. Coast Guard under the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law that was in effect during the Clinton administration. Today, the Emmy, Cannes Lions and James Beard award-winning producer, brand storyteller and keynote speaker operates at the intersection of Hollywood storytelling and brand marketing, helping brands—including 24 Hour Fitness—develop their narratives and produce premium branded entertainment that informs, entertains and engages audiences, and ultimately transform marketing from a cost center to a revenue center.
His career path was not an obvious one, but the lessons he learned have served him well in coaching global companies to marketing success. After graduating from high school in a remote farming community in Washington, Beebe enlisted in the U.S. Coast Guard as a first step toward a future he was still deciding. He graduated from the Coast Guard’s telecommunications program and found himself working in Kodiak, Alaska, with top-secret clearance.
While Beebe had time to consider his creative interests, he struggled to live true to himself and made the decision to come out to his commanding officer. He received an honorable discharge and returned to Los Angeles, where he lived in his car for several months while he scraped together a new foundation, working in an electronics retail store.
Then a friend told him about a media coordinator role at a startup called DirecTV. Beebe got the job, and from there, he quickly built expertise and a reputation for producing exceptional digital entertainment, rising through the ranks at global digital and television brands, including Disney/ABC and Yahoo.com.
Not one to rest on his laurels, Beebe left Hollywood and headed to Washington, D.C., to become the first-ever global vice president of creative and content marketing for Marriott International. It was a role leading all consumer-facing creative for a portfolio of 30 brands, and Beebe created the Marriott Content Studio, M Live—a real-time brand command center—and Marriott Traveler, the brand publishing group.
Beebe’s work at Marriott vaulted him beyond the realm of the entertainment industry, and now he travels the world, educating brands and marketers on how to stop interrupting what consumers are interested in and start becoming what they are interested in through brand storytelling.
We are all storytellers
Storytelling is human and has existed since the advent of language. Within the stories people tell lie personal histories, fears, values and commentary on politics and culture. Beebe believes that stories are how we connect and access emotion.
In today’s social media–laden world, Beebe says people are not only individual storytellers but also their own mini media companies. They create content every day—on phones, computers and tablets—then distribute that content to a network of followers who form their own personal community.
Content and community are two components of the “three C strategy” that Beebe uses with brands. The third is commerce, which he believes can only come after a brand has generated content that builds and serves a community. The value a brand gives to a community results in that community giving value back to the brand, both in sales and loyalty. “If you are honest and authentic and continually standing for the same things,” he says, “you will build a strong community that loves you and supports you.”
Purpose and values
Before even contemplating content creation, Beebe asks his clients to define the purpose of their content. For example, does the given brand want to inform, entertain, drive sales, introduce a new product, change their public perception, etc.? Clearly defining purpose allows a brand to measure the content’s success more accurately. Even if an Instagram post gets a lot of “likes,” the content is only successful by Beebe’s standards if amassing “likes” was the intention. If the purpose of the post was to introduce a new product and people liked the post but didn’t click the “more info” call to action, then that content was ineffective.
While clients often want to jump right into creative after they’ve nailed down the content’s purpose, Beebe asks them to first think about the platform on which the content will appear. Each option (e.g., Instagram, YouTube, iTunes) has pros and cons that should be considered in relation to the content’s purpose. For example, if the goal of the content is to better a brand’s relationship with existing customers, a YouTube tutorial or e-book shared via Pinterest or Facebook may be the best option.
When it comes to actual content creation, Beebe says that what a brand does or even the products and services it provides is not as important as what the brand stands for. “As consumers today,” Beebe says, “we want to give our money to brands that align with our values.” In the past, brands have focused on a series of individual campaigns, often geared around holidays. Since today’s consumers are always connected and always looking to connect, these seasonal sales attempts now feel detached at best and predatory at worst. Instead of the campaign approach, Beebe advises brands to create an ongoing, consistent, value-based story that fosters community more so than commerce (though that will follow!).
In the past, consumers had to watch the commercial or view the print ad. Today, however, they can delete, fast-forward, block or ignore. “Consumers are now in control of when, where and how they interact with brands,” Beebe explains. It has become a two-way conversation rather than brands just shouting at people. “I believe brands need to stop interrupting what consumers are interested in and become what they are interested in,” he says.
One way to do so, according to Beebe, is with what he calls “hero content”: content designed solely for entertainment, without any attempt at selling a product or service. In addition to reinforcing a brand’s core beliefs, consumers appreciate that hero content adds value to their life without directly trying to subtract value from their wallets.
Another way to respect the two-way brand/consumer street, Beebe says, is to reply to audience-generated content. That means not just posting but also responding to the comments and photos that viewers offer back. This personalizes the brand and makes consumers feel like they are contributing to the brand’s story. A smaller but more engaged follower base is always more beneficial than a bigger but uninvolved follower base.
Permission to fail
While strategy is key, Beebe says brands also must give themselves permission to fail. “I like to move ideas forward quickly,” he says, “I’m a big believer that you actually have to try it.” A brand’s content may not be perfect, and they will surely come across critics, but so long as they learn and in turn evolve, Beebe says the brand is making positive progress. “I don’t think any organization that leads with fear of mistakes is going to be around long,” he adds.
After assessing a piece of content’s success level, Beebe believes brands should make “data-informed” rather than “data-driven” decisions on future content. Data-driven, as defined by Beebe, means a brand lets data largely, or even entirely, dictate future content. With data-informed decisions, a brand uses data to confirm or disprove an intuition or hypothesis. Data is still a key input but sits amid other variables.
The key to continuously generating value-based and data-informed content, according to Beebe, is to constantly learn. He spends a lot of time researching and studying successful content, but he warns, “You shouldn’t shift your strategy to one that doesn’t align with who you are.” Another brand’s successful content shouldn’t be duplicated, but it can serve as a launching pad for creative brainstorming, where the ideas, techniques and technology are applied to a client’s specific point of view.
Ready to transform your brand and marketing team into consumer centric brand storytellers? Head over to davidbeebe.com learn more about Beebe’s Brand Storytelling Masterclasses and Keynote Speaking engagements.
Photo credit: Tom Casey, box24studio.com
Grooming: Katie Nash, katienashbeauty.com