Visa commissioned research in 2015 that uncovered an idea so wholly new that it gained widespread attention, even landing a front-page spot in The New York Times. It showed women were choosing to travel solo in historic numbers. Higher spending power, a feeling of greater safety abroad, and the popularity of Instagram travel diaries created the right conditions for a boon in solo travel.
Visa corporate communications brought the findings to its agency, Click2View, and the parties immediately got to work figuring out how to relay the story of solo women travelers in an engaging way.
The story takes flight
From these early conversations was born a video series called Solo Traveller. The series followed the travels of three women through Japan, Korea, Philippines, Taiwan, and Singapore … then seeded those videos through Visa’s social channels as well as the women’s social networks. Each journey was released as a three-part video.
Simon Kearney, founder of Click2View, says the success of the Visa project was due in large part to the travelers chosen by the production team:
- Angela Kan is from Hong Kong; her extensive travel and writing experience meant she could collaborate with the team, brainstorming the best spots and conditions for recording her travelogue.
- As a leading travel blogger in Thailand, Chutima Treearayapong had a devoted following before joining the Visa series.
- Filipino blogger Vern Enciso is passionate about fashion, food, and music; her interests brought new ideas to the video series, as well as a distinct audience.
Now, Simon delves deeper into how you can translate what Visa and Click2View learned about video into your own visual storytelling. (The series was a Content Marketing Awards finalist for strategy – best content marketing program in financial services.)
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Cast ‘characters’ in reality-based brand stories
Simon and his colleagues recommend considering the following factors when casting real people (not influencers) in any factual video-based storytelling:
Look at authenticity, not reach
“The people we chose were not influencers in the traditional sense because they didn’t have a large number of followers,” says Simon. Instead, casting focused on true-to-life qualities that aligned well with the larger story. “These women had to be solo travelers in their own right. We wanted real, independent women who were travel savvy, excited to try new things, and not afraid of the challenges of filming.”
In its bid to be authentic, the team sought women who spoke naturally on camera and truly shared a passion for travel. Producer/director Fraser Morton at Click2View explains, “It was my job to find millennial talent who embodied the solo traveler. We did not want anyone who had a ‘showbiz’ persona on camera – that would defeat the purpose of creating a real-life series of travel micro-docs.”
Think beyond the screen
Fraser says each woman was considered primarily for her enthusiasm and sense of adventure about travel, but creativity is also a big plus. He explains, “Angela Kan, our Hong Kong talent, was selected because she had extensive travel and writing experience, and we felt she could help come up with ideas and spontaneous travel moments to capture on film.”
Seek adaptable people
They put considerable effort into creating a roving video team that could adapt to changing conditions – that includes both the camera crew and director, as well as the women profiled. Fraser explains: “We needed each featured traveler to relish the unexpected, which they all did.”
Think in terms of a talent portfolio
The Solo Traveller team understood that no one individual would cater to all its audience. Instead, the group chose three people with different styles – from outdoor adventurers to those with a penchant for urban fashion and food – in a bid to attract a wide segment of the female solo traveler market.
Tell real stories in your videos
When you’re capturing reality-based stories – whether a documentary feature film or a short-form video for Instagram – protecting the story’s authenticity is critical. The team at Visa and Click2View says these guidelines can ensure that videos don’t feel staged:
Don’t rely on scripts
The best way to kill a story, says Simon, is to rigidly plan a storyline and script, and stick to it no matter what: “We took a journalistic approach, going on assignment with a clear idea of what we wanted … But with the clear expectation we would throw the script out at the first opportunity to tell a better story. That’s when the magic happens.”
Limit the size of your video crew
Each shoot had a maximum of five people (or a group that could reasonably fit inside one van). Those five included the traveler, a director, a cameraman (who also played the role of a producer, sound assistant, and gaffer), a local fixer/translator, and a content director from Visa. A smaller crew makes it nimble and less intrusive on the road, which translates to a higher probability of spontaneous, unscripted moments.
Stay open to chance
“Often a story that you think might be promising when you’re doing research is very different on the road,” explains Simon. “Some of our best segments included people we didn’t plan to profile. In the Philippines, we met a surf instructor and a mountain guide who were not in our original plans; those random meetings gave us two episodes with great characters in a single day.”
Invest in pre-production
Fraser says that while the team was able to change plans on the go it was still critical to spend time in pre-production, mapping routes and tentative shoots. “While we want to be all laissez-faire about dropping everything to chase a great story, great pre-production and planning gives you the freedom to change on the road,” he says. “A more recent innovation is having an editor traveling with us, so we can turn around episodes even faster.”
What happened after the social media launch
What made the project particularly interesting, however, was what happened after the first video series was released into the social media wild. Given the quality of the content, a wide world of native advertising and licensing opened up – opportunities that were not in the original plans.
In Korea, the Visa country manager executed a content deal with HuffPost Korea. Singapore Airlines picked up the series to run on its in-flight entertainment channel. And, based on the success of the original videos, Visa asked the agency to produce follow-on series, including a four-episode fashion edition in Japan and a series around the 2018 Winter Olympics in Korea.
In a sign of just how successful the video series has been for Visa, one of the Solo Traveller episodes featured on HuffPost Korea as paid content is among the top five most-shared videos on the site since 2014.
For Visa, the Solo Traveller story is just beginning. Follow-on stories are in development in different markets with novel distribution strategies. Simon explains that the lesson from the original series is the power of good storytelling to find an enthusiastic audience and bear fruit: “When we began this project, we never imagined it would be going three years later, let alone going strong.”
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Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute