Story, sound and skill: How do you create moving branded content?

Emily Thurston

26 Jul 2022

Whether it’s text or imagery, video or sound, the content we produce is where our ideas meet our audiences. It’s where we get to move people – and in turn the world – on behalf of our technology clients.

I help to lead our Content & Editorial team, and like many creative roles, writing can be a tough job at times. But producing great work that really moves people is a sheer joy.

At a creative agency like Harvard, you also get the privilege of working alongside all kinds of content makers: writers, designers, creatives, producers and user experience experts.

You share ideas, combine different ways of thinking and then see a whole kaleidoscope of crafts bringing concepts to life. It’s a fascinating process.

It’s often on design and branding projects where all our skills come together to produce something exceptional.

So following the launch of H:LAB, our dedicated design and branding offering, I’ve been speaking to different makers across Harvard to hear their different views on how to create truly moving work.

What makes work moving?

I started with a deceptively simple question for our team: what makes for a moving piece of content?

According to my fellow writer, editorial manager Efe Otokiti, whatever the format, everything starts with a story – and more specifically, story content: “Stories are ingrained in us all, and we all recognise – and react – when we see, hear or read one. Whether you go with the simple beginning, middle or end, or Act 1, 2 and 3 format, story is everything.”

A recurring theme across the whole group is that people always come first. Our mid-weight creative, Lucy Maitre-Smart, explains, “For me, great work is human. It tells a story, it’s relatable and real. Great work should stick in your mind; it should be something you want to share with others and talk about.”

Senior designer Keith Brincat agrees that an emotional connection is critical: “Whether that’s in the B2B or in the B2C space, remember that you’re talking to people.”

For our senior producer Bella Forde, what’s truly inspiring is the power of content – and specifically sound, to make us feel: “Where would we be without those two notes in Jaws, The Third Man without the zither or Darth without the march?”

And it’s not an abstract art. Our UX specialist Annabel Harper believes striking the right balance between an authentic brand voice and an effective approach to the end user is key. “Testing ideas and initiatives to get honest feedback and insights is vital to ensuring great work is just that: great.”

What’s your favourite example of moving work at Harvard?

We’re incredibly proud of what we create at Harvard, so it’s interesting to look at the content that has moved our creators themselves.

“The Royal Ambulance film tells an emotive story which has been shot in a beautiful way enhancing the emotiveness. It’s also raw and real, no acting or fakeness – just pure honesty.” – Lucy

“The thought leadership report is stellar – a well-written, wholesome piece of content that gives our audiences the insight into the frontline they need.” – Efe

“The piece that stood out for me – and again it has a sound theme – was the making of Tapestry, for the subtlety of noticing.” – Bella

“I love how we managed to bring real-time farmer data from a remote farm in Somerset all the way to the hands of our audience. This gamified experience was fun and educational, on the key issues of 5G connectivity and how tech can improve animal welfare.” – Keith

How do you create moving content?

So what’s the secret to creating moving work? Annabel believes every brilliant creative idea starts with sharp insight.

“Our campaigns and activations are backed by real-world insights – whether it’s what a journalist needs to land a hero piece or what an end user really thinks about a new app before launch. At Harvard, it’s not just about a gut feeling. We know what great looks like.”

For Keith, the process of trying new things is key: “It’s all about thinking differently, but also learning how to create something that stands the test of time and not simply because it’s on trend. I’m a firm believer that design drives change – no matter how big or small.”

Lucy believes quality ultimately comes down to having incredible – and diverse – people in the team. “Our team is built up of different people from different backgrounds, with different interests and skills, all with a high attention to detail and a passion for producing great work. We also have a community of makers who are some of the best in the industry to help us bring our ideas to life.”

Efe says it’s about having the freedom and the trust to create something special. “There’s a level of autonomy around the creation of great work. And that takes a unified sense of trust to attain, from your agency and from your client – something I think Harvard has always had, which is why incredibly talented creators work here.”

Want more design and branding inspiration? Check out H:LAB – or get in touch to share your creative challenges with us.