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Why truth unlocks creativity: Announcing Long Dash Studio

Long Dash Studio is on a journalistic pursuit to grow brands through human-centered storytelling.

Kate Watts is CEO of Long Dash. She formerly founded Faire Design and held the role of president, U.S. at the global agency Huge.

I built my career out of understanding the user experience at some of the world’s best user-centric agencies. But everything I thought I knew about building great experiences shifted when the firm I founded was acquired in 2019 by The Atlantic. I was at the helm of a new kind of agency. Alongside exceptional strategists and designers, I now had a team of accomplished journalists who introduced me to a new approach to building brands. 

As skilled investigators, our journalists cultivate compelling stories and tap sources that reveal unscripted truths not typically found through traditional UX practices. They showed me how some of the most captivating stories emerge in unanticipated moments through investigation. 

This journalistic ethos can apply to all aspects of a brand’s audience development efforts. Perhaps most acutely, it can help brands looking to expand their growth potential in a world increasingly shaped by AI chatbots, digital echo chambers, and clickbait. 

Simply focusing on the discrete user experience is not enough. Brands that tell candid stories with an appreciation for the nuances of the human experience—its complexities and imperfections—will unlock their fullest potential.

This is why we’re launching Long Dash Studio: a production team that merges the investigative magic of our journalistic approach with the artistry of designers, art directors, writers, and documentary filmmakers. 

We help brands approach complex ideas from the perspective of lived, everyday experiences of their audiences.

We help brands approach complex ideas from the perspective of lived, everyday experiences of their audiences. This could mean uncovering the narrative of an unlikely hero through a short film or bringing to life a hidden story within a data report through an investigative documentary.

As we developed our approach, we discovered a few important truths along the way: 

Truth 1: Your brand is your people   

Our recent campaign with a leading management consulting company exemplifies this. To tell the story of this company’s diversity, equity, and inclusion journey, we helped our client turn inward to highlight real employees and their paths that led them to their current roles.   

Similar to how a journalist develops their sources, we built relationships with interviewees, letting them know they had agency over what they felt comfortable sharing or not sharing. 

The approach paid off. Instead of a glamorized, scripted narrative, the honesty and vulnerability we captured resulted in a more resonant, meaningful campaign.  

Truth 2: Data itself is a human story  

We worked with another firm to help them interpret a major research project on employment trends post-COVID. Instead of just focusing on the firm’s rich insights for its C-suite clients, we paired the organization’s expertise with stories of real-life people living through uncertainty. 

Using our reporting skills, we searched for sources from across the country, making sure each person felt comfortable sharing their stories on behalf of the brand. 

We found that people were happy to talk: A small business owner in Los Angeles who had trouble applying for loans; a mother of four in Queens whose layoff led to a new job training program; and community college students across the country who were balancing working and going to school full time. We filmed many of these interviews in people’s homes or workplaces.

These short documentaries brought that research to life, allowing it to shine in bright, new ways. It enabled our client to grab the attention of its audiences and convene a conversation around its expertise—and ultimately win new business. 

Truth 3: Individual stories can reveal big themes 

Coming out of the Great Recession, a leading insurance company wanted to convene a conversation with the people who were creatively solving the problems in their hometowns—the communities that are integral to their business. With this context, we created a multi-platform program to honor and tell the stories of these community-based changemakers.  

The project’s website, social media channels, and event series were our canvas for bringing the stories of these real folks to life through long- and short-form videos. We featured people such as Marcus Bullock, a social entrepreneur who’s building products that help incarcerated individuals connect with their families. And Kelly Carlisle, who’s training young people in Oakland to simultaneously grow vegetables and build wealth through community farming. 

Through this work, the company garnered over 12,000 nominations for its awards program, which honored  community innovators across the country. Our storytelling, paired with the lessons we learned from the nominees and winners, turned the company into a conduit of good ideas in an increasingly uncertain world.   

What’s your truth?

When we work with clients to establish their own version of this, we often find that their story was present all along. They just needed help from people like former journalists who can bring those stories to life. Because it’s through investigation and exploration that the most captivating narratives emerge—and ultimately create connection.

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