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Luanne Dietz Cracks the Code of Branded Content


Evolve Studios’ recently appointed VP of branded content discusses her new role and why consumers aren’t satisfied with just brand awareness, writes LBB’s Ben Conway

Luanne Dietz Cracks the Code of Branded Content

Three-time Emmy Award Winner and Cannes Lion recipient, Luanne Dietz is a brand storytelling executive with 15 years of experience developing and producing premium film, experiential, and custom content for globally-renowned brands. Having worked at all stages of production from camera operator to editor, director and executive producer, Luanne specialises in building cohesive content studios and leading a wide variety of creatives. 

Now the VP of branded content at Nashville-based production company Evolve Studios, she is looking to bring her motivation, strategic problem-solving and top-tier analytical and communication skills to a new - but familiar - role. In the last seven years, Luanne has been head of content strategy at Amazon, VP of branded content at video game and entertainment media website IGN, as well as a branded content creative director at both Starbucks and CNN.

Speaking to LBB’s Ben Conway, she talks about how her in-house experience at these big brands has prepared her for Evolve’s creative community, her beginnings in photojournalism, and why branded content is currently in its 'rebellious teenage years'.

LBB> Firstly, congratulations on the new role as VP of branded content at Evolve Studios! How did this come about, and what prompted you to take on this new opportunity?

Luanne> Thank you! I’m super excited to be working with the team. To me, change is the catalyst of innovation. There’s something beautiful about relinquishing control of what you think a job or career should look like, and truly allowing yourself to follow your creative heart. 

One of the scariest and most exciting parts of being at the forefront of an industry is that you are navigating uncharted waters on a daily basis. Joining Evolve was a beautiful reminder of the power we have as creatives to steer the ship. 

When I started in branded content seven years ago, I was a part of the team raising the sail for the first time. When we launched CNN’s brand studio ‘Courageous’, everything was unknown. It started with a few of us in a closet, dreaming about what could be possible if we broke the mould of traditional brand marketing. In the beginning, we were taking HUGE risks... and it worked! During my time there, I got a soap company to send me to Africa to talk about the water crisis, and I worked alongside a video game company to shine a light on the ethics around human augmentation.

After a few years and many expansions, I wondered about the kind of impact I could have if I truly got to know a brand from the inside out. So, I made the jump and went in-house at Starbucks to lead its human-centric video storytelling, and then onto Amazon to lead content strategy. My time in-house taught me so much about the value of creative solutions, and the need to think outside the proverbial ‘corporate’ box to see things differently. 

So why the change? And why now? I had just finished a big project at Amazon, and I was asking myself the hard questions about what exactly it is that I love about the work I do. I realised that a lot of the magic of storytelling and making films had gotten buried by corporate benchmarks. I was missing the freedom to explore things I am curious about alongside people who share that same curiosity. I was craving a creative community that wanted to do things differently. And then I found Evolve, and the rest is history.

LBB> What are the big challenges and trends in branded content right now? What can you - and us, as the audience - expect from 2023?

Luanne> If branded content was a child, I think we’re about to be in the rebellious teenage years! Brands have been trying to crack the code on original content, long-form and social for years. We’re seeing consumers who grew up with information at their fingertips now hold the buying potential. They aren’t satisfied with just awareness of a company or brand, they also want to know the ‘why’ behind it, and see if it aligns with their values. This year, we are going to see a lot of experimentation and brand expression when it comes to campaigns - brands taking ownership and being vulnerable, in order to meet a more informed audience. 

LBB> Which brands or projects are you excited to work on in 2023 with Evolve Studios?

Luanne> This year at Evolve is going to be like no other. As a studio, we prioritise ‘People over Pixels’, both in the stories we tell and the people we choose to work with. We’re deep into the development of a few branded content campaigns that put empathy at the centre of our storytelling and highlight what truly makes humanity great. We’re pushing boundaries in format and are excited to work alongside our brand partners who are not afraid to take risks when it comes to doing something that hasn’t been done before. So, stay tuned… the world needs hope right now, and the best way to give hope is to show that it exists.

LBB> You’ve said that joining Evolve feels like being back at college again - why is that? How are you finding the company culture so far? 

Luanne> College for me was a time of exploration. It was my camera and I alongside a bunch of friends who were all passionate about the same thing. We didn’t worry about the ‘right’ way to do things or focus on what we thought would work, instead, we prioritised art and craft, and followed our intuition. 

As the industry has grown, so has the influence of ‘should’ on creatives in the brand space. Routines have been formed and ways of working have been established that prioritise metrics and data that is gathered machine to machine, not human to human. Joining Evolve has brought the fun back to the art. It has opened the doors for non-traditional, creative problem-solving that requires risk, and a little bit of crazy! It’s not about ‘should’, but more about 'could'. I feel the luckiest to have found a group of creatives who are excited about breaking the mould and leading with human experience. I was craving a creative community that wanted to do things differently, and that’s exactly what I’ve found at Evolve. 

LBB> What have been some recent branded content projects that you’ve admired - at Evolve Studios and beyond?

Luanne> As a trained photojournalist, I’m drawn to stories that elevate the human spirit - ones that make me think about life a little differently. One of the first branded pieces I saw from Evolve was ‘Chasing Whiskey’. Beyond being my drink of choice, whiskey is a cultural representation of the south, and this piece does a great job at diving into not just the historical relevance, but the effect that it has on the lives of those who live it day in and day out.

Beyond Evolve, a few years ago I filmed with underwater free diver Kimi Werner in Hawaii, and it’s been magical to watch the content she’s creating alongside Patagonia, Trager and Yeti. And of course, my old crew at Courageous crushed it with an ‘out of this world’ campaign for Morgan Stanley that came to life in Times Square.

LBB> What inspired you to get into storytelling/filmmaking in the first place? And how would you like to inspire others to do the same?

Luanne> For me, inspiration starts with curiosity. The first moment I remember falling in love with visual storytelling was when I was a kid, holding my dad’s hand on a guided tour of the design studio at Disney. I was standing wide-eyed, watching the imagineers sketch out an animation. This is back when everything was done by hand, and they would have to draw the entire drawing over and over again with just the slightest change on each page. I remember the smile on my face of complete disbelief when they fanned the pages for the first time and I saw Mickey start to run. I was hooked. 

I later went on to study photojournalism and let my curiosity be my guide. I eventually turned my still camera in for a moving one, but my love of documenting real-life stories never changed. Although my ‘career path’ has felt more like a wild roller coaster, I’m so grateful to have fallen in love with story at a young age. It’s been my constant. 

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Evolve Studios®, Wed, 15 Feb 2023 17:41:00 GMT