10 Steps to Succeeding With Product Videos

Video is everywhere we look today.  Youtube, Vimeo, and other video sites are becoming larger than Google itself and even appear in search results.  That's why, when I wanted information on how to create an amazing video to promote my products, I turned to Dan Clark, a friend and Creative Director of InterplayAgency, a leading product video production company in the San Francisco Bay Area.
In this guest post, Dan share's his best strategies for creating effective product videos.  Special thanks to Dan for sharing these amazing tips...
Building an effective product movie can at first seem like a daunting task. Where do you start? What should go in it? How long should it be? For answers to those questions and more, I’ve assembled a step-by-step process that you can follow to make better online videos…

1. Understand your audience.
Who are they and what do they need? What makes you think your solution is what they want? Understanding the audience is paramount to providing a relevant product video. To successfully complete this step, you need to think “from the outside in”, put yourself in their shoes.

If it’s an enterprise solution…

-Think about the people in the buying group and with whom you most want to speak. For instance, decide which level of the organization (role or title) is most likely to be seeking information about your solution and speak directly to them and get them excited. As the movie progresses, you can describe how the solution impacts other roles so the movie gets shared and everyone is driven toward your way of thinking.

-Think about how they encounter the video (where they learned about it), which will influence how you introduce it. For instance, if your product helps them to accomplish a specific task, and they’ve likely searched Google using terms about that task, you can dive right into how the video helps to do just that. But if they hear about your new way of tracking sales via mobile phone (or some other similarly vague frame of reference), you might need to step back a bit and talk about the overall business challenge first, then describe how your solution helps to overcome it.

-Think about what they might be most interested in, which will influence what you highlight in the movie. For instance, if you’re pretty sure they’re going to find you via keyword searching, you can probably dive into the product and how it helps them to accomplish a task. But if they are simply clicking around, reading blogs about your space, linking from social networks, etc. then you might need to frame the story from a high level before going into specific accomplishments that the solution delivers. Once you’ve described the overall context, you can drive them toward what they can accomplish. This is great because you can “own” the conversation and drive them toward your way of thinking.

If it’s a consumer product…

-Focus on things that will get them excited about using it.

-Talk about them and their needs in a personal way. If you’re passionate about it, most likely they will be too.

-Since you’re speaking directly to the buyer, you can be casual about it. Use simple language and make it quick. If you’re not shy, you might even just use your own face on a webcam. If you are shy, hire a narrator but keep the simple, casual language. To help with writing such a script, imagine you’re at the grocery store and you run into a friend who is obviously in a hurry but wants to catch up. Imagine yourself telling that person all about your cool new product. You’d have to do it quickly. But at the same time, you’re not necessarily trying to sell it to them so the resulting script will not pressure the buyer into anything. Yes, it should have a call-to-action at the end, but don’t be too aggressive. It’s more important to be authentic than it is to be selling.

2. Look at your competitors.

Look at their web sites, analyze their demos, read their collateral and news. Most importantly though, look at their customers. See if you can glean some information about why they became customers, what the customer got out of working with them. Customer case studies are the best source for this intelligence so read every one you can get your hands on. And when you look at their videos, pay attention to the things they feature. Do they highlight features and functions, or do they highlight higher-level business benefits? If their video is all about features and functions, you have an opportunity to elevate the message and appeal higher on the org chart. If they highlight business benefits, make sure you don’t say the same things and see if you can change the conversation to your benefit or box them into thinking small while you think big.

3. Set your objectives.

Only when you have a clear understanding of what you plan to gain from your product video will you be able to create one that works well. For instance, if you’re in a mature business and are racing against competitors based on features, your movie should probably dive right into the product and highlight the differentiators. By contrast, if you’re revolutionizing an industry or creating a completely new one, you’ll likely have to educate the audience about that change in a business case movie.

Decide what you want them to do at the end of the movie. If you want them to pick up the phone to set up a live demo (to discuss integration and other complexities), present various ways to help them do this such as a link to a form page, 800-number, email, etc. But if your solution is so easy to purchase they can just fill out a form, make the link to that form the only thing they can see/do when the video ends.

Recognizing what you want people to do at the end of the movie often affects what you’ll say at the beginning so the end is a great place to start. For instance, if you have a complex solution that requires a phone call for more information, you’ll want to be sure your movie doesn’t get too deep into complexities (which makes it longer) during the movie so that the prospect is enticed by the possibilities; you’ll merely propose organizational benefit. Conversely, if you want people to fill in a form and buy now, the movie should be all about what they get from it on a personal level.

4. Look at what’s out there.

Choosing a presentation style can be tough. You can use cartoons, photography, illustration, charts & graphs, screen shots, 3D, live actors, and on and on. How do you choose? For that answer, again, consider your audience and what they’re currently exposed to and what you think might excite them.

So, in addition to videos from other companies in your space, you should look at everything out there so you have a good sense of what’s possible. The more you expose yourself to, the better you will know what you want. There are a lot of companies that provide awesome product movies so, in addition a directory of my own favorite production companies, here are a couple places you can go that list some of the most experienced firms…

Start Up Videos is a web site run by the good folks at ThinkMojo.com. They are a production company and run this site that lists additional great firms who specialize in movies for start-up companies.

50Grove.com is a web site run by my friends at Wistia. They are a video streaming service provider and run 50Grove to showcase some top-tier production companies sorted by cost.

But, really, the best place to look is to narrow your exposure to videos that are within your industry, to consider your audience first. For instance, if everyone in your industry is posting videos that use stock photography and stale corporate graphics, that might be a clue that respectability is an issue, that they respond well to conservative imagery. On the other hand, it can also mean an opportunity to break new ground and really stand out with 3D or, dare I say it, cartoons. Likewise, if cartoons are the norm, you might think about live actors or some other more creative format.

Be sure to bookmark your favorite ones, you’ll need them later.

5. Decide on a story format.

There is a limitless array of ways to tell your story. The best way for you really just comes down to what you think will best excite your audience and frame your solution so that your prospects think the way you want them to. Some examples include:

-Features & functions – but it should always include some context about how it’s used and the company’s reputation

-Challenge, Solution, Result – this is the best way to describe new inventions and groundbreaking solutions, everyone “gets” it

-A day in the life – follows a person or a couple of people, a fun little story unfolds

-Spokesperson – affordable to produce using web talent but more involved and expensive if you want to use your staff or actors because it requires a video/audio crew

-Customer case study – got an amazing success story? Turn it into a movie

-Beauty shots & special effects – most appropriate for consumer audiences, particularly when building a brand

6. Write an outline.

Now that you know basically what you want to say, write up an outline. All you need is the basic framework at this point, bullet points from start to finish. This will be an easy way to brainstorm it and get buy-in from others. A traditional framework this goes like this: 1. Tell them what you’re going to tell them, 2. Tell them, 3. Tell them what you just told them. But these days, especially on the web and in video, you shouldn’t bother with the first and last points – just tell them. It should still have an introduction, a body and a conclusion but don’t repeat yourself in those three parts.

Even if you dive right into the solution and show how it works or how it accomplishes a specific task, you should always preface it with why it exists, why they should care. This can be very quick. It’s necessary because you have no idea how they might have come across your movie and you want to frame the conversation correctly.

Include bookmarks in your outline (the ones you bookmarked previously) to give a visual frame of reference for yourself and others.

Don’t bother including specific visuals, just focus on the story you want to tell. Images will merely cloud your ultimate goal at this point.

And please, by all means, make sure you get them excited in the first 10 seconds.

7. Write the script.

Once you know all the parts of your story and the basic flow, you need to fill in the outline with actual words. Most people dive right into visuals but you should continue to avoid this temptation until you know what you want to say. The script drives the whole thing. Let me repeat that: the script drives the whole thing. So make sure you get the script right first. (You’ll have plenty of opportunities to fine-tune it as you go, but it is the central driver, so spend some quality time with your word processor. It will pay off in the long run.) You should also try to keep each topic to a single sentence to force yourself into delivering a brief video.

Speak your script out loud. This will help you to refine it for the spoken word (which is quite different than the same thoughts when read silently). And watch the clock or use a stopwatch to make sure your script is nice and short. You might be surprised at how long the written word takes to speak and how differently it sounds compared to read silently. It also helps to record it and listen to yourself after, to make sure you get right to the point and sound conversational and not robotic.

The length of your video is entirely up to you but, take my advice, make it short. I hear companies all the time say that they want their video to be 3 minutes and, inevitably, it comes out to 4 or more. But more and more, movies need to come in even shorter, like 1 minute. How in the world can you shrink your entire business strategy and product overview into 1 minute? It isn’t easy and you might need to hire a pro. My best advice is to do everything you can to shrink sentences, condense thoughts, put text on-screen while you say something else, and rely on visuals to say things for you. But most of all, stay focused on step 1 above and make sure you serve up what your audience craves. Just make sure you do it really quickly.

8. Build the storyboard.

This is the most critical, and probably the most difficult, step in the entire process. (I’m pretty sure the difficulty of this task is why I have a job.) Connecting visuals to concepts is an art form but that doesn’t mean you have to be an artist to do it well.

Before you go and scour the web for visuals, it helps tremendously to make some notes of visuals that will work in the script. What I do is make a two-column layout in Word with the script in the left column and visual ideas in the corresponding right column. This saves you tons of time looking for images and gives you a chance to get buy-in quickly. It’s just a great way to think about your video from a visual standpoint before investing a bunch of time in actually finding and formatting anything.

First, put the script into PowerPoint (or Keynote or whatever) and put it into the notes section with one sentence on each slide. Read the first line of your script. Does it introduce the company? Show the logo. Does it introduce a person? Show that person. Go to iStockPhoto and enter keywords for that person such as, “businessman cell phone” or “customer service woman.” If you’re not finding the perfect image, try GettyImages but be prepared to pay more.

If you go with stock visuals (photography, illustration, and video), create an account and save any images you might use in a light box. Once you see something you like, copy and paste it into PowerPoint. This is the quickest way to get images into PowerPoint. But since your copy will no longer be associated with the image, you’ll want to have them all saved on the stock site so you can easily get to them again later.

I’ll be frank: graphics can be very frustrating. I have over 20 years of experience with computer graphics and even I am challenged by some situations. So, if ever, this is a great time to hire a professional graphic designer. They’ll format the art so it looks right in the storyboard, they’ll tune things to match your brand, they’ll make your life easy. I cannot recommend highly enough the value they bring. Not only will they make this part easier, they’ll let you focus on the story, which is really what matters.

Moving deeper into the story… Does your solution fit into a grander scheme? Develop a diagram that shows the fit or find stock imagery for your industry. You can also find great icons and illustrations at iStock that can liven up any video. And remember: anything you create or purchase here can be used elsewhere in your marketing materials so putting a little extra effort into this a win-win.

Add text on-screen to add interest. Use really big text to make an impact and keep it to just a few words. You can show customer quotes but only use really short ones. This is also a great way shrink durations because you can say one thing in the narration while you put supporting—but different—text on-screen to get two points across without growing the length of the video.

This one topic could be an entire book all by itself and, unfortunately, I don’t have the space here to really do it justice. Slide:ology by Nancy Duarte is an excellent resource for building powerful presentations (albeit for personal presentations, but the lessons still apply). And all of Edward Tufte’s books on information graphics are excellent. Software companies can get some great tips from Great Demo! by Peter Cohan that apply to online demos.

As a rule of thumb, to keep the audience engaged, you should have at least one visual per sentence in the script.

As you develop the storyboard, you likely will adjust the script. So again, as you develop the storyboard, read the script out loud to make sure the video doesn’t grow too much.

Once your storyboard is done, pull the script out of your presentation program and put it all into a single text document. This will give you another chance to refine the language for the narrator.

9. Hire a narrator.

No matter how you produce your video (what it finally looks like), hiring a professional narrator makes the biggest impact to your audience. A dull voice can bring down even the most elegant visuals. Your significant other may have a beautiful voice but nothing beats the pacing and intonation of an expert. You can review some of the talent I work with at ReadyDemo dot com and I would be happy to provide their contact info. An even better place is at voice123 dot com but you’ll have to pay them a little booking fee. Regardless of where you find them, plan to pay around $500 per session. Some folks charge as much as $1,500 or more (because they’re hot-shot Hollywood or radio personalities) so check prices first. Slight modifications afterwards are usually included but it’s best to nail your script so you don’t have to go back to them.

The choice between male and female is completely subjective (aside from the obvious requirement for such situations as gender-specific consumer products) and entirely up to what you think your audience would most appreciate and identify with. If you have the budget, you can create two movies: one with a male voice and the other female, and A/B test their success rates.

While most professional narrators are in a union, those who provide recordings for use on the Internet are not required to be associated as such.

All that being said about hiring a professional, some companies are opting for the casualness of non-professionals. In fact, I did the narration myself for Accompa and Comunitee. Some very successful creative firms have built their entire businesses on not using professionals because the homegrown look and feel appeals to many audiences these days. For some products and audiences, the authenticity of a “personal friend” works very well. So, while I recommend using professionals for most projects, they are not necessary. If you go the non-professional route, make sure they provide a clean recording (not muffled and no pops or static), use a high-quality microphone, and don’t stumble on any words. Casual and conversational is one thing, lousy audio is quite another.

10. Build the final file.

Aside from building the storyboard, this is the most challenging step. (Another reason why I have a job.) But, do-it-yourself software is quite good and easy to use, if you have the time and patience to learn them. For instance, if your video is for a software application, you can capture real-time screen activity and add narration to it using Camtasia or Captivate and it will work just fine for many situations You can also convert a PowerPoint or Keynote file to a Flash movie and add narration. And there are alternatives to Flash such as Flypaper.com. I have never personally produced a movie using any of these tools but they look great.

At the polar opposite of DIY software are professional packages such as Adobe After Effects, Flash and Premiere and Apple Final Cut Pro. With them (depending on the application) you can create 3D worlds, use multiple cameras and lights, add soft blur motion effects, the sky is the limit! And, if you're feeling really ambitious, you can use Maya for mind-blowing special effects and true 3D scenes such as "Toy Story"-level animation. But be warned, these programs are very advanced and often rely on other programs such as Photoshop and Illustrator for a polished look. So take the learning curve into careful consideration before attempting to build your video in any of these applications. It’s best for graphics novices to hire ` professional for truly professional work, which allows you to focus on strategy and creating a compelling story that will attract customers.

Dan Clark is the owner and Creative Director of InterplayAgency.com, a leading product video production company in the San Francisco Bay Area. 

Post copyright 2011. Sentinel Beach Corporation.