Directing the viewer’s vision in explainer videos

Directing the viewer’s vision in explainer videosCatching up with Alec Baldwin’s “Here’s the Thing” podcast from WNYC recently, I was surprised to hear, in a very good interview with the affable Julianne Moore, that some directors (she mentioned David Cronenberg and Woody Allen) rarely say anything to the actors on set. Instead of trying to share a vision with actors, they concentrate on how to direct the audience’s vision. You can take this direction to make your explainer videos explain better.

How to avoid confusing the viewer

The visual conventions used to tell your technology story on a flat rectangular screen — camera moves, edits, composition — are ways of telling stories that audiences understand from a century of motion picture watching. You understand them too, even if you can’t distinguish a pan from a zoom.

Inspect every frame of your video for elements that are distracting or confusing. When something is in motion, that’s where the viewer will look, so make sure the thing in motion is what you want the viewer to look at. Along the same lines, viewers should be able to follow the plot and understand the message with the sound turned off. That will tell you whether the graphics and animation are pulling their weight, or merely decorating the text. You don’t want to pay for video that’s not working.


Creating an explainer video may be harder than you think

creating an explainer video may be harder than you think

In one of the generally excellent HubSpot blogs, I recently ran across this bit of advice:

Compiling an explainer video isn’t much more complicated than putting together a slide deck in a PowerPoint presentation. You decide what to say and find some relevant graphics to jazz things up.

Leaving aside the question of whether your video should be like a PowerPoint presentation, this might be the case if all of the following apply:

  • Your technology solution is easy to explain on the phone
  • There are no competitors with similar solutions
  • Your prospects’ preconceptions and levels of interest are all pretty much the same

If you ticked all three boxes, stop here.

It’s hard to decide what to say

The 30-or-so words you say in the first 15 seconds of your video are critical — attention spans are short. So, exactly who are you talking to and how do you greet them?

If you need to talk to people who will actually be using your solution, you may want to start off by talking about ease of use. If you’re talking to their bosses, you could start with the staff productivity gains your solution provides. Or an interesting use case.

Meanwhile, their bosses may be impatient to learn about the risks associated with adopting your new solution, or how it differs from others they’re evaluating, or where the ROI comes in.

If you’re in doubt about whose concerns matter most, you should consider splitting your video into several shorter videos for different audiences.


Why technology marketing videos shouldn’t be funny

why technology marketing videos shouldn’t be funnyGetting people to chuckle is a good way to get them to keep watching your video. Good explainer video producers can deliver engaging, humorous videos, which turn out to be hugely popular with sales teams and executives in the companies that commission them. But, does this make them effective?

I haven’t been able to turn up any definitive research that attempts to answers this question yes or no — certainly none that focuses on our niche, B2B technology marketing videos. But here are seven reasons why I think you should not put a high priority on humor your marketing videos.

Prospects’ time, your money

First, there’s the question of investment in creative resources. Professional comedy doesn’t come cheap — and you definitely don’t want cheap jokes.

Ask yourself how many prospects watching your video will be un-aware of your brand. Suppose they never heard of your company. Do you suppose they stumbled on it searching for something amusing? No. They are watching your video because something they read or heard convinced them that you might have an answer they are looking for, or a better way of doing things. So, is the best use of their time and your money being funny, or giving them what they came for?

Serious subjects deserve serious treatment

In social situations, self-deprecating humor — not taking yourself too seriously — is usually appreciated. Not being taken seriously by someone else, on the other hand, is problematical.

So when it comes to video, you probably should not treat the prospect’s situation as laughable, certainly not if theirs is a problem fraught with consequences (e.g., data quality in healthcare, compliance in banking, privileged access in network security).

Humor is not a universal language

Seems obvious, but humor in not a universal language. To be sure, there are common metaphors (the “data lakes” of big data) that can be wittily visualized, but jokey cultural references, snark, and irony can get in the way of your message crossing cultures and generations. And make your technology harder for some prospects to understand. Why would you want that?


How to write explainer video scripts using case studies

How to write explainer video scripts using case studiesThis article will give you several examples of how to write explainer video scripts using case studies

Marketing videos, particularly the two-minute (or less) videos my company specializes in, try to encompass a great deal of product information in a very small space (250 words is how I think of it).

You might think that the marketing department’s messaging documents, which represent the distillation of a lot of hard work, would be a logical starting point for video script development. But we find that using case studies (or use cases) yields better results.

Toning down the salesy-ness

For one thing, our clients are trying to bring down the level of “salesiness” in videos today, both because buyers are increasingly distrustful of broad claims, and because many viewers of the video are “researchers” who are doing their best to evaluate a solution. They take an interest in the experiences of people “just like them.” The people quoted in company case studies talk like real people. They are talking about real experiences. This is how your video should talk, too.

Name that user

In the case studies, too, you’ll get a sense of the job titles and specific activities that you may want to allude to in your video to keep it real. How many employees get involved? How do they spend their time? How does your solution help them spend their time more productively?


Explainer videos for prospects who avoid “marketing” videos

Explainer videos for prospects“Make sure it’s not too sales-y” is a request we’re hearing more often when we begin scripting a marketing explainer video for prospects that don’t want to see a marketing video.

A software company CMO recently told us that his buyers, mainly software developers,

  • Do NOT want to be marketed to
  • DO want video, not reading material

When we began making 2-Minute Explainer videos in 2004, few technology companies were using video to help customers understand their solutions. We built our business helping explain unfamiliar concepts like BPM, SOA, MDM, etc. But these are familiar categories, today, and buyers have seen a lot of marketing videos since 2004.

“We cure your pain” — but doesn’t everybody?

Most product-oriented explainer videos have this structure:

  1. We recognize that you have these pain points.
  2. We provide relief.
  3. Here’s how.
  4. You’ll like the results.

This is a logical approach for a product introduction. But it is unmistakably marketing. Especially if there are competing solutions, you should consider a different storyline for the marketing-averse.

Alternative plot lines

Here are some other “plot lines” for solution overviews that can come across as more interesting than sales-y:

  • A day in the life (before and after)
  • A different way of looking at the situation
  • Have you ever seen this before?
  • Five things you can do with our solution you probably can’t do now
  • How would you (or your staff) answer these questions?

Can you eliminate marketing messages — all of them?


5 things your B2B video script needs to avoid

B2B video script

Some things that look good on the page of a B2B video script can slow down the pace of your video and confuse the viewer.

A one-minute B2B video script should contain about 125 words. Any more and it will start to sound like a list of side effects at the end of a pharmaceutical commercial.

Assume that the first 30 seconds are more important than the second 30 seconds. So the first 60 words are crucial, and they need to be very, very carefully chosen. Here are some thing not to do, especially at the outset.

Non-visual ideas

Anything that can’t be pictured is a big drag on the communicative power of video — because showing is so much faster than telling.

Non-visual ideas include nebulous concepts like holistic, buzzwords like transformative, even down-to-earth abstractions like “best practices.” If you can’t sketch it on a piece of paper, you’re probably going to end up having to say the word and spell it out on the screen at the same time. Not very informative. You may have to resort to a visual cliché like a magic wand or a light bulb. Such images can be fun to look at, but they are not persuasive.


It’s pretty much impossible to show something not happening or not causing a problem. Even a comparison like  “it’s not over-engineered (like other solutions)” — which can be visualized — is not as compelling as visuals depicting how your solution is a good fit for its purpose. Besides, the more you accentuate what’s positive about your solution, the less likely you’ll be telling the audience something they already know.


How many seconds do I have to get to the point of a video?

point of a videoA recent discussion in our LinkedIn group Video for Technology Sales and Marketing took up the question of viewer attention-span length from several points of view, and it got me thinking.

How long we can realistically expect someone to watch a marketing video that doesn’t speak to their own specific need or interest?

Is video like a cold call?

Ryan Hamer pointed out that a salesperson has about 10-20 seconds on a cold call to “break through” the reluctance of the person on the other end to hear a spiel. Video, he noted, has the advantage of being a richer sensory experience, but

Consumers are accustomed to the Facebook/YouTube mentality of a short, shocking, or funny video that they will want to share with someone else. It isn’t easy to pull off but it is something every business should explore.

I pointed out — and Ryan agreed — that “funny” is iffy in a business context and, of course, exceedingly difficult to be sure of in any context.

Another participant, Randy Tinfow brought up his experience studying viewers of corporate videos:

As you mention with cold calling, nailing the Interest Step in the first 10 seconds is crucial to retaining audience. It’s shocking how many videos drone on for 45 – 60 seconds of canned intros without any promise of revelatory content. In fact if we break a 3:30 video into chapters, and call one of them INTRO, 47% of viewers skip it entirely, assuming it’s boring and useless. 😉

What is the first thing viewers see?

When we write short video scripts, we always try to get salespeople and other subject matter experts to tell us how they think we should begin the video — what words and images should appear first in the very first scene. After all, immediately after clicking the play button, viewers are most keen to exercise their perceptual skills and determine what you’re showing them. (Not long after that, viewers tend to go into a “trance state” and will misunderstand a lot of what the video is telling them anyway, according to research discussed here).


The role of video increases with changes in the B2B marketplace

Seventy percent of B2B buyers and researchers are watching videos throughout their path to purchase. That’s a 52% jump in only two years.

Google/Millward Brown Digital
B2B Path to Purchase Study, 2014.

Google and research partner Millward Brown Digital tracked clickstream data from 3,000 “B2B Researchers” over 13 months into 2014. The findings are summarized in an article at ThinkWithGoogle by Kelsey Snyder and Pashmeena Hilal.

There are some notable changes since this same study was fielded in 2012, which may make you want to redirect some marketing strategies and resources.

70% more millennials

Half the B2B researchers in the study were under 35. That’s a big change from 2012, when the generations were more or less evenly represented. When these buyers joined the workplace, everyone was already using search engines. As the researchers point out, they’re digital natives. Plan your content and media channels accordingly.


What are the best subjects for technology marketing videos (part 3)?

best subjects for technology marketing videos

More than anything else, buyers want insight. Videos that are rich in visual information can deliver a lot of insight.

This is the third post in a “What are the best subjects for technology marketing videos?” series. Click here for Part 1 and here for Part 3

According to the social media analytics firm Simply Measured, video content gets shared 12 times as often as links and text posts combined. True, the videos behind this stat are promotions by Facebook’s top ten brands, and your technology solution video may attract a different sort of fans.  But video, and visuals generally, are more likely to be shared online than content that requires more effort to grasp. And what is the quickest and easiest thing to grasp? Pictures. Information presented visually.

Visualizing the value proposition

best subjects for technology marketing videos

A hypothetical, but realistic, value prop calculation, can challenge the viewer to think hard about the vision you’re presenting.

If you can quantify your value proposition or proof points visually,  you’ve got the makings of a very persuasive video. Of course, sometimes there are too many unknowns and complications to come up with a back-of-the-envelope value calculation. But if you can find something to say with numbers, you can gain credibility and demonstrate your understanding of the customer environment. Here’s a down-to-earth excerpt from a BMC product video in which it’s clear that the company is savvy about mainframe costs and the value of their solution.


What are the best subjects for technology marketing videos? (part 2)

best subjects for technology marketing videos

One of the best subjects for technology explainer videos is the concept that underlies the solution you’re marketing.

This is the second post in a “What are the best subjects for technology marketing videos?” series. Click here for Part 1 and here for Part 3

In a recent survey of B2B marketing and sales execs, one of the top obstacles to “video marketing success” was reported to be “creating compelling content” (45%, second only to “lack of budget” at 47%. Source: The State of B2B Video Marketing. )

One thing marketers can do to overcome this obstacle, and possibly free up some budget resources at the same time, is to stop thinking in terms of product videos. Videos about technology products are hard to produce — let alone make “compelling” — because, for one thing, most tech “products” aren’t products at all — they’re collections of capabilities and ways of doing things. And having defined this nebulous product, product managers and marketers feel compelled to include all its capabilities in their video. This pretty much rules out compelling.