Top explainer marketing videos work by reducing “cognitive load”

top explainer marketing videosWhy consider cognitive psychology’s theory of “cognitive load” when you are trying to produce top explainer marketing videos? We’re currently starting work on an overview video where the objective is to help re-position a well-established software brand. The company has crafted a positioning statement comprising a dozen discrete concepts that, taken together, convey what the company stands for, who should use their software, what it does for them, and why they’ll like using it.

Consider cognitive load when you’re designing top explainer marketing videos

It’s natural to think that an overview should present a complete picture, and that the task in this instance is simply to make sure that our video ticks all the boxes in the positioning document. This should not be difficult, as the positioning statement uses only about 80 words to express the ideas the company wants to put across.

On the other hand, these ideas are supposed to get viewers to look at the company in a new way — in other words, we’re asking viewers to learn something new. Asking them to learn a dozen new things is asking quite a lot.

Learning is a matter of processing information in “working memory” to fit existing patterns (schema) by which it can be stored in long-term memory. Our working memory is pretty limited, so it’s important not to overload it.

Total “cognitive load” consists of:

  • the complexity of the information itself (“intrinsic load”), plus
  • the amount of information that is not relevant to learning — decorative elements, non-relevant animations, etc. (“extraneous load”), plus
  • elements like examples and exercises that assist information processing (“germane load”)

eLearning insights improve technology marketing videos

eLearning insights improve technology marketing videos

Think about how your videos transfer knowledge — instead of how they represent your solution. It’s good exercise and will make your videos stand out.

We’ve specialized in writing and producing short videos to support technology sales for many years. Now that we’ve entered the Age of Bite-Size Learning, we find that we can take advantage of learnings from the eLearning community to help sharpen our focus and develop new approaches.

Light bulb moments

Bite-size learning is analogous to high-intensity exercise, which has been shown to produce better results faster than endurance training. People learn in short bursts — light bulb moments — better than they do by continuous effort, because concentration is hard to maintain. How many light bulb moments can be crammed into a short video?

Let’s stop talking about interactive video marketing

interactive video marketing

Engagement and learning should be the goal of interactive video marketing

In a recent LinkedIn discussion of content marketing, a commenter noted that “there’s not a lot of demand” for interactive video marketing. That’s been my experience, too. Clients for our short videos get interested in call-to-action buttons, chapterizing long videos, even quizzes and branching, but they don’t follow up.

Why marketers don’t do interactive video marketing

Demand Metric recently released a Brightcove-sponsored report on interactive video. Participants were Brightcove partners and customers, many of whom are large providers of video (broadcasters, publishers, big companies in healthcare, travel, etc.) In otherwords, a savvy survey sample. But, even among this crowd, a third of respondents asserted that their reasons for not using interactive video are:

  • Don’t have the budget
  • Don’t have the skills
  • Don’t understand how it works

And 25% admitted that they don’t understand the benefits.

Of course, as the study points out,

Developing standards for marketing videos

standards for marketing videos

The 1970 New York Transit Authority graphics standards manual widely considered the standard-setter in this peculiar genre. Shown here are standards for space between characters in in subway signage. See the brilliant reproductions at http://standardsmanual.com

Most companies we do business with publish comprehensive graphics standards manuals setting forth guidelines akin to those in the classic New York Transit Authority manual of 1970.

These manuals set rules for trademarks and logos, typography, advertising, and web publishing. Many provide guidelines and PowerPoint templates for presentations. Some attempt to provide a visual language of images and diagrams relevant to specific technology solutions and customer business drivers.

Why no standards for marketing videos?

But I’ve never seen one with standards for marketing videos, or any sort of motion graphics. (I’d very much like to, if you know of any.) It’s not hard to think of historical reasons why this should be so, at least for technology marketers.

  • Marketing videos are relatively new tools and are still viewed as exotic or luxury items in some companies
  • Video production tends to be ad hoc, as in “Hey, we need a video!”
  • There are all kinds of videos — webinars, demos, testimonials, slide show recordings, etc.
  • Every “producer” has his or her own aesthetic preferences and ideas about who the intended audience is, and what they’ll respond to.
  • There’s a lot of turnover in marketing departments. Producing a video that looks different from what your predecessors created is a high-visibility way to make your mark.

5 Tips for better explainer video narrations

In developing marketing videos, we usually start with a script — that is, words on paper. This is a sensible and congenial way for technology marketers to work, since most of us spend a lot more time dealing with text in various forms than the do with video.

But the spoken words of a video script needs to be looked at differently from the way you look at written text. It’s easy to overlook how every single spoken word will increase the length of the video. If they’re the right words, spoken persuasively, they’ll also add to the video’s meaning and its success. Wasted words add length, even as they subtract from the message.

1. Count the words

better explainer video narrations

Every word adds to the length of a video. That’s why it’s so critical to make every word count. “All the logistics” takes up about 1 second.

Many smart people who write well have trouble converting the number of words they write to the length of time needed to say the same words aloud. If your aim is to write a video that’s 60 seconds long, your first draft should contain about 125 words.

Yes, you can say more words than that in 60 seconds. I, myself, normally speak about three words per second when reading aloud. But if you listened to me — or James Earl Jones, or Scarlett Johansen, or anyone else — rattle on about a technology solution at 180 words per minute — well, you wouldn’t listen. No one would.

Sentences need rhythm. Viewers need time to absorb what is being spoken and the visual storytelling. If you want to keep your message short and understandable, you need to be an implacable word counter from the get-go.

2. Talk the talk

Another consideration marketers are apt to overlook is that the narrator needs to talk the way people talk. Industry jargon may be a big plus. On the other hand, marketing-speak, 

Develop better marketing videos using Google Slides

In a short essay commemorating the recent 100th anniversary of the General Theory of Relativity, Einstein biographer Walter Isaacson describes how Einstein depended on visual thought experiments to advance his own thinking — before he could advance the rest of ours. Science and technology ideas are almost always easier to explain to ourselves and others with visuals. In technology marketing videos, we might consider storyboards as being the rough thought experiments that lead to productions that can change how people think about your solution.

Finding mistakes

For one thing, misconceptions are easier to catch in storyboards than in text. Here’s a scene in the script of a recent video of ours. Visuals on the left, narration on the right. Seems clear enough.develop better marketing videos using Google Slides

Here’s an early storyboard visualization.

develop better marketing videos using Google Slides

You’ll notice that the original script describes things being

Music in technology marketing videos

music in technology marketing videosWhen we first started producing 2-Minute Explainer videos for companies in 2004, we resisted the idea of putting music in technology marketing videos under the narration. It seemed sufficient to “bookend” the video with music in the opening (usually a “logo spin”) and closing. It seemed to us that if you’re trying to explain a serious concept like Business Intelligence or Service Oriented Architecture, the background music makes the video less serious and more commercial or “sales-y.” And background music can become tiresome after a couple of minutes.

Sales pitch or explanation?

music in technology marketing videosOn the other hand, if you’re making a straightforward product pitch, particularly one that runs only a minute or so, well-chosen music can significantly enhance the viewing experience. For example, here’s a sales pitch where the overall tone of the narration and visuals is casual and whimsical. It seems to need music.

Here’s an example of a fairly serious and technical video we created for Cisco which did not use music. The version on the left is straight narration. The narration in the version on the right is backed by some fairly serious music (Prelude in F-Major from Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier).

How to tell a video sales story (Pt 3)

how to tell a video sales storyThis is the third of a series of posts on how to tell a video sales story. Here’s where to see Part 1 and Part 2

How to tell a video sales story? At one time or another, everyone who has ever had a job has probably wished “to bring about a major change in the organization.” According to this OpenView B2B Buyer Insight survey, it’s one of the main reasons buyers reach out to salespeople, and one that many salespeople fail to take into account.

Obviously, this is a motivation that should be taken seriously by solution sellers, because just about every software solution promises to effect a major change — higher performance, better security, increased customer satisfaction, better user experience, and so forth.

You seldom see an explainer video that addresses this motivation directly, but we’ve made a few.

“Here’s something you can change right now” (vs. “Here’s what we can do for you”)

how to tell a video sales story

An opportunity for ambitious government agencies who want to make a difference.

Here’s an example intended to appeal to would-be game changers in government who want to increase citizen engagement. It assumes right from the outset that the viewer is an IT executive motivated to bring about change, and demonstrates the straightforward, yet innovative, Software AG AgileApps live solution for governments (there is a UK version, too).

Did you know about this opportunity for change?

Any time you’ve got a solution most people in the organization don’t know they need, you have a big challenge, and an opportunity to reach out to the innovators who want to “bring about a major change.”

How to tell a video sales story (Pt 2)

how to tell a video sales storyThis is the second of a series of posts on how to tell a video sales story. Here’s where to see Part 1 and Part 3

How to tell a video sales story? As noted last time, there’s evidence that a lot of salespeople don’t have a good handle on the circumstances under which buyers might want to reach out to them.  That’s according to an OpenView B2B Buyer Insight survey.

One of the motivations salespeople tend to underestimate is “to replace a solution that isn’t working well.” For someone creating content for sales engagement, this suggests that it might be a very good idea to help out the sales team with with videos that anticipate the question “How should I replace my solution that isn’t working well.”

This audience is different — and it’s not you

Let’s take note of the following about the potential audience we’re trying to address with these  videos

  • They know they want a solution
  • They are inclined to take action to learn about the solution
  • They may or may not know about your solution, and
  • What they think they know may be wrong

As a marketer, you naturally evaluate a video on how much you like it, and whether it keeps your attention. I think this is one reason that many “explainer” videos start out with a display of empathy for the viewer’s problems. Because, without problems, there’s not much of a storyline — and stories are what we all like.

But keep in mind that you

How to tell a video sales story (Pt 1)

how to tell a video sales storyThis is the first of a series of posts on how to tell a video sales story. Here’s where to see Part 2 and Part 3

How to tell a video sales story? An OpenView B2B Buyer Insight survey points up some differences between what IT buyers and IT salespeople think motivates buyers to reach out to salespeople. I think it’s interesting that salespeople tended to underestimate the importance of these buyer motivations:

  • To research a market
  • To replace a solution that isn’t working well
  • To bring about a major change in the organization

It put me in mind of an issue we face every time we develop a technology marketing video — How do we frame the story? Even more important — What happens in the first scene?

Turns out, we have framed videos around these motivations — not deliberately — in the past, and the videos have worked well. But we’ll consider them with a little more deliberation in future projects. Maybe you should, too.

“Here’s what’s new in your market” (vs. “Here’s why we’re the next big thing”)

When everybody’s doing it — in IT today, “it” is cloud/virtualization, big data analytics, mobility, social media — solution providers tweak their solution to stay on top of the trends. A relevant video solution might be to feature these special tweaks in shorter-than-average videos.

For example, Cisco’s Workload Automation solution has been around for a while (as Tidal Enterprise Scheduler). Here are a couple of short videos