Promotional Video 101: 10 Tips for Doing it Right

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We get a lot of first-time video clients who are quick to admit that they are clueless about the process, priorities, decisions, and pitfalls to avoid in making a promotional video. We find ourselves frequently reviewing the same pointers, so we’ve decided to compile and share our list of “Top Ten Choices for Doing it Right” to help you produce the best possible B2C or B2B promotional video. (They are all critical in different ways, so we won’t attempt to put them in order of importance. Not to be melodramatic, but getting any one of them wrong is enough to weaken the whole project.)


1. Decide who has a vote. And get It.

Look — it’s up to you to determine whose opinion you value. Obviously, the CEO, head of sales, and folks on the marketing team might want to be involved. But there's really nothing wrong with asking your brother-in-law's father's next-door neighbor’s boyfriend with a new marketing degree, and who’s been kicking around an idea for a startup. The point is, get that input at the beginning, as the script is finalized, and when you see an early draft of the video. Because having them only chime in with some “new interesting ideas” at the very end of the process will usually increase the time, stress level, and possibly the cost of the production. We work in a linear way, with sign-offs at each stage, so that we don't need to toss away work based on an assumption that everyone has approved up to this stage.


2. Pick your audience

We don't need to tell you that you need to understand your audience to create a script to match their interests and priorities. What you do need to keep in mind is that often, one video will not be ideal for everyone: investors, partners, customers, etc. Often, you can keep the tone general enough that it works as an intro, along with any other supplemental material you supply. An option that many of our clients choose is to create a single base of, say, 85% that's common to all audiences, and then create variations on the remaining 15% that target the specific audience you're sharing it with. Modest expense, serious improvement in engagement.


3. Tell a story to earn confidence

This may be one of the most important tips on this list, and the theme behind our homepage video. The minute you begin your story talking about yourself — your features, benefits, design, whatever — you are basically telling the person to leave their comfort zone of “stuff they know” and come and see what you have to show. The alternative is more powerful: To immediately begin talking about them — their problems, their needs, and what would delight them. It's as if you're coming into their camp to hang out, and psychologically it will make them feel a lot more comfortable. Second, creating this empathy helps build confidence that you truly grasp their problems (heck, you’re obsessed with it!) and therefore… you have the answers. Don't be afraid to spend even half the script on their problems and the issues you're coming to solve. Believe it or not, the solution becomes almost secondary because they're willing to trust that you know what they need.


4. Choose a style

A promotional video can be crafted using a number of different types of media. Here are some of the pros and cons of each:


  • Live camera footage.  Yes, sometimes there's really no better way to tell your story than with real people doing real activities with real things. But be careful: Depending on your subject matter and the requirements for actors, sets, sound, various angles, etc., this can get fairly expensive.

    Often more problematic: When you go to edit the material into a final video, you're limited to the material that you've filmed. You can’t experiment and create many variations without unlimited raw video material. And what's more, if your product or messaging changes in the coming months, you can't easily adapt the video unless the footage can remain the same. 

    One clever approach is to use high-quality stock video (see examples on our Video Styles page), which cost a fraction of what you pay to film yourself, and often offer enough variety to do the job.

  • Completely "hand-drawn" cartoon animation offers the most flexibility there is: You could have a purple camel jump off a trampoline, grow wings, land on a mountain shaped like a light bulb and then zoom out to realize it was all in someone's dream bubble. The downside is that by definition, it's not "real world" and sometimes that harms your message. In addition, because it's so labor intensive, it can be fairly time-consuming and more expensive than other options. Finally, making changes later on can also be an expensive process, depending on the other elements in the design.

  • Using photo or graphical objects in combination with kinetic text is the most flexible and cost-effective solution, and the style we use here most often to avoid the problems above. Elements can be swapped in and out in seconds, clever animations can be added throughout, and the text elements help reinforce key messages. The only real downside is that these often leverage stock photo imagery, which is not necessarily an obstacle but can rub some people the wrong way. With clever animation and editing, there are ways to avoid looking too much like a PowerPoint loaded with mindless imagery.

5. Get ready to compromise

A homepage video cannot cover it all. It's not meant to. It's meant to trigger enough of an emotional reaction to get them to the next step. There is plenty that you're not going to be able to get into your script, and that's okay. You need to think not about what you absolutely must say, but what your audience needs to hear. It's a subtle difference, but it's critical to providing just enough information without going on too long or beating a dead horse. Yes, it hurts to leave things out. As a matter of fact, the first step of our process is a questionnaire that can take a long time to fill in with lots of content. And it may bug you if we only use a quarter of it in the script itself. But it paints a picture for us and allows us to identify and leverage the points most likely to drive user engagement.


6. Embrace the outsiders (that’s us!)

We hope that you’re hiring a video production company (like the RapidFire team!) with much more than just technical skills. To create an effective script and visual treatment, you need some serious marketing and writing background, and experience with campaigns that worked (and those that didn't). Since you're hiring a company to help create your story, don't get defensive about their suggestions for alternative twists on your current messaging. Sometimes having an intelligent third-party there as fresh blood, taking a different look from a different perspective, can reveal things that you can’t see from up close. Let’s be blunt: The longer you work exclusively on your product, the longer you get entrenched in a specific vocabulary and approach. Telling your story in a video doesn't necessarily need to mimic all those concepts. They can supplement or even — gulp — replace them.


7. You probably don't need viral

For this one, we’ll just point you to the Viral Video video we made on the topic. It says it all, more elegantly than a lot of words would…


8. Throw a curveball

These days, videos are mainstream. They are a required checklist item for your homepage. Your challenge, then, is to not make it feel like “just another video." Before addressing the challenge with a unique visual style, try opening up with a ridiculous example, an offbeat statement that has them scratching their head for a moment, or an image so far from your subject matter that is going to grab their attention, if only to find out what the heck it has to do with what you are promoting.


9. Timing is everything

These days, most B2C videos aim to remain as close to 60 seconds as possible, and almost always under 90 seconds. There are certainly exceptions, but that's the trend. Keep in mind that 60 seconds is a real challenge: it only allows about three sentences for each stage of the video (presenting the problem, the general solution, introducing your product, basic details, call to action/closing).


B2B is, well, a different story. There were three reasons that you can go up to two or even two and a half minutes in a business video. First, the person watching has a financial interest in learning about your solution. Cash vs. curiosity: It's not just a cute nice-to-have that he/she can ignore without possibly missing out on tangible benefits that impact on the bottom line. Second, the alternative to watching your “full-length” (!) two or three minutes is reading a whole lot of text which, sadly, people just don't do readily anymore. Third, a subtle psychological game: Sitting here watching this video is… Work. Simply a nice alternative to a regular routine. Especially if you are including some snippets of the product in action, you’ll need that time.


Here's our "How Long?" video explaining this in a bit more detail.


10. Pick your theater

The content of your video should be designed based on the type of screen most likely used to show it. For instance, a consumer video watched on a compact smartphone is not the ideal framework for lots of text-heavy screenshots unless you are zooming in very dramatically on specific page elements. Neither is a video designed for a tradeshow where people drift by, overwhelmed and distracted, and won't want to be doing a lot of reading. (By the way, for tradeshows, it's got to be silent, with some modest text that's easier to read than typical subtitles. The music or voiceover will drive you nuts after the first 10 minutes and won't be heard anyway, and any substantial quantity of text will go by in a blur as your audience is not in an ideal mode for processing it.). If it’s a purely B2B video that provides an overview from your homepage, it’s a pretty safe bet that the majority of viewers will be sitting in front of a regular monitor.