By Iain Dooley,
Founder of Working Software and creator of Decal CMS
Over the past year, I’ve done a bit of work producing videos and in this post I discussed the importance video has played thus far in marketing, support and training people how to use Decal CMS.
With the launch of our flagship public beta product Decal Mockups recently, I produced quite a lot of video for both marketing and training purposes and felt as though I’d really had the chance to hone my craft, especially when reflecting on my first attempt last year.
I’m by no means an expert, but I feel as though I’ve got a few simple strategies for producing video very inexpensively for your products that doesn’t totally suck.
I’m also very keen to share my experiences, thoughts and methods in the hopes that someone out there will give me some ideas on how my methods could be improved.
My tools of choice are:
The two primary purposes of product video
In my experience there are two primary purposes for product videos: marketing and training. My production strategies for each are slightly different.
When I talk about marketing videos I’m talking about the video that people see when they land on your home page – the one that’s supposed to get them interested enough in your proposition that they follow some call to action (eg. signing up to use your product).
These are the ones that take me the longest to make and they require the most planning, ironically because they have to be the shortest.
I wouldn’t personally create a product marketing video longer than 1 minute and the shorter you can get it the better (Wistia’s home page intro video is only 30 seconds long).
If your video includes a piece to camera or interview I’d say that you can go (a bit) longer in some cases, however looking good on camera is really hard and screencasts are immeasurably easier and cheaper to produce.
Step 1: The message
When you are releasing a product, your natural inclination is to make a product video that demonstrates the features of the product.
This is because you’re very proud of the features – you have spent a while working on them and you think they’re totally ground breaking.
But features are totally boring to watch and your features are not your message (disclaimer: to a certain extent, this depends on your audience – but I’d say the cases where a feature heavy marketing video makes sense are the exception).
If you take a look at the very first video I made last year for Decal you can see what I mean about “feature focus” – it has absolutely no message whatsoever and is completely and utterly uninspiring:
I recently watched (and blogged about) a TED talk by Simon Sinek entitled “How Great Leaders Inspire Action” which says that “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it”, but also states that people will buy your product for themselves, not for you.
So it’s not enough to ask why you’re making this video – you have to ask why your audience is watching it, why they’ll keep watching it and why they’re going to do what you want them to do at the end (ie. sign up to use your product).
At the beginning of this year I had just begun to get an idea about marketing message and produced 5 separate videos for the Decal CMS home page which were designed to appeal to different audiences.
I’d started to scratch the surface of what it meant to be talking to my audience, taking the focus off features and trying to deliver a message which would appeal to people’s emotions and you can see one of those videos below – however it’s still far too long and had too much of a feature focus:
I think it’s interesting to look at the progression to my latest offering for our Decal Mockups launch:
Apart from some technical improvements (which I’ll cover later) the single biggest difference is that I’ve taken the focus completely off the product features and come out with a strong message that makes a very bold statement about how this product will benefit my audience.
Jamie Zawinski puts it beautifully when he asks “How will this software get my users laid“? 37 Signals have also written a similar post about “when opening your wallet becomes a no brainer“.
Your message should focus on this: how is your product going to save people time or money, or help them get laid.
Now here’s a little secret: it’s really hard to do!
I guarantee if you’re not a seasoned sales and marketing veteran, this will feel wrong at first – because it is.
The first 2 videos I made above were pussy footing around the issue. The very first one simply presented my product and let people reach their own conclusions. The second focuses more on benefits to the viewer but the benefits are convoluted and probably only relevant to someone who’s had a specific experience with another provider.
The third video says in plain English that Decal Mockups saves you money and makes your job easier – and it felt like a lie. Not an out and out lie, but a bit of a lie.
However you’re trying to fit your message into a space that is so compacted, that if you don’t make a bold statement people will instantly tune out and stop paying attention.
So even though what you want to say is “This product will make your life easier once you’ve learned how to use it, and if you use it in a particular way then you could even save money by using it!”, what you have to say is “This product will make your life easier and save you money” without all the qualifying excuses.
Now I’m going to let you in on another little secret: no-one cares.
I was really nervous when I put that video out there – I emailed everyone I knew (only about 300 people) and I was an absolute wreck. I felt grimy and dirty as if I had told the world’s biggest lie and everyone would soon turn up at my door with pitchforks.
You know what actually happened? People signed up to use the product.
Here is a quick breakdown of the stats:
- 81% of people who landed on the page watched the video
- Those that clicked play watched on average 63% of the video
- Of those that clicked play, 23% signed up to use the product
- 19% of all people who came to the page signed up to use the product
Even for a free product, that is a phenomenal conversion rate. You know how many people I got complaining that I was taking liberties in saying the product would save time, money and make their life easier? Zero.
There are, of course, laws governing false advertising and I’m not advocating completely falsifying information but if the choice is between your waffly line of conditional, qualified excuses leading up to a statement of what benefits someone might be able to achieve in certain use cases, or just stating up front the benefits of the product in the first 10 seconds of the video, then you should definitely choose the latter.
Step 2: The Script
Now that you’ve decided on your message, it’s time to write your script. Start by writing your message in such a way that you can deliver it in 10 – 15 seconds.
It’s a good idea to state what your product actually is before you start talking about the benefits, otherwise the experience for the viewer is disorientating – but the combination of what your product does and how it “gets people laid” shouldn’t take more than 15 seconds to say.
From that starting point, you then need to reinforce your message, focusing on key points of difference and justifying your bold statement with a couple of facts about your product.
The most important thing is: don’t agonise over the script too much before you’ve recorded it and listened to it.
Don’t think of a “script iteration” as writing, or even writing then speaking – think of a complete script iteration as writing, recording and then listening back. Don’t worry about the sound quality of your recording just yet, either.
Once you’re at least 75% happy with the script (not 100% happy, remember that folks: don’t get hung up on your “perfect script” yet), move onto the story boards.
Step 3: The Storyboard
I prefer to use index cards for my story boarding rather than a whiteboard because it’s easier to re-order the “shots” and sections of your script.
I have the shot list on one side and sections of the script on the other, and I can re-order and reposition chunks of text next to “shots”.
The image to the left is the “story board” I used for the 2nd in the series of videos shown above.
When deciding what “shots” to use, try using your product whilst listening to the recording of your initial script draft and see what fits well.
You can then add a visual or textual reminder for that shot to an index card and stick it next to that piece of the script.
When considering what shots you’ll have, you want to have a good balance of things that move and things that don’t.
If there’s one thing that can really ruin your message and be totally distracting, it’s having constant talking in conjunction with constant movement.
Go back and look at the Decal Mockups video above and see how little movement there is on the screen – especially where the spoken information is at it’s most dense.
The most movement occurs when I’m talking about the “real browsable website” and the only movement occurring is web browsing which reinforces the voice over.
Also don’t underestimate the value of just printing words to the screen that are key words in the sentences of the voice over.
Once you’re 75% happy with your story board, (that’s right folks, don’t wait until you’re 100% happy), it’s time to do some actual screen capturing
Step 4: Screen capture and editing
Fire up ScreenFlow and capture each of your shots. Move the mouse slowly and deliberately. It’s very easy to edit out pauses and speed video up, but very tedious to edit out unnecessary mouse movements so the smoother and more accurate your mouse movements are in your initial recordings the more time you’ll save during editing.
Once you’ve got each of your shots, it’s time to edit them to fit in with your script. If you haven’t already, get a good reading of your script recorded.
The timing should be reasonably good – speak slowly and clearly (in fact you should speak so slowly that it feels a little bit weird). Edit out any obvious mistakes but don’t worry about sound quality, or editing out breathing or other noises – this is not your final recording.
Now edit your video down to fit in with your script. This is truly the most mind numbingly tedious part of the process. Try as much as possible to edit out unnecessary mouse movements in the screen casts and avoid using any transitions other than cross dissolve – you’ll be tempted to use one of the many other featured effects in ScreenFlow but they all suck.
I’d love to give you some ScreenFlow tips that will teach you to be a ninja at it but I’m a total hack. I just use images and text boxes to create my “graphics” – zooming to give them a bit of movement. The rest is simply screencasts.
There are a bunch of really awesome ScreenFlow tutorials around on the interwebz though so it’s probably worth boning up a bit on your techniques. I didn’t do this, and it took me 18 hours to produce the 60 seconds of video for the Decal Mockups – and about 70% of that time was spent editing or producing graphics.
I’m sure if you put some time into learning about some more advanced tips and techniques for using ScreenFlow you’ll live a longer and more prosperous life than I.
Remember: you don’t want to have things moving on the screen when you’re expecting people to be listening carefully to your words. This is really important – having too much happening at once is suprisingly confusing and they’ll either not listen to the words because they’re trying to see your product or they’ll miss your product shots altogether.
Don’t move onto the next step until you’re 100% happy – if necessary go back and modify your story boards and/or script and re-record it.
Step 5: The Final Voice Over and Edit
I’ve got a problem that you can hear in the 2nd video in the series above: my office is very big and echoey. I also live right next to a main road where lots of loud trucks, motorcycles and people with sports exhausts torment me.
This is particularly troublesome because I’m only using the in-built microphone on my laptop and I don’t have any sound mastering software or skills.
However, the voiceover in the Decal Mockups video doesn’t suffer from any of these problems. The secret? I record it whilst sitting in a closet. It’s a very small closet and it has lots of coats in it. The result is much clearer, don’t you think?
So, go and sit in your closet and record your script. You should record this speaking ever so slightly faster than the voice over you were editing your video to initially – but still slower than you would normally talk if you were having a conversation with someone (one always has a propensity to speak too quickly when recording voice over).
Do as many takes as you need to get each bit right and just leave ScreenFlow running whilst you do it. Try to do your takes in “chunks” and leave a gap when you stuff up – it can be hard to edit a good take out from 2 mistakes either side if your words or sounds are “rolling into each other”.
Once you’ve got this done, go back to your desk, stretch your legs and edit the final voice over to suit the video. Make sure you get rid of any “lip smacking” or breathing noises. You’ll find that, since you read just a little bit faster, you have some “space” now and during this final edit you may be able to cut the overall length of the video.
It’s important to leave some gaps in talking though – this gives the viewer a chance to focus on what’s on the screen, and also gives their brain some time to process what you’re saying and what they’re seeing.
Step 6: The sound track
This is kind of the fun part. You should produce a few different variations and test them on people you know. For the Decal Mockups video, I started off with this, which is me playing the Mbira:
I wanted to give an air of “magical wonder and simplicity” – reminiscent of a Hayao Miyazaki forest creature. However when I played it to a few people they found they were so distracted trying to figure out what that sound was, that they found it really hard to concentrate on the video.
I knew I had to go with something more familiar so guitar seemed like the obvious choice, but I still wanted something a bit different so I found this Gypsy Jazz version of All of Me played by Adrian Holovaty (co-incidentally, the author of the Django web framework!) on YouTube:
This was a dramatic improvement, however a few people I played it to said they found the melody line a bit distracting – also we obviously didn’t have the right to actually use it!
Luckily for me, Campbell McGuiness (one of the Working Software team) is a musician so he recorded a version of one of his songs minus any melody lines and I re-edited it to fit in with the video and that’s the final cut that we ended up publishing.
That about does it for marketing videos!
Training videos are kind of easier. Firstly, the constraints aren’t quite so strong – if someone is watching your training video, chances are they’re already using and therefore at least a little bit invested in your product.
You can see examples of the training videos I’ve made for Decal here:
When I want to do a training video I write a few index cards of what I want to teach, then I record each of those in turn and edit them together, getting rid of unnecessary mouse movements, loading times and using cross fades for transitions between points.
I then simply watch the video, and type a “narration” of what I’m seeing on the screen. I do a rough recording of this “script” and edit it down to the video.
I iterate like that as required until I’m happy then I go and sit in the closet to do my voice over and come back and edit the real V.O down to the video.
The other big difference in a training video is that obviously you’re basically just showing the product the whole time so there probably won’t be any “graphics”. I also find it’s more acceptable to have a bit more movement on the screen whilst you’re talking (not too much) so long as what the viewer is seeing is being reinforced directly by what they’re hearing.
There are 2 guidelines I use to make the videos more watchable:
- Use zooming and panning sparingly – it can make people nauseous but is also a really effective tool for focusing people’s attention on one part of the screen (sort of like a “pointer”) – especially if you want to show a lot of detail in a smaller video resolution
- State the length of the video and it’s purpose at the very beginning of the video and put the key words on the screen as you say them. This orientates the viewer and prepares them mentally for what they’re about to see
That’s about it for training videos. They’re far less involved, in my experience thus far, than marketing videos.
Remember: video converts!
Creating video is hard and tedious. It takes a really really long time, but hopefully some of these tips can help you make a better product video in less time than the year it’s taken me to get to something I find acceptable.
However just remember: video converts! It’s really worthwhile taking the time to do videos and improve your skills because you’ll get more customers.
So stay motivated – I know it’s really hard (and I’m totally guilty of cutting corners here and there) but keep slogging it out.
The other piece of parting advice I’ll give you to is to avoid being a perfectionist. You can look at all my marketing and instruction videos I bet and find not only obvious flaws but flaws I’ve advised against specifically in this article.
There are only so many hours in the day and in the final analysis you’re going to be far more aware of the flaws in your video than anyone else ever will be, so try not to get trapped in some vortex of perfection.
(Thanks Iain for a great guest post! If you have something to share, ping me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Iain Dooley is the founder of Working Software, creators of Decal CMS. He enjoys chatting with people on all manner of subjects and would love to hear from you on email@example.com – also if you’ve read this far, you should definitely Subscribe to the Decal CMS blog via email or RSS by clicking here, follow Working Software on Twitter and become a fan of Working Software on Facebook