Do you really need an explanatory video for your startup?

By Marc Strong,
Founder, Wienot Films

The world is drowning in information–at least I know I am! In 2011, we created an estimated 1.8 zettabytes of data. What’s a zettabyte anyway!? Mashable says 1,800,000,000,000,000,000,000 bytes is enough information to fill 57 billion 32 GB iPads. If that number’s still too abstract, you could build a mountain 25-times higher than Mt. Fuji with all those iPads! Needless to say, it’s easy for the average consumer to feel overwhelmed by the amount of information available today. Email overload alone is enough for most people to consider suicide! Okay, maybe suicide is too extreme. Perhaps some kind of Chinese water torture would better fit the bill. Imagine that slow and steady drip right between the eyes on your forehead. A bit like your email perhaps…unrelenting! Why do we have such short attention spans these days? Maybe it has something to do with the overabundance of information.

When thinking about whether you need a video to explain your startup, I think a wise question to ask yourself is whether your product or service is contributing to people’s feeling of information overload. Is your offering so easy to understand that an average reader could figure it out in the first 10-20 seconds on your site? Most people–your mom excluded–don’t want to take much time to figure it out. How much reading and digging is required to understand how your product or service works? If they can’t figure it out quickly and easily, you need to find a better way to explain it.

A concise, well-produced video can be a fun and soothing antidote to this information overload problem, while simultaneously increasing your conversion rate. Here’s why. First, with limited time to share your message, video requires you to figure out exactly what you want to say and prioritize only those things that really matter. What would you say you do if you only had 30 seconds to explain your business? I love this quote by Mark Twain, “If I’d had more time, I’d have written a shorter letter.” Video, with its finite length, forces you to write that shorter letter.

Second, clarity of the written word is exposed when made audible. If you think you’ve written something that’s crystal clear, ask your spouse or good friend to read it to you out loud. Watch them read it and you’ll know right away whether it’s as clear as you thought. If they’re stumbling or pausing, or making strange faces, those are good indicators you need to refine things. The process of producing a video similarly helps illuminate the clarity–or muddiness–of your message.

Third, video is able to leverage the power of sight. I’ve heard various claims about the portion of our brain that’s devoted to vision, from 50-75 percent. I don’t know the true figure, but I think it’s obvious that we understand things better when we see them. A good video will use compelling visuals to support that clear message you worked so hard to develop.

As you focus on the most important things, use language that is clear, and add visuals that support your point, your message will grow in power. Add in elements of story and your message will be like Popeye after he eats his spinach. For whatever reason, we humans are wired to intuitively understand and remember stories. Add all these element together and a quality explanatory video can act like a breath of fresh air in an environment polluted with too much information.

THE COST

Explanatory video producers I’ve come across–and I’ve looked at a lot of them–charge anywhere from $2k to upwards of $30k for a video, depending on the project’s length and complexity. Most seem to charge somewhere between $5k and $15k for an average video. If that’s within your budget, you’re good to go.

One note on picking a video producer. I’d highly suggest you look for one who is not only a talented animator, but more importantly is a gifted storyteller. Common Craft, arguably the father of explanatory videos, may not make the most technically sophisticated videos from an animation standpoint, but the clarity of their explanations are among the best in the business, which is why they’re in high demand (their Dropbox video is below). If you want a video that’s going to stick, remember the adage that content is king. Just like in Hollywood, visual effects can be great, but they should support your story if you want them to have a lasting impact on your viewers.

OTHER OPTIONS

If you’re like most startups, funds might be tight. If that describes you, I’ve come up with a few solutions to help bridge the gap until you’re able to hire a pro.

1. Simplify your product or service. If your product is too complicated, the first question I’d ask is whether there’s a way to simplify it. Remember, simplification is a process of stripping away everything that’s not essential. It’s difficult and takes time, but is worth the effort if you’re serious about success. Isaac Newton wisely said, “[M]ore is in vain, when less will serve.” The advice my wife loves to give me is apt too: “Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.”

2. Use visual aids to explain your product or service. Sometimes simple images can help communicate the purpose or effect of using your product or service better than any words can. Look for ways to explain your product visually. Even hand-drawn images using stick figures and a sharpie can often do the trick.

3. Tell your story with a text-only animated video. I’m sure many of you have seen text animated videos (searching “kinetic text” will give you plenty of examples). Some of them are very complex. Others, less so. They’re typically easier and quicker to produce than fully animated explanatory videos, making them a cheaper option. If you go this route, make sure to still develop a concise message that tells a compelling story.

For a great example of a powerful text animated video that combines story with music, watch “The Girl Effect” below.

4. Show your product with a demo video. If you’re offering some sort of software or web service, a demo video combining screen capture and simple narration can at least help your potential customers understand how your product works and see it in action. If money were no option, I’d create an explanatory video giving the bigger picture of why your product matters and how it works and then create separate tutorials or demo videos showing some of the ins and outs of using it. There are all sorts of inexpensive screencasting programs that can help.

5. Make a personal “talking head” video. If you’re at least somewhat photogenic (if your mom thinks you’re lovable, you probably pass the test!), a simple video of you in front of your webcam, or other higher quality camera, explaining why you created your service and why it’s amazing is sometimes enough to do the trick. If you make your own, make sure you get enough light in the video so your viewers can see you properly (search “three-point lighting” for a few tips on lighting). Also, make sure there isn’t background noise competing with what you’re saying. Don’t underestimate the importance of clear audio.

6. Make your own video. If you have some time, try making your own video. You could do any one of the options I mentioned above. If you have a Mac, I’d suggest iMovie. It’s super easy to learn. I’m sure Window’s Movie Maker would also do the trick. Maybe your video won’t look as good as you had hoped, but perhaps you’ll surprise yourself! Find some people to give you honest feedback after you make it. Take their comments to heart. Even world-famous directors get feedback from test audiences before they release their films. Whatever you come up with, remember to focus on the important things, be clear and concise, and try to tell a story. Last but not least, don’t forget to have fun!

If all of the above felt like a lot to take in, perhaps this simple summary will help:

And lest I post everyone else’s videos and none of my own, as entrepreneurs who I suspect give your fair share of presentations, some of you might appreciate this fun video I made last year. It includes some useful tips for giving great (PowerPoint) presentations. Enjoy!

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Marc Strong is the founder of Wienot Films, an Austin-based company that specializes in making fun explanatory videos that turn complex ideas into clear, concise stories. When not making videos, you can find him riding his bike or hanging out with his wife and kids. Contact him on Twitter @wienotfilms or via email at marc@wienotfilms.com.

Comments

  1. Great advice, Bob. I for one love cute product and company overviews. And, while I’m at it, book trailers are also nice visuals. I like to give people options for consuming content. It doesn’t cost a great deal of coin to create a professional video today. If it results in one big sale or (for me) speaking engagement, then it pays for itself.

  2. One caveat: if you’re targeting large entities like big corporations or governments, don’t put your video on Youtube et al. Too many of them block the main video sites.

  3. As I personally prefer reading to watching, if there is only a video and no text description of a service on the main page, I will skip it and search for something else. Videos may be more attractive for some, but not for everyone.

    If you can have a video in addition to some text, that can be good. But dropping the text description and keeping only a video will keep some (or many?) people away from discovering your services.

  4. Thanks for the kind words about Common Craft Marc! I think it’s great that you’ve provided tips for startups and individuals that may not have the resources for a video. Particularly, I think visual aids are amazingly helpful. If a startupper can stand in front of a whiteboard and sketch their idea using simple drawings, it can be even more effective than a video and help provide the basics for investors, etc. Of course, this medium doesn’t scale like a video, but a presentation could be recorded.

    Dan Roam’s book Back of the Napkin is a resource for learning how to think about these kinds of drawings.