“We just put a video up on our website… it’s really cool, but nobody is watching it”
Video production for business has evolved rapidly over the last 5 years. Video isn’t novel any more. Anyone can, and does, produce video. Just like websites 10 years ago – when every company had to have a ‘web presence’ but were not sure why, businesses are now starting to use video to communicate to their customers and prospects. But just like websites a decade ago, most of the video produced today doesn’t move the dial. Here’s why:
In Abraham Maslow’s groundbreaking paper “A Theory of Human Emotion,” Maslow outlined five ‘states’ (Physiological, Safety, Belongingness and Love, Esteem, Self-Actualization and Self-Transcendence needs) to describe the pattern that human motivations generally move through. His premise was simple – each state is a foundation layer for the next. You can’t experience a state until you have met the needs of the lower states. I’ve applied this same framework to Corporate Video Production.
Most corporate videos today fail because they are not built on a solid foundation. When I say ‘fail’ I mean fail to achieve a measurable business outcome. If you want your business video (whatever type of video you are producing ) to make a difference then you have to go through each of the steps described below. There are no shortcuts. You might get lucky by showing up with an idea and a camera but, chances are, you won’t. Corporate video isn’t just about shooting and editing any more. It used to be because video was cool and video was novel. Today video is neither, video is just another content element, another tool to communicate your important messages to your audience. Don’t get me wrong – your video still has to be shot and edited well, really well, but if you ignore these foundational steps… you’re likely just putting ‘lipstick on a pig’ by the time you get to production and post-production.
1. What is your business goal?
“We want to update the look of our website.” “Our competitors are using video and we don’t want to be left behind.” ” The guys in sales say they want something really cool.” None of these are business goals. Having a ‘web presence’ was never a business goal. It was just something you did because everyone else was doing it.
The importance of defining business goals for your video cannot be overstated. These goals speak to the reason for your investment. These goals serve as the foundation to measure the success (or failure) of your video. These business goals also serve as the context -the ‘drivers’ for the next level of the hierarchy. You can’t start thinking of building a message platform for your video if you don’t fully understand the business motivation for the video. If you can’t work this first step out, save yourself some money and don’t bother with the video. (I can just picture my industry colleagues screaming ‘shut-up’ at their monitors.) If you and your video production team don’t understand your business motivations then your video won’t have any impact. And you’ll likely stop using video… for a while. (Remember when you asked ‘Why do we need this website anyway – it’s just a brochure in space?”)
2. Get the message right.
“Getting the message right” is the single most important AND the single most difficult thing you can do in marketing. Your message underpins everything you do in marketing. It’s the answer to the ‘what’ question. What are you going to say and why are you saying it? You should not be thinking of ‘creative’ at this point. You shouldn’t be thinking about styles and treatments and yet that is often what happens in corporate video production. The tail wags the dog. Someone sees a video and then wants to shoehorn in ‘some of your product or corporate stuff’ into that idea. THIS STEP IS WHERE MOST CORPORATE VIDEOS FAIL. (I figured bold and all-caps would really help me make my point…).
Getting the right message to the right audience at the right time is very difficult. Most companies don’t have a solid grasp on exactly what market they serve, what specific business problems they solve and how to frame their message into a form that will resonate with that audience. Relying on your video production company to solve this little conundrum may, or may not, be your best option. Video production budgets typically allocate a very small fraction of the overall production budget for this important work. That’s not very smart, and yet… that’s how it generally goes, either because production companies assume the client will “fill all these missing pieces in” or they will magically figure everything out when they are doing their location scouting or other more important video production work. Uh huh.
“The message” is not the final script. The ‘message’ is knowing the things that you want to communicate to your audience. It’s knowing what stirs your clients giblets. It’s knowing what your customers really care about and packaging what you do in a way that they will understand and believe… and knowing what will compel your customers to take that next step, wherever they happen to be in your sales cycle.
3. What do you show?
Assuming that you’ve developed a strong message platform and you know exactly what you need to say, to whom and why, then the next step is to determine what you need to show in your video. This is where you develop the storyboard and script. This is where creative concepts are considered and refined. This is where you determine who is in the video, where the video is shot, what supporting elements need to be in the video, whether or not you need music or a voice-over, motion graphics, on-screen talent and a host of other factors that all contribute to the cost and quality of your video.
An example: You know your customers pain points and you know how to frame your product in a way that positions your product as their only real choice. How do you delivery this message? Do you get your CEO in front of the camera. No, he’s too dull. How about Steve in sales? What, Steve’s too slick, nobody will trust him? OK, how about Homer in R&D, we’re selling to a technical audience they’ll relate to him right? Great, so where do we shoot this? At Homer’s desk? No, okay how about on the production floor – that will also help us show off our facilities. Too distracting… alrighty, how about Homer talking to one of our clients? Why don’t we have Homer interviewing one of our clients about their experience with our product? Do we even need anyone from our company in the video? Wait, wait, wait, I saw this cool ‘explainer, cartoony thing, what about one of those… and on it goes. The permutations are endless.
This is where some ‘old school’ and some ‘new school’ video production companies shine. Some. Knowing how to take your important messages and translate those into video glory is a specialized skill. It’s not just ‘creative.’ It’s applied creative. There’s a big difference. Anyone can be creative (think movie script) but being creative with a specific business objective in mind, that’s heavy lifting. Your goal is to develop a storyboard that resonates with your audience. It makes them think AND makes them feel. If you can communicate your messages on an emotional level – you’re waaaay ahead of the game.
* Important Note. Everything discussed above is delivered in pre-production. everything mentioned happens before you pick up a camera. Today this is where all the value is in video production. Being able to light, frame and edit and shot and add cool transitions and graphics to the edit – those are becoming table-stakes – those are the skills that you are starting to find everywhere because everyone now has access to great cheap tools and free online training. The bar for higher and higher ‘production values’ is being raised every day. This is putting even more pressure on businesses to absolutely nail the pre-production piece – because being slick just isn’t good enough any more.
You have a storyboard, you have your locations chosen, you have a shot-list, all the on-screen personnel in place, the production crew has arrived well in advance… you’ve prepped your VP who is going on-camera in five minutes and you’re good to go. Lights, Camera Action! Shooting is all about preparation and planning. A seasoned crew will have experienced every problem imaginable and be able to adapt when problems occur (… they always do). A smart director or some other ‘handler’ will be good at getting the right delivery out of the folks on-camera and someone will be listening and watching to ensure that you get everything you need during the shoot. Shooting should be like a concert performance. All the players act in unison and delivery a great performance. What you never see is the time and effort in getting to that stage.
This is where your story gets built. Your video isn’t just a recitation of facts and figures. It’s a story. It has a beginning, a middle and an end. People want to watch it because it informs and engages them. This is where your video is ‘self-actualized’ – using Maslow’s terminology. This step takes great skill but even the most talented editor can only do so much with the material he is given. He has to count on all of the steps before him being achieved successfully before he is able to create magic.
Key Takeaway – Video projects should never start with ‘creative,’ they should start with a business need and a fully defined set of messages that resonate with your target audience. Once that’s in place, then you get clever.