Product Videos
Marketing Video Marketing

The Marketer’s Guide to Producing Product Videos

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I’m a girl on the go. I was never one to RTFM, preferring instead to point and shoot cameras or assemble Ikea furniture with nary a direction. This would drive my ever-logical, by-the-books dad crazy because it would often lead to error (and my eventual plea for his help). For better or worse, I never quite shook that leap-before-you-look mentality, and when I was tasked with creating a series of product videos for the company, I leaped with fearless abandon.

As a product marketer, I’m tasked with bringing the technology team’s work to market—and for me, that means not only translating functions into benefits, but also storifying them to appeal to our customer base.

Product videos are just one of the tactics I use to tell story; in fact, there are a host of other communications and sales collateral our company uses to reach and nurture prospects: overview sheets, product pages, email campaigns, blog posts, and webinars, to name a few. And while they’re different from one another, it’s critical that all these materials stem from a centralized messaging document that has buy-in from sales, marketing, and other key constituents of the go-to-market team, and that they all work together to provide a 360-degree overview of a given product.

My goal with these communications is to appeal to different types of buyers by giving them the right material at the right stage of their cycle, so they’re able to make informed decisions about our products. And while some prospects might prefer a fact sheet, others may want a peek inside the platform itself. That’s where video marketing comes in.

What, Exactly, Is a Product Video?

Simply put, a product video aims to explain the benefits of a piece of technology to someone unfamiliar with its functionality. Unlike a screencast or a demo, which often provide step-by-step walkthroughs, a product video’s goal is to create a deeper connection with an audience through story or narrative, and to show viewers the value of a product instead of telling them about it. (Telling is typically the domain of product pages and fact sheets.)

If you aren’t integrating video into your marketing strategy, you’re in the minority. According to Marketing Profs, 96 percent of B2B marketers embedded video into their marketing strategy last year, and 71 percent have invested big in this area in the past six months. And as more companies invest in this tactic, it’s getting even harder to differentiate yourself from the other successful strategies out there.

So, How Can I Stand Out?

As a product marketer, I’m constantly on the lookout for fresh, new product videos. Over the past year or so, I’ve started to add to my arsenal of enviable hits, and take notes on the things I like. That’s a practice I’d recommend, as having samples ready will help you pinpoint the things you want in your own videos and share them with videographers in ways that words simply cannot (especially if, like me, you aren’t fluent in video terminology).

I gravitate toward videos that show a nuanced approach to a platform: not just a flat-screen view, or a creepy hovering-over-the-shoulder screenshot, but a video that physically lifts the technology up off of the page, and pulls viewers into a third dimension—much in the way that this Frame.io video captures its integration with Premier Pro does (minus the robot-like actors that make it feel a bit like the Matrix).

Frame.io integration with Adobe

That being said, I also appreciate the white-clean Apple approach with tight zooms, as it tends to simplify a product’s complexity. Dropbox’s new productivity tools video is a great example:

Drop Box Productivity Tools Video

I close videos with blocky animations—you know, the ones that start with frustrated stick figures and end with cartwheels, thanks to [insert product of choice here]? I also steer away from videos that rely on gratuitous amounts of stock video, and are laden with wildly stretched metaphors (for any of you Silicon Valley fans, the Tables video makes a perfect mockery).

In spite of my long list of likes and dislikes, I am far from creating the perfect video. But it had to start somewhere. I know I’m not a pioneer in this space, but if I can model my videos after examples I find inspiring, and capture my audience’s attention—even if only for a few seconds—I will have made an impact.

I’ve created dozens of product videos—some pretty sweet IMHO, others cringe-worthy. In doing so, I’ve learned enough to share some knowledge of what works and what simply does not. If I could go back in time and tell my over-eager video producer self how it should be done, I’d write the following prescription:

1. Start at the End

CTA Slide

Fifty percent of executives search for more information after viewing a product video. What action do you want your viewers to take after watching yours? Do you want them to request a demo? To sign up for a webinar? To share it with their peers? Whatever your call to action may be, define it right away. Having a clear concept of your CTA will help guide you and your videographer in design decisions.

2. Decide Where It’s Going to Live (and Don’t Forget Your Secondary Audience)

Once you’ve determined your CTA, you’ll need to map out your channels and decide where your video’s going to live. If your goal is to get prospects to request a demo, you might upload it to a video hosting platform such as Vimeo or YouTube, a product page, broadcast it on your social media channels, or embed it in an email (videos increase CTR 200-300 percent).

Videos can be highly effective sales and customer customer success tools, especially as initial touch points, as they can save your reps’ time whether they’re evaluating prospects, or sharing new product features or enhancements. Videos can be built into email campaigns for nurturing, integrated into customer success talk tracks, or embedded within decks for upsell opportunities.

With all these powerful attempts to reach prospects readily available, it’s easy to overlook the importance of promoting product videos to your internal teams. Internal education is a big part of our go-to-market strategy, and platform videos are a great way to pass along high-level information to the rest of the company, as a supplement to release notes or webinars. Work with a few advocates within the company to bring everyone up to speed so your whole team is singing the same tune—that’ll go a long way in ensuring the success of this new initiative.

Okay—Can I Start Rolling Yet?

I know it seems like we are solving for the end before we’ve even started producing, but figuring out CTA and hosting will be key when you start talking with your videographer. That way, he or she can prepare as many different formatted videos as you’ll need (some with title cards, some web or monitor optimized, GIFs for social media promotion, etc). Speaking of format…

3. Live Action or Animation? Why Not Both?

Before you press play on production, stop and ask yourself how you’d like to frame your technology. Do you want the context of live actors? Do you want a straight-up animated fabrication of your platform? Do you want it to feel like a demo?

I love the notion of integrating live action with product screenshots—in theory, it sounds great. In reality, though, it can be a bit of a headache, and also feel forced, so use it at your own discretion. If your product supports workflow (i.e. Skyword’s platform enables the creation of freelance creative profiles, and enables editorial processes), then it might make sense to bring parts of that to life, like I did in my very first platform video:

Action and Animiation in a Product Video

4. Collect Your Assets at the Outset

I’d like to think I’ve mastered the screenshot (for those of you that do this on the daily, you’ll know this is more of a pain than a humblebrag). If you’re asking a videographer to reanimate your platform based on original mocks, you may have more freedom in your frames—but you risk running up a pricey tab. Although I’ve done both, the most high-resolution, cost-effective way is to capture screenshot stills (retina screen preferred) by snapping frames of the action, whether that’s scrolling down a screen, perusing a navigation bar, or clicking a button—tools like Snagit and Skitch are indispensable for a task like this. The more frames the videographer has to work with, the more fluid the video.

Once you’ve taken all your screenshots, compile them into a collection, like this one:

Screenshot collection

5. Lay the Track

So you think a 30-second video is simple? Think again. Each second must be occupied with an action that aligns to the script, or else you’ll have a lot of awkward pauses as a result—and believe me, I’ve had those. Always write the voice-over in advance, even if you don’t think you’ll want one.

I learned the hard way: I had originally planned on just using an animated GIF to highlight a feature on the product page, and after producing a series of videos, I realized they fell flat in other channels—as standalones on Vimeo, for example. (That’s one of the reasons why you should define where your video is going to live ahead of time!) I had to go back in, script voice-overs, then lay them over the visual track as soon as I got enough budget back in my bank. It’s doable, but it’s not pretty—so heed my cautionary tale, and lay out your talk track before you even think about going to production.

6. Break Everything Down

video screencast spreadsheet

With any video, but especially with product videos, it’s crucial that you identify all the moving parts involved in production and there are lot more than you think. Identify key directives that should be provided to your videographer up front. The clearer you are at the start, the better you’ll be able to achieve a video you’re proud of at the wrap. I tend to include the following elements in my directive spreadsheets (one of which is pictured above):

Strong Copy

A picture may be worth 1,000 words, but a video requires words to be reimagined. What is the story you are trying to tell? It should not just be about functionality. Write out the voice over script and or copy that will accompany your video if being featured on a product page or in an email. Oh, and make sure you get the copy approved by key stakeholders before pressing play. It’s difficult to ask a videographer to recreate 10 seconds of footage because someone decided they didn’t like a sentence.

Descriptions and Clear Directions

Just because you have the polished script, doesn’t mean that the videographer is a mind reader. Include detailed direction of how assets should be used, and don’t forget about the transition between frames.

In addition, be sure to clearly label your screenshots in the order you’d like them used, or with a descriptive naming convention. Focus on one or two platform actions to drive the frames forward.

Next Steps

Don’t forget to give the viewer a next step. Remember, this is the beginning of a relationship with your audience. You don’t want to end it abruptly.

Don’t Be Afraid to Mess Up

At the end of the day, video production is not a marketer’s full-time job, so we must put ourselves in the mind-set of a creative professional. You might make stupid mistakes (like adding in the voice-over too late), or get frustrated trying to learn video-speak when you only have a layman’s vocab. You may even become irritated when the first cut is not at all what you expected.

Most importantly, you have to realize that this is not the Oscars. You are a marketer trying out yet another format—you’re experimenting with a new way to appeal to your audience, and they will appreciate you for it. If you don’t try these various creative channels, you’ll never realize the full potential of your program.

And hey, if it doesn’t work out, there are always podcasts.

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Lauren Sozio is Skyword's Director of Product Marketing and an accomplished writer and inquisitive researcher with 10 years of experience in generating thought leadership for renowned media brands and tech startups alike. A long-form aficionado in an age of micro-content, Lauren got her start at Vanity Fair where her first collaboration was with Carl Bernstein on his first blog. She went on to work in their London office where she developed a passion for rugby and polo, and was assigned to cover the arts & culture beat across the pond for www.vanityfair.com. With a B.A. in American Studies from Amherst College and a double-Masters in Global Media and Communications from the LSE and USC-Annenberg, Lauren is an academic at heart, always looking to learn something new.

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