“I never make the same mistake twice. I make it like five or six times, you know, just to be sure.” – unknown
Some people like to learn by making mistakes. And by “some people” I mean me, and by “like” I mean it just happens. I guess that’s the price you pay when you’re not afraid to try new things. As product marketers (or marketers in general), we have to try new things every single day, whether because we want to, or have to, depending on the needs of the business. They can be new to our company, to us as individuals, or even both. Regardless of the situation, one thing is for sure, we’re going to make mistakes. It’s only normal, and it’s ok. For every battle scar we earn along the way we grow as professionals, sometimes even as individuals. Ok, pep talk over. I feel better about myself now. Let’s move on to why we’re here: the biggest mistakes to avoid when making a product video.
I can say that without a doubt, I am the utmost “mistake making” expert in the art of product videos. These mistakes have resulted in some of the most cringe-worthy videos out there (don’t try to find them, but trust me they exist).
I guess you can say I do it to myself – I love working for small and medium-sized businesses, but with that, sometimes comes limited budget and resources – which makes it even MORE likely for them to happen. And although making mistakes sucks, I’m grateful for each one, because they all represent a lesson learned. With every new project, I know exactly(ish) what to focus on and most importantly, what to avoid.
Mistake #1: A Product Video is NOT a Demo Video
I’m starting the list with this because it was the first mistake I ever made. My first “product video,” was in fact, a demo video. A product video is meant to explain what your product is, the problem that it solves and how it provides value. I, on the other hand, walked through a UI and talked about features. It was lame.
I’m not saying that demo videos aren’t an important asset, I’m saying that they’re very different than product videos. In a B2B context, a product video is used during the early stages of the buyer journey and it addresses almost every buyer persona. Demo videos, on the other hand, are more relevant for later stages, and only speak to a handful of personas. You can see why they’re different, they have their own unique function and goals.
Mistake #2: Not Defining Scope of Project Before Requesting Budget
When deciding to make a product video (or asked to by your management team), you need to have a clear understanding of what you want to accomplish and how you plan on getting there before requesting budget and resources. It probably goes without saying but it’s a mistake that is often made.
What you want to accomplish should include:
- High-level business goals: awareness, demand/lead generation, sales enablement, employee training, investor and analyst relations, etc.
- Expected results: web traffic, views, conversion, etc.
If the video is solving a specific business problem, make sure to articulate it.
How you plan on getting there should include:
- Format: animation, live action, UI walkthrough, etc.
- Production: in-house creative, external creative, etc.
- Additional Internal Resources: writing, design, etc.
- Distribution: website, social, email, campaign, etc.
The way you present your request is dependent on your organization. I like to create a presentation and deliver it, it allows me to address any questions or concerns in real time. Email works, but make sure to be thorough.
Once you’ve painted a clear picture of what you want to accomplish and how you plan on getting there (having multiple options is a good thing), internal stakeholders will feel like they’re in a position to make an informed decision, which ultimately puts you in a better position to get your request approved.
Tip: Socialize the idea internally before presenting the project. It’s important to make sure your request aligns with overall business objectives.
Mistake #3: Failing To Give Your Script the Love and Attention it Needs
The script, the script, the script. I hate the script. It’s the most important part of the project, and the one I screw up the most.
Before I give you a list of mistakes to avoid, here’s a list (I love lists) of things to do before you start to write:
- Choose the format (animation, live action) because, in my opinion, it influences how you’ll tackle the script.
- Draft a rough outline of the story you want to tell. Mine usually goes something like this:
Here’s a list of things to avoid:
- Writing a script without checking in with your content marketing team. I’ve spent hours writing the “perfect” script, only to have to restart because it didn’t reflect the company’s voice and tone (there was a guide, I just didn’t know it existed. I was new, sue me).
- Using too many buzzwords. Is your product the best-in-class, end-to-end most robust, secure, easy to use, scalable solution on the market? Some buzzwords are ok, especially if you can back them up. But today’s buyers are savvy, and they see right through every word. So if you can, try to avoid them. I know from experience that it’s hard because it’s so tempting. It’s the easy way out. I for one, think that as marketers we owe our customers more than hollow adjectives.
- Using too many words. We sometimes forget the value of video and feel that we need to have the script do all the talking. Remember: video is there to provide visual context. If you can use visuals to describe complex concepts, do that. Save your words for when you want to say something impactful.
- Making it too long. A general rule of thumb is to try and keep it under 90 seconds. Why? You ask. Our attention span as a collective is becoming shorter and shorter. Oh, and did I mention, when outsourcing, the cost of a video increases the moment it surpasses 90 seconds?
Tips: Build your script in sections, every section represents a new frame in your storyboard/video. Read it aloud — make sure it sounds right when you say it. Time it! Add 2 seconds at the beginning and at the end to account for the opening and closing frames.
Mistake #4: Picking the Wrong Music
In my opinion, music is a determining factor in whether you’ve made a good or a bad product video. The music you pick is a direct reflection of your brand, and it should be looked at the same way as your organization’s voice and tone. I attribute most of my cringe-worthy videos to the songs I didn’t pick carefully enough.
The wrong music can also easily become a distraction. If you have a script try to avoid catchy songs with a consistent progression, you want people to focus their attention on what’s being said rather than grooving to the music.
Mistake #5: Giving Your Voice Actor Poor Directions
If you’re using a voice actor it’s essential that your directions are as clear as day. Providing them with a script and expecting them to execute is a recipe for disaster. I know, one of my recent videos had over 8 voice over revisions. And it was my fault, I didn’t give them the guidelines for tone, story arc, or theme. The first cut was too infomercial-ly, the second was too broadcast-y, so on and so forth. I completed the script and painted a picture in my head of what I expected from the voice over, but I failed to let the actor know what I wanted, no wonder the process wasn’t easy.
Mistake #6: Picking the Wrong One: In-House vs. External Creatives
Although this isn’t a mistake per se, picking the wrong production model for your business can cause a lot of problems. Which is why I’ve broken it down into a pros and cons list.
- Volume — When you have someone dedicated to doing videos full time you can produce a lot.
- Speed — In-house creatives have the ability to personally address any and all project roadblocks.
- Innovation — When someone is on-site full time it’s easier to brainstorm new ideas.
- In-person Collaboration — For company cultures that highly value in-person meetings and brainstorm sessions.
- No Scope Creep — With in-house creatives, you’re less likely to encounter scope creep as there are more opportunities to edit, adjust and even to scrap everything/start from the beginning without racking up expenses.
- Quality — Volume and speed come at the expense of quality. When you have someone in-house they’re usually being pulled in multiple directions to justify the expense of salary — making it difficult for them to only focus on your video.
- Diversity — When working with in-house creatives you’re limited to their skillset and personal style, which can get tired. If you want to do an animated video, it’s hard to justify getting it done externally when you’re paying someone a salary.
- Cost — This goes without saying, but cost is high when you consider salary and benefits, not to mention equipment, now add all of that up and divide it by videos. It’s also easy to get in a video production lull, especially when the in-house creative is dependent on others in the organization.
In all transparency, I will be basing my pros and cons list for external creatives on my recent experience with the Visually network to create my latest video (linked to earlier in this post). The reason I’m bringing this up is because Visually was acquired by ScribbleLive in early 2016 – but I will remain impartial. For context, Visually is a marketplace in which you can hire and collaborate with top creatives from around the world to create premium visual content.
- Quality — Visually works with pre-vetted talent and hand selects the right creative for each project — for best fit.
- Diversity — Contrary to in-house creatives, you’re not limited to a particular skill-set, style or even by geographic location. More likely than not you can find someone that can create exactly what you’re looking for.
- Speed(ish) — Since Visually isn’t an agency, you don’t really have to worry about red tape typically associated with traditional models. Also, timeline is agreed upon at the beginning of a project, including key milestones — with an assigned project manager to help everything move along smoothly.
- Teamwork — Even if the creative is 1000 miles away, Visually provides a platform where you can easily collaborate and communicate in real-time.
- Volume — If you’re working on multiple campaigns that require multiple videos you can work with multiple creatives. Simple as that.
- Innovation — Contrary to working with in-house creatives, brainstorming new ideas isn’t really a thing – unless you want to pay extra. You have to go into the process roughly knowing what you want to get the right creative assigned to your project.
- Fixed Cost — A fixed cost means that additional revisions, new/more complex styles, etc. are going to come at an additional cost (both financially and internal man-hours).
- In-person Collaboration — The creative I worked with, Justin Poore, seemed like a really cool guy. It would have been nice to have him in house — for high fives and such.
Picking the model that is best suited to the needs of your business isn’t always easy, but it’s extremely important.
Tip: Test them out! For in-house, hire someone on a 3-month contract with an option to renew. For external, visit Visual.ly to see what’s possible.
Mistake #7: Not Putting Enough Attention Into The Final Review
Step 1: Review every second
Step 2: Review any and all text
Step 3: Review the audio without watching the video
Step 4: Review the video without listening to the audio
Step 5: Have people within your organization review
Step 6: Have people outside of your organization review
And even when you do all of that, twice or three times over, you can still end up with mistakes — I know.
We probably reviewed this video close to 100 times before catching this typo. It wasn’t a big deal and it didn’t take long to fix, but it just goes to show that these things happen.
Although I may have missed a few (or left some embarrassing ones out on purpose), I hope this list helps you create product videos that you’re proud to include in your portfolio. I said it before and I’ll say it again, making mistakes is normal — but hopefully, you can avoid some of the ones that I’ve made. And if you happen to make some, it’s ok, we’re all learning.
Product videos are supposed to be fun, making mistakes along the way is just a part of the process.