The Rise Of The Explainer Video

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One Screen To Rule Them All

Editor’s note: Rico Andrade a former executive producer at Transvideo Studios and Picturelab. Follow him on Twitter @andrade_rico.

Two years ago, Jason Kincaid wrote a short but influential post titled “The Underutilized Power Of The Video Demo To Explain What The Hell You Actually Do.” He said:

During my time at TechCrunch I’ve seen thousands of startups and written about hundreds of them. I sure as hell don’t know all the secrets to building a successful company, but there are a few things I’ve seen that seem like surefire ways to ever-so-slightly grease the road to success. Here’s an easy one: make a video demo and prominently promote it somewhere where new visitors can find it. One that shows off the core function of your product without making people think they’re watching an ad or a pitch. And answer, as thoroughly as possible in 2-3 minutes, what it is that you’re bringing to the table.

Jason was spot-on with his assessment. Today, a significant number of startup companies rely on a prominent overview video on their home page (you can browse through this compilation to get a sense of how many), and there is an overabundance of companies dedicated to serving the video needs of the tech community. Just look at how companies like Google and Facebook use overview videos as an integral part of their overall marketing strategy.

Many individual companies do A/B testing of these specific types of videos on their own home pages, but these numbers are not usually disclosed, and I have yet to see industry-wide studies looking at the effects of these specific videos.  However, the effectiveness of product videos in the ecommerce and retail space is well-documented, and the same factors that help these videos sell products seem to apply to promoting websites and apps as well. That was typically our experience at my former employer Transvideo Studios: of the companies that kept track and disclosed the data to us, videos usually improved conversion rates by 15%-75%.

Why Video?

Conversion rates don’t tell the whole story about overview videos.  Other reasons to include video are:

- Increase press coverage. In Jason’s own words:

Here’s a sad truth: a lot of reporters really are quite lazy. Not in the sense that they don’t want to find and cover a cool new company (in which case they should consider a new career path), but in that they don’t like to spend time wading through marketing material trying to figure out what your company actually does. After all, we’ve got inboxes stuffed with pitches from companies vying for coverage. If it takes more than a minute or two to figure out what problem you’re trying to solve, we’re probably more likely to simply skip to the next message than to try to make sense of your feature set.

Not only does it make it more likely you’ll get covered, but also that the coverage won’t simply be the author’s interpretation of your site, but will actually include your video – your own words – to supplement the story.

- Help your fans evangelize your product. Video is an extra standalone tool that can be easily shared on Facebook or Twitter. My favorite example of this is Visual.ly – Visual.ly had over 80,000 signups from a video on its LaunchRock page… months before the company actually went live.

- Improve the SEO of your site.

- Repurpose elsewhere.  Videos can be included in email signatures, start off VC pitches, shared by sales team, etc… well beyond your home page.

- Buy you time. While “nothing kills a bad product better than good marketing”, a video can give users an insight to your product that allows them to both use it more effectively, and understand your larger vision, so that if the product isn’t there yet, they know where it is going and don’t immediately turn you off.  I’m a firm believer that if Color had originally launched with a video that explained its vision a bit better, instead of the employee–made demo they launched with, users might have given them a bit of a chance to improve.

Tips on making videos.

If you are going to make a video, here a few basic rules to keep in mind:

  1. Don’t make a “viral” video.  While there are extremely successful and truly viral videos out there people don’t usually realize the time, effort, and experience required to create something people actually want to share.  And even if they do, virality itself is unpredictable.  Most companies would be better off leveraging the existing organic traffic on their site and focus on turning those users into customers, rather than spending resources they may not have trying to designing to get a mass audience to post their videos on their Facebook page.
    This doesn’t mean the video needs to be a PowerPoint pitch deck, or that it can’t be engaging, but that the top priority should be to explain how a product fits into a user’s life, and not shareability.
  2. Don’t just make a product walkthrough.  Product walkthroughs have their place, but they are only effective after the user understands what the product is about in the first place. Don’t just do a product demo, starting at the login screen, and walking through all the features.  Answer the question, “How does this product fit into my life?”, or “Why should I use this?”, before answering “How does this work?”.  You want to pique the user’s interest with the video, then let them figure how the product works on their own, by signing up and using it.
    Having said that…
  3. Prioritize your message and keep it short.  It is tempting to want to present every use case, every benefit, to as many different audiences as possible, as you might in a pitch deck.  However, the sweet spot for these videos tend to be around 45-90 seconds.  Shorter than 45 seconds feels sales-y and incomplete, and viewers don’t hang around videos that are longer than 90 seconds, so putting too much in there hurts you.
    That means that you should pick just a few messages to put in the video  Are you targeting your dream user, or are you catering to early adopters (i.e.: “Normals” vs “TechCrunch Readers”)?  Are you trying to differentiate yourselves from an established competitor?  Are you solving a problem that hasn’t been tackled, or is it a new solution to an old problem?  Is there information that all users must know about your product ahead of time to use it effectively?  These are the types of questions that help determine what goes into a final video.  Focus on the three most important things, and then let them move on from the video to your product.
  4. Include a call to action at the end.  Videos perform better if the user knows what to do after the video is done. And if you tell a user to download a product, make sure there is a prominent “Download” button next to the video at all times. (See: Flipboard).
  5. Prominently feature the video.  The video does little good if it is hidden behind a lot of links.  Put it on your home page, and place a large “play” button on a still of the video for maximum effectiveness. (See: Nextdoor).
  6. Quality matters.  While you may now be tempted to grab your camcorder and record a video of your product, the production quality does matter.  A concise script, good design, clear visuals, and good quality audio all make a difference in whether users watch the video, and how they react to it and to your product.  This is especially true if your product has privacy implications, or is business to business – an amateurish production may give the impression that the company is not reputable and is run from a college dorm room.

Remember – the goal is for the user to understand what it is your product does.  If you can show your video to a person in your target audience and they can tell you what your product is after watching your video, you’re probably in good shape.

The harder question to answer is, “How much should we spend on video?”, and that’s for another time.