The Art of the Promotional Video

THE PROMOTIONAL VIDEO

A promotional video when carefully created can significantly enhance you and your brand. Creating interest among potential clients, it's what is also described as raising brand awareness. But if you don't have a significant budget to do it right, there's a risk that something not quite so good will damage your brand. However, there is a ray of hope. You can produce something truly great if you have some time and you think it through.

Promotional video
Promotional videos need not cost the earth!

 

Professional promotional videos are not cheap if you are going to the larger promotional companies. There's a reason that they're not cheap, generally it is because there's a whole heap of work and very expensive equipment involved. They also have significant resources that need to be continuously funded, and they do have huge overheads that need to be covered. In fact there are companies that will charge six figures, yet still struggle to turn a profit.

That's not to say that you can't get away with promoting your company, brand, or even yourself on a budget, so today I will be providing a number of strategies that you can use to create a promotional video without necessarily breaking the bank. But first I need to explain a little of the context.

Fees across different production companies vary widely, some charge around $300-$500 for a 30 or 60 second video, but these are usually templated, and will have been seen many times before. It's not uncommon for a production company to charge much more. In fact a typical animated promotional video can be anywhere between $3,000 to $10,000 per minute, and occasionally even more. If you go with the primary players and involve a great marketing company, you could be looking at six figures and higher. If you want a television advert to run when people are awake, it's time to break open the wallet.

I never discuss pricing until I have a clear specification from the client and understand the timescales they want me to work within. If they want something in the next week or so, the price has to reflect a lot of late nights and calling in people to assist. If the client has reasonable expectations, then they will not only get a better finished video, they will get a lot more detail and added value.

Some of the work has to be outsourced. A promotional video I made a few years ago ended up involving three other companies. Animators, sound engineers, and actors, and specialist lighting for the non-animated elements. Even a short video when done properly can involve lots of people, each with their own specific skill sets. Generally even small productions can involve three or four people over a couple of weeks.

Animated and CGI video's are more complicated. An animator will need to be involved and they usually charge a daily rate. This is where it can become very expensive, very quickly. An animator might need a week to produce enough content to run for one minute. Depending on the type of animation required, CGI animation can be slightly quicker, or it can take even longer. So it is really important when you are planning to have a video created to be able to provide a very clear set of requirements. If you are creating something yourself, then you will still need a clear set of requirements. First rule of promotional video creation, know what it is that you want.

A few years ago I had a client who I nearly had to pass on. Not something I like to do, but what was being asked just wasn't going to be possible in 24-hours, even if Disney had have got involved. Nor was the budget realistic. A 10-minute promotional video, full CGI, and every character would need to be drawn, the budget, £300 ($430 U.S). This was to include the rights to use a piece of music from a very well known rapper, something that I had no control over. In fact, the rights alone for one track, globally viewed, would have been many times the totality of the budget.

Setting expectations is something I have become much better at over the years. Once I had explained that so much of the ask was beyond my control, and explained that they couldn't just utilise a famous rappers track, the penny dropped. They also realised that their 10-minute promotional video was in fact way too long, and something much shorter would actually have a bigger impact. The reason was that they wanted something that would just get their branding visible on social media platforms. What they hadn't considered were the myriad of other options available to perform a relatively simple task. They had presumed that they would need 10-minutes, but 9.5 minutes were not at all relevant to the end game. The end result was that the company got two simpler 15-second videos to use on different social media channels, both produced in 36-hours, and the outcome was that the video was shared repeatedly. In fact the videos were shared nearly 2,000 times in the first week and sales increased.

GOING IT ALONE

GoPro
Even a GoPro can create stunning results

 

When you are contemplating creating a promotional video it doesn't necessarily need to be created by anyone other than you. Today there are so many video editing platforms which are easily accessible, and more importantly, they are affordable.

I tend to focus on filming stock footage these days. The footage is then used by the client to produce their own video, although I do still take on whole projects. Small studios charge much less than the big players and very often the quality is just as good. I think at some point in the next few years the momentum experienced by the big advertising production companies will eventually weaken with the availability of cheaper options to produce quality work.

When you go to the larger production companies and studios they will charge you for everything. Want a coffee whilst you wait to meet the creative director? Yes, somewhere in the final bill will be a line of miscellaneous items or other things that cannot easily be broken down. But you will find that you will also be charged for the following:

Discussing the project brief

Creating a story board and script

Creating illustrations

Animation

Video rendering

Pre and post production editing

Voice overs

Soundtrack selection and licensing

Any revisions

Video rendering

Miscellaneous - This will usually include telephone calls, client meetings, travel, accommodation, food and refreshments

But ask yourself if the outlay is definitely going to provide the expected reward. If you want something that you simply cannot achieve yourself, then you need to consider going to a production company or finding a friend who is happy to help and who has the skills. If you do find a friend who is happy to help, always consider any incidental costs that they may have to cover.

You need the video to look professional, anything that looks like it was created on am iPhone in 30-seconds is going to do you more harm than good. But if you still want to press ahead and avoid the costs of outsourcing, it is still possible to create something that looks very professional if you think it through and take your time. Audiences judge companies on their marketing efforts, and something that looks poor will reflect badly.

WHERE TO FOCUS YOUR ENERGY

Knowing where to start is key. If you have an in-house marketing team they will most likely be adept at the detail, if you are on your own, you need to work really hard and get to grips with a steep learning curve. That shouldn't put you off, once you start the learning process things will fall in to place.

Planning. Without a plan you might as well give up before you start. You need to consider the type of message that you want to convey. Also consider what the story outline is, and remember that as with any story, you need a beginning, middle and an end. Yes, even 15-seconds of film needs to be planned.

Consider who your audience will be. I have written before about sing analytics, so if you know who your demographic is, target them. A sample demographic for example could be:

Female audience

Lives in the United States

Aged between 34-54

Frequently make online purchases

So anything you produce would need to target this demographic. Of course if you run analytics properly you may also have an indication of when your audience is most active, how they access your content, (my demographic either accesses via a high end mobile device, or a laptop, and primarily uses the Firefox browser. They seem very savvy.

So think of something appropriate to your audience. With the sample demographic above, a promotional video would need to connect, so featuring a mother and daughter would be much more relevant than featuring a father and son. Although using stereotypes should be avoided, there are some obvious signs here that the audience is less interested in visiting a far flung location.

My demographics vary depending on the website, social media, or sales platform. My Facebook demographic is similar to my artist website demographic, but my Google+ demographic is slightly different. When selling direct to clients, my demographic is different to all of the above. It might be better if my demographic was more consistent, but I made a conscious decision to reach different markets. The trick is to figure out what works in what market.

A creative brief should identify exactly what you need the video to achieve. Pick your main goal and ask yourself what the main objective is. Do you want to make people aware of you or your brand, do you want them to carry out a call to action such as clicking on the shop now button on your website, or do you want them to like your Facebook page? Limit each promotional video to one core aim. You can create other videos to cover other aims.

Also ask yourself where you will be focusing your video. Will you get the most engagement from YouTube, Facebook, on your website, or from another platform such as Twitter. Each will have different requirements in order to become successful. Running an ad campaign on Facebook is entirely different to running an ad campaign on Instagram. With Instagram you will want to be more visual, with Facebook you might want more informational content. People accessing from mobile will want something that doesn't require a lengthy download and will not require them to top up their data allowance after viewing your 30-minute full HD epic.

Pre-production planning is critical to ascertain what the technical requirements will be for creating the video. Do you want to film actual footage of a place or item, or are you going to create everything using a combination of stills, text, and logos, or do you want to go down the route of animation?

Professional Promotional video
Professional Promotional Video - If you can afford it, do it!

 

Whenever you start planning, if you have ever watched promotional videos being made in the BBC's The Apprentice, my advice is do the complete opposite of whatever the candidates did. I gave up watching the program after the last series because I just couldn't take the amount of ill informed corporate commentary that the candidates came out with. At best it was precision guesswork, based on unreliable data, from those with a very questionable knowledge. For those who know me, corporate buzzwords are one of my biggest pet hates, up there, and only marginally behind people doing a random about turn in a supermarket and then stopping in the middle of the aisle so you can't pass. The same people do this in the car park outside too.

When you have the answers to the above you will be ready to start the production. Next you will need to consider your style.

This is where you need to create the story. What is the message that you want to convey, and how will you convey it? We have all seen those trendy adverts that are so abstract the message is deeply hidden. We have also seen logos that are totally unrepresentative of the product they are promoting. You need a clear message. If you want to tell people about what you do or what you sell, tell them. Don't leave it to the customer to work it out.

Next you need to figure out how to get the story across. Using humour can work in some situations, a more formal approach might be required in other situations. Taking a look around YouTube for styling queues is a good exercise, and searching for videos around branding will also bear fruit.

The way you present your video sets the overall tone and message about your product or service. Consider if you want the video to be narrated, and ask if you have the ideal voice to narrate yourself, or if you need someone else to provide the narrative.

Having someone speaking about the product or service is also worthy of consideration, generally it reinforces a belief that the quality of the product or service is good. You may even have a customer who wouldn't mind providing a testimony on camera, maybe engage existing customers by running a contest to appear on video.

You'll need to be cautious around appearing to offer something in return for positive comments, just read the millions of reviews on Amazon who are gifted with products for a positive review, something even Amazon are now clamping down on. You want honesty, so if you have an existing customer who is excited about your work, product, or service, allow them to be the voice.

Explanation videos are quite trendy and on-point for now. These are videos that combine narrative with explanatory animations or film footage. Apps such as Explain Everything (available on the App Store for iOS) are great for creating these types of videos. More details can be found here: http://explaineverything.com/support/tutorials/ios/

Always go with a specific theme for each video. There's nothing worse than jumping from one style to another all in the space of 15-30 seconds. If you want to jump styles midway through, you need to do it right, or hire a professional production company to handle the transition.

HIGHER PERCEPTION

How can you make a video give an impression of quality? Taking your time and not necessarily going with the first piece of film you create is a starting point.

HD is the standard. Thankfully HD is easier than ever to achieve. Nearly all modern mobile phones and digital cameras will be able to record in HD nowadays. Gone are the days when we would need high-end equipment to get great results.

I still use dedicated high-end equipment for some stock filming, but I also get fantastic results from my GoPro. In fact 4K resolution is better on the GoPro than it is on my older 4K dedicated equipment for some shots, plus it is so much easier to carry around.

GoPro accessories can be expensive, but there are some cheaper options. You can pick up an entire kit of mini tripods and wearable clips for very little on eBay. Car mounting clips and grips are particularly useful. No one likes shaky video unless it's an Oren Pelli spectacular, but since Paranormal Activity, shaky camera effects have limited use. A business could get away with low-light levels and a shaky camera in years gone by, but today people expect Hollywood style productions. Thankfully you can achieve this without having a Hollywood budget.

When it comes to sound, you'll need to consider if you will be laying down the track over the video, whether you'll be using a boom or lapel microphone, or if you will be recording directly from the camera.

You also need to consider any sound effects and music. Using royalty free music and sound effects can be just as effective as using a track from a well known artist. You might not want any music at all. If you plan on monetising your content or using it commercially, royalty free is certainly worth considering. Sound is particularly important when displaying text heavy footage.

There's really no need to skimp on quality even if you only have a small budget these days. Remember that the video will promote you, your products and services, with time and effort, this is achievable.

There are lots of roles you will need to fill by yourself if you are going it alone. If you're not very good with a camera you might want to enlist a professional photographer to assist at this point. A day with a professional photographer might be the compromise you need to make, it might stretch the budget, but it is worth the stretch.

Remember that you are the director, the sound engineer, photographer, camera person, producer, and editor. If someone can help reduce those responsibilities, it's a worthwhile investment. My Facebook group, The Artists Exchange is full of great photographers from around the world, so it is worth popping in to the group to ask a question, get advice, or see if they can take a commission.

There are many benefits of using a professional for the entire production. Firstly you won't have to learn everything, and secondly you only have to worry about the cost. But creating a promotional video on your own can be really good fun and can save you a ton of money, if it is done right.

You need to consider any software you might need, how you will process the video and on what equipment, and the other equipment that is vital to the production such as cameras.

Hiring a professional is still no guarantee that everything will work out just as you want but it is as close as you'll get to some guaranteed success. If you plan on only creating a one off video it will be cheaper hiring a professional. The software costs alone can be expensive, add in a decent camera, and the learning curve and you'll quickly spend more than hiring someone else.

If you plan on creating a number of videos over the next few years, then it is probably worth an investment and learning the skills required.

THE LEARNING CURVE

If you decide to take the project on yourself, there are literally thousands of great how to videos on YouTube. You can also take classes at a local college, and check in your local community if there is a group of like minded individuals who meet on a regular basis at a local community centre.

Thinking about location is important and learning what can be legally used in a commercial video is something that you need to consider. A company might not wish for their logo to be seen in a video, despite the fact they they will be getting free publicity, there are some rules that you will need to learn.

Many brands will have their own branding guidelines, how these are followed and used will be down to each brand owner. Sometimes incidental filming is allowed, others are far more protective. Sometimes to film in public areas you will need permission or a permit, and sometimes you may need liability insurance. This is a subject covered more widely on the web and it is explained by those who have a great understanding of such matters. If in doubt, contact the brand directly, and check with your local public bodies.

THE WEATHER

Right now I am part way through filming stock footage for a local nature organisation. The problem for me is that they want all four seasons covered in time-lapse. To date I have spent around eleven days over The course of the last three seasons, and for continuity purposes everything has had to be shot in the order it will be viewed. The weather has played a huge part in my planning, no point filming on a foggy day when nothing can be seen, but a misty day with some visibility is possible. A consistent run of the same weather really can help, but sometimes you have to also plan to go out in the rain and the snow, and the sunshine. You need to be prepared.

GO HAVE FUN

Hopefully you now have a little more information around creating a promotional video. It's not easy, but it is fun. If you decide to get someone else to create the video then make sure you do your homework and shop around. There are some great independent production companies that don't overcharge, but ultimately you want to make sure your production is a quality offering representative of your product, company, or services.

If you decide to go it alone, remember to practice and take the time to learn before you release the video. Once released on the World Wide Web, it is difficult to pull it back. What's seen cannot be unseen, and you want people to get the feeling that what you offer is quality.

So that's all for today. If you have any tips to help and support those wanting to make a promotional video, please do leave a comment. If you have experience or simply wish to offer your services, please do get in touch and I will feature the best on this site and through social media. I will be shortly publishing a feature on various software and applications that support video production. If you are an app developer and would like your app or software featured, please do get in touch.

Now go on and have fun!

 

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