How long should your video be?

Is there an ideal length for a video? The work of crafting a B2B marketing video is always done in hopes that prospects and customers will appreciate the effort enough to watch the whole thing. Some will. But according to 2018 video benchmarks from Vidyard [download page], only two out of three viewers stay tuned, even if the video is really really short. The longer the video, the higher the dropout rate. At any length, leaving the best stuff to the very end is not a good idea.

Video viewing datat

The longer a B2B video is, the less of it people watch. It is notable the more viewers watch 2-4 minute videos to the end than 1-2 minute videos. In any case, it’s important to keep in mind that, no matter the length, a lot of people don’t watch your video from beginning to end. Source: Vidyard

Here are six takeaways from the Vidyard report.

  • The average length of a business-related video in 2018 (on Vidyard’s platform) was found to be just over 4 minutes (down from a little over 6 minutes in 2017 and 13 minutes in 2016)
  • 49% are under 1-minute in length
  • 73% are under 2 minutes
  • Completion rates across all video types averaged 52%.
  • Videos under 60 seconds long had a completion rate of 68%.
  • Long videos (> 20min) 25% completion rate of the longest videos (more than 20 minutes).

None of these points to an ideal length for a video, though there does appear to be a bit of a sweet spot at two minutes. More viewers complete 2-4 minute videos than 1-2 minute videos. This may be because longer videos are taking their time to explain things; many shorter ones are more promotional than informational.

Engagement means business

Of course, watching is not the same as engagement. I’ve long argued that, for technology business videos, engagement means the viewer is inspired to seek out more information. The more they want to know, the better for business. If people take action to get more information, it doesn’t much matter how long they watch.

Here a three ways to shorten a long video’s viewing experience while increasing engagement

  • Add clickable chapterization buttons to give the viewer control.
  • Add a transcript to give the viewer the option of skimming. (good for SEO, too)
  • Edit to create short excerpts (the demo portion of a webinar, for example)

You can also increase engagement in the beginning and the middle and the end by amping up the narration  “And-But-Therefore” loops, as described in  this post.


Use this narrative formula to tell your video story

Kurt Vonnegut famously diagrammed the “shapes” of the what he identified as the mere handful of plots that underlie all stories. But the plot of a story — boy-meets-girl, man-gets-out-of-hole, whatever — is not what holds your attention. What keeps you going is the narrative, the tense, interesting moments come at you one-by-one.  So, how do you shape narrative in a video story?

A-B-T = And-But-Therefore

Randy Olson makes a good case for the three-point formula he calls “A-B-T (And-But-Therefore). Olson, a marine biologist, developed his ideas to help scientists explain their research to a broader audience. Olson maintains that every story can be boiled down to this A-B-T structure. The story begins with a situation — “it’s this that, and the other.”  Then there’s tension — “but there’s a problem.”   “Therefore,  the solution must be ____,” and that’s our story.”

The key to the whole thing is the tension that drives the narrative, which is signaled by the word but. The scientifically inclined Olson posits a narrative index — the number of times but occurs in the story, divided by the occurrences of and. The higher the but/and ratio, the more tension, the stronger the narrative.

Olson has calculated the narrative index of numerous texts, including in political debates going back Lincoln-Douglas. Among the surprising findings: Donald Trump has used the word “but” more than any politician in history in debates — “narrative index” of his “story” is very high, though, as a storyteller, he’s no Reagan. “Reagan . . . knew how to present stories with all their warmth, humor and emotion. His stories were always about problems. Trump doesn’t give much of a crap about the warmth, humor or emotion. He’s mostly just about problem-solution, over and over again, all day long.” Seems to work.

Implications for a technology solution video story

Technology solution videos typically try to tell viewers why the solution might matter to them. The typical video begins by describing a few typical problems at the start, then goes on to present features that address these problems. Olson’s A-B-T method suggests that the video could be made more engaging by iterating over problem-solution loops, instead. “X is inexpensive and it can be effective, but it risks Y, therefore our solution does Z.” It’s a simple, but endlessly flexible, formula. We plan to give it a try.


Six MORE technology video best practices for those who aren’t sure they know how to make a video

Short videos about technology are great for sales and marketing. But they can be tricky to produce when you’ve got technical subject matter and multiple stakeholders who hold competing views of what customers really want to know. Last month, I wrote about some tech video best practices that help to smooth the upfront work that leads to better productions. The following tips relate to the actual production work

1) Keep stakeholders involved as the production moves along. If you wait until the last minute to get higher-ups’ approvals, you may hear something like “Well, that’s not exactly how we’re explaining it these days.” The longer it takes to produce the video, the more it’s likely to be thrown off course by new brainstorms.

2) If you think you might need to make significant revisions (e.g., adding a scene) work with a temporary narration. Good professional narrators have a minimum rate, so a second recording session could double the cost.

3) Participate in the voiceover recording. Professional voice actors are accustomed to submitting auditions. Hearing a few lines of your script voiced by different professionals can be ear-opening. You may want to sit on the recording session, too.

4) Don’t let the subject matter expert drive the demo. For a screencast that lets the viewer know you value their attention, you need to pay attention to the screen resolution, microphone, visible menus and tabs — and several other demo production issues you don’t normally think about. Here’s a comprehensive guide on How to create screencasts by WordPress guru Shawn Hesketh

5) Don’t host your own video. This comes up sometimes with companies launching their first B2B marketing videos, because it seems so easy to upload an mp4 file and put an HTML5 <video> tag around it. Don’t. This is one of those video best practices that counters what might be considered a marketing video worst practice — here are 10 Reasons Why You Should Never Host Your Own Videos.

6) Think about re-use. Don’t just upload your video to YouTube and wait for viewers to show up. Share excerpts in social media. Chop it up into answers to “frequently asked questions.” Include links to relevant segments in your blogs and white papers. Think of your viewers as seekers of wisdom, not couch potatoes.

A version of this post appeared in Biznology.


7 best practices for video explainers

For a lot of people involved in technology solution videos, producing videos is not their main job. Video is just another element in a product launch, a trade show, or a web page. They’re not confident that they know what they’re getting into. If that’s you, here are seven best practices for videos about a technology solution.

1. Read a good video production guide.

Here’s a comprehensive guide that comes with 15 templates! You’re probably not going have the time or the resources to follow all these best practices for videos. Do the best you can.

2. Agree on (and write down) the most important thing to put across.

It’s easy to lose sight of the main event as subject matter experts and marketing experts review content that is developed in stages. It’s also a good idea to decide in advance what response you want from the viewer — something like “Hmmm. Never thought of it that way.”

3. Dictate style up front.

Watch competitor and other videos. Study your brand guidelines. And don’t let creative people waste your time (or theirs) on stylish stuff you don’t want.

4. Unless you can enforce turnaround times at every approval/review stage, don’t count on project timelines.

Whether you’re working with an inside team or outside agency, efficient video production requires approvals at set stages of the process — typically scripting, storyboarding, and creating/editing the video elements. Changes in direction become increasingly time-consuming and expensive at each stage.

5. Don’t let anyone rewrite the script in disregard of the visuals.

There’s a reason that video consumers are called viewers, not listeners. Words are supposed to punch up what’s on the screen, not run the show. If words and visuals don’t reinforce each other, the viewer needs to work harder to grasp the message.

6. Don’t let anyone rewrite the script in disregard of the target video length.

Many script editors ignore the undeniable fact that that adding spoken words to a script not only increases the length of the video but also requires new visual elements to go with the new words. Here are a few more best practices for video focusing on the script.

7. Make sure the storyboards are timelines, not slides.

Viewers follow action. They get antsy when things stand still. It doesn’t matter if storyboards don’t look like well-designed slides. They’re supposed to show you exactly what will attract the viewer’s attention at any point in time, in synch with the script. If you’re not seeing that, ask for more detailed storyboards. More best practices for video storyboards can be found here.

A version of this article appeared  in Biznology.


What makes trusted video content?

Two out of three B2B buyers strongly agree that the use of more data and research would improve the quality of the content provided by vendors, according to Demand Gen Report data. There’s plenty of other research to support the common-sense notion that buyers will prefer content the feels authoritative and trustworthy over content that’s sales-y. Case studies are rated the most valuable form of content for the B2B buyer — twice as valuable as blog posts. That doesn’t mean that blogs aren’t valuable —  but it does suggest that buyers will value blog posts more when they’re built around data and research.

Vendor research and data help make trusted video content, even when the content comes down clearly on one side of a contentious issue.

Trusted video content based on data and research

In general, I’m not a big fan of infographics — so many of them puff dubious data and fishy sources. But infographics based on a vendor’s own data and research seem relatively trustworthy, as will videos based on the infographic. And bite-size animations based an infographic’s graphics can broaden the reach and impact of the material in social media.

Women’s voices more trustworthy than men’s?

I reported some time back on a study that found the perceived “trustworthiness” female narrators to be higher than that of males (Which Type of Voice Actor Should You Use for Your Explainer Video?)  I recently ran across an enjoyable post by professional voice actor Debbie Grattan,  6 Reasons People Trust a Female Voice Over Male Voices. She makes her case with fun tidbits like this:

The clear, melodic nature of the female voice can also play a role in the trust it instills, as can the fact that female and male voices are processed in different parts of the brain. A University of Sheffield study found female voices are processed in the auditory region of the brain, the same area that processes music. Male voices are processed in the back of the brain in an area known as the “mind’s eye.”

I think the quality of the writing, direction, and professional skill of the narrator count for a lot more than gender (or the relative trustworthiness of the mind’s eye vs. music :-). But you might like to see who you trust — try listening to this excerpt from the same 2-Minute Explainer video we wrote and directed, recorded by two first-rate professional narrators.

Link to example of 2-Minute Explainer video with female explainer video narrator

Link to example of 2-Minute Explainer video with male explainer video narrator


Technology marketing’s top video content challenges

Marketers say that it’s getting easier to reach target audiences. And that audiences are happy to get good content. But, big challenges remain. The biggest challenges, according to a recent Content Marketing Institute Survey, are

  1. Creating content that appeals to multi-level roles
  2. Differentiating solutions
  3. Communicating complex concepts

64% of the marketers surveyed say they are using more video than in the previous year, so it’s clear that one way to address the top content challenges marketers face is to treat them as video content challenges.

Creating video content that appeals to multi-level roles

We’ve been doing this for a while with packages like persona-based videos. This approach is cost-effective because writing and producing several videos with overlapping content allows the re-use of a substantial amounts of creative effort and assets. Another approach for targeting several roles or industries is to “bookend” an unchanging central section (e.g. how the solution works) with an opening setup and closing summary of benefits that are specific to the audience you’re addressing.

One differentiator at a time

According to Gartner analyst Hank Barnes, the biggest problem with differentiation is the lists that most marketers and salespeople compile to prove their solution is different. Prospects simply don’t have the time to absorb what’s on your list, he argues. The result is that buyers won’t be able to among different solutions. Hank’s advice is

  1. Find the one thing that matters.
  2. Compare yourself to one alternative.
  3. Give people one thing to remember. Just one.

A big advantage to sticking to one subject in a video is that you can give it a specific title (and poster frame) that tells prospects exactly what they can learn from it.

The challenge of complexity

Video can do a good job of communicating complex concepts with animation and step-by-step explanations of processes.  In longer videos intended to put across a lot of information, clickable chapter headings make the information easer to find, to repeat, and to think about.

In short videos, the most important goal is to communicate just enough information to make the viewer want more information. A good way to increase the quantity and circulation of short videos is to organize them in chapters from the start, with “one thing to remember” in each chapter. The even-shorter (~30 sec) chapters can be spun off and re-used in social media to reach new audiences.


Videos for Inside Sales

A client of ours recently mentioned that their inside sales team would be thrilled to have a new video to share every week — but, of course, “we don’t have the budget for that.” Actually, if they — and you — have a video budget at all, you probably do have the budget to produce the right videos for inside sales.

What kind of videos does inside sales really need?

In an article titled “Inside Sales vs. Outside Sales,” Gabe Larsen of asserts that there’s no versus about it: “It’s all sales.” has data to back up this claim, including data on the increasing time spent selling remotely through social media, email, CRM, etc.

Time spent selling remotely

Inside Sales and Outside Sales both put in a lot time selling remotely. Different kinds of affordable video can lessen the burden, increase engagement, and improve the communication.

While there is apparently no factual basis to the assertion that a picture is worth a thousand words (or to AI pioneer John McCarthy’s corollary that 1,001 words are worth more than a picture), there’s no reason to doubt the universal experience that visuals — including video — can speed communication and improve understanding. But what kind of video is needed in these combined, and often protracted, remote selling efforts?

For one thing, the conversation needs to go beyond marketing messages and product information. An interesting finding in the Miller Heiman Group’s latest Sales Performance Study is that the companies who say they’re good at providing clients with insights and perspective win more sales.

Video screen capture and personalization

When I asked sales maven Andy Paul about the use of video in protracted sales processes, he replied that “currently, I don’t see much being done in mid-to-late funnel video (other than Zoom for calls and CloudApp and similar apps for video and screen capture email.)”

That parenthetical “video and screen capture email” gave me pause. First of all, not everyone uses this kind of video. Some companies have never given it a thought. Secondly, screen capture apps like CloudApp represent a cheap, easy and highly usable solution to video personalization when you need to show instead of tell, and when you just need to put across your message in an engaging way.

Vidyard and the above-mentioned Gabe Larsen have collaborated on an eBook, How to Use Video to Boost Your Sales Pipeline. It’s full of practical suggestions on getting the most from simple personalization. For example, while It’s well known that mentioning video in the subject line of an email increases opens, this guide tells you how to make a video thumbnail for the email body that gets your contact to click. I recommend it.

[A version of this post previously appeared in Biznology.]


Don’t even think about video content

You often see references to “video content” in articles comparing different types of content for sales enablement and content marketing, in this blog post and elsewhere. But, if you think about it, we don’t make video content. Nobody does, because video isn’t a “content type” like white papers, case studies, and other established genres. With a white paper, you know what to expect just by reading the title. Not so with video, where you hardly ever know quite what to expect.

It’s not just that comparing the effectiveness of established types of text publications with the effectiveness of an all-purpose communication medium leads to fuzzy thinking. It also narrows how you think about content and leads to siloed video budgets, rather than an agile approach that makes the best use of video to improve the buyer’s experience.

Rethinking video content strategy

Take another look at these categories designated in a typical comparison of content types

  • Case studies
  • Webinars
  • Third-party analyst reports
  • User reviews
  • Video content
  • Blog posts
  • Infographics

Any and all of the text/graphic genres listed here can be a video, can be converted to video, or can be enhanced, summarized or promoted with video. This is a more productive way to think about video than thinking of video as a type of content. It’s more productive than planning for various types of video content (explainers, tutorials, webinars, etc.) For one thing, you’ll end up with a lot more videos if you routinely add video components to other media. For another, you’ll make engaging videos for the entire customer journey. Most B2B marketers concentrate on making sales-y videos for top-of-the-funnel awareness — as if buyers stopped appreciating video’s communication power after they jump into the funnel.

Case studies

If you’re developing a written case study, it should be easy to add video elements (taken with a salesperson’s smart phone, say). It’s not much more difficult to have a salesperson or subject matter expert tell some or all of the the story on camera. Stories of dramatic turnarounds are natural for video, though such quasi-documentary productions usually require professional videography and editing.


Most webinars are people talking over (or in front of) PowerPoint presentations. There’s usually a demo portion that can be excerpted and re-used in videos. With webinars recorded for later viewing, the user experience can be significantly improved with freely available interactive video tools that put the user in control.

Third-party analyst reports

It’s common to mention favorable analyst evaluations in all types of content, including video. If your company makes favorable analyst reports available for download, it makes sense to create a video “trailer” to promote the downloads in social media.

User reviews

Video “testimonials” are invaluable. I don’t know of any enterprise technologies that get the kind of consumer  technology product reviews that are most popular on YouTube. But this approach clearly works.

White Papers/Blog posts

A few companies have turned blog posts and research reports into videos. Samples of a few we’ve done can be found here.


OK. I’m not a big fan of infographics in general. But if you’re wondering how tough it is to turn them into videos, you don’t need to look beyond inexpensive templates for doing just that, like this video infographic template.


How interactive video makes people smarter

A summary of findings from up-to-date academic studies, Evidence of Improving Knowledge Retention with Interactive Video, was recently published by the developers of the free open-source interactive video tool H5P, which I’ve written about previously. Here are a few that are especially relevant to complex and enterprise sales.

  • Interactive video has more impact than traditional video
  • The interactive layer (HTML5 user controls added to standard online video files) allows learners to significantly extend their attention span
  • More students accessed online content when it was interactive.
  • Adding interactivity significantly improved completion percentage and average viewing time
  • The ability to track and analyze the behavior of learners is critical to improving the effectiveness of learning environments
  • The use of interactive video to enable learning through the process of experiencing failure can lead to ‘deeper learning’ and accelerate skill acquisition
  • When learners have control over learning, they are more involved in the learning process, which is essential for maximizing engagement

Sales methodologies and sales enablement

Learning concepts are relevant to just about any modern sales methodology, which all aim to advance the conversation by asking the right questions. (HubSpot has a nice summary of the top 10 sales methodologies). In the Sandler Sales Methodology, for example, reps are trained to talk a lot about the obstacles that could keep the buyer from considering their solution. That helps to establish trust. Interactive video is far better suited to nuanced Q&A than linear video. (The latest H5P release adds a “Branching Scenario” authoring tool which could be used to create a “Choose Your Own Objections” learning experience).

In sales enablement programs, one goal is to get the salesperson up to speed ASAP. Interactive video can enhance this sales training — and then help champions and influencers in your target organization do a better job of explaining the benefits of your solution.

It’s not just video

The designation “interactive video” is misleading in the sense that other types of content can easily be incorporated in the experience — text from blog posts, diagrams from product sheets, use-cases from customer videos, screencasts from tutorials, etc., can all be brought into an interactive experience. This allows for re-using or repurposing existing content to enhance the buyer experience.


Give customers a reason to watch your software demo

Software makes a big impact on the bottom line in just about every organization today. Real-life software users influence buying decisions. So, if you sell a technology solution that involves software, at some point in the sales cycle you need a persuasive video software demo.

Depicting credible reason(s) to try your software

As with any marketing video, the essential purpose is to get the viewer to seek out more information. You may want the customer to download a trial version, or to sign up for a live demo. In either case, you’ll be asking a busy person to put out a fair amount of effort.

What kind of video will entice them to do it? A detailed tutorial-style screencast might work — but it’s not a great place to start.  A better solution is to give the prospect a quick look at one credible reason to take the next step. And, your inside sales team will appreciate being able to share a series of such videos in a drip campaign. The good news is that it can be done inexpensively.

15-second video software demo example

Just about every technology solution promises “visibility.” A very short video demo can show people what they’re missing out on.

To illustrate this point, we’ve developed a series of video software demos as part of our video content “Good Ideas” series. The 15-second example here uses a clip from an explainer video to demonstrate just one benefit the technology solution promises: visibility. All it takes to create a simple video like this is a poster frame (important for social media, including YouTube), a video clip, and an offer of further information at the end. Music is optional. That’s it. Simple and cheap. [More very short demo examples can be found here.]

Screencast and video demo tips

In fifteen years of writing and producing videos about enterprise technology solutions, we’ve watched many, many live and recorded demos. Here are a few tips worth considering.

  1. Try to populate your demo with realistic (but not real) data around which you craft a story. It’s hard to maintain focus on a demo that just shows what happens when a tab is clicked or a menu it is selected.
  2. Add annotations and text. This not only reinforces what is being said, it also makes viewing more comfortable for people whose first language is not the one used on the audio track.
  3. Billboarding your demo with interactive chapter headings makes the content more accessible and makes it easy for viewers to repeat sections they find interesting.

There are lots more practical tips in  this infographic from TechSmith, makers of Camtasia and Snagit.