How agile video production works

Do you have a looming deadline for a presentation that explains something new, exciting, and complicated —   but there’s no consensus on the best way to explain it? Is your sales or investor relations team clamoring for a video that will speed up conversations with non-technical decision-makers? This may be the time to try agile video production.

We were contacted a couple of months ago by engineers at a startup. The team was preparing to introduce a radically unconventional streaming processor for compute-intensive applications like AI and machine learning.

The challenge

The deadline was tight. The challenge was to get agreement on how to visualize the chip’s internal workings, and then to quickly turn out a video that would clearly explain the impressive technical achievement in a way that could be easily understood by the sort of person who goes to AI hardware conferences.

An agile approach

As we were about to get started, we were surprised to be asked by our client’s team leader whether we prefer meeting every day or every-other-day! Not something we’d ever been asked before. Certainly not our usual approach, but one that came naturally to the folks we were working with.

Though no formal agile methodology was used, or even mentioned, the prospect of a daily meeting demanded that we produce working software (digital video) every day, in order to have something to test and evaluate. This eliminated miscommunication and greatly improved the finished product — all well within the tight schedule. Our customer was happy that their audience loved the video. We were happy that the unaccustomed high level of collaboration boosted both the quality of the video and the efficiency with which it was produced.  You can view the video here: Groq Tensor Streaming Processor architecture is radically different.

When to apply agile video production methodology

This methodology may only be applicable to complicated tech solutions. Where the product message is locked in, choosing how to present it depends largely on taste, and daily testing is not guaranteed to improve it. But if everyone starts out unsure about what will work, agile video production can work for everyone.


How to use video to differentiate your technology solution

For many B2B products and services, technology itself is a big differentiator. But vendors of these technology solutions often struggle to differentiate their own solutions. It’s a problem because, according to Gartner research, when technology buyers aren’t sure what makes a solution different, they don’t buy from that vendor. When you use video to differentiate, make sure you don’t cloud the picture with a surrounding claims that your competitors also make.

Touting customer benefits can increase confusion

Most technology marketers believe that buyers don’t care how technology does what it does — buyers just want to know what it can do for them. This may be true, but when it comes to differentiation, dramatizing the customer benefits may be counterproductive when

  • how the technology works is the differentiator
  • the benefits are the same ones everyone wants (superior performance, increased efficiency, higher productivity, etc.)
  • competitors’ offerings promise to deliver the same benefits

So, time spent touting the same benefits your competitors promise is more likely to increase confusion than it is to make your differentiation plain for all to see.

Use video to differentiate

Video is the best way to explain — at a high level — how something works.

Video animation can make the differentiation story simple and compelling, highlighting the unique attributes that form your solution’s personality.

Video is good at drawing the side-by-side comparisons that distinguish your solution from the one buyers will choose — if they don’t see a difference — from a better-known competitor.

Videos that make a point credibly, without marketing fluff, are more likely to be shared with the right people in the buyer’s organization.

Speeding up the conversation

Short videos that are primarily visualizations speed up conversations (including on-line chats) and sales presentations. This is particularly true for solutions that have a lot of moving parts and need to be explained step-by-step.

Sales reps don’t want to interrupt their conversations with prepackaged videos that feel like commercials. But a short animation depicting a dynamic process flow makes it easy to put things clearly into the buyer’s context.

This matters, because, as Gartner’s Hank Barnes notes, “a low-quality sales presentation is one of the top causes of them rejecting a vendor immediately.”

Note: A version of this post appeared in Biznology.


Best practices for social media video

While most B2B video viewing continues to take place on desktops, B2B companies still need to discuss their solutions in social media. Video generally rules the day in social media, but not in the standard TV formats everyone is used to. Social media platforms, human attention spans, and user preferences demand new “best practices” that may differ from how you’re currently producing and distributing video.

1. Best video format: square

Square (or vertical) video looks better on social platforms, and fills more of the screen (almost 80% more) as viewers scroll their newsfeeds. Most users prefer to hold their phones vertically, which may explain why the social media management platform Buzzfeed reports that the square video format gets 30-50% more views and 80-100% more engagement.

2. Upload directly to Facebook

Direct uploads to Facebook get preferred treatment by Facebook’s search algorithm. So “native” video out-performs links to videos on YouTube and Instagram by about 2X.

3. Don’t be subtle. Subtitle.

Rethink video. TechBizVideo Kinetic Text Link

Kinetic text can bring a simple message to life.

Almost all (up to 85%) of autoplay videos play silently. Subtitles, or captions, can make a big difference in how much of your message gets across. It’s remarkably easy and inexpensive, to add professional-quality captions. Or, use a lot of kinetic text.

4. 3-second rule

C’mon — you know what mobile social media attention spans are like. You’ve got about three seconds to capture attention. A good thumbnail title screen can certainly help get the viewer to pause scrolling.

5. A reason to watch.

Beyond the 3-second mark, you want the viewer to watch with the expectation that there’s something in it for them. A provocative question, an eye-catching visual, just a friendly face can all get things off to a good start. So can the accompanying text.

There’s more on social media video best practices at


What types of videos can influence B2B buying decisions?

A notable difference between B2c and B2B buying decisions is that most consumers (75%) say they’ve placed orders immediately after watching a video.

That may happen with some B2B products, but not the enterprise technology solution videos my company specializes in. Still, B2B buyers are also consumers. So it’s worth taking a look at the recently-published CMO Council report on video qualities that influence consumer decisions.

Reflecting the B2B buyer’s interest

No one will be surprised to learn that consumers value videos about stuff they own or want to buy. The same is certainly true for people making B2B buying decisions about new or upgraded solutions. But creating videos about what viewers want to buy can be a knotty problem for B2B companies. When the buyer is a committee whose members have differing interests, who is the audience? And who gets to decide what the video is really about? Persona-based video is one underutilized approach that can most accurately reflect the buyer’s interest. It’s cost-effective to produce a series of persona-based videos, because a lot of the creative work (scripting, animation, etc.) can be re-used.

Let me decide what to watch

43% of consumers say that online videos would be more valuable if they were interactive. They want to choose what information they view, not wonder if or when the video will provide it. An obvious solution is to incorporate video into FAQs and product feature listings. Longer videos, such as webinars and product demos, can be repurposed as interactive videos.  (Interactive videos been shown to make viewers smarter).

Video guideposts on the buyer’s journey

If videos aren’t expected to produce immediate B2B buying decisions, what action should they call for? 33% of consumers say they value recommendations on what do next, and there’s no reason to think the B2B buyer wouldn’t feel the same. I’ve long maintained that the purpose of a video should be to get people want to seek additional information. CTAs in B2B technology solution videos often involve trial versions of software or more detailed content like white papers. But a more consumer-like experience would be links to “related videos” a la YouTube. The ideal video library contains video series that can be sequenced like guideposts on the buyer’s journey.

Can video personalization affect a B2B buying decision?

12% of consumers say that seeing their name and information about them in video would be “valuable” in their decision-making process. It’s hard to see how this would translate to the B2B buying decision, though the sort of see-your-name-in-lights personalization available in online greeting cards is possible on business-oriented video platforms. It’s attention-getting. But what can be really valuable is a video where a real person answers the customer’s real question, with graphics and animation. That’s not “personalization” — it’s salesmanship. And, while it can be time-consuming, it’s certainly not difficult, with online tools like those from CloudApp.


Vimeo Enterprise: A new platform to manage video at scale

Vimeo Enterprise, a SaaS version of the 14-year-old ad-free platform popular with video creators and viewers, is launching soon, in a version aimed at making it easy for big companies to get the most out of their growing video libraries.

According to Vimeo’s CEO, Anjali Sud, “while there are a couple of small, niche enterprise video companies in the market, none offer anything close to the scale we have. Our security features and support services are more sophisticated and advanced to support large teams.”

Vimeo Enterprise account management, audience engagement

Vimeo Enterprise features include:

  • Secure single sign-on to streamline log-ins and account management
  • Branded private libraries, which are described in Vimeo’s press release as “a lovely home for your on-demand trainings, all-hands, and more.”
  • Analytics on engagement by employees, trainees, customers, prospects, and other viewers.
  • Dedicated support
  • Uptime SLAs
  • Access to Vimeo’s production team for live events
  • Live polling, Q&A, email capture

Basic collaboration

Large companies generally have a few stakeholders involved in any video production. Vimeo already provides basic reviewing and commenting tools to help subject matter experts, marketers and production teams work together. Right now, there are platforms such as Filestage (which we use here) that offer more robust versioning and client review capabilities. While Vimeo hasn’t announced any new collaboration features, it’s likely that customers will request and get them.

Vimeo interactive tools

Similarly, Vimeo already offers rudimentary interactive tools akin to the ones you get on YouTube. If you want higher-powered engagement — chapters, quizzes, shopping carts, personalization, deeper-dive graphics and other clickable options — you can look to third-party HTML5 players. HapYak, open-source h5p, and other prominent platforms integrate with Vimeo.

Vimeo Enterprise is worth a look

Most experts agree that it’s a good idea to upload videos to YouTube, the world’s second largest search engine. But making videos available on YouTube doesn’t preclude using another distribution platform as the primary host. Vimeo Enterprise should be a worthy contender. The company is streaming a live demo on October 1.

NOTE: A version of this post previously appeared on Biznology.


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