As things transition to our post pandemic new normal, let’s pledge “corporate” video will be relegated to the way things used to be. We’re not saying corporations should stop making videos. We’re saying
they should stop making them so “corporate.” You know what we mean by “corporate,” right?

“Corporate” video is:

  • Interviews with deer-in-the-headlights executives

  • Shots of people writing on a whiteboard

  • Spokespeople on white backgrounds saying stuff like “end-to-end solutions”

  • Testimonials with customers who look like they’re being held hostage

  • Slow motion people in a conference room “collaborating”

  • Event footage of attendees picking up their name badges

That’s what we mean by “corporate” video. Another way of saying it is bad video. Let’s all agree these videos deserve to live as only a distant memory. Here are seven ways we can make that happen.

#1 – Avoid worn-out creative concepts

While guaranteeing any particular video will be 100% effective is impossible, there is a way to guarantee a video will be ineffective. And that’s by making a video that’s been done before. Not one time, not five times, not even 100 times, but 10,000+ times.

At Umault, we use the term “Default Creative” to describe video ideas that have been done ad nauseam. They’re default because no critical thinking was done. The video idea, or creative, was sitting there in the public domain of creative, and it was used with no thought to strategy, audience, et al.

In the same way that defaulting on a loan means no payments were made, using Default Creative means nothing new was made.

So why do brands continue to make marketing videos using Default Creative?

Because it’s easy.

It’s easy to develop, to produce and to sell through to management. There is almost zero perceived risk because it’s been done a million times before. Everyone knows what the end product should look like because they can all point to a ton of examples on YouTube.

But as Gary Vaynerchuk says, “You can’t beat what you copy.” In other words, the best your video will perform is slightly worse than the video you copied. It’s not adding anything new to the collective experience we call humanity.

Default Creative ends up as white noise in your target customer’s feed. It’s nothing. It’s the soggy, bland airport sandwich of video. It serves only to check a box. You could have gotten a higher ROI putting your video budget on black in Vegas (and had a lot more fun).

Your goal should be to make an amazing video that will become someone else’s Default Creative.

If that’s your goal, here’s how to do it: Be risky up front. Reject things that have been done before. Push push push into uncomfortableness. As Lee Clow (the man behind Apple’s 1984 ad) says, “Don’t do the right thing…Do the brave thing.”

take a page from 60 minutes playbook

#2 – Don’t tell a story about the issue

Whenever Don Hewitt, the legendary creator of 60 Minutes, was asked about the secret to the program’s success, he answered with four words: Tell me a story. Hewitt said 60 Minutes doesn’t do stories about issues; it does stories about the people who are swept up in them.

He said, “Even the people who wrote the Bible were smart enough to know: Tell them a story. The issue was evil in the world. The story was Noah.”

“Storytelling” has become a cliché regarding marketing and video in particular. But we would argue that less than 30 percent of the videos being produced by brands qualify as actual stories—at least, as defined by Hewitt.

Most of the video content we see is all about the issue. There’s an easy way to tell. Does the video feature boring stock footage of people climbing mountains or collaborating in conference rooms paired with an inspirational voiceover? This generic, vague footage signals that there is no clear story. It’s all just facts and figures.

So what do you do instead? Pull a page from 60 Minutes’s playbook. Tell a small story about a big issue.

Think about your favorite movie. In the grand scheme of things, the film you love so much is a very tiny story.

The Shawshank Redemption is really just about a small group of prisoners in Maine. The net impact on the world-at-large from their story is zero, yet the movie probably changed how you see the meaning of life because it covers larger issues about humanity, friendship, love, hate, and so on. It’s an amazing, yet small, story.

This is how you must think about your marketing videos. Ask yourself: What is the smallest story you can tell to convey your message?

#3 – Trust your audience

Assume your audience won’t “get it” at your own risk. If you really want to engage your audience, you need to trust they will figure things out.

In fact, it’s the “figuring things out” that makes for engaging video marketing.

People like a good mystery.

The reason why shows like Game of Thrones and Lost became such runaway hits is that they withheld information. We watched every week to find out who would become ruler of Westeros or what the meaning of the island was.

Put it this way, if Agatha Christie told you who the killer was in the first 10 pages, you wouldn’t keep reading.

People want to be active participants in what they watch. They don’t want to be spoon-fed.

As Andrew Stanton (director of WALL-E and Finding Nemo, among others) puts it in his TED Talk, “the audience actually wants to work for their meal.”

He continues, “We’re born problem solvers… It’s the well-organized absence of information that draws us in.”

Trust your audience to be smart people.

We have heard countless times from marketers, “We get it, but our audience won’t. They need everything spelled out for them. They’re CFOs after all!”


So CFOs – people who went through years of college, climbed their way up the ranks, and now manage the finances of your company – won’t “get it?”

It’s illogical to think CFOs are too dense to figure things out on their own. After all, CFOs use facts and inference to steer the financial future of a company.

The real issue is that they’re bombarded with corporate videos that spell everything out for them. So yes, they are disengaged. And they do have a short attention span for marketing videos that don’t require engagement of the brain.

BUT… If you were to give them a mystery – or not spell everything out for them – you’ll see they’re people like you and me. They’re smart, curious and looking to solve problems. That is their job after all!

Your audience is made up of smart people who are in a position to buy your product or service. If their company trusts them enough with this responsibility, shouldn’t you? Instead of shying away from making your audience think, shouldn’t you require and even indulge it?

trust your audience

#4 – Avoid “Go Fever”

On January 28, 1986, space shuttle Challenger lifted off from Cape Canaveral. Seventy-three seconds into the flight, the shuttle disintegrated over the Atlantic Ocean. An O-ring in one of the solid rocket boosters directly caused the accident, but the investigation revealed “Go Fever” as the real culprit.

The launch was postponed many times due to technical and weather issues. NASA wanted to launch, to go. The mission slowly changed from launching a crew into space and returning them safely to going. Since the mission was to go, safety problems were overlooked because they would cause mission failure (which was now going).

How many times has this happened in your company? The project turns from “get a video that gives us ROI” to “get a video, NOW!” Invariably, this push to just get it over with yields a mediocre video.

Avoid “Go Fever” like the plague. Just like no one remembers the pressure NASA was under to launch, no one will remember the pressure you were under to produce a video when it fails. They will only remember the disaster.

#5 – Make your customer the hero

This tip is inspired by Donald Miller at Storybrand. We highly recommend his in-person course. It will change your life.

Miller’s idea is that your company is not the hero of your video. Your customer is. It sounds simple, but so many brands make themselves the hero with talk about being “family owned” or “in business since 1958.” We hate to break it to you, but no one cares.

Those chest-pounding statements ignore the main reason why the prospect is watching your video: to solve their problem! You should be Yoda and your prospect should be Luke. You are Gandolph and your prospect is Frodo. You are the guide and your customer is the hero. You are merely helping them achieve their goals.

This very simple mindset shift will help you create videos that empathize with your prospects and you’ll see engagement go through the roof.

#6 – Spend more time thinking than doing

Many folks think of scripting and storyboarding as an activity to do on their way to the shoot. They hire a video production company, set the shoot date and then dedicate a couple weeks to scripting (if they do this at all) while they are concerned about shoot logistics.

The result? A “corporate” video.

Because little time was spent on developing an original concept, the video is made using bits and pieces of videos the crew has previously seen. This mish-mash of concepts leads to a video that is either weird, hard to understand, or bland and generic. There’s no creative heartbeat. The video is essentially made in post-production using an amalgamation of text callouts to bridge parts of the story that don’t sync up and stock footage of farmers on iPads to symbolize “digital transformation.”

Instead of spending 20% of your time thinking about the video idea, then rushing into production and spending 80% of the time making a half-baked idea, reverse it.

You (or your agency) should spend 80% of the time writing and re-writing the script. Sleep on it. Pre-visualize the video using storyboards and animatics. Sleep on it. Put the video’s music on your phone and listen to it every day. Sleep on it.

This may seem like a huge time commitment, but you’ll get the final video in your hands sooner because you won’t be sending the video editor a thousand notes trying to make something work. Oh, and your boss will be happier since you’re staying on budget and getting something that actually performs.

Measure twice, cut once.

thumbs up

#7 – Don’t make your people act

Why do so many brands insist on making their CEOs read from teleprompters? Why do so many marketers give their people scripts to memorize?

Your people aren’t professionally trained actors. They haven’t taken hours and hours of improv classes or hosted weekly talk shows. If finding professionals who do that well is difficult, what makes you think the next Meryl Streep works in your HR department?

OK, you get it.

Here’s the good news: if you want to feature your employees, you don’t need to give them teleprompters or make them memorize lines. Trust them to be the experts they are. Your CEO knows this stuff. She leads a company for a reason. Yes, she may not know the sales sheet of the new program you’re rolling out verbatim, but should she?

Instead of having her read a teleprompter, ask her a few questions and get her off the cuff response. She shouldn’t really be in the weeds anyway – let the program lead fill everyone in on the program’s specifics. A CEO should talk about why this new program helps your clients or how it fits into your culture. .

Think about it this way. If you were conducting an interview on new DMV license plate designs, you wouldn’t interview the President of the United States. You could get his comments on what he thinks about them or why the change improves the lives of all Americans, but you can’t expect him to know the designer for each plate or how they were chosen.

Each person who appears on camera should know what they’re talking about. That’s why you picked them. And person X shouldn’t be included in the video just because you think they’ll get upset if person Y is in it and they’re not. First off, how old are we? Second, HOW OLD ARE WE???

Each participant should have a reason for being in your video and only be asked about their specific area of expertise. If they don’t inherently know the content, don’t make them memorize or read from a teleprompter – find the person who does know it and put them in the video.

“Corporate video” really just means “bad video”

We all know what a “corporate video” is – and it’s not good. No one goes home, puts on comfy pants and watches a corporate video. No one shares a corporate video.

So why make one?

We hope this quick read inspired you to break the mold and never make a corporate video again. You can do this!

We’re here to help you on that journey. Check out our B2B video marketing guide to learn how to develop effective video marketing content that drives tangible business results.

Good luck!