Stock footage is a powerful tool for brands and marketers, especially if you’re in a situation when you can’t shoot original footage. However, as with any tool, it’s only effective when used properly.
The Hall of Shame of corporate video is filled with bad interviews. A staple of corporate video is what we call the mini-doc, a short form documentary created out of interviews with key people. These videos rely on real people to tell the story without added voiceover or scripting.
We love a good mini-doc. We’re insanely proud of some mini-docs in our portfolio. The documentary medium can be incredibly powerful — it’s an Oscar category for a reason. However, the key word there is “good.”
The poor, overused mini-doc is hard to get right. A bad mini-doc is one of the worst sins of B2B video marketing. When you imagine a bad corporate video, you probably are picturing an executive looking like a deer in the headlights in front of a camera talking about synergy paired with b-roll of people sitting around a conference table. Yuck.
We’d like to save the mini-doc from its own popularity. A well-produced mini-doc can exude authenticity in a way that a scripted piece cannot. The raw emotion from a good interview is a powerful thing. So how do you get to the holy grail of a good interview? The tips below will help guide you on your journey.
Tip #1 – Do not script the interview.
If you stop reading this article after one tip, make it this one. Do not script the interview. Just don’t. Whoever is being interviewed, whether it’s one of your employees or a client or an end user, is not a professional actor. They will not be able to deliver scripted remarks in an authentic manner.
If you’ve asked them to memorize a statement, it will sound rehearsed and, well, memorized. A viewer will generally be able to tell when a statement is recited.
Some clients will request a teleprompter to avoid the memorization issue. Reading off a teleprompter is itself a learned skill, and your people are probably not broadcast journalists.
Your subject will sound like he or she is reading, and if the text on the teleprompter is too small, you will be able to see their eyes darting across the words. Nothing screams “inauthentic” like visibly reading a statement.
Tip #2 – Don’t hand over the questions in advance.
Over-preparing an interview subject leads to accidental memorization. The interviewee will want to say what they think you want to hear.
They will practice their answers with their spouse or in the bathroom mirror, and suddenly your unscripted interview has become scripted by the subject.
Even when our clients know not to hand over the questions, a common related sin we see is “prepping” the interviewee immediately before the interview.
While the video crew is setting up, the interviewee, especially if we’re in their office, may be standing off to the side waiting for the interview to start. They’re often nervous. To calm them down, the client, producer, or director may start to tell them what to expect and preview some of the questions.
This is a terrible idea.
When you start to talk to an interviewee about the topic before the cameras start rolling, the person wastes their authentic, conversational answers on the producer.
When they get in front of the camera, suddenly they are trying to remember what they just said instead of simply answering the question in the moment.
Even though it’s only been a few minutes, they inadvertently spent the time practicing their answers. The plan to make the person more comfortable has backfired, and now they sound rehearsed.
To help someone be more comfortable, instead consider having the person sit in their interview spot was the crew does their final touches. It allows them to get used to the camera and lights before the interview starts.
Tip #3 – Don’t rush the interview.
Sitting down for an interview is nerve-wracking. There are bright lights, a boom microphone over your head, and a camera or two in your face. A team of strangers is buzzing around futzing with silk diffusers and clipping another mic to your shirt. A makeup artist is simultaneously fixing your hair. None of it feels authentic when you get started, because it’s absolutely not.
That said, an interview subject who is an expert on their topic will often find comfort in talking about what they’re good at. It takes some time to get used to the set, but once they do it can become a conversation with the director or interviewer.
Assume that people will start out nervous. Even if an interviewee is one of several people being featured in a 2 minute spot and you figure you’ll only use 45 seconds of them speaking, schedule 30 minutes for their interview.
You may not need it all, but that gives people enough time to get comfortable in front of the camera and start just talking.
Rushing a subject will make them more nervous.
Tip #4 – Don’t make people repeat what they just said.
As video creators, we want to get the best sound bites out of our interview subjects. Sometimes someone says something amazing, but they stumble over a few words.
Or they start the sentence in a roundabout way, or they use a term the communications team won’t be allowed to use in a final video.
Making a person restate what they just said is a problem for two reasons: it sounds inauthentic and it brings them out of the flow of the conversation (how often do your friends ask you to restate an anecdote “just like that!” but without saying a brand name?).
Are you sensing a theme here? The heart of any successful mini-doc, be it for marketing or entertainment use, is authenticity. The power comes from the person in the thick of the story telling it in their own words.
Without that authenticity, you might as well script the video and hire an actor to read it.
Trust your subject to tell their own story. You are making this video because the person did something noteworthy that you want to share with the public. Let them speak freely, and trust the video team to curate the story and make the subject look good.
When it comes to video marketing, outlining the initial goals and objectives is pretty straightforward: Who are you trying to reach with your video? What are you trying to communicate? Where should you place your video?
And then there’s the question we get a lot from clients big and small: How long should my video be?
The common answer you will find when Googling or posing this general question is “no more than two minutes [depending on where you use it.]”
Ah, everyone’s favorite answer to life’s toughest questions: “It depends.” This take on the two-minute rule makes it less of a rule and more of a guideline (see Pirates of the Caribbean). The length of your video should be determined by a variety of factors resulting in the answer our team has coined – “As long as it needs to be.” Here are three key variables to think about when determining how long your marketing video should be.
1. Audience experience
In 2020 (can you believe it’s officially 2020!?), we are constantly hearing and reading about shrinking attention spans and the crazy amount of content we are interacting (and bombarded) with each day. And while these insights should be taken into account when deciding your video’s length, the more important factor should be this: what is the overall user experience looking like right now for your audience?
For example, let’s say your audience is internal and your co-workers have been drudging through watching a series of five mandatory 27-minute HR videos this month. Laying another, long, boring video on them is not a good way to capture their attention or deliver engagement. And their appetite for it may be even less than normal due to existing fatigue.
Ok, so you get what I’m saying about not boring everyone with long, banal videos. But what if your topic is very complex and detail heavy? It needs 27 minutes to cover properly and make sure there’s no miscommunication (as is true for many HR topics.)
In response, consider this: Can you approach the way the content is presented from a different angle? Could you make a one minute teaser video that tees up the open enrollment season? Could you make that video an authentic sampler and leave the detail heavy information as copy posted below the video on your intranet? Or as (a) separate attachments? Sometimes, you don’t need every dry detail read to you or animated.
Heavy or complex content is often easier to digest in text format (this also allows audiences to skim for the exact info they need.) But even if the majority of the content is going to be shared as text, you need something to get audiences excited to start reading or engage with content.
At this point, you may be asking, “Well, what if I follow this advice and the employees just watch the short video and don’t read the PDF or other information?” Take a step back here and ask yourself: Is that better than them watching/reading neither?
If they watch the teaser video, you should count that as a win. And after viewing your thought-and-question-provoking one minute video, they may even be willing to look through the PDF/additional content. If they see “27:00” on the video player, there’s a solid chance they won’t be watching that video at all. Or even half the video. Or reading the PDF.
Take the time to know and check-in with your audience each time you make a video. Understanding the climate and your audience’s experience at that moment can help you make the best decision about the length of your latest video.
That said, if you can make your 27 minute video as entertaining and engaging as your favorite streaming series, then maybe your video can be 27 minutes long. This a rarity, but who doesn’t love a good challenge?
2. Video value
Creating content that delivers value is the hardest part of making a video. Anyone can take their iPhone and find a way to capture 30 seconds of content. But is that content something anyone else wants to watch? You might find your baby making a face for over two minutes to be the cutest thing ever (and hey, maybe it is), but does your subscriber base following your page for updates on your latest product release care? Probably not.
Your audience expects you to deliver value. And their level of engagement will let you know whether or not you are doing that. So ask yourself, when you put out a five minute animated explainer with lots of industry speak and definitions, does anyone actually want to watch that? Even if they’re in your industry?
A video that is inherently interesting or engaging to your audience can and should be as long as it needs to be, so long as it is delivering value to your audience. The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King – Extended Addition is over four hours long. You may watch this countless times because you love the movie and find the extra content valuable. You might also watch a movie like Darkest Hour with just over a two hour run time and fall asleep in the theater.
The proper length is dependent upon the value delivered. How much time do you need to deliver your vital and valuable information? When making a successful video, you need to be ok with putting the significant few messages above the important many. Think of the proper length of a video as your minimum effective dose.
3. Media/channel/content strategy
Traditionally, the most important factor taken into account when considering video length was your media, channel, or content strategy. Where are you going to use this video?
Traditional media buys lead us to default to making videos to standard specs without questioning them. We just execute instead of digging deeper, asking questions about our audience and the creative, and deciding what is best for our video and brand (vs what’s best for our vendors.)
Is 30 seconds going to get your audience to buy your services? Do you really need a full two minutes to successfully communicate your message or are you just doing it because that’s the maximum time the buy allows for? Does this creative concept really work for this platform or are we just using up an existing credit? Could three minutes of solid content on a different platform be more valuable and drive better results? Or even 15 seconds?
Social media platforms have begun offering different options to accommodate short and long videos. And that is great news! Platforms are growing with creative. You don’t have to have a $10M media buy to make an impact.
In fact, when you have a $10M media budget, you may be sacrificing opportunities for great work. You waste time force-fitting content to an existing buy or channel strategy instead of purchasing or leveraging media based on your specific project’s marketing goals or strategy. Think through what’s best for the overall initiative first. Then develop your video creative to achieve the strategic goals. That information will allow you to select the best run-time for your video along with the best platform and placement.
Audience experience, video value, and channel strategy are three variables to thoughtfully consider when deciding video length. The goals and objectives of your organization and your marketing should serve as the foundation for all of your content decisions. Once you’ve decided to make a video, develop creative concepts that serve those goals and then decide how much time you need to consistently deliver value throughout the entire piece.
Once you’ve done all of that, you’re on your way to achieving better marketing and business results than ever, all with the help of a well-timed video.