How to make great video content

Shorter attention spans, the ubiquity of screens and our growing tendency to consume content on the go mean companies should include video in their marketing strategy. But many are wary. Sophy Buckley offers some advice

Some 300 hours of content are uploaded to YouTube every minute and almost 5bn videos are watched every day. Increasingly it’s a vital part of the marketing mix. But although people watch lots of good videos, identifying what would provide a decent return on your investment is difficult. Isn’t video expensive and impossible to manage? How can a company be sure to make an enticing video anyway?

Here are simple guidelines to making the process smooth and manageable.

The right production partner

First things first: finding the right production company is crucial. Look at their back catalogue to see if they make the kind of videos you want, ask about costs and how the budget is broken down, as well as the timescale and how they operate. They should also want to ask you questions about your audience, your message (what you want to say and why) and your budget. Everyone needs to understand the importance of keeping filming and expectations on track.

“Video is a great communications tool,” says Guy Ruddle, chief executive of First Touch TV (pictured above). “It gets humanity and personality across better than any other medium, it creates initial engagement and it’s also very sticky.

“But companies often think a video will take up lots of time, money, be a right pain and risks making them look stupid. Those are big fears, but the right production company will take away all the stress and make you look good.”

A good production company will also keep client time input to a minimum. Jane Gerber of Peanut & Crumb recommends choosing a production company that has lots of experience of bringing brands to life: “Storytelling is everything in marketing right now. Every company is different and has a different story to tell, so this is what will make the film stand out,” she says.

And making a video doesn’t need to take weeks or even days. “In the case of crisis management, I can get to you with a camera, film a response, edit it and have it online within two hours,” Ruddle says.

Get the brief right

Once you’ve found your production company, a clear brief is essential to make sure the film has purpose. “It helps us focus on what the client wants out of the audience, how they will use the film and what their key messages are. This will inform how they want people to react to the film – and therefore the type of film we make,” says Gerber.

The production company can then go away to develop the idea, work on the story it will tell and create the running order. This will form the structure for the project. Once this is complete, the client needs to sign it off. This might sound straightforward, but throws up far more problems than many anticipate.

“It’s a creative process and everyone likes to have their say,” remarks Alan Hendry of Friday Film Productions, pictured left on a shoot at sea heading towards the salmon farms in the outer Hebrides. “The creative account director might sign off a film idea and then their boss rips it up. It’s really important that the project as a whole is signed off properly by everyone as early as possible.”

Keep talking

Throughout the project, continuous communication is essential between client and production company. As with any corporate partner, trust is vital. Without it the end result will suffer. “It is a collaborative process between the production company and the communications team. It has to be open and honest,” says Ruddle. The more open the client is, the higher the chances that the production team will capture the spirit and nature of the company.

Should things go off course – perhaps a mismanagement of expectations, a clash of creative ideas or time overruns – it’s important to return to the basics of what you want out of the film. The chances are a good production company will have seen it all before and know how to handle tricky situations. In the case of artistic differences, for example, Gerber says: “We’re the professionals, so when it comes to creative decisions I try to be gentle but firm and show them my track record. But it is a balance. They know their business; we stand outside. The two perspectives in balance will achieve a great film.”

Standing out from the crowd

When Gerber gets a new commission, she looks at what the client’s competitors and peers are doing. “We recently did a film for SAFT [the French battery maker and FirstWord client] for its centenary. We looked at films other companies had made for similar anniversaries and tried to make one that was appropriate to SAFT.”

Rather than plump for a timeline, the Peanut & Crumb team wanted to reflect the brand values and the company’s people with an engaging and emotional narrative.

“We wanted to make the viewer feel something about the brand, its expertise and heritage while still pushing through the brand messaging of innovation, quality and customer care. We combined shot footage of interviews telling specific stories about SAFT’s historical achievements with footage from the SAFT archives and also motion graphics in the brand style we have created for SAFT. Choice of music was key in creating the right mood and feel,” she says.

Keep it authentic

But perhaps the most important element to making a great film and getting the client to look good is having an authentic voice. “People need to talk naturally and not be seen to be delivering a message. This is very hard to achieve and requires a number of skills. But it’s worth going for as it’s what brings that bit of sparkle,” Ruddle says.

Although neither he nor Gerber advocates scripts, it is important to make sure that everyone involved knows what’s being covered. Interviewees need to understand the topics they are going to have to talk about. And Ruddle warns that supplying questions ahead of an interview can make it more stilted. He says it’s much better to spend 30 minutes before filming talking to interviewees, circling around the subject to put them at ease. “I try not to cover exactly what we will be filming. It’s always more compelling if it’s in their own words and the first time they say it is usually the best.”

This ability to make the most of the moment is critical – and is often where the magic comes from. Says Hendry: “We were recently filming at sea for the Scottish Salmon Company when the cameraman spotted a rainbow landing on a highlands and islands ferry. It was perfect. You can’t plan that.”

Making it shine

If the magic isn’t found at the filming stage, editing can come to the rescue. “Editing is really about the polish,” says Ruddle. “This is when there can be lots of to-ing and fro-ing between the client and the film company.”

Gerber says the first 10 seconds of any film are the most important. Get them right and people will watch the whole thing. It really is about drawing them into the story. “Our background and track record means we know what makes people watch a film. We know the right images to use – moving in, close-ups, the right colours. We really focus on this,” she says, adding that it’s also important not to make the film too long. It should be somewhere between two and five minutes.

As for price, while some production companies demand very high fees, a film doesn’t have to cost a fortune. Hendry explains: “We hire in resources as we need them. Resources like voice-overs, camera, sound. It makes it much cheaper for the client.”

Cost vs value for money

Ruddle agrees, saying he can make a film for a few thousand when some other production companies might charge £35,000. But it’s not just about the cost. There has got to be a good return on investment – and this improves the more the film is sweated.

Once you’re happy with your new video, distribution is key to getting it seen – think carefully about where it will live and how you will publicise that. If you have a company YouTube channel, that is a natural home – but you might want to host it at the top of your website home page as well. Even the best video won’t get views unless you tell people it is there, so push and promote it through all of your social media and internal channels on a regular basis, and encourage your staff to share it as well.

Film is most well known as a brand-building tool, but companies successfully use it for recruitment, training, sales, crisis management, investor relations, internal comms, fundraising and more. This is where repurposing comes in.

Repurposing is when the same footage is used in more than one way, helping to bring down the costs per minute of the finished product. The same footage might have different voiceovers to cover off recruitment, investment or product promotion or be cut and edited differently to show different aspects of the company or for differing audiences. These new versions will find a variety of homes across the company’s website, blog, social-media channels, white papers, newsletters and internal comms.

Gerber recounts how one client – Leon, the restaurant chain – commissioned a film when it was trying to raise investment. That film was made four years ago and is still being repurposed and played in training applications, in restaurants and even recruitment.

“We had to capture their values, set out their goals and introduce the founders. All of that is still relevant today,” she says. “It’s definitely given value for money.”

Hendry recounts how he made a film at an awards ceremony to celebrate the winners. The following year the PR firm re-edited it to use as a promotional film to encourage more entry submissions.

“One of the biggest hurdles in making films is getting the client to realise the value of the asset they’ve got. It’s often made for one thing, is not seen as mission critical, posted on the website and then forgotten. They need to sweat it, share it,” he says.

For Ruddle, the impact is increased when a company does a series. “It should be an ongoing conversation,” he says.

He believes film is a great weapon in the communications department’s arsenal. “No general uses just artillery to win the war when they have cavalry and ground troops as well. A successful general marshals all his troops wisely. So with communications and film,” he says.

While it may seem daunting, the reality of making films or videos is that – like every other form of marketing – it’s about telling a good story in the right way and delivering it at the appropriate time for the right price. Today, there are plenty of production companies able to help guide you through the process and plenty of channels for their output. By sticking to marketing basics, a company that uses video as part of its content mix can get its voice heard by the YouTube generation.

Stats you need to know about video content

  • 82 per cent of Twitter users watch video content on the service
  • YouTube has almost one-third of total internet users
  • 45 per cent of people watch more than an hour of Facebook or YouTube videos a week
  • More video content is uploaded in 30 days than the major US TV networks have created in 30 years
  • 87 per cent of online marketers use video
  • 51 per cent of marketing professionals worldwide name video as the type of content with the best ROI
  • Video drives a 157 per cent increase in organic traffic from SERPs
  • 85 per cent of Facebook videos are watched without sound
  • Video on a landing page can increase conversations by 80 per cent