Lights, Camera, Actually Good Video.

Tom Snyder photo by Tom Snyder on Jun 22, 2011

There’s no doubt that from an informational, persuasive and viral standpoint, video can be an important part of your marketing strategy.  And just like your website, presenting your brand the best way possible in this medium requires a professional. But as a business owner, I do understand the need to sometimes be forced to do things on the cheap.  That however, does not give you an excuse to create videos of the awful quality I see so much of online. It takes more than just the cheap cameras available today to produce a decent video yourself.  I know that there’s a “prevailing conventional wisdom" coming from a lot of Social Media “gurus" these days that says that rough, home-made video makes you more “authentic."

I say “Hogwash! “

You may think the information contained in a bad video may be helpful enough to the viewer that they’ll overlook bad production. I say this over and over: your brand is not your logo, it’s the promise of an experience. Everything you do either reinforces or erodes that brand. And simply put, bad video erodes your brand.

If you MUST create your own video, make sure that it reinforces your brand with these pointers:

1. Length. Video should be no more than 15 minutes with opening and closing credits. You’ll likely be posting your videos to YouTube as a part of both a storage/delivery solution and a component of viral distribution and 15 minutes is the maximum length YouTube will accept. If the topic cannot be completely covered in 15 minutes, create a series with 15 minute parts. Remember the Chinese proverb that says “The truth can be told in few words."  Understand that attention spans are short and the longer the video is, the less likely that people will stay engaged all the way through.

2. Subject matter. The goal is not to cram as much information into 15 minutes as you can. Online video is more compelling if the idea is simple. People are easily distracted when watching a video, so you can’t try to put too much into one. Try to convey one or two ideas at the most. Begin by telling people what you’re going to tell them. Then tell them, ideally using 3 points. Finally, tell them what you told them. Remember, you may be the expert, but the focus of the message is not you, it’s the viewer. They have a situation, a question, a problem or a curiosity, and you have the solution. Communicate that solution to them clearly, genuinely and enthusiastically. You’ll keep their attention, earn their appreciation and potentially win their business.

3. Content. If it’s about your brand, content should always be family-friendly.  You never know when a prospective customer will have a little one on their lap or looking over their shoulder, so make sure your content and language is appropriate for viewers of any age.  Don't disparage other products, services, people or organizations, and don't make inappropriate comments about age, race, gender, disability, sexual orientation or ethnicity. Don't advocate for any political organization or party or promote or recruit for any religious denomination. And don’t demean any of them either.

4. On-camera Presence. You are the authority. The way you come across needs to re-enforce that. If you’re not comfortable, it will show, and your viewers will be uncomfortable, too. You’ll undermine your own credibility. Practice to work on eliminating the “umms" and “uhhhs" so you sound confident and professional.

Then practice again, focusing on the camera. Unless you need to look at something you’re demonstrating, don't let your eyes wander anywhere else but directly into the lens. If you’re going to be sitting in the video, sit on a chair that doesn't swivel and practice to avoid squirming. If you’re standing,  practice to keep from rocking back and forth.

Practice enough times so that you’re not just reading copy, but actually communicating the information in a personal and conversational manner.

Practice, practice, practice.

5. Audio. Nothing screams “unprofessional" like a cheap microphone feet away from the speaker. Invest in a good clip-on microphone. Try to eliminate any distracting ambient room noise. If you’re shooting outside, make sure your microphone has a windscreen. If you'll have more than one person speaking, try to provide a microphone for each individual, and ensure that everyone's audio level is equal.

Your message is important. Do all you can to make it easy to hear so it can be understood.

6. Lighting. Lighting is everything. Digital video can’t have enough light. But if you’re shooting outside, try to do it on a slightly overcast day. Bright sunlight causes shadows and makes you squint.  Some cloudiness eliminates both.

If you’re shooting indoors, several lights aimed at the walls and ceiling will light you without blinding you, casting harsh shadows or reflecting off your face. Construction site lights actually work well if you’re on a budget.

7. Camera. Create your video in High Definition (720p or 1080i, ideally recorded at 29.97 or 24 frames per second). Even cheap video cameras (and even many still cameras) these days are capable of shooting video with that resolution. Don’t get cute with someone shooting while constantly moving around you, zooming in and out or circling you. This isn't MTV. Use a tripod, and put the camera close enough so you are the predominant image.

8. Stills slides and Edits. While not necessary, still pictures or slides with information  can be added. They are a good way to set a scene or help with transitions. But beware of video editing programs. If you don’t already know how to use them correctly, they can be a huge time suck. Keep your edits simple. Use edits primarily to remove extraneous and unnecessary footage, not to add wild transitions or effects. Less is more.

9. Music. Use background music only for scenes where you’ll be demonstrating something without narration or commentary. A music bed under the entire video will likely detract from your message and make it seem more like a commercial. You must have the author's and composer's permission to use any copy written music in your video. Don’t think that using your favorite smooth jazz instrumental won’t get you in trouble. Within minutes of your upload to YouTube, you’ll be getting a warning from them about copyright violation. Yeah, they find out almost immediately.

A big list, I know. But if your ultimate goal for creating a video is to position your brand as one based on quality and commitment to excellence, sweating the details on the production will be critical.  If the above list is overwhelming and intimidating, your limited time will be better spent maintaining your focus on your product or service and leaving the video to the pros.  But if you think you have an aptitude in this area, and are willing to heed the advice you may still be able to produce brand re-enforcing media yourself. While production values won't rival those you see on TV it may still be good enough.  If you're OK with your brand being represented by a happy medium it doesn’t take expensive equipment, just a little attention to detail. At least it won't be an embarrassment.

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