“Our signup rate from paid ads just about doubled after we put the video on our home page. We made no other changes”. – Andrew Erlichson, CEO, Phanfare.
Though many more companies are finally starting to embrace it, the practice of creating short videos to introduce products and services is still nascent in Silicon Valley. We have been making videos for the web since the mid-1990s, but it was through our work for Google in late 2006 that we came to appreciate the full reach of these overviews.
After successfully experimenting with videos for products such as Google Earth 4.0, Blogger, and the Google Talk Gadget, we produced a short launch video for Google’s Street View in early 2007. That launch was a huge success, not only because Street View was a killer product, but also because its great product marketing team centered the launch around that quirky video, which explained the product more clearly than the product explained itself. In fact, hundreds of bloggers embedded the video in their writeups of the announcement, and it was (also) the first thing that people saw when directed to the product page.
These overview videos, often localized to dozens of languages, became an integral part of Google’s launch strategy – just look at some of the many Youtube Channels run by Googletoday, and the number of videos in each of those channels (all from a metrics-driven company that rarely spends lavishly in marketing and TV commercials).
Google’s strategy is not unique, though they have taken it to a new level. Other companies, big and small, have learned that a concise explanatory video, usually between 60-90 seconds in length, with a clear call to action at the end, is one of the most measurably effective tools when launching a company or product. These overview videos aren’t normal sales videos or commercials; they are a kind of elevator pitch, elaborated and tailored to your target audience. As Rob Gemmell, co-founder of Alikelist said,
Our demo video is the most powerful single tool we have for explaining what we do, how it works and what our users get from it. I’ve seen viewer’s light bulbs light up after watching the video – that’s something that usually takes a lot of yakking to achieve.
Given how effective video overviews are at introducing products without the expense of large media buys, we expect that soon these overview videos will be as ubiquitous as corporate Twitter accounts.
What is this thing we’re calling the “overview”, anyway? We think of it as a kind of elevator pitch, elaborated. Not only does it describe your product, but it also encapsulates the bigger idea of what your company is trying to achieve. This type of video focuses primarily on explaining the whats, whys, and hows of your product in a concise and engaging form, tailored to your target audience. It’s a fantastic mechanism for spreading your word across multiple audiences – tech bloggers, customers, financial stakeholders – anyone who needs to “get it” immediately.
What is it about these videos that makes them so compelling?
1. Better conversion rates. Jen Grant of cloud content management provider Box.net, tells us that the addition of a video to their advertising landing pages alone increased sign-up rates by 15%. Others, like Phanfare, saw their conversions increase by almost 100%. In our experience, a range of 15%-50% improvement in the conversion rate is common, especially if the page is further optimized to prominently showcase the video with a large “Sign Up” button next to it.
2. Allows users to vicariously taste your product, without having to sign up first. Demos allow the user to be the passenger while you test drive your product for them.
3. Increased likelihood that your product will be covered by the media. As Jason Kincaid of TechCrunch previously wrote, “We’ve got inboxes stuffed with pitches from companies vying for coverage. If it takes more than a minute or two to figure out what problem you’re trying to solve, we’re probably more likely to simply skip to the next message than to try to make sense of your feature set.” We often hear this from VCs as well, and given that they may get dozens of emails that say essentially the exact same thing, a single video in that batch stands out from the rest.
4. Increased likelihood that the media will cover your product in your own words. In their coverage, it is common for bloggers to embed videos in their articles, saving them the effort of paraphrasing your message or explaining what you do in their own words.
5. Opens up the pool of potential users. About 70% of the population say that they learn better with a multi-sensory approach – one that uses a combination of text, motion, and sound in introducing new concepts. There is also a significant subset of the population that won’t bother reading text beyond headers and simple paragraphs. By including a video on your site, you are tapping into these users who would be hard to reach otherwise.
6. Your best elevator pitch told consistently, ad infinitum. Having an overview video is like getting your A team in the same elevator every time.
7. Increased audience engagement. Just the process of clicking the “Play” button alone implies a certain amount of deliberate attention, that your brain is engaged, and ready to directly take in the information that will follow.
8. Better search results. Creating a video, particularly if it is added to Youtube, is about discovery. Supplementing your text with video helps you improve organic Google search results, as previously covered by TechCrunch.
9. Invites sharing by your users. Making an overview isn’t about creating the next “viral” phenomenon – it’s about helping users understand what your product is about, and why it is important to them. And because the current web environment makes it so easy to share videos via social networks and other media, a video is a great tool for your hardcore fans to evangelize your product and do your marketing for you. A video can easily shown to customers, employees, tech bloggers, financial stakeholders – anyone who needs to “get it” immediately – and has a useful life well beyond your home page (though these side benefits can be harder to quantify).
10. Relative affordability. The cost of creating and distributing an overview video is much lower than an ad campaign with media buys, often by several orders of magnitude, and can be created professionally in a range of several hundreds to several thousands of dollars. And though that may sound like a lot for a startup, a video can quickly pay for itself it by making it that much easier to pitch your company to potential investors and customers.
With that in mind, suppose you want to create an overview video for your next product launch or round of funding. Here are five things we stress when working with our clients, learned from producing literally thousands of videos for tech companies of all shapes and sizes.
1. Prioritize your messages.
The biggest mistake companies make is trying to say too much with their videos. They want to describe several possible use cases, do a full walkthrough of the product, list the benefits of their solution, and build it all into a “viral” storyline. Most videos that try to do everything end up accomplishing much less than a laser-focused video.
The most important reason to prioritize the messages and keep things concise is that it’s common to see a precipitous dropoff in viewership around the 90 second mark. One common recommendation we make is to avoid a full walkthrough of the user interface, and instead choose to show enough highlights for the user to get started. Your interface will most likely change, and besides, if your product is well-designed, why describe every feature if users can figure it out on their own? Just give them enough to get it and get started.
2. Pick your audience and stick with it.
The most common request we get is to create something that is “funny and engaging, like (insert x company here)’s” video. The problem is that the video needs to be appropriate to your target audience. For example, if your company is trying to enter an enterprise or financial space, your tone may need to convey the idea that you can handle sensitive information seriously.
Though this may seem obvious, most people come to us after they have an idea for a video, without consideration of the audience at hand. Making an overview isn’t about creating the next “viral” phenomenon – it’s about helping users understand what your product is about, and why its important to them.
One strategy for tech startups that I like is to cater directly to early adopters (i.e., readers of Techcrunch?), rather than focusing on your dream demographic. I’m not sure if Squareintentionally did this with their hipster overview video, but I feel they did a good job targeting the likely early-adopters of their particular product.
3. Tell viewers what to do.
Most web companies will want their users to sign-up, download, or start using your product immediately after watching their videos. We’ve found that explicitly telling a user what to do with a call-to-action at the end of the video is more effective than letting them figure out how to proceed – even if the next step seems fairly obvious. If you want the user to download your product, tell them where they can download it, and make sure there is a nice “Download” button nearby.
4. Feature the video prominently.
The video isn’t very useful if people can’t find it. Don’t hide it behind a text link – feature it on a home banner, with a nice thumbnail still of the video behind an inviting “Play” button. If your video has a person in it, you may want to consider making that your poster image – we have some evidence that poster images of people are more likely to be clicked on than other images.
5. The quality of the production matters.
Not all videos need glitzy animation to be effective – take this Fuze Meeting demo for the iPhone or this demo for Phoenix Freeze. But viewers need to be able to follow what you’re doing, especially when screenshots can be hard to read in web resolutions. You need crisp editing, with close-ups where appropriate, and good quality audio. Most importantly, the words need to be written specifically for video – marketing blurbs often lead to sentences that are awkward when read aloud.
A sub-par production that lacks clarity and attention to detail can reflect poorly on your company or product. The brand effect is so important that we created our subsidiary Picturelab to focus exclusively on creative design and development of our videos.
So when in doubt, hire out. That’s why companies like ours exist.
Once you have a video, the first measures of success is to show it so someone in your target market who has never heard of your company or product before, and ask them to summarize what you do after they see the video. If they get it, the video will probably treat you well.
Update: Since we’ve written this post, Techcrunch wrote another article about the importance of video overviews, featuring our work.