You might not have heard of Mary Meeker. I hadn't. But she's a big deal at one of the top venture capital firms in Silicon Valley, Kleiner Perkins. Meeker creates a huge annual "internet trends report" which is rather famous for predicting the year ahead in tech. She's like the Oracle of Silicon Valley.
This year's report, kindly shared with me by Jonno at You & Co, is over 200 pages long – and every one of them is fascinating (did you know a smartphone costs almost half of the annual per-capita GDP in Ethiopia? That's like a smartphone in Australia costing $45,000!). Pages 71-96 are particularly interesting for those who make video / visual marketing. And page 46 was a revelation for me:
It might not look like much, but the list of "Ways Video Ads Can Work" at the bottom of page 46 (based on responses to a large survey by unruly.co) is an incredibly elegant summary of what makes good video content.
At Lights Camera Business we've recently been compiling a list of principles / techniques / qualities that we use in our work, and our list is almost identical to Mary Meeker's. Which is both exciting and gratifying. So in case it isn't obvious, let me explain what these qualities really mean and why they're so important. In reverse order...
8. Non-interruptive Ad Format / 7. Work with Sound Off / 6. Viewer Control
These are fairly self explanatory. They basically boil down to "don't piss people off" and "people can't hear your ad on Facebook, duh". I trust that you're smart enough not to do the former, and the latter is easily fixed with on-screen transcription, which is becoming a bit of a thing (see Barack Obama's endorsement of Hilary Clinton below).
This sounds straightforward but some marketers have trouble getting "useful" into our heads. Those of us stuck in the 20th century have trouble thinking of marketing as anything other than a megaphone saying "I exist / buy me!". And as a result, our attempts at marketing risk being thinly veiled "I exist / buy me" messages instead of the genuinely helpful content they're supposed to be. Content marketing is supposed to be win-win: you might get a sale out of it, but only if the viewer finds your content genuinely useful. So be honest with yourself – is your content genuinely useful?
4. Personal / Relatable
I encountered this problem just yesterday when I had to dismantle a script written by (very nice) bureaucrats. Like every good 1996 corporate video, it started with a long monologue from a senior executive followed by a bullet point lecture. The problem was that the audience for this video was working class people who don't know the executive from a bar of soap. The executive was completely un-relatable to this audience, who were going to be bored and probably even resentful of this lecture. So the first thing we did was cut the executive out of the script almost entirely. It is now spoken by "real people" – members of the same audience who will be watching. People are naturally self-interested, so you always need to show people what's in it for them and use people like them in your communications.
3. Evoke Emotion
I once asked a brilliant film composer (Benjamin Speed) why I didn't like the soundtrack of a bad short film I had seen (not his), and he wisely replied that it was probably because the music wasn't telling me what to feel. The diagnosis was exactly right: the music lacked emotional clarity. I was lost. This problem befalls many, many business videos. The whole video lacks emotional clarity (or any emotion at all).
The great strength of videos is their power to evoke emotions – but that only works if you do it consciously and effectively. If you get the execution wrong, people might feel manipulated, or confused, or distracted and lost (just like me watching the short film). But if you talk about emotions from day one, before you've even created your concept, they will be baked into the project. And if you execute it right, your audience (and your client) will love you for it.
A wise lady once said, "a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down". This is why we approach even the most corporate of messages with "entertainment first". Entertainment is essential to engaging viewers. Entertainment is the Trojan Horse we use to to get information inside the thick walls of viewer attention.
But what is entertaining? Spectacle. Humour. Conflict. Stimulation. You can use a mix of these approaches (often several in the same video) to grab and hold attention. Spectacle is something extraordinary that viewers don't get to see often, whether that's an amazing trick (like dancing on treadmills) or an amazing view (aerial shots of a gold mine). Humour is complicated, but it largely comes down to speaking unspoken truths (a truth that we embrace a lot is "people stuff up their lines" – bloopers, in other words). Conflict is inherently suspenseful: someone wants something and something prevents them from getting it – and until that conflict is resolved we will keep watching. And finally, stimulation is the cheapest trick of entertainment: loud noises, flashing lights, sensory overload. This is effective, but people tire of it very quickly so it should only be used in short bursts.
One of the great buzzwords of the 2010s. Like all buzzwords it is abused to the point of losing its meaning, but authenticity is a truly positive trend. It is a trend towards genuine self-disclosure and away from the false perfection of over-produced media. Audiences today are remarkably savvy. Their bullshit detectors are far too powerful for your fancy lighting and smooth-talking voiceover guy. They know when they are being lied to and they hate it. They know when they are being condescended to and they ignore those messages. They have gotten used to confessional formats (blogging, vlogging, reality TV) and they respect people who tell the truth, warts-and-all.
For LCB, this is why our videos use less and less voiceover these days (sorry VO artists) and are more and more interview-driven. It's why we use fewer and fewer actors these days (sorry actors) and more and more real staff. It's why we use less and less jargon and more and more plain english. And above all, this is why we look for truths in every project. Because audiences recognise and love "truth well told" (to steal a phrase).
So if you're trying to make business videos that work, according to the smartest people in a place where there are a LOT of smart people (Silicon Valley), you had better remember to tell the truth, entertain, get emotional, be relatable, and be useful.