Keep the Five Cs Close When You’re Producing an Explainer Video


A simple checklist to produce impactful explainers that get the job done without breaking the bank

One of my friends at a client company always says, “Just because you can do it doesn’t mean you should.” I feel that way about many explainer videos I come across. I try not to judge but…really? With all the great tech out there for these short, fun, to-the-point product demos, is there any reason your presenter’s skin looks like The Grinch or the audio sounds like it was recorded through molasses?

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No one wants to spend a ton of money or time on what should be a limited-shelf-life piece of content. Unless, of course, your product or service has real legs, and this video will be out there on the web for the long run, you shouldn’t spend a ton producing it. (You don’t have to spend that much on one of those evergreen videos, either, but that’s a topic for another day.) In any case, you need them be professional-looking as they deliver to prospects what are essentially step-by-step directives that show them why they should order today.

Enough about what I think doesn’t work. Here’s what I (and a slew of industry experts) think the explainer video should include:

  1. Cost-effective: Lisa Isbell at Hubspot says that “Compiling an explainer video isn’t much more complicated than putting together a slide deck in a PowerPoint presentation. You decide what to say and find some relevant graphics to jazz things up. The only differences this time are that you’ll be recording a voiceover from a written script instead of presenting it live and you’ll need to be concise and truly explain how something is done. The biggest difference is the final step of putting all the pieces together into an easy-to-access, video file format.” For the most part, I find this to be true. And I have used amateurs to record the VO (voiceover). Many business people (especially in marketing) have great presentation skills. You can use your in-house skills to save money on voice talent in many cases. You can also use free and easy-to-access video programs for iPhone or Windows.
  2. Concise: Please keep it to the 60-120 seconds’ length if you can. If you must, you can go as high as three minutes, but rarely more. If you need more, a different content option will serve better—consider an interactive webinar or a podcast series for your most complicated ideas.
  3. Compelling: There’s a saying in Hollywood when a large special effects budget is deemed effective in the finished film: “They left the money on the screen.” If you can spend money on original visuals, please do. No one wants to yet again look at a stock photo of interested well-groomed business people leaning over a conference table. No one.
  4. Clean: Do your research on your video and audio tech. Test it. Test it again. Run your script out loud in front of interested strangers (on staff, of course) as you run through your visuals. As a media trainer, I tell my senior executives: We will now be transformed to the Boy Scout motto on steroids: We will be prepared. And then we will prepare again. And again.
  5. Creative: Make sure you have at least one cool thing happen during your explainer. Is it a fun pop culture reference in your script? Do you want a cool (but not cutesy) theme to pull the video together? Can you animate something on your screen (that makes sense)? Too many bells and whistles are cheesy. We’ve all sat through those noisy, jumpy PowerPoints. But make sure you make a few moments to snap your audience out of their respective explainer-video-overload-comas. It will make their day—and maybe, just maybe—make a sale.

Next time, I will run through the best tech and audio choices for explainers as well as compile some tips about using them. I plan to attach dollar signs to these decisions, as well. Until then, it’s wise to listen to writer Haruki Murakami when he says, “Some things in life are too complicated to explain in any language.” For the rest, my friends, there are explainer videos.

Patty Tomsky

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