SEMA News—February 2012
By Mike Imlay
Video Made Simple
How to Shoot for the Web and Not From the Hip
If a picture is worth a thousand words, how much more is a streaming video worth at 30 frames per second?
When it comes to branding, search-engine optimization and, ultimately, sales in this digital age, online videos can make a crucial difference in a small company’s marketing. In the realm of sales alone, studies now show web video to be a top influencer in consumer research and purchasing decisions.
“Online video is huge for all sorts of reasons, but one of the biggest is that about 70% of traffic online is actually video,” said Rick Husong, owner and chief creative director of Lucid Media, a Los Angeles-based agency specializing in digital and interactive advertising. “As such, all your major search engines—Google, Yahoo—are giving some preferential treatment to video content.”
Tyler Tanaka, vice president of business development for PostRelease and Cie Digital Labs, which also assists businesses with content marketing, said that failure to produce online videos can be just as detrimental as a webpage devoid of product details.
“Video nowadays is just like a webpage,” Tanaka said. “If you have a new product but don’t post that information on your website, you’re preventing sales.”
Unfortunately, professional video production can seem costly for small businesses with limited marketing resources. The good news is that “going amateur” is not only budget-friendly but easier and, when done right, more effective than you might think.
Just Shoot It
You don’t have to be a Cecil B. DeMille to grab attention on the web. Take CNET’s popular reviews, for example, where one of the website’s several editors simply faces a video camera to briefly explain and offer the pros and cons of electronic products to consumers. There’s nothing flashy about these videos, yet they were instrumental in drawing an estimated average of 15.3 million visitors per month to CNET.com between April and September 2011.
According to Tanaka, that shouldn’t be a surprise.
“Generally, most user-absorbed content nowadays is not professional quality,” he said. “A lot of [industry] people don’t create videos just because there’s a fear factor involved with it. What’s most important is that you actually go through the steps of creating the content, regardless of the quality.”
In fact, amateur video production may actually work in a small business’s favor. The current philosophy of YouTube and other video sites is to encourage a wide range of content levels because that drives traffic—which is good for advertisers, search engines, social media sites, other web shareholders and, ultimately, end users.
“It’s interesting that when you’re scouring what goes viral on YouTube and what doesn’t, very rarely does professional content go viral and get many views,” observed Tanaka.
In other words, your low-budget video has just as much chance of resonating with web users as slickly produced content. The Holy Grail, of course, is creating something that online viewers find interesting and entertaining enough to share via Facebook, Twitter and other social media. To do that, you’ll want to bring at least some level of professional thinking to your project.
“At the end of the day it’s good to get the information out there, but it’s also going to be a representation of your brand,” Husong said. “Anything worth doing is worth doing well. If you’re going to do it, you should put some real time, thought and energy into it.”
Fortunately, most amateurs can quickly attain the knowledge and skills. It all starts with the basic questions that apply to most marketing endeavors. First, said Husong, ask yourself, “What’s the final application for all this? What are our real goals?” Then, after determining those answers, “work backward” to accomplish your goals through another series of basic project-management questions:
- What’s the budget?
- Who is the intended audience?
- Who is going to write the script?
- Who is going to be in the video?
- Where will it be shot? What should the background look like?
- How many cameras should be used?
- What other equipment or props will be needed?
- What kind of sound or music, if any, will accompany the visuals?
- Who will edit the video, and what software will they use?
The point is to have a plan and a “shooting script”—don’t try to wing it or shoot from the hip. Husong put it well: “Ultimately, my opinion is that if you’re not willing to give it that amount of time and energy, then it’s not worth doing. It can be done by yourself, and it can be done well by yourself, but it would be smart to educate yourself and spend the time necessary.”
Tanaka advised also trying to think outside the box, especially in terms of audience: “Sometimes your video content doesn’t need to go viral or be made for the masses. It needs to be made for that clutch guy working on a dragster, and that clutch guy is going to find that important information or the answers he’s been looking for.”
Regardless of subject matter, take a realistic look at your budget. If you have multiple products but can’t afford to create videos for them all, don’t get discouraged. Simply confine your first efforts to one or two of your hottest products. If those videos prove to be good returns on investment, then choose another subject and slowly build your online video portfolio.
Remember, too, that equipment needn’t be extravagant. “For a couple thousand dollars, you can get a really nice, cinema-quality camera,” noted Husong. Plus there are plenty of inexpensive, easy-to-use editing tools for the computer. Renting equipment is yet another option.
Kristen Damberger, graphic designer for Cometic Gaskets, advocates just diving in with whatever equipment you have available. After all, that’s what she did for SEMA-member company Cometic Gasket, a small, worldwide supplier of custom and short-run gaskets for the
“It seems like everyone’s doing videos nowadays,” she said. “I started looking at some of the ones online and thought, ‘I can do that...’ So I just grabbed my Flip camera and tried it one afternoon.”
Her first effort produced an approximately five-minute web video featuring a company product engineer teaching motorcycle consumers how to do a pre-ride check. She then produced another impromptu iPhone video focusing on the testing of a new engine-services part straight from the company’s shop.
Since making her first two online videos, Damberger has struck up friendships with professional videographers in her area. They have invited her to observe some of their shoots to help hone her skills.
“I’m going to take their ideas and how they do things and scale it down to us,” she said. “My plan is to get four or five videos under my belt and post them one at a time a couple weeks apart to keep the interest going.”
Once she has done so, the company will begin to actively promote the new online series to customers and consumers.
Calling in the Pros
If you’re still wary of self-made videos after weighing all the costs and benefits, that’s not a problem, said Husong. “A lot of people are so busy, sometimes it just makes sense to bring in another company and have them do it for you,” he said. “There are a lot of video companies out there these days, and that’s both a good thing and a bad thing.”
Good because help is widely available at competitive pricing; bad because there are also a good share of fly-by-night operations. The trick is finding the right video producer without falling prey to an inexperienced or outright disreputable company. “I can’t tell you how many projects I get cleaning up after other peoples’ messes,” Husong cautioned.
Here, the usual business rules apply. You’ll want to get recommendations and referrals from others. Gather estimates, and question those that seem to be lowballs. (As the adage goes, if it seems too good to be true, it probably is.) Ask for and judiciously check references. Above all, don’t let anyone talk circles around you.
“A lot of first-timers coming into video production seem to be intimidated by the whole process, but it’s not rocket science,” said Husong. “Look for a company that helps educate you through the process and makes you feel like you’re part of the process. At the end of the day, it’s all about the people. If you can’t get along and communicate with the people, it’s flawed from the start.”
Five Web Shooting Tips
Lights, camera, action! Although you’re not out to shoot the next Hollywood epic, you can add a professional touch to your digital productions by following a few basics.
Small Is the Goal: Remember that your finished video is destined for the small screen—a computer monitor or mobile device. Get in close to your subject and avoid wide shots that take in too much background. Also, images will show increased “pixilation” as video is compressed for online viewing, meaning that stripes and other detailed patterns will blur and look funny. Best to avoid them.
Stable Is Good: The tripod is your friend. Use it to eliminate “the shakes” and other distracting camera movements. Moreover, too many fast zooms and sweeping pan shots will make you look too amateurish. Keeping the camera still and focused on one place is a good strategy for novices. And never, ever use the optical or digital zoom feature. If your lens can’t get a tight enough shot, position the camera closer to your subject.
Noise Is Bad: Too many novices treat sound as an afterthought. Our brains tend to filter subtle noise intrusions. Microphones aren’t so discriminating. Don’t rely on editing software to fix your video’s sound in post-production. When choosing the setting for your video, listen carefully for stray ambient or background noises and eliminate them or find a quieter setting. For speaking subjects, an external microphone (as opposed to a camera-mounted mic) will add professional quality to your video.
Light Is Tricky: Harsh, contrast lighting can ruin an otherwise good video. Indoors, you will want to wash the room with a soft, evenly dispersed light. Outdoors, mornings and late afternoons typically offer the best lighting. In fact, depending on your subject, an overcast day can actually be ideal. The point is to reduce overly bright highlights as well as harsh shadows falling on your subject—especially if it’s a person. Also, make sure that your camera’s white balance is set correctly for your lighting conditions.
Learning Is Easy: Whether through an adult learning center or a community college extension course, there is sure to be an affordable, basic video-making class in your area. This relatively small investment of time and money will go a long way in elevating the quality of your company’s amateur productions.