with Laurier Mandin, Andreas Schwabe and Stephanie Testa
Video, at least in the form of television, is not a new thing. Commercials and product demos have been part of our lives forever. So why are we talking about video as though it’s something new and mysterious? Video has become more relevant than ever in product marketing through continuous improvements in targeting, impact and sharability.
Video is a cool medium: the audience is passive. They feel — more or less — what they’re shown to feel. But emotional manipulation isn’t the most effective way to market a new product. In fact, Stephanie Testa thinks the focus should be on authenticity.
Stephanie Testa started out as a film and media student with a passion for documentaries. She worked as a technical consultant on documentaries until forming her own agency: Firelight Studio — a New York City based production studio focused on branded entertainment and product videos.
Andreas: Welcome to Product: Knowledge, the podcast about designing and marketing products that improve people’s lives. I’m Andreas Schwabe, Director of Media Services at Graphos Product.
Andreas: Video, at least television, has been around for 70 years. Color broadcast started in the 50s, so why are we talking about video as though it’s something new and mysterious? We’re talking about video because digital marketing has changed the way people watch video. Video is a cool medium; the audience is passive, they feel more or less what they’re shown to feel. But emotional manipulation isn’t the most effective way to market your new product. In fact, Stephanie Testa thinks the focus should be on authenticity.
Andreas: Stephanie Testa started out as a film and media student with a passion for documentaries. She sold her senior thesis film and moved to New York and worked as a technical consultant on several documentaries. A few years later, Stephanie Testa founded Firelight Studio, a production studio focusing on branded entertainment and product videos. Graphos Product CEO Laurier Mandin joined me to speak with Stephanie Testa on the phone from One Glass in New York.
Laurier: Stephanie, do you want to start out by telling us a little bit about what you do and how you got into it?
Stephanie: Sure, sure. I studied film in school and then pretty quickly after that in 2007 founded One Glass Video. And that was the time when pre-roll ads were just becoming a thing, and digital marketing was skyrocketing. We just sort of inserted ourselves into that market, and since then we’ve been focused on creating videos for products and brands as part of their online marketing strategies.
Laurier: So Stephanie, we talk a lot about how people don’t purchase a product as much as they hire it to do a really specific job that needs to be done. Can you tell us how video can help consumers connect those dots?
Stephanie: Yeah, so video is a great way to communicate the job of product serves. It’s the most passive method for customers to get information from a brand, so it’s a perfect medium for demonstrating the “why” behind any product. So going to a website, or on social media, video grabs the attention, and so using the first few seconds to explain why customers should quote “hire” your product is really important. And it gets that message across without any effort on the viewer’s part; they don’t have to read anything, they don’t have to interpret pictures, it’s just a really good medium for that.
Stephanie: So usually in the first few seconds of any video, what we’ll try to do is address what problems or concerns customers have, offer up the solution in those first few seconds of the video, and use the rest to explain how the product will serve them.
Laurier: I really love that capability of video, is that you can not only show what the product does, but you can show the before, the after, and how it gets from one of those things to the other and just how effective it is at doing it. You can show the joy the user’s having, you can bring in so many different things.
Stephanie: Yeah, absolutely.
Laurier: Fantastic. At Graphos Product, we work a lot on taking innovative new products to market. What’s your favorite way to introduce a brand new product to a world that’s never heard of it on video?
Stephanie: Sure. One of the things that we talk about with brands who are launching a new product that the world has never seen, we often talk about brand voice and authenticity as being our launching point for the conversation. Because finding that brand voice and finding that authentic voice is really important in today’s marketing world. The Internet is saturated with video content, and having someone speak authentically in a video, having a brand speak authentically in a video, really does stand out in all of that sea of sales-y videos and things like that.
Stephanie: So the way we approach a brand new product is to find that voice first. A lot of brands seem to be very anxious to get the details of their products out and just talk about the features and talk about everything that’s going to benefit their customers. But I feel like it’s really important to find that voice and find what is going to come across as authentic, because that’s what really is going to reach the audience.
Laurier: Yeah, brands work really hard on features and sometimes can be really distracted with a whole bunch of them too, and that’s where that “jobs to be done” aspect comes into play. It takes us back to what was it that people were needing to do when they started looking for this product, and how can we show them, if this is the right product for them, that it’s the one that’s going to do exactly that job.
Laurier: And one of the nice things about video is that it’s intensely shareable. So if you do a great job with creating the video, with telling the brand story, then people who feel it, who it resonates with, are going to want to share it with other people who have that kind of need. How can brands leverage that shareability for their products?
Stephanie: Yeah, that shareability is really everything for a brand, it’s free marketing basically. To have a brand that has content their customers want to share is just really, really a big thing. And the big question is how to get your audience to share that video. Obviously you want to start with a good product, you want to lead with an authentic voice, and you want to follow through with a well-produced, memorable story in the form of video. There’s that ever-elusive viral video that a lot of people try to hit. For example, I don’t know if you’ve heard of the Dollar Shave Club video, it’s kind of an infamous multimillion view video on YouTube. Have you seen it?
Laurier: Yes, I have actually, and I shared that with a lot of people when I first saw it for that reason, because it took an approach that I’d never seen before at that point, where you had a lot of comic moments inserted into the promotion of a product in a platform, a method that the people hadn’t seen before either. So it was just that right combination at the right time.
Stephanie: Yeah, exactly. I actually had the privilege of speaking with the creators of that video, and they weren’t really thinking about it as “how are we going to get a million shares on this”, they were thinking, “Let’s make a quirky video that represents our brand personality, and let’s do it in a way that we have fun with it.” And they did this sort of single-shot kind of a thing where it was a challenge for them to get all of this choreography and everything done, and they just had fun with it. And that came across in the video, and that made it shareable because it was authentic, it was fun for them, and they made it something that people sort of … It was contagious, that fun was contagious and people enjoyed it.
Andreas: It seems like when you’re talking authenticity, in the past in marketing, we would talk about manufacturing authenticity, we have to craft it and create that message. And now it’s not so much, even in that example, it’s not so much the product itself, it’s sort of the joy in the human experience that everyone attaches to.
Stephanie: Absolutely. And there is still some of that manufactured shareability. I don’t know if it’s as authentic, but the way I see that is … say a brand that’s a super durable shoe, and showing that shoe getting run over by a car, or stepping on a nail, that type of thing. You’re manufacturing a moment, but it’s attention grabbing, you’re giving a sense of awe. So there’s that other side of things too, where it’s just sort of eliciting awe in your viewers and using that to share your message.
Andreas: Right. And does it always need to be a polished video? Because a few years ago, several years ago now actually, when Blackberry announced their BlackBerry Passport phone, which was this really odd, square screen, everything about it was just kind of unusual. But this video surfaced online of a couple of the engineers, and they were standing on this precipice about 30 feet above a paved parking lot or whatever, and they just chuck the phone over and over and over, and nothing happened to it. And BlackBerry fans went completely nuts.
Stephanie: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. And I think a lot of times there is a lot more that goes into those unpolished videos than meets the eye. I’m sure there was many a meeting to discuss the best approach. Sometimes, I’m sure, people stumble upon this by accident, but a lot of times that is a well-crafted video just with the authenticity of it appearing like somebody’s just whipped out their cell phone and is recording it. We’ve worked on a number of those types of videos where we want to create that authentic feeling, but you still want to make sure the brand message comes across clearly. And sometimes that’s hard to do just totally off the cuff.
Andreas: I want to ask a few questions about some technical things, but they’re kind of not technical, it’s more about the form of video and … The styles of video have changed over the years, it used to be everything was 16 by 9. Are we seeing the aspect ratio change, is it more square? Is that just because of social media and that sort of thing?
Stephanie: Yeah, we’re shooting almost all of our videos now for both 16:9 and square. On websites and YouTube, you’re still going to use the 16:9, you’re going to want to repurpose that video for social media and Instagram. And we often shoot with that in mind, to create both versions of that. And then there’s also the Snapchat vertical format, which is also something to keep in mind as well.
Andreas: How about the length of videos? For a product launch, does it really depend on the product itself, or is there sort of a sweet spot for time?
Stephanie: Sure. So I would say, I mean it does vary, not necessarily on the product itself, but on where you’re posting it. For example, on a crowdfunding campaign, you’re going to want to get all of the information there, people are going to want to really trust your brand, they don’t want just a glimpse of it. So you want a three-minute video at least on a crowdfunding page.
Stephanie: On an eCommerce site such as Amazon, you want to get to the point pretty quickly, so you’re looking at like 30 seconds, 60 seconds, maybe 90 seconds if it’s a complex product. And then pre-roll ads, you’re looking at more like TV’s standard lengths: 15 seconds, 30 seconds.
Stephanie: And then social media, really, the shorter the better. We have created social media videos that are two seconds long, you really need to get your point across in those first two seconds, otherwise the person’s just going to keep on scrolling. So I would say if I had to pick one, if you were going to make one length of video across all platforms, I would say it probably should be about a minute.
Laurier: With a really strong first few seconds, right? Because you need to be able to capture the audience, no matter who they are, in those first seconds. But especially when it’s going into social or into a platform where the audience is scrolling through a news feed and has to decide if they want to watch more than a couple of seconds.
Andreas: Are you captioning everything, or—
Stephanie: Yeah, so that’s where I think it depends on the product. We do captioning even when it’s just for websites, we don’t just do it on social media. A lot of people are browsing websites and crowdfunding campaigns at work without headphones, and they don’t want the audio playing. So even outside of social media we do consider captioning for almost every video we do.
Stephanie: The thing that influences our decision there is the product. If it’s a visual product that really is self-explanatory and it’s the visuals that are going to sell it, we don’t want to distract them with captions, we don’t want them looking and reading, and missing the spectacular visuals. But if it’s a product that requires a lot of explanation, it doesn’t look like much but it’s an app or something that requires a lot of explanation, then that’s where we would caption.
Stephanie: And typically we don’t abbreviate the captions if there’s a voiceover because we would aim to write the script to be as concise and compelling as possible, so we would pretty much just caption the exact script.
Andreas: Now, I started in radio and audio production and I’m finding it a little depressing that we’re kind of doing away with a lot of audio in video and things. But as audio a big consideration, or is it that annoying, “I’m watching at work and I don’t want the sound blasting.”
Stephanie: Yeah, we do still use it, and people do still watch it. Even on social media, they’ll click it on and it’s definitely important. The way we’re mixing it has definitely changed because a lot of people are watching on their cell phone which has really tinny-sounding speakers, and you don’t want to spend thousands of dollars on a mix that’s going to be great for a surround-sound system. So the way we approach sound has changed, it’s definitely something where we make it a little more simple, and the textures are maybe a little bit lost from TV broadcast commercials, but it’s just approached differently.
Laurier: Yeah, because you have to remember that 80% or more of your users, if it’s social media especially, are going to be watching with sound off, right? So you have to think sound off first, and then the sound has to be brought in as an enhancement, that those people who are listening as well as watching can hear. I find very often that if I’m watching a video, let’s say on LinkedIn, and I typically do have the sound off, I’ll very often, if I like it, I’ll watch it again because I’ll want to know what they have for the audio component. But usually for me too, my first experience with a video is sound off.
Stephanie: Yeah, most people’s default settings are sound off, and they have to go back and put it on. So yeah, sound off is definitely a very important way to watch any video you post.
Andreas: Thinking about the art of creating video, when you’re creating a product video, do you think more about how people will use the product, or showcasing the product? Because some products are easy to illustrate how they work, and others are a little more difficult, I’m wondering how you contend with that.
Stephanie: Our approach would be to tell a story, to bring in the audience through relatable scenarios, maybe bring in real people, or actors posing as real people, to tell us a story about how this product helped them, and using them in real life, showing the benefits of their great sleep, going about their regular life. And then I think carefully you could show the products, because obviously you don’t want to buy something without knowing what it is you’re buying, you could carefully show the product in moments. But I think showing the benefits and showing a person living their life healthy and happy and full of energy is going to be what sells a product like that.
Laurier: I love how you answered that, Stephanie, because I was thinking exactly the same thing. I was thinking you want to show, in a case like that, what it’s doing for someone’s life. You want to give an idea of what the problem and challenge might already be, and for those people they already know very well, but how is better sleep, and not having a worried spouse, and all these other things going to improve their lives by having that, right?
Stephanie: Yeah, exactly. And I think it’s a fine line too to stay away from that sort of pharmaceutical video look. I think people see through those pretty well when it comes to products, you saw the stock footage kind of feel of a man jogging down the street, and at a campfire with their son, all those very stereotypical … I think it’s a fine line there, and telling a more specific story, a more real, honest, authentic story.
Laurier: Yeah, we’re all fatigued with that. I think even when you use stock images, which still we have to do in marketing a lot, we have to be really aware of those types of fatigue that audiences have, and try and steer clear of them. Original content is a great way to do that.
Laurier: Stephanie, I’m really interested for our listener who’s got a new product, an innovative product, and they like what they’re hearing and they check out oneglassvideo.com and they see how you work, how do they get started with you? What should somebody do to start working with you and get their great video done?
Stephanie: Sure. Our first step of every engagement is to learn as much as we possibly can about the product, the brand, their goals, and the approach. And so typically what we do is we schedule a 30-minute call to sort of dig into it. Obviously there are a lot of factors as far as where the video is going to end up, and what they’re looking to get out of it, and those are really important to hash out before any creative is developed. It’s always really tempting to just jump into ideas and start brainstorming, but it’s really important for us to get a sense of what the purpose of the video is and how we can achieve the goals through the medium it’s being published most effectively.
Laurier: What about the brand that is … You’re in New York City, they’re located in Europe or Australia, far away, and let’s say they’ve got a cumbersome product. Do you work with situations like that, where they’ve got to get that product into your studio? How do you work around that?
Stephanie: Yeah, that’s a good question. I would say more than half of our clients are not based in New York City, it just requires a little extra thorough demonstration of the product. For example, we recently did a video for a lawn care product, and being in New York City, none of us know very much about lawn care. So we had to do a lot of extra learning to understand the product and understand the problems at hand. Now we’re all experts at caring for lawns that we don’t have, but that learning is really important.
Stephanie: And doing a Skype video during a shoot to be like, “Is this the way you would use it?” Just to be extra thorough, because we love having our clients there to make sure that their product is being used properly, and any way we can involve them in that process so their product looks the best it can on screen, we’re happy to do.
Andreas: Are there any common things, or mistakes, or caveats that you find yourself warning clients about?
Stephanie: Yeah, I would say one of the most common mistakes clients have made before they come to us, and often come to us with this mistake, sometimes they have an idea that may be a really good idea, and they take it to Fiverr, or take it to Upwork, and find a really talented animator or photographer to shoot something for them, because they have a great idea, and they hire a great talent that really knows what they’re doing, but they’re missing this overarching storytelling element to it. And so a lot of times I’ll see clients create some really good content, but it’s lacking the context.
Stephanie: And then that’s where they end up calling us and being like, “We have this and it’s not quite performing the way we want it to. What can we do?” So I think any advice I would have for someone looking to do video, even if you have a great idea and think you can pull it off inexpensively doing it with a freelancer or with a site like Fiverr, I would suggest just having that video professional there to give it context, to give it that story, to make it reach your goals. Because that’s what people like us do every day, is to think about those things.
Andreas: I’d like to give the audience a few takeaways if they’re thinking about, or when they’re thinking about, launching their product. What are a few things that businesses with a new product should think about in terms of approaching video and telling their story with video?
Stephanie: Sure. I would say the first and foremost takeaway I would like to give is authenticity, finding that voice and finding that authentic voice because that’s really the first and fundamental way to reach your audience. Beyond that, I would say establishing a problem that your potential customers are facing and solving that problem with your product, conveying that in a video is what’s going to sell products. If your product has excellent features and you don’t explain why your consumer needs them, it doesn’t help you. So that “why” would be my second vital thing.
Stephanie: And then beyond that would be to sort of think about overall strategy, and to not focus too much on … To not have a pinhole view of your product, to step back and work with professionals who can help you bring that strategy together, reach your goals effectively, through well-crafted storytelling and well-crafted visuals.
Andreas: That’s it for this episode of Product: Knowledge and our conversation with Stephanie Testa of One Glass in New York. You can find out more about Stephanie’s company, Firelight Studio, by visiting firelightstudio.com. Visit graphosproduct.com, where you can find out more about Graphos, our services, ideas, more podcasts, and our blog. All our podcasts are transcribed for the deaf and hard of hearing. Reach out on Twitter @graphosproduct, or email us through the form on graphosproduct.com. Thanks for listening, I’m Andreas Schwabe.