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The story behind how we made our first product video (and how we used research to validate our decisions).
Danielle Hope Diamond
Here’s the creative process we used to make our video and how we used research to inform our biggest creative decisions:
Before you can can even think about writing a video script, you need to figure out your narrative focus and make sure you’re telling the right story. To find that focus, our CEO, Dennis Meng, spent hours talking to users about their biggest daily pain-points, and how User Interviews helps them, and could help them in the future, with their top-of-mind problems.
At first we thought the video story was going to be all about our new product. User Interviews makes research faster, easier, and affordable, so companies can build better products for their users. Needless to say that didn’t seem like a very customer-centric angle, so Dennis got some feedback from users and stakeholders, and iterated.
Our second general story idea was, “spend more time actually doing research.” This seemed like a step in the right direction, more user-focused, and we knew from previous research, that researchers use our product, in large, because recruiting is so time consuming. But after talking to actual UX researchers and getting story feedback from people in the product world, we realized that there was even more to the story than this.
This next iteration is the focus we used to create our final product. Here are excerpts, directly from my notes, that became the guide to our final story idea:
Companies are trying to build incredibly sophisticated products while guessing on more than 90% of decisions.
We landed on the final story by combining hundreds of conversations that our Co-Founders have had with users, researchers, product managers, and more. Because they took the time to do research, they were able to find the right brand story that was centered around our users’ problem. (Thanks Dennis and Basel!)
Before writing the actual script, we made a decision that would ultimately decide the fate of our story. Instead of focusing on the what, we were going to focus on the why.
At the end of the day, our main goal was to connect with people and entertain them simultaneously. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from many years studying storytelling, it’s this:
If you want to connect with people, don’t talk about your product, talk about the problem. This is something that applies to sales meetings, pitch decks, and especially marketing videos.
That’s why when we tossed around the idea of making an animated explainer, we ultimately decided that wasn’t the right choice for our audience. UX researchers are clever, curious, witty. A cookie-cutter explainer video would likely cause them—you—to leave after a few seconds.
Something we’ve learned from the best designers, marketers, and product managers, is to use role models as a guide for what works and what doesn’t.
That’s why we spent some time finding video role models that did a great job focusing on the why, and that also stood out as unique and clever.
Here were some of our favorites:
This video is concise, clever, and focuses on the problem. Something that it does especially well is using the “rule of threes” to tell a compelling story.
The rule of threes is a storytelling principle that suggests a series of three events or characters is likely to be more compelling, humorous, and memorable to an audience. This is because 3 is the smallest number required to make a pattern, and the human brain loves patterns.
This video has three events go wrong, each one increasingly ridiculous, and since they accomplish this in such a concise way, they have time to hit us with a fourth event, that acts as a final source of “resolution.” This structure is used in every art form from film to music to design.
Moreover, instead of focusing on their product, it focuses on the problem while giving us just a taste of the solution at the very end.
Okay, full disclosure I’m a little biased about this one, because well, I directed it. But it’s a video I’ve seen other marketers use as an example before so I figured it was worth mentioning. Much like the Adobe video, it focuses on the problem and has a sense of humor, but what this video has going for it is brevity. It tells a story about a problem in under a minute.
The last role model was Notarize! Now, this video is a bit different from our other two role models. It’s a bit long and focuses more on the product than the problem, but what we really admired the production quality and the sense of humor it brought to the table. We loved the humor, but wanted to adapt it more to our style which is witty, nerdy, in on the joke.
After using research insights to find our story and looking at some role models, it was time to write the actual script.
After years of studying commercial and narrative film, studying the most successful content, and reading/conducting my own tests and research, I’ve learned a valuable lesson about video content that I applied to the making of this homepage video:
If you want to create an engaging piece of marketing content, it should resemble something closer to your favorite TV show than an advertisement.
That’s why my real role models for the homepage video were hit TV shows, The Wheel of Fortune and The Office.
Here’s what the final shooting script looked like:
Through our story development time, Dennis used a phrase I kept coming back to: “Product development is like a guessing game,” and that’s where the game storyline came from.
I also wanted the video to feel personal and familiar, which is why I used The Office as a visual and tonal guide for video. Plus, it didn’t hurt that anything modeled after The Office is pretty shareable!
This script uses the same rule of threes as the Adobe Marketing Cloud role model, has minimal, conversational, dialogue, and uses humor to talk about the problem.
You can have the world's greatest script, but it won’t make a difference if it’s not produced correctly. If you’re in product or marketing, chances are you’re not a trained director or filmmaker and that’s okay! But if you’re looking to make a high-level brand video like this one, you should probably hire a trained director or agency to make sure production runs smoothly.
I happen to be a trained director, so that’s not something we had to worry about, but we did use a production agency, Rebel Motion, that I work with regularly to put together a crew of top-notch professionals. Here are a few things to keep in mind if you want to direct your own product video, or if you’re working with a production agency:
Have a clear visual vision. Film requires a lot of planning. If you don’t have a visual vision and you don’t know what shots you’re going to need for the edit, the story might not make sense when you try to piece it together in the editing room. Every shot in our homepage video was planned out specifically and strategically.
That being said, if you end up with extra time on the day of the shoot, use that time to get creative with your shots and get extra coverage. And don’t be afraid to spend time getting extra takes to get the shot just right.
If you’re working with an agency or freelance director, make sure you’re very clear if you’re looking for something specific visually. Also, remember that production agencies and directors are trained professionals. If you’re working with a director that you trust, don’t be afraid to collaborate and let them add their own creative twist.
Lighting is everything. If your video has bad lighting, it may end up being unusable. The problem is, it can be difficult to set up studio lights without it getting in the way of your shots. Also, production lights can be a safety hazard and require training, so if you’re working with a heavy lighting setup, make sure you hire trained professionals. We used Quasar Science lights on our shoot, since they’re mobile, have temperature adjustment settings, and are easy to hide from the camera in small spaces.
If you’re on set with your agency, it’s important to know that lights take some time to safely set up. It took a little over an hour to finalize our lighting set-up, so if you’re on set and wondering why lights are taking so long, don’t fret. That’s perfectly normal!
The same goes for sound. If your script has dialogue, you need a professional sound mixer if you want a professional sounding video. 60% of how we perceive a video is sound, and great sound can be hard to get.
Hire real, trained actors. If your brand video requires acting, make sure you hire trained, professional, actors. (Acting is not as simple as it looks!) The actors in our video are all professionals from the Walnut Street Theatre in Philadelphia, and this video wouldn’t be what it is, were it not for their amazing performances.
I always recommend scheduling time at the beginning of the shoot to do a rehearsal with your actors. This gives the director time to focus on performance, so when it’s time to shoot, the actors are fully prepared and the director can focus on visuals and move through the shot-list efficiently.
Actors without proper direction is like having a product team without a product manager. There is a distinct difference between a videographer and a director, so make sure the director you hire is well trained in directing actors.
On the off-chance you’re interested in directing a video yourself, I’d recommend checking out the book Directing Actors by Judith Westin.
If you had an awesome production crew and group of actors like we did, editing should be a breeze!
Editing is where the real story is written. It’s also where we brought user research back into the production process.
Have you ever heard the phrase killing your darlings?
If you read the script and then watch the video, you’ll notice that scene three was cut! As a creative director, I loved scene three, but the internal team I was working with, Dennis and Erin, our VP of Marketing, were concerned it might be a bit on the long side. With this hunch in mind, we shared it with 5 unbiased target users. This was a lightweight way to quickly validate our thinking, and the feedback we got from users validated our concern, so we decided to cut scene three. (We’ll share it later on YouTube in a director’s cut.)
Now that you’ve heard all about our process, here’s what some people are saying about our final product.
As you can see we’ve gotten some great feedback, but now it’s time for you to decide if our video was successful. Without further ado, here is our final video, or as I like to call it:
“How To Build The Best Product Ever. I hope you find that you connect with the story, or at the very least, I hope we’re able to make you smile. 😊
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Danielle is a content marketer, writer, and proud member of the User Interviews team! She's also a film, theatre, and music enthusiast. A friendly introvert, Danielle loves talking to people about shared passions, so say hey to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.