The Definitive Guide to Video Marketing ROI

You’ve got the numbers. You know how many views your latest video racked up, and how many times it was shared across your social media channels.  

Maybe you’ve seen an uptick in sales, or your email click-through rates doubled once you embedded a video in your message. Maybe your share rates on social media shot through the roof.

If you’re on top of your marketing data, you know to expect these kinds of results, too. According to HubSpot, including a video in your marketing emails can increase click-through rates by up to 300%.

Facebook live video ROI

Facebook’s Newsfeed loves video, and that’s not going to change anytime soon. In fact, it’s going to increase. Facebook knows engagement on video is huge, especially in the mobile arena, and the more video it can show you, the more you’ll use it.

A bigger question to ponder, as marketers, is why would not you post videos to Facebook? Since videos have higher engagement than any other medium, and you’re producing them anyways, it isn’t any more effort than posting to YouTube. This begs the questions, what’s to lose? And if you’re audience is on Facebook, you should be posting and having them share your content for you.

70% of marketers fail to track ROI.

And since 92% of all mobile video consumers will share that video with a friend, developing a video with compelling, shareable story isn’t exactly a hard sell for your brand.

But if you want an accurate picture of your video marketing ROI (return on investment) that looks beyond views and shares, you’ll need to widen your net.

After all, this information alone won’t justify your budget with higher-ups in the C-Suite. You need a detailed picture of how dollars spent on a video asset correspond with the number of new leads generated by your marketing team, or how many sales they closed by the end of the quarter.

And aligning that picture with the data you have on your video is complicated.

It might make you feel better to know that calculating ROI can be so complicated that many marketers just, well, don’t. In 2013, more than 70% of marketers failed to track meaningful ROI for their spending across the board.

Crazy, right? We know that marketers who shy away from ROI calculations miss out on crucial data – but we still don’t make the time to set and track financial goals against our media buys the way we should.

Even more telling? 45% of small businesses indicate that ROI for video marketing is an obstacle to increased spending.

I have a hunch that this obstacle is closely related to the need for marketers to track video marketing metrics more rigorously – which is why I’m going to help you peer behind the curtain.

Download our Video ROI worksheet and keep track of all your video’s success.

With so much data vying for your attention, how do you accurately measure the success of your new video? What kinds of metrics do you set in place, and how do you track them?

TAR works with clients who integrate our videos into every facet of their marketing campaigns, so we have unique insight into which strategies leverage real dollars and which might send you back to the drawing board.

Somebody’s gotta run those numbers upstairs to impress the boss – it might as well be you.

budget numbers

filmmaker sunset dji ronin

The Basics: How to Calculate ROI

Assessing your investment in video can help you defend your video budget, direct the output of your creatives, and inform future purchasing decisions.

Before you start crunching numbers, though, you need to know which numbers to crunch. Sometimes that’s easier said than done.

Unless you want to measure the effectiveness of an explainer video in your sales funnel or whether a product video boosts your online revenue, following the trail of views to clicks to sales can feel like trying to untangle a stubborn knot.

My suggestion? Use the planning process to identify marketing goals you can tie to specific outcomes.

Once you identify goals and associated metrics, it’s much easier to set tracking methods in place and analyze how successful your campaign actually is.

Here are a few examples from our clients:

Video: Active Life Goes On”
Goal: Introduce Peter Harsch Prosthetics to new U.S. markets and increase client base
Outcome: Millions of dollars in new business, and an international government as a client

Video: “Helping Haitian Angels”
Goal: Explain the mission of Helping Haitian Angels to potential donors and cultivate donors for an ask
Outcome: A direct increase in donations to the organization, including six-figure donations

In both of these cases, the basic formula for ROI works well:

Video ROI formula

Our clients integrated video into their existing fundraising drives or in-person meetings to help explain how they made an impact on their communities.

For Peter Harsch Prosthetics, this resulted in winning an incredible new contract with a foreign government and millions of dollars in revenue. Helping Haitian Angels saw an amazing increase in donations over a 4 year period, including multiple six-figure donations after prospects watched our video.

Of course, measuring your video ROI isn’t always this straight-forward. That’s where setting additional metrics around engagement comes in handy – especially when it comes to painting a compelling picture for your boss.

Measuring Audience Engagement

In video marketing, the term “engagement” is closely linked to the world of social media. Marketers trot out the term to talk about views, social media sharing, and click-through rates.

Customer engagement with video can also lead to more substantial actions, like subscribing to a newsletter, purchasing a product or service, or spending more time on a brand’s site consuming content. High-performance engagement means your video is pulling its weight: your audience is growing and your sales are up.

As with all metrics, define what type of audience engagement you and your team would like to see, so you can track it accordingly. Here’s what you can look for to discover whether your video has hit the mark:

  • Clicks, sales, and other actions: If your audience sticks with you to the end of a video, chances are you’re doing something right. When an audience member completes an action compelled by your CTA, you can get a great picture of how many leads the video generated or how many sales the video led to. (These are great numbers to include in a straightforward ROI calculation, like the one we discussed above.)
  • Audience growth: Are you gaining a steady number of followers on your YouTube or Vimeo channels? This is an indication that your audience finds your content valuable. Look for similar growth in your newsletter or marketing emails when you use video content; A/B testing should give you a good indication of what’s working and why.
  • Drop-off point or retention: Most video platforms will provide accurate user data about the attention span of your audience. You want to know exactly when users “drop off” your video – and how many stay until the very last second to see your CTA. If your audience consistently clicks away from the video in its first few seconds, you’ll need to rethink your approach and analyze what’s happening. Is it the music? The thumbnail? The title of your video? Testing each of these variables can lead to dramatic increases in retention and ROI
  • Demographics and behavioral insights: Generally brands have sophisticated insights into their audience demographics and behavior before they purchase targeted ad buys. Tracking audience demographics with other insights – like video drop-off or sales – can let you know how well your video stacks up for a particular demo.

Looking Beyond Engagement

Usually when you’re talking ROI with a marketer, you’re talking about a tangible connection between ad buy and revenue. It’s a lot of data – and a lot of “show me the money.”

But I think using professionally produced video totally changes the game. If your new video showcases your company’s larger mission or purpose, it energizes your audience and can impact data points beyond leads and sales.

That’s why it pays to look at other types of growth across your organization, from bumps in web traffic to an increase in job applications. If you open the net a little wider, this is what you might see:

  • Decrease in bounce rate: If a customer lands on your site, it’s in your best interest for them to stick around so you can close the sale or nab their email address. According to client surveys from Brafton, videos help convince customers to stay on a brand’s website and engage with other content.
  • Increase in job applications or volunteer interest: When you use story-driven video to connect with your audience, volunteers and potential employees feel good about sending in their application. Online recruitment firm Jobcast found that a brand bolstered by video brings in 2.5 times more applications per job post. As markets become ever-more competitive, recruiting and retaining top-notch talent at your company can be your best asset. Check out this awesome recruiting video by VSCO to see how video can help you reach the best talent in your industry.
  • Decrease in cold pitches: Because video helps establish trust in your brand, more customers, volunteers, and potential job applicants will seek you out. This isn’t to say you should throw your marketing funnel out the window – just that the right video content should make jobs in sales and recruitment easier.

subway billboard

highway billboard images

How Video ROI Stacks Up In Your Media Buys

With the rise of social media and email marketing, most companies have renewed their focus on digital – and it’s no wonder. It’s notoriously difficult to track the impact of your investment in print.

You might know how many subscribers receive a magazine like Fast Company, but without the metrics available to you in the digital sphere, you’ll never calculate accurate ROI for placing a print ad.

Perhaps this is why the majority of C-Suite executives surveyed by HubSpot in their annual inbound marketing survey named print advertising as the “most overrated form of marketing.”

This perception also extended to VPs, directors, and managers. In fact, across all decision-maker categories, print was the least favorable marketing medium.

The same decision-makers pinpointed video and social media marketing as top areas for growth and investment. They cited interest in increasing their presence across YouTube, Facebook Video, and Instagram – despite lingering worries about how to accurately calculate ROI.

Two things jump out at me about this study: On one hand, execs understand the power of video assets and think video makes a bigger impact on the bottom line than print ad buys. On the other, marketing directors and their video production teams can do a better job making the case for video by setting intentional, measurable goals that help assess ROI and demonstrate the real value of video for their company.

Overcome the doubts of your higher-ups by putting a plan in place to measure ROI – and leverage the impact of ad buys you do make by using your video assets to your best advantage.

getting Instagram pictures

After all, as Marcus Andrews points out at HubSpot, targeted ad buys also only work when you have amazing content to share:

“Ads act like a megaphone to amplify your marketing campaigns and content. The more complete and well developed your campaigns are, the better your ads will perform.”

If you’re not telling compelling stories, your content marketing efforts won’t help you close sales – no matter how many ads you buy on- or offline.

Integrating offline and online marketing channels more effectively can make a big impact on your marketing ROI – and I can show you exactly how to do this with your video assets.

 

Make the Most of Your New Video Asset

Unlike print ads or TV spots, which have defined run dates based on your purchasing power, video is the asset that keeps on giving. All you need is hosting on a platform like Vimeo or SproutVideo – and a killer marketing plan.

We’ve seen clients use our videos to launch new products and elevate the presence of their company online, in addition to making the piece the center of its own campaign.

From sales to HR, here’s where you can put your video to work to maximize your ROI:

Campaign Launch

If you’re rolling out a new marketing campaign, nothing will help you capture more leads – and close more sales – than video.

Whether you’re announcing your campaign via email, developing a new landing page for your website, or both, video converts:

It’s no wonder that 84 Lumber, one of the brands that received the most attention at Super Bowl LI, used their provocative ad to send customers directly to a landing page on their revamped site.

84 Lumber Super Bowl ad

But what drove viewers to the website – eventually crashing the page! – wasn’t just any old ad. Without delving too deeply into politics, the ad told a compelling story: a mother and her daughter making the long trek over land between Mexico and the United States.

As a viewer, you wanted to know what would happen to this pair. Would they reach their destination? Why was the little girl picking up scraps of plastic along the route?

84 Lumber used classic storytelling elements to capture the attention – and imagination – of Super Bowl viewers. And because they’re great marketers, the brand was totally ready for what happened next.

At the end of their video, the brand encouraged viewers to watch the rest of the journey on their website. Online, curious audience members could finish the story, learn more about the company, search for open jobs, and shop.

But it wasn’t the thought of shopping that propelled viewers to 84 Lumber’s website. It was a compelling story about a mother and daughter that excited people to step away from their TVs and open their browsers. Remember: this audience was already watching one of the biggest sporting events of the year!

That’s the power of story – and it’s about more than numbers or ROI. It’s about getting your audience excited to engage with you and your company and create a lasting impression.

When you break down their strategy, 84 Lumber’s ad spot is a sophisticated way to integrate TV advertising with a video campaign launch. By using a landing page to track a spike in web traffic, sales, and even career interest, 84 Lumber’s digital campaign most likely helped the company track more specific metrics about the success of their video.

Key insights from these metrics can make or break your next campaign. But you only acquire the data if you give your audience a reason – like story – to explore and engage online.

Event Pre-Roll

Generate excitement around an event, spark interest in a sale, or build an audience for a keynote speaker with a video that uses story.

Take this 2013 short from Apple, which combines sophisticated animation and storytelling to promote the company’s purpose.

This video opened Apple’s annual event for developers, WWDC, where they release innovative new products. Everyone attending is already sold on Apple – but that doesn’t mean the video is any less effective. Apple’s video strategy re-engaged consumers with their brand, helping them remember why they purchase Apple products – and not a competitor’s – in the first place.

Of course, most content creators get stuck worrying about a different kind of “pre-roll” – the five-seconds of ad time marketers have to convince YouTube viewers to keep watching.

Since 94% of viewers will choose to skip the ad altogether, marketing directors need to find stronger, more compelling content – something that’s actually worth it for audiences to watch.

Hint: The answer’s in storytelling!

Whether you’re pairing your video with a product launch or an event keynote, this strategy is an incredibly effective way to grab your audience’s attention – and keep it.

Futures Fins Project Morpheus video thumbnail

Product Promotion

When our client Futures Fins developed an entirely new manufacturing process for their surfboard fins, they used video storytelling to bring their customers along for the ride.

Futures Fins wanted customers to understand that this new manufacturing process was not only innovative, it was a way for the company to keep jobs in the United States.

In addition to using new materials and new technology, Futures Fins produced their brand new product at a lower price point by keeping production in the U.S. The new fins – branded Project Morpheus – quickly became their best-selling product line adding millions of dollars to their bottom line.

Because visual storytelling is one of the best ways to communicate complicated information, Futures Fins could educate their customers about multiple, complex changes in their company all at once.

The video gives audiences a sense of the company’s commitment to innovation and product design, while also giving them a peek into their job creation ethos.

As far as product promotion goes, that’s a winning combination. (No surprise here: the Morpheus product line quickly became Futures’ highest grossing product.)

St Archer Instagram

Social Media Engagement

In the crowded noise of social media, video helps your brand stand out. As YouTube audiences grow by about 100% year over year, so do your opportunities for engagement.

In fact, according to HubSpot, audiences are 10 times more likely to engage with video on a social media network, increasing your chance of getting more shares, likes, and comments than any other kind of content.

This kind of engagement can lead directly to sales. One of my favorite examples? The craft brewer Saint Archer, based in San Diego, which used creative video content to drive interest in their brand.

This strategy worked because the company’s owners include pro skaters, surfers, and filmmakers. These tastemakers already had huge social media followings they could leverage in favor of their business.

In less than eight months, the new company had “more than 20,000 followers on Instagram,” reports San Diego Magazine. “That’s slightly less than industry icon Stone Brewing (30K), but more than Sierra Nevada (15K) and Ballast Point (5K).”

By releasing video content on Instagram, the brand’s owners and ambassadors generated excitement around the Saint Archer lifestyle with their fanbase. They developed entire films showcasing daredevils like Paul Rodriguez, Jr., a pro skater, and Taylor Knox, a surfer.

Given Saint Archer’s incredible social media strategy, it should come as little surprise that the company wound up selling to MillerCoors for tens of millions. No small part of that is due to the way Saint Archer transformed their social media audience into a consistent, engaged, and vocal consumer base.

If your social and content team isn’t working closely with your current video production partner, it’s time to bridge the gap and start accumulating those clicks.

VSCO Recruitment film

HR/Recruitment

If you have a video story on your hands, chances are it’s perfect for your HR and recruitment teams.

According to Entrepreneur, “best-in-class” companies are “75 percent more likely to use video tools for employee branding, enabling them to attract top talent.”

And for good reason.

Unlike ad spots, video storytelling conveys the purpose of your company directly to your audience, appealing to their emotions and forming what can often be a lasting connection.

This is exactly the kind of connection you want to make with future employees – and anyone who doesn’t identify? Well, they’ll self-select out of the hiring process, making your job that much easier.

Take Oakland-based photo company VSCO. Their recruitment video elevates engineering to art, re-focusing the external pressure of deadlines into an internal drive to create something beautiful.

That’s a totally different sell for most engineers – and will attract a very different kind of applicant: someone who’s not just solutions-oriented, but collaborative and creative.

As words on the page – or in the job description on your website – terms like “collaborative” and “creative” almost feel like white noise. (How often have you read a job description that includes the phrase “team player”? Too many times to count, I bet.)

But pair your job description with a video that gets to the heart of your company’s ethos, and your future employees will know exactly what your culture’s like – and whether or not they’ll fit in.

Ultimately, a strong story from HR about company ethos leads to better talent and a more focused work ethic. When you reach the right talent pool, you hire employees who do better work, reach their goals more quickly, and leave a lasting impact on their industry.

That can translate into a rock-solid industry-wide reputation, higher stock prices, or even a better valuation. You just won’t get that kind of return from a plain, old job description.

Company Profile

Like a recruitment video, a company profile video can tell your story and share with customers why you do what you do – and how you do it better than anyone else.

(Pro tip: if you read the first post in our series on video marketing, you know why explaining your purpose is essential for reaching customers.)

Unsurprisingly, Apple are experts at this kind of storytelling. Their company progress report on green technology is an homage not just to Apple’s values of innovation and style, but to the way “going green” adds to these values and helps define their product design strategies.

Since they already have killer brand recognition and customer loyalty, this video’s main purpose is to energize and inspire Apple’s base. Their customers feel an increased sense of trust and appreciation supporting a company that works in support of their shared values (environmental protection) – and feel even better buying Apple’s products.

It’s easy to find examples of these introductory and explainer videos all over the web, especially at service-based organizations. 86% of colleges and universities use YouTube to communicate with prospective students and demonstrate what makes their campus stand out – a trend small businesses are just catching up with.

As Apple and other tech companies continue to demonstrate, there’s plenty of room for major retailers to expand their use of video in this direction, too – and take advantage of all the insights video has to offer.

Let’s Get Technical: Behind the Scenes with Video ROI

Amazing video storytelling: ✔️
Multi-channel marketing plan: ✔️
Metrics and measurements: ???

If this is your first time looking beneath the hood of online video platforms, don’t worry. We’ve been down this road a time or two and can help you locate all the data you need to call your campaign a success.

While there are plenty of online video platforms to choose from, including YouTube, Wistia, and Brightcove, my personal favorites are Vimeo and SproutVideo, which have robust, built-in analytics tools.

Sprout Video analytics dashboard

Both platforms offer basic insights, like tracking views, engagement, play rate, and drop-off points, which can give you a general idea of your video’s performance. Here’s how to break down what you’re seeing for each of these metrics:

Views and plays: Everyone likes to see a high view, or “load,” number. But while a big number in this column might make you feel good, it doesn’t necessarily tell the whole story.

Most online platforms count a “view” as anytime the video loads across each of your channels. That’s right: you could be racking up a view anytime someone scrolls past your video on their Facebook feed – without clicking play.

The number of plays your video has is much more important. This measurement tells you how many times your audience engaged with your video by clicking that play button. They may not have watched until the very end – but at least they clicked. Something about your video captured their attention, if only for that initial moment of engagement.

Use this insight to determine which channels are giving you the most mileage. Does your video have a high number of plays on Twitter? How about Instagram? What about your campaign landing page or your email marketing sales funnel? Take note, so you can use this information to make the most of your next campaign.

Sprout Video Engagement Graph

If you take a look at the example screenshot of a SproutVideo dashboard above, you’ll notice that the number of times the video loaded is high – more than 2 million! The number of plays, on the other hand, is much smaller – closer to 95,000, though that’s far from insignificant.

Remember: the number of video loads will give you a good idea of your video’s reach – how often people come in contact with it – while the number of plays gives you a better sense of audience engagement.

Play rate: Both Vimeo and SproutVideo will calculate your “play rate” by dividing the number of plays by the number of times your video loads.

Have a less than desirable play rate? You may want to reconsider how and where you’re distributing your video, changing the video’s title, or trying out a new thumbnail. Maybe your audience watches more videos on Facebook than Twitter, or maybe your video thumbnail isn’t grabbing the attention of your audience as they’re scrolling through YouTube. Changes to any one of these elements can drastically impact your play rate. It’s worth experimenting with an A/B test, if you have that capability.

In the example above, you can see that the play rate is only 3%. At first glance, this might seem like a small number. But consider the high engagement rate (84%) and the total number of hours the video played (more than 1,500). That’s a great return for a video that’s less than two minutes long!

Download our Video ROI worksheet and keep track of all your video’s success.

Engagement: When it comes to measuring ROI, clicks are your bread and butter. Tracking how many viewers click play or share the video with their network will give you a good idea of the value of your content.

You should also keep tabs on engagement with your video CTA, as well as the performance of CTAs on the page where you host your video. This may require setting up extra steps, like a landing page hosted on your website, that will help you measure engagement more effectively. Both Sprout and Vimeo offer features that allow you to include text or a static image after the video finishes playing. Advertising an exclusive discount code here is a great – and easy – way for companies to track engagement. If you’re filming a product video, you may also want to track how many times the video is viewed on your product page and whether that increases sales or lead conversions.

Most video dashboards will also allow you to see individual user engagement. Take a look at the user data In the screenshot above. The user with red and orange sections in their engagement bar watched the video several times, while the users coded in green only watched the video once.

If you have several users who repeat a watching behavior – like re-watching a specific section of the video – it could suggest this part of the video is unclear. Maybe the script needs to be reworked, or you should check the audio for clarity.

Vimeo analytics stats

Drop-Off Rate: Last but not least, it’s crucial to measure your drop-off rate, or the point at which viewers stop watching your video.

This number starts at 100% and can only go down. It’s very similar to engagement, but offers additional insight. Are too many viewers clicking away from your video less than half-way through? It could be a sign your video’s too long – or maybe a talking head just didn’t hold your audience’s attention. Whatever the reason, your drop-off rate is a great measurement for adjusting campaigns and content. Working with a video team over the long-term will also help resolve these issues as you plan for the future.

Both Vimeo and SproutVideo present drop-off rate as a percentage measurement of the audience who watched the video all the way through. You’ll most likely have a high percentage rate for the first few seconds of your video. Remember: the majority of viewers will watch the opening of a video – after that, competition for their attention is steep.

Don’t worry too much if you see a decreasing drop-off rate as the video continues, although a steep drop-off rate is most likely a cause for concern. In our video for Futures Fins, more than 73% of viewers watched until the end. While the engagement steadily declines, it’s important to note that the decline is very gradual. (As a rule of thumb, anything over 50% is a great drop-off rate.)

If you have the capability to track drop-off rate by customer, you’ll want to target the audience members who stick with you to the end of the video in your sales efforts. In particular, SproutVideo offers heat-mapping, a tool for tracking engagement at each point in your video. This means you can access data about when each of your customers watched, replayed, or clicked away from a video. With individualized data like this, you can optimize your sales funnel and strategy for each particular client – which makes closing the sale that much simpler. You can even combine heat-mapping insights with data collection using another Sprout feature: asking customers to enter their email in order to watch your video. Talk about upping those leads!

Vimeo Engagement Graph

In terms of strategy, videos that run longer than a minute – rather than 30-second quick hits – help improve your drop-off rate, especially on YouTube. As the second largest search engine, YouTube prefers users who, for example, watch 50% of a 7-minute video over users who watch 100% of a 0:23 second video. (Hey, if your profit model depended on users to consume more content, including ads, you would prefer that user, too!).

Creating videos that run longer than one minute will not only increase your odds for success on a competitive video platform like YouTube, but it will also improve your relationship with your customers. If you’re not sure what we mean, just take a look at our last post on how video storytelling boosts sales and consumer confidence in your brand.

 

A Note on A/B Testing to Increase Your ROI

Before you head off to crack open your video analytics dashboard, I wanted to bring an important marketing step to your attention.

At TAR, we regularly run A/B tests of our videos, especially the video thumbnail and copy. Most marketing teams or video production companies will skip this crucial step once a video is out in the world, whether out of neglect or lack of understanding the value of this process. But I think you can’t afford to look past these insights.

An appealing thumbnail image and intriguing headline copy will create a desire for the viewer to click play, increasing your play rate. And we all know how important a good play rate is for ROI! If you don’t test images and copy, you’ll never know if you’ve optimized your video content – and potentially left sales on the table.

Take our original documentary of professional surfer Ricky Whitlock, for example. Ricky broke his back – twice! – while training for a surf contest in Hawaii, but that wasn’t our story. We wanted to document his excruciating road to recovery.

Not knowing any more about our story, which video still would make you want to click play?

Ricky’s Accident

video thumbnail bad

The Back-Breaking Surfer

video thumbnail average

Ricky Whitlock: L-1, T-12 // The Surfer Who Wouldn’t Give Up

Video thumbnail great

 

Each of these examples are frame grabs from the same story. But the one we chose wasn’t random.

By now you’ve guessed it’s the last still, right? Sure, we added basic design titles to give the thumbnail a more polished and professional look, but this still of Ricky helps you connect with the subject of the documentary before you even push play. The moody lighting from the interview also suggests the grit and drama of the story you’re about to watch. You can see his determination.

These elements helped us get tens of thousands of views, and we were also showcased in major industry publications for our work. But without testing our thumbnails and copy, we would have never been able to achieve that incredible reach.

All modern video players, YouTube included, have the option to upload custom thumbnails, yet brands still pick a randomly selected frame. Don’t waste this opportunity to test your audience! Part of telling an effective video story is convincing your audience to push play. More often than not, this decision comes down to a single, crucial shot. Make it count.

budget increase

Worth It: Making Room for Video in Your Budget

At TAR, we understand that measuring the success of your video campaign can be technical. Sometimes it’s even downright complicated.

But, if you’ve stuck with us through this guide to video marketing ROI, you now possess all the information you need to make the case for video storytelling in your budget.

Not only is video one of the most flexible assets in your arsenal, you can easily integrate it into your existing marketing and social media campaigns. In fact, data shows your marketing campaigns will actually improve when you have valuable video content to share with your customers. So don’t forget to share the love with your social team or your events coordinators. Even HR and recruitment can benefit from video marketing dollars.

Now that you’re convinced about the ROI of video download our powerful worksheetto track and A/B test your video.

As long as you tell a compelling story, your video will rack up views and increase conversion rates across the board. (And if you need a refresher about why and how video stories sell, check out the first post in this series to get all caught up.)

Of course, when it’s time to measure the success of your new video, look at the hard data provided by online video platforms like Vimeo and SproutVideo. Those conversion rates will give you a pretty clear idea of how well video is working for your brand – and help you calculate ROI to keep the boss upstairs happy, too.

While tracking the success of your video can be a challenge for any marketing director, TAR is on your side. Let’s set up a time to chat about your next campaign and crunch those numbers together.

What are your thoughts on this article? Let us know in the comments below!

The Business of Video Marketing: How and Why Stories Sell

If you’re a marketing director in charge of spending dollars where it counts, you’ve already shifted your focus to video because it works.

According to HubSpot, more than half of marketing professionals “name video as the type of content with the best ROI.”

But we bet you knew that already.

That’s because video converts. Whether you’re talking about email leads or sales, video improves conversion rates across the board.

And that’s why it’s now impossible to log onto Facebook or Instagram without seeing the latest product launch video from a big national brand.

Take Whole Foods’ recent “We Believe in Real Food” campaign. With shots of glistening vegetables and happy families, this slogan reveal makes all the right moves for Whole Foods’ customer base.

Sure, this video reminds Whole Foods customers what they already value – fewer preservatives and artificial colors in their food.

But it doesn’t do any storytelling work that will prompt customers to share the video with friends or influence purchasing decisions.

To make a big impact on your customers – and your bottom line – research shows you also need a good story to power your video:

Still: how do you convince your higher-ups to take a leap and invest in an expensive asset like video storytelling?

At TAR, we believe that shifting your marketing strategy to include story-driven video is one of the best ways to maximize your ROI.

Dollar-for-dollar, high-production video transforms your brand’s ability to connect with your customers.

Stories help consumers make emotional connections with the mission or purpose of a brand, and emotional connections inspire action, personal transformation, and deep brand loyalty.

So don’t get left behind as other brands make the leap to story. Take advantage of powerful storytelling to elevate your brand – and outmaneuver the competition.

Not only do we have the client experience to prove why a storytelling strategy works, we can help you nail that next pitch meeting with the VP and bring them on board with your vision.

Download our Marketing Director’s Cheat Sheet on how and why stories sell for the numbers your boss needs to see during your next one-on-one.

Storytelling for Marketers 101

When we talk about story at TAR, we have a specific idea in mind: video content that dives deep to bring out your company’s purpose.

Here’s a little more on our process:

The thing is, a single impression of your brand isn’t enough – not when we’re exposed to 5,000+ images every single day.

Think about it: how many slogans like Whole Foods’ “We Believe in Real Food” campaign do you hear every day? How many more do you immediately forget?

Neuroscience shows that storytelling cuts through this noise, while data aimed at persuading your audience slips by forgotten.

Whether you want your audience to click the “buy” button or sign up for a newsletter, stories – not facts – have the power to influence decision-making.

Here’s the basic formula you need to inspire your customer’s emotions, help them remember you, and prompt them to action:

  • A plot that introduces a relatable character, lays out the goals of your company, and establishes your unique worldview. A good plot, like any juicy story, will help customers remember and share what you have to say.
  • A hero who helps your audience identify with your brand.
  • A conflict for the character to overcome. This could be the problem a character encounters, or the hurdles faced by an organization.
  • A “hero’s journey” where the character triumphs over conflict, and your audience becomes invested in the outcome.
  • A resolution that inspires your audience to forge an emotional connection with your brand and take action.

In the world of fast-paced digital and TV advertising, it’s easy to overlook character. But savvy brands use character to their advantage.

Just take Flo, the spunky saleswoman for Progressive Insurance. She’s a memorable recurring character you want to root for. Flo goes above and beyond for her customers – just like Progressive will, the ads imply. That’s a character – and a company value – customers connect with, remember, and share.

Emotional connections also get to the heart of brand authenticity. In a survey conducted by Bonfire Marketing, 91 percent of customers identified brand authenticity as more important than the usefulness of the product or service itself.

If you’re not creating an authentic connection with your customer, you’re letting leads walk out the door without sealing the deal.

Because without a personal connection, 71 percent of customers will keep their wallets in their pockets. Facts can’t make these authentic connections with customers – but stories can.

At TAR, we craft narratives about the most authentic part of your brand – why you exist as a company. We want customers to feel good about you and how they relate to your brand – and we know this is impossible to do without a good story.

Brands like Budweiser and Patagonia already know this, which is why their campaigns focus on forging authentic connections with their customers through the power of storytelling. They offer customers the chance to connect with the brand’s values, whether that’s the power of building a business against the odds or making gear that outlasts a customer’s adventures.

If you’re ready to play in the big leagues, use story to unlock the most powerful emotional tool in your marketing arsenal.

Only story opens a direct path to your customer’s decision-making. And that’s not a sales pitch – that’s a fact.

The Science of a Good Story

Why do we feel strong emotional connections to video marketing campaigns like Budweiser’s recent Super Bowl ad?

In Budweiser’s one-minute spot, they give us all the ingredients of a powerful story:

  • A protagonist with a goal (Mr. Busch himself, making his way to America)
  • Conflict (an arduous journey and anti-immigrant sentiment)
  • Resolution (meeting a compatriot, Mr. Anheuser, and starting their company).

The result? An effective, emotional advertisement that encourages viewers to support Budweiser as they would support the American Dream.

Neuroscience explains why Budweiser’s ad is an emotional home run – and why it’s such a successful pitch.

We know you don’t have time to crack open a textbook, so take a gander at this TEDx talk from Simon Sinek, a leadership expert and author of Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action, instead.

In his address, Sinek suggests that inspiring innovators like Apple communicate by explaining their purpose to consumers – their reason for existing – before making a sales pitch.

“Everything we do, we believe in challenging the status quo,” says Sinek, outlining his version of Apple’s ethos.

“We believe in thinking differently. The way we challenge the status quo is by making our products beautifully designed, simple to use, and user friendly. We just happen to make great computers. Want to buy one?”

This sales method is effective because it taps into your limbic brain, the system that prompts emotional responses that move you to take action. It’s even more effective than explaining why your product adds value.

“Yes, people can understand vast amounts of complicated information like features and benefits and facts and figures,” Sinek says. “It just doesn’t drive behavior.”

“When we can communicate from the inside out,” or from why to how to what, “we’re talking directly to the part of the brain that controls behavior, and then we allow people to rationalize it with the tangible things we say and do. This is where gut decisions come from,” Sinek asserts.

Story structure arc

Like Sinek, we believe companies that appeal directly to the emotions of consumers before driving home rational selling points are more successful than those who don’t.

Storytelling is the most powerful way to connect with your customers because stories help them identify with your brand’s purpose. And you just can’t communicate your company’s purpose without building a compelling narrative.

Facts and figures alone won’t compel your audience to act because we don’t remember data without a story to back it up.

At TAR Productions we go beyond traditional marketing strategies by using story to tap into your customer’s emotions.

Sure, traditional strategies – teaser videos and product explainers – can be successful. You may even close more sales when you post a video that shows off a pair of shoes or takes a customer through a house.

But a purchase or a click doesn’t guarantee your company will be memorable ten minutes down the road. Clicks don’t inspire brand loyalty.

Stories help customers remember and connect, and you can use them as part of your video marketing strategy to drive traffic, leads, and sales.

For TAR, storytelling is also about more than selling products or services. We want to help you reach potential supporters, from corporate partners to potential employees and volunteers.

Unlike data points, storytelling assets help your company lead a conversation about shared values and identify crucial players for your future success.

By targeting your message to an audience that shares your beliefs, you’ll have a direct pathway to their hearts, minds, and wallets. But hey, don’t thank us. Thank the limbic brain!

Need a takeaway to remember how the science works? Our Marketing Director’s Cheat Sheet  has your back.

Stories That Work

No matter what your brand is, when you develop stories that provoke, inspire, surprise, or excite you’ll have instantly shareable content that helps move your audience.

Take this example from a video campaign for Principal Financial GroupOn the surface, Principal Financial Group may seem like an unlikely candidate for a successful, story-driven video marketing campaign

How do you build a compelling story around financial services that prompts an emotional response from an audience? Especially when advertising-savvy audiences pick up on a company’s efforts to sell to them – and tune out these appeals?

At TAR Productions we like unlikely – and we believe that story can work for everyone. Story works more effectively than a print ad or a billboard, which doesn’t offer your audience a chance to connect.

Stories make audiences feel something, make them identify and respond to the company itself, and those emotional connections are more valuable than traditional advertising dollars.

Our job is to showcase the ethos of your company and help your audience connect with that worldview – and that’s exactly what Principal Financial did.

Their idea is simple: Principal’s financial services exist to help customers weather the ups and downs of their everyday lives. The company’s ethos is built around accessibility, helpfulness, and a strong ethical backbone.

To help their audience identify with the company, the video asks viewers to imagine they are the company, steadily growing to serve 19 million customers over the course of 200 years. The script places “you,” the audience member, in the driver’s seat. You’re the person leading Principal to success. (Hey, that feels pretty good!)

At the same time, the video suggests, “you” never forgot your Midwestern roots or your devotion to helping individual consumers.

“Then you realize,” states the voiceover, “that while the accolades are nice, they’re not why you’re here.”

“And you haven’t lost sight of why you began this journey so many years ago. You see a way to help people, wherever they are in life, one person at a time.”

In a series of diverse portraits, the video provides a glimpse of what these individual customers look like. We see a young man holding a dog, a middle-aged woman with a bright red scarf, a weathered man wearing a cowboy hat.

“Ah!” thinks the audience, “these people look familiar. They look like the people I work with or who live in my town – they even look like me.” They’re relatable.

In this way, the hero of the story is both Principal Financial Group – the principled financial services provider – and the audience member, who identifies with and recognizes those principles in their own worldview.

Facts and figures alone won’t compel your audience to act because we don’t remember data without a story to back it up.

When posed with a potential conflict – is the company growing too big or too fast, causing them to forget the “little guy”? – the video focuses on meaningful images of individuals. This gives the audience member an extra opportunity to identify not only with the principles of the company, but also with the customers they serve.

By resolving unstated concerns that a multinational company might not “care” about individual consumers, the video helps its audience members leap over a potential customer-service hurdle, identify with the company’s core values, and feel connected to the very people that company serves.

Now that’s a story to get behind and remember.

behind the scenes video production digital cinema camera

What Stories Accomplish That Data Can’t

When you break down the complex moves in the Principal Financial Group video, you’ll notice that the video focuses on traditional storytelling, rather than advertising appeal. There’s:

  • Plot, in the historical growth of a company focused on helping people with everyday problems.
  • Character, in this case, both the financial group itself and “you,” the audience member. This move makes audience identification with the company incredibly easy.
  • Conflict, in the potential for a large company to leave behind its everyday customers in service of bigger, corporate interests and more profit.
  • And there’s resolution, in a dedicated return to the individual consumer. Because helping individual people is the right thing to do.

While there’s plenty of data woven into the video itself, from the number of customers to the number of countries the company serves, the piece isn’t pushing this information to convince potential consumers to sign on.

That’s because the video identifies Principal Financial Group’s “why” before trying to sell the audience on the benefits of working with the company.

Remember, as Sinek said, “People can understand vast amounts of complicated information like features and benefits and facts and figures. It just doesn’t drive behavior.”

The Principal Financial Group video – like all well-told stories – emphasizes audience identification and inspires feelings of trust, recognition of shared values, and connection.

The more a customer identifies with a company that helps individuals, the more they’ll feel like they can trust – and work with – that company as an individual.

Stories like this help bypass a consumer’s natural distrust of advertising. At a time when only 4 percent of Americans actually trust the integrity of media or advertisers, storytelling is a natural bridge for overcoming skepticism and distrust. And for turning clicks and views into dedicated, loyal customers.

When we bypass a consumer’s defenses against advertising appeals with story, we appeal to something bigger and more important than their impulse to spend money.

We appeal directly to who they are – or who they want to be. And we help that consumer or audience member connect with the company that’s the right fit for them.

Because video is such a memorable medium, it’s the perfect way to tell an authentic story about your company that will attract customers who value honesty and transparency. In other words, when you show your company’s true colors, you start attracting the right clients.

That’s the mutually beneficial relationship the Principal Financial Group offers its audience – transparency about values and the sense those values are shared between client and service provider.

And if Sinek taught us anything, it’s that no amount of data in the world could make that connection stronger. It’s the kind of job only story can do.

Finding Your Brand’s Story

When we start working with a client, it’s our job to suss out their storytelling needs and match them to specific company goals.

Want to inspire donations by showing how your organization helps individuals in need? That’s what our client Helping Haitian Angels needed to accomplish, in order to continue their life-saving work in Haiti.

Launching a new campaign to expand your business? That’s exactly why we started working with Peter Harsch Prosthetics. One of the best prosthetists in the U.S., Peter Harsch was poised to land major national and international clients – and, with our help, they did.

The process of matching organizational goals with compelling stories isn’t always a straightforward one, as you’ll see below in our case studies. It’s an ongoing collaboration between our team and our client, as we learn all about who you are, where you are right now, and where you’re headed in the future.

We know the right questions to ask to get things rolling – and how to bring out the stories even our clients didn’t think were there.

We dive into the heart of what makes you tick and uncover your brand’s perspective, so we can help you find the customers that will remember, respond to, and share that perspective for years to come.

How do we do it? Take a look at two of our most successful brand campaigns to see how storytelling changes hearts and minds – and helps you hit your financial targets.

Our Process at Work: Helping Haitian Angels

Helping Haitian Angels originally contacted us for help with a fundraising video. The non-profit got its start by chance, when a Virginian couple traveling through Haiti met a group of 35 kids who had been abandoned. Facing starvation and disease, half of these children would have died within a few days had they not been found by the organization’s founders, Bill and Debbie Harvey

The Harveys didn’t have time to explain the details of their mission to every single potential donor over lunch. They were busy building housing, establishing classrooms, organizing vaccinations, and spending time with the kids, loving each child like their own.

Before meeting with new donors, the Harveys asked visitors to watch our film, so they could see the challenges of life in Haiti first-hand. The Harveys wanted potential donors to connect with the Haitians who benefited from ongoing financial support and give donors a sense of pride in contributing to the project.

“Unequivocally, they give me tenfold what I give them,” Debbie Harvey says in the video. “It’s not even close.”

Over the course of the video, it’s easy to see this is true – how excited the children are to hug Debbie, how interested they are in their schoolwork, how proud they are to help build their school.

By telling the story of the deep need for the services provided by Helping Haitian Angels, we could help HHA appeal directly to donors who identified with their mission. We shared their “why,” or purpose, so potential donors with the same worldview would identify with and support their project.

We also emphasized the unique aspects of HHA’s three-year plan, from involving Haitians directly in the organization’s educational and health initiatives to expanding its services with support from the Haitian government.

It wasn’t enough to show the drive and commitment of the Harveys and their volunteers. We also wanted to show the individual children who meant so much to the organization – who, in essence, made up the “why” of the Harvey’s work in Haiti.

“As a nurse, I want to help everyone in the community,” Adeline tells the camera in Creole, the native Haitian language. “Not just the kids at Kay Anj Village.”

Adeline’s words represent the larger ripple effect that the Harvey’s organization has created throughout this Haitian village – and invites donors to take part in this process.

As HHA discovered, these direct appeals to donors work remarkably well. Between 2010 and 2014, our film became the centerpiece of their most successful fundraising effort ever. Viewers could easily see the positive change HHA brought to Haiti, and the film generated millions of dollars in donations.

This included major donations of $100K and $250K that allowed the Harveys to continue – and expand – their impact. Some of their largest benefactors decided to donate after watching our film, without ever needing the lunch meeting other than to hand over a check.

We’ve been to Haiti twice with HHA and made two films for them. They’re making change at such a rapid rate that, unfortunately, any film we create becomes less relevant 3 to 4 years later.

For example, the original need for HHA to build a medical clinic evaporated. Not only do the children now have regular check-ups and immunizations, but the entire community now has access to these services, too.

As HHA continues to create change, their story evolves. We’re honored to work with them on a third film later this year to capture the next chapter of their exciting journey.

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Our Process at Work: Peter Harsch Prosthetics

Peter Harsch is among the top prosthetists around the globe, with an incredible reputation that reaches from the U.S. Military to amputees worldwide.

Crafting a prosthesis is precarious, detailed work that affects the comfort of everyday life for amputees. Prosthetists have to fit, refine, and refit prosthetics on a continual basis, especially as athletes train and gain muscle or lose weight.

But there’s a reason Peter was the No. 1 prosthetist at the Naval Medical Center in San Diego, CA – one of the top places active military members are sent after losing a limb in Iraq or Afghanistan. Harsch’s hands are like gold, and he can fit amputees with more precision than anyone else working in his field.

When we met Peter in 2012, he was ready to launch his own prosthetics company and leave the bureaucratic red tape of the Naval Medical Center behind. He wanted to do more for his patients than he could at the medical center – and he needed a way to explain to potential clients how and why he’s moved to do his work.

Our aim was twofold: tell the story of Peter’s company in a way that demonstrated the inspiring success of his clients, and help Peter achieve his organizational goal of expanding into new markets west of the Mississippi River.

In our video, “Active Life Goes On,” we tackled a complicated narrative. Not only did we tell the stories of three amputees whose lives changed after working with Peter, but we also demonstrated the drive, commitment, and passion of Peter himself.

“Some people just want to come in and be able to go to the grocery store and walk around their house,” Peter explains at the opening of the video, describing his range of clients. “And some want to come in and do the Ironman Triathlon.”

As the audience learns, Peter’s company not only believes this is possible for amputees, but that it’s vital for their emotional and physical well-being.

At the heart of Peter’s message is the idea that active life goes on, even after you lose a limb. There’s Eric, who, with Peter’s help fulfilled his long-term goal of completing an Ironman – prosthesis and all. And there’s Levi, who soars over the earth on his dirt bike. Combat veteran Daniel surfs and skis with remarkable skill.

“At the end of the day, if you’ve really helped somebody for the rest of their life, you’re not just helping them, you’re helping their whole family,” says Peter. “Because they can enjoy life a little better.”

This is Peter’s deeper why, and it’s something we’re able to share more effectively in a short film than in a print advertisement in a magazine or a short commercial. You can watch his mission statement unfold in a longform video. These amputees aren’t just surviving, they’re thriving – and you can see it in the way they talk, run, and conquer their goals.

As a result of our collaboration with Peter Harsch Prosthetics, the company contracted with multiple international governments’ Wounded Warriors programs – worth millions of dollars in revenues. PHP is also sought out by amputees from around the U.S.

And while Peter’s talents are obvious to those who work with him, capturing his skill and dedication on video speaks volumes to prospective clients – even when Peter’s not sitting across the table.

Building the Case for Story

Because emotion moves people to take action – to care, share, and become a fan of your brand or service – storytellers have the ability to shape the outcomes of video campaigns more dramatically than ever before in history.

The stories we tell at TAR Productions are intended to be used for months and years to come, and to have a lasting impression on your audience. As Sinek explained – and as we hope we’ve convinced you – facts and figures can’t do this. Only story can.

What’s more, data demonstrates that this strategy works. Video storytelling is more memorable to consumers, while video itself is guaranteed to improve your click-through rates, online visibility, and influence sales.

From a marketing perspective, that’s pretty much a perfect combination.

Check out our Marketing Director’s Cheat Sheet  on what the kinds of stories TAR creates can do for you.

To be fair, the stories TAR creates aren’t for everyone. They’re for a specific, intended audience who connects to and appreciates the story – and the worldview the brand promotes.

That can be an inclusive worldview, like Principal Financial Group’s belief that helping individuals is the best way to effect economic change. Or the targeted belief of prosthetist Peter Harsch, who knows that life doesn’t stop after you lose a limb.

Having a perspective is how stories spread and audiences grow, from a small core of dedicated believers to a worldwide army of consumers.

To tap into that powerful energy, you have to understand what drives your company to do what no one else but you can do.

That’s something we’d love to talk with you more about. Contact us today, and we’ll start uncovering who you are – and telling your story.

The Power of Foley, Sound Design & 5 Great Examples

The eye sees what the ear hears.

That’s how the saying goes in Hollywood. Filmmakers tend to put so much emphasis on the visual side of productions. There is never a shortage of conversations among filmmakers about what camera or lenses are the “best” or “newest”. We live in a digital world and cameras are essentially a technology. And technology is an evergreen, ever improving, topic.

Foley artists working their magic

On the visual side of films light is often overlooked in terms of it’s importance in story and connection with an audience. Audiences will consciously or subconsciously interpret light and color as it relates to story, setting, plot and foreshadowing action. Almost never will an audience know what camera or lenses a film was shot on. I’m not suggesting that these elements aren’t important, nor that they do not have a subconscious effect on the audience- they certainly do.

However, the amount of attention and emphasis are misappropriated compared other facets of filmmaking, such as sound design and effects.

Sound has the ability to draw us into a story and make us feel like we’re in the same environment. Horror films do this especially well. Whenever the antagonist (in horror films this is usually a killer) is closing in on a subject, we hearing a soft piercing sound that gradually increasing in volume and pitch. This subtles gets under our skins, makes us feel uncomfortable and nervous. And when the antagonist strikes the sound will increase dramatically.

Another great example of this is love stories- the polar opposite of horror films. Love stories will blend in soft, warm music or effects that make you want to cozy up with our stars on screen.

Foley sound design is a mysterious process.

Action movies take this to a whole nother level with fight scenes or car chase scenes- but that’s a different post. (when you punch someone does it really sound like that?)

Sound cannot be underestimated. We always bring on a dedicated sound mixer for shoots as it really is 50% of your project (some would say even more). Having a dedicated sound mixer on location will ensure you have quality sound and levels throughout your production. Sound mixers will typically bring their own mics and recorders and be able to add character metadata to each mic. So, in your edit program- such as Final Cut Pro, you can easily see what channel audio relates to what character. This speeds up your post production dramatically and allows for more time to focus on story.

I once had our sound designer suggest we fire a sound mixer because he wasn’t recording the audio at full bit rate (24-bit, 48hz). You know you are working with a great sound designer when then take things this seriously.

However, the real hero of sound is foley- where sound effects and elements are recorded after production in a studio. Short of the week posted a great short film that puts a huge focus on sound design and foley. I love how to film- which as it would stand alone would be a masterpiece, is intercut with the foley artists working their magic.

Foley is a little bit of a mystery. You never really know what the foley artists are using to create such sounds. So long as it works it really doesn’t matter, and that’s what makes foley so incredible. You can “fake” a lot of sounds and still have the desired effect on the audience. Because sound isn’t something we see, it’s easier for the audience to buy into it and accept it as reality.

Great filmmaking inheriting asks audiences to suspend their disbelief and accept what they see- and hear, as reality. Footsteps to environmental sounds to enhancing sounds we do see all make us feel like we’re a part of the film. Sometimes it’s the details that are highlighted for a specific effect, such as a door creaking open, or someone exhaling in relief.

Mixing foley and sound design channels on mixing board

We recently worked with Futures Fins on showing their incredible process of designing and manufacturing surfboard fins at their factory in Surf City USA (Huntington Beach, CA, USA). Futures custom fabricated several machines or customized machines that are 50-60 years old to build their new line of Alpha fins.

This machinery is storied and has served priceless value to all over the past half century. We wanted to bring these machines to life, instead of just simply showing a process in a rather dull fashion. We worked with one of our talented sound designers to really help bring the story to life and give these machines a personality. Seeing the machines in action is one thing, but hearing them, and feeling like you’re there in the room really helped make that connection.

What are your thoughts on this article? Let us know in the comments below!

Branded Entertainment on Instagram

The Power of Great Content on Instagram

Brands carry weight with customers. The power of a brand can be so impactful that, just because a brand name is on a product, consumers will buy without hesitation. Customers who trust a brand, know their product lineup and quality standards won’t need to do any research, price shopping or delay purchasing decisions. When a brand has that trust with a customer it’s tough to break that relationship. And with social being such an active part of our daily lives, branded entertainment on Instagram is becoming of huge importance for brands everywhere.

For example, many families only purchase cars from one brand, be it Ford, Toyota or sometimes even a category of cars- such as ultra-luxury or exotic sports cars. This translates to incredible ROI (return on investment) for years to come.

Fans (the best customers) will also do a ton of marketing, or remarketing for a brand. Social media has quickly become the de facto advertising platform for brands because their reach is seemingly limitless. When fans Like, retweet or repost a message from a brand they do it because it makes them feel good. They want to reciprocate the feeling they get from a brand among their peers. This is why influencers have become an integral part of marketing.

Clae shoes on Instagram

When this connection is made among brands and fans the impact cannot be denied. Brands can leverage this in many ways. Instagram is great because there is focus on one image at a time. And the evolution of the platform has only made it more social and allow for greater impact, such as direct messages and video.

Instagram has quickly become one of the best social networks out there for brands. It’s perfect for messaging since a picture is worth a thousand words. The engagement of Instagram over other social networks is outstanding and it seems to be the network of choice these days- and as social media matures, it looks like it could stay this way for a while. No wonder Facebook bought it for $1B).

As Instagram has grown and it’s product matured, the company has been slow to roll out and refine the platform. Recently, there was some backlash when the company revealed a new, modern logo and when it started displaying content that was not in chronological order.

Want to create a campaign for your brand with us? Click here to get in touch with us

While many longtime users (read: fans) did not like the changes it makes sense and there are ways brands can take advantage of this to gain more followers, likes and traction on the platform.

Instagram has always taken a slow path to product- meaning the way it’s users interact. It has always put engagement first, which pays dividends to brands to who treat the platform this way and approach it with care and enthusiasm.

Instagram wasn’t the first to adopt video. YouTube is certainly the king, and Facebook has had it for many years. Vine launched before Instagram’s ability to play video, too. But Instagram does it really great for the platform that it is.

The recent upgrade of 60-second video means that brands now have more time to tell a story. This means we can now tell a story of greater impact, one that connects with the audience in a more meaningful and complete manner. 60 seconds sounds short on the surface, but believe me, you can tell a lot of story in a very little time. Think about all the Superbowl commercials you’ve seen over the years that have been incredibly thought provoking and memorable. The big difference here is that the audience’s face is only inches away from the screen, and often times they have headphones in giving sound design even more importance.

Direct Messages

Brands can get creative with their campaigns using direct messages. One of the key ways Direct Messages are underutilized is sending top fans (likers, commenters, earliest followers, etc.) custom video messages. Direct messages are almost always read and when it’s a brand responding to fans, the impact of this can go beyond a campaign that is sent out to millions of followers.

Giving these custom media clips to fans to repost with hashtags can increase your hashtag’s performance, brand reach and when people catch on, followers and likes can increase dramatically. There are many strategies and ways to do this properly and brands that are creative have the opportunity to take their social media campaigns to the next level in terms of reach and ROI.

Campaign Synergy, Preview and Drip

When brands launch campaigns Instagram can be versatile with the media since it lends itself great to photos and video. Below, Aston Martin used three posts to creatively deliver a big message. While sometimes the multi-post blasts can clog followers feed, they were sure to keep this one to three post. Effective, yet not annoying.

Following high quality images with video gives the fans a dynamic angle and information they crave.

Aston Martin triple post on Instagram.

The objective here is to reinforce the message with little hits from time to time. This is why we encourage the brands we work with to approach projects with the goal of getting more assets and creating a more complete campaign, rather than a one-off.

PREVIEW

Some brands are using social media as a preview or drip campaign. When taking the preview route, brands will show the first several seconds of a video or series and then direct audiences to a micro-site or page on their website to see what happens next.

One of the greatest parts of the preview method is that you have a totally engaged audience on the microsite. If the only way your audience will end up on this microsite if through the profile link on your Instagram account you know that they were intrigued and took action to see the remaining of the video or campaign. This means your audience is already hooked and actively wants to know more!

Other digital marketing tactics can be initiated after the view is done such as post-play call-to-action, unique discount codes or early product info. The results of campaigns like this are incredibly powerful, although you’ll have a smaller market (which, in this case, is a good thing).

Below, we worked with Penny Skateboards on a global campaign for the launch of their Painted Fades line of skateboards. While they took advantage of using high-quality stills from the video campaign, they also were careful to display their product imagery and video in a specific order. This is also know as a Drip Campaign in social media.

DRIP

The drip method is also gaining in popularity. While drip campaigns have been around for many decades and re-popularized with email campaigns recently, they are also incredibly effective on social media and are perfectly suited for video.

Sixty seconds is plenty of time to pack a story, but sometimes a brand’s objective in targeting the truest fans. To do this, brands can launch a drip campaign where they tell a story over a series of videos on Instagram with the payoff at the end.

Asking your fans to watch a series of video is more work, and you can expect that the more videos in the series the less will see the complete campaign. At first, this might seem counter-intuitive but it can actually be an advantage. This is a direct path for brands finding out who their truest fans are. The truest fans are the ones who absolutely love everything the brand puts out and seeks out this content.

At the end of the campaign, brands can reward their truest fans with special product, discounts, or other brand assets.

Drip campaigns allow for various touchpoints among customers and fans on a continual basis. The mix of video and still imagery provides ground for perfect A/B testing. Brands can easily see what works best and figure out why- the long term benefit to this marketing ROI is huge and one that has never been available before in the past. Some of this has will have to do what time you post to your social media account, but brands can fine-tune their messaging based on real-time feedback.

The real value arrives when brands decide to do a follow-up campaign, and since many brands have seasonal campaigns, this means they are producing 4-5 campaigns a year (Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter and sometimes Holiday). Brands who approach agencies, marketing partners or video production companies- anyone who will tell your brand story- will know exactly what type of media fans react to the most, only furthering the ROI potential. We put business results ahead of everything at TAR Productions, and ROI is something we talk about a lot.

Penny Skateboards Branded Entertainment on Instagram

Pitfalls

With Instagram being a mobile-only format, it’s easy to shoot and edit videos directly on the phone. While this is tempting and ideal from Instagram’s perspective, it might not be the best move for brands. When your aunt goes to the zoo and wants to share her home video of lions, it’s perfect.

As I said earlier, when a brand carries weight with fans it can go a long way. Turning a customer (or even a nobody) into a fan is a lot of work, it is earned. The trust comes with a standard built and established by the brand itself. And in turn, fans expect a certain level of quality of content.

The ability to constantly put out content for content’s sake is generally a bad idea for brands. This can greatly affect a fan’s perception of the brand. Why would a brand want take a chance on this? And, as you know, when video is done right it can be far more effective.

Brands that care about the invaluable connection they have with fans cannot take chances and put out quality of work that is on par with your aunt going to the zoo. Fans have and expectation for quality content that continues to raise the bar in terms of the true connection they have with their favorite brands. This is why brands must take time with their strategy and execution.

If you think about a brand you like, such as Clae Shoes or Aston Martin cars as mention above, and you’re used to seeing great products and imagery from these brands, it’s easy to have a connection and expectation from them. Branding in it’s truest form is subliminal, you know you like but an explanation as to why you like the brand is neither relevant nor required.

Fans interact with brands on Instagram 58x more than on Facebook, and 120x than on Twitter.

Brands that quickly put out content that is low quality, shaky and not polished risk losing this connection or lowering a fan’s expectation of what a brand stands for. When it’s on par with something that you can do yourself or your friends are doing, the distance between yourself and the brand diminishes greatly. The long term effect of this is that brands that should be top of mind won’t be.

When this happens brands will start to lose fans (the best customers), in fact, fans will hemorrhage. First the quasi-fans will go, followed by the truest fans. While the truest fans will hang on the longest, psychologically they will stop recommending product or solutions to peers.

Brand Opportunity on Instagram

Video gives brands the chance to have their story stick if they invest in it. When time, energy and commitment to story are not invested in the opposite effect occurs. The recent developments of Instagram as a platform provides greater opportunity than it ever has.

This is why I stress that brands be specific and strategic with content on Instagram. It’s a long-term strategy that can pay off with incredible ROI and benefits beyond what we’ve seen before. Branded Content is sought out by fans on a daily basis. Instagram is a platform that will be around for the considerable future and can be leveraged in many different, unique and inspiring ways. Brands that put in the effort and execute a strategy will be the brands that win. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.

Brands must continue to elevate their brand with new creative, messaging and further making that connection with consumers. New campaigns, new product and new opportunity must be cared for in a manner that matches the brand’s direction and elevation. In an age where media content is oversaturated, it’s the quality content that makes an impact.

The purpose of Instagram is to create brand recognition and value outside of itself. The way brands leverage the platform and create incredible connections among fans is unique to the brand, industry and fan, but when it’s done right the ROI can be great. The best brands are those that care deeply about their fans, and Instagram is the best platform for this.

What are your thoughts on this article? Let us know in the comments below!

Using Video Well

The internet is built on video- video is everywhere. It’s our news, it’s social, education, and advertising. What else, it’s noise. All of it. Distracting us from something else online, calling our attention, hyper attention gets the worst of it.

Except video doesn’t work. Most videos fail to meet a simple objective- to connect with the audience in an authentic and meaningful manner. Perhaps this is why we only have 8 5 3-seconds to capture our audience’s attention- there’s so much else out there screaming “watch me!”

In order for video to work, it has to have a purpose and stand out from the noise. It has to be heard at a pitch that’s unique from the constant clutter of the internet.

Video is much more difficult to create well, far more impactful when it works.

It’s interesting how quickly we forget this simple fact. To stand out we have to be ourselves because no one else can do what we do.

As Seth explains it, this happened to copywriters and photographers, too, and it’s happening to video.

Copywriters have an easy job, they write words, and all they need is a pen and paper, although a computer with internet connection helps. If I want to write something I’m not hiring a copywriter when I can do it myself.

Photographers also have it easy. Today, all they really need is a mobile phone since they all have pretty decent cameras built into them. And since I have a phone I no longer need to hire a photographer either.

We cut corners and fail to do ourselves justice by posting something mediocre.

But the value add is how we use our tools. Just because I have a keyboard, it doesn’t mean I’m Hemingway. And I’m certainly not Ansel Adams- the great photographer.

Copywriters need not be threatened by the fact that everyone has a computer with internet, same with photographers. And now, too, video professionals. As storytellers, we add value to a production- the way we frame a shot, light a subject, move the lens through a scene. These are attributes unique to us. There is no commodity and no one can copy us.

Now that everyone has a video camera it doesn’t reduce your value but creates the opportunity to distinguish yourself. Using video well creates incredible connections. We are extraordinary contributors.

What are your thoughts on this article? Let us know in the comments below!

Working at a Distributed Video Production Company

Over the past 13 years of producing videos we’ve experience more things than we haven’t. We’ve seen huge changes in our industry including, the shift to digital, then HD, the DSLR revolution, YouTube, social sharing, digital distribution and now 4K and VR. All of this has resulted in an incredible reduction of barriers to entry.

We’ve seen good times and great times. Fought hard to win business, celebrated and hired a full staff. We’ve taken on huge projects with ambition and refined a process.

We’ve also seen our share of the bad times. We’ve lost business, had projects canceled last minute and been denied payment. We’ve had to pivot and redefine ourselves. We’ve had copy-cats of our work and style. The worst of them was having to let go of employees.

Interview setup with high profile CEO

Through all this, I’ve learned a few things about running a business. For us, the best way to run TAR Productions is through a distributed model, meaning most everyone we work with is located all over the world.

We create specific, tailored teams for each project we take on based on the needs and what the project entails. Although we’ve really nailed down the kind of brands and companies we work with, different projects require different skillsets, knowledge and expertise. Building teams of some of the best and most talented freelancers allows us to be nimble and diverse.

Working as part of a distributed company is part of a global movement. Many companies are letting employees live where they want, for example, WordPress (the backend that powers this website and about 24% of the website out there) is also 100% distributed. I have friends at SlyTrunk and Clave Media, both of which are distributed (in fact, we all work out of Bloc).

A couple of years ago we decided to take advantage of modern technology, cloud services, high-speed Internet and our amazing team, who happened to be located all over. The lowered barriers to entry could be advantageous to us, and to those we were partnering with.

Operating on a distributed model gives us a ton of advantages, but the most important are team and nimbleness.

Here’s how to blend in at a distributed video production company, such as TAR Productions.

Team

The most valuable asset we have as storytellers and being a production company is our team. Without them, we are nothing essentially.

The film industry is made of freelancers with various specialties. These are typically masters of their trade and I’ve been able to learn so much from them. When we get hired for a job I look to them for their knowledge and expertise in bringing out the best for the specific project.

Working in various roles before turning TAR Productions into a full-service production company, I was able to meet so many interesting people. Some are friends I had growing up who have come full circle back into my life and we now collaborate on projects. Others I’ve met through various projects or introductions.

The bottom line is if you continue to pursue your passion, act professionally and put yourself out there you will create connections you never thought on.

The distributed model gives us tons of advantages.

Several years ago I reflected on all the incredible projects I’ve been a part of and it dawned on me that I have incredible tools at my disposal. So why not put these connections to good use. There are plenty of people out there that find value in what you do. When I started bringing projects to these people they were always grateful to work with me again, and the projects started turning out better because of it, increasing our value.

It was a win-win-win situation. I was able to create a more valuable product, the people I learned from who are masters in their own right got more work and our clients received a more valuable product as a result.

A few years ago I was part of a small creative agency when my former business partner left me high and dry, abruptly & unexpectedly, I had to start over, and rebuilt a new brand. This is what I mean when I refer to the hard times at the beginning of this post. The silver lining is that when I took a step back I was able to realize a great opportunity.

Rather than rebuilt a team locally, I designed our unique process around the valuable team I already knew and worked with so well. The catch is that this team was located all over the world.

One thing to note is that a large majority of our team has been together for 10+ years. Many of them know each other and have the process down. They know how we organize and tag our media, they know what specs our projects require. They know our distinguished look and feel that we bring to projects and help us get there.

“Our team is comprised of professionals who are self-motivated and above all else, trustworthy.

We have an established list of team members that can really achieve anything. Because of this, and a few other reasons, we pay our team above average rates for the industry.

If you’re looking to duplicate this model you can start by using freelance services such as Upwork or Freelancer.com or sites such as 99Designs. There are many talented people on there, but their levels of experience can vary greatly. You can expect to get what you pay for on these sites.

I’ve used these sites for entry level work with modest success. I’ve yet to use them for anything high-value, so I can’t personally preach for them.

The key ingredient for us to make it work is the foundation of relationship that we have established. When one team member doesn’t know another, he or she will have an expectation to be professional and great in his or her craft. We have established a bar that we set very high and intent to keep no matter what project we take on.

Working remote means being able to travel on an instant's notice and knowing how to pack all your essential gear.

Working with talented crew is a must for us. Gear knowledge is imperative on location.

This is what makes TAR productions so great. An environment in which each team member can rely on those they collaborate with so they can focus on doing their job to the best of their ability and not worry about chasing others.

I had to recreate what TAR is as a company. I had to pivot. I took a look at the industry and where I thought it was going. We have an enormous amount of powerful cloud technology and decided to take advantage of it. This is why I was quoted in Inc. Magazine.

I knew to take advantage of my network and team members I would have to work with them on equal terms. FedExing a drive is so easy. Drives are small in size, bus powered and can be easily mailed through FedEx’s pre-packaged boxes. We now take drives directly from the mobile command unit to FedEx, and the backup stays with us and goes directly on our media RAID.

We ship a drive to our editors, colorists, sound designers all over the world. We work with top-notch digital markers located in multiple continents. So here’s a quick rundown of our process. We’ll detail this out in a future post soon.

  1. Fill crew members for production and post
  2. Organize production crew and post-production crew
  3. Estimate rough idea of schedules
  4. Ship drives to Editor, Colorist, Sound Designer (sometimes sound is sent via Hightail or other FTP-like system)
  5. Setup cloud workflow for project files, FCPXML
  6. Deliver final project files from Editor to Colorist, Sound Designers
  7. Sound Designer send link to mixed stems
  8. Editor & Colorist mail back drive using our FedEx account
  9. Final renders and masters are saved on media RAID at TAR HQ
  10. Link delivered to client upon receipt of full payment

This has worked pretty well for us. It’s efficient and effective. It reduces our overhead while expanding our creativity and professionalism.

We’ve set up a cloud workflow that allows everyone to be on the same page, and our Producer/Project Manager makes sure everything is done on time and on schedule.

Nimbleness

The other great advantage of having a fully distributed team of freelancers is the ability to be nimble. We don’t have a huge overhead or large payroll that we have to cover every two weeks.

This can be a burden, especially if you a growing company. You take on projects just to keep the lights on, you loosen up on your project requirements and can deliver subpar projects.

A majority of our work is focused on consumer products and lifestyle brands, but we work in quite a lot of vertices. We establish a team for each project is makes us more effective and nimble.

When you're on set with a crew, you always have to be proving your salt. Never stop.

Filmmaking is about being part of a team.

As I outlined in our post on budgeting video projects, we set rates for each crewmember for each job. When we bring in someone with specific experience it allows us to be more flexible and raise the bar. We, as a company, haven’t done a lot in the beauty world, but some of our go-to Directors of Photography have and having them on our team makes us so much more valuable, furthering the win-win-win scenario.

We are able to scale pretty quickly for larger jobs and work all over with an experienced team because of this. Our crew have their own setups allowing them to take on multiple projects during any given month- and that variety is exciting and stimulating, enough that the security of a salaried job and a limited scope of work is stifling rather and desired.

Large in Size or Heart

From time to time, I’ll see a website that has a “team” page with several headshots suggesting the video production company is much larger than it is in reality. This may or may not be true but, in general, I don’t think it’s a good idea.

I think it’s misleading to the prospective client and probably does more harm than good. It’s okay to be a small company. It’s okay to be yourself and offer your services to companies that find value in it. Suggesting you are something you’re not can come back to bite you in the ass.

You don’t need to appear to be big to get clients. You need to do great work, and having a strong team is the backbone of great work. I recently read a stat that said by 2019, 25% of our workforce will be made up of freelancers. I think this is great.

Furthermore, you’re pricing project based on value, not team size, right? The relationship you establish with a client will be made during your first meetings or phone calls. Clients are people too. Having a huge team page that isn’t a fair representation of who you are is equivalent to Napoleon Complex. I think it’s better to impress your client with your process, services, knowledge, and expertise.

Professionals are no longer seeking the perceived safe bet of a big corporate company, but rather are drawn to the unique value propositions and talents of more boutique, yet established agencies.

We have growth plans of our own and plan to take on a few Full-Time employees but only when this makes sense for us. Even when we reach our peak goals we still plan to utilize our network of freelancers, maximizing our elasticity.

The bottom line is this: We’re able to do great work because of our team and defined process. These are two unique ingredients that differentiate us in the marketplace. Our team members can also do other work when they desire.

Challenges

The largest challenge we have being distributed is interpersonal conversations and bonding that can happen. Sometimes, it’s really helpful to sit in the same room with someone and hash out ideas, talk through problems or how we can overcome something. This collaboration can be very valuable, and I’ll be honest with you, it’s really hard to duplicate this even with Skype or Google Hangouts or screen shares.

We all need the occasional reality check from our peers. And the presence one holds in a room can change the environment subtlely. This can create an in-person pressure that helps bring out the best in someone.

We overcome this with the reasons I listed above, having senior, professionals who have been working together for several years. Our team know the way the other person thinks. They know their humor, if they are night owls or early birds, when they can expect deliverables.

I’ve found that when projects are set up this way, and the expectation is set, everyone follows it and can accomplish the project’s goals. In a unique way, we’ve been able to create our own digital bond among our team.

Conclusion

Having a distributed team has worked for us, but only after pivoting a few times. We’ve set up the right team to run this process and manage the team. We can have several different teams going at once but luckily our Producer/Project Manager is a rockstar.

We get a lot of emails from people wanting to work with us. We take it as a compliment and file everyone’s email based on location and skill. We can’t respond to everyone as we receive quite a few of these, but it’s still nice to know who’s out there in our industry and where they are.

If we happen to have a shoot in some place we haven’t yet been it makes it easy for us to hire locals with knowledge of the area and might be able to help source certain gear or shots. All this comes down to building our story. If you want to be part of this list email us at team @ tarproductions.com. Be sure to include what you do, where you’re located, experience or career highlights and a link to your reel or portfolio.

Do you have a distributed team or have questions about running one? Let us know in the comments below!

What are your thoughts on this article? Let us know in the comments below!

5 Realities About Branded Entertainment Every Creator Should Know

The New Form of Advertising: Branded Entertainment

As we’ve talked about many times here on this blog, Branded Entertainment is a modern and sophisticated vehicle for brands to reach, connect, and earn trust in consumers. Consumers are numb to being blasted with repetitive ads that advertisers hope will keep their brand “top of mind” when making purchasing decisions. Traditional advertising is losing it’s effectiveness, and rather than doubling down on impressions and ad buys, smart brands are embracing the future and pivoting their stance. These are the brands that are connecting (read: advertising to) with consumers through storytelling and branded entertainment. 

Consumers have been distracted by ads for a long time, but we’ve now reached an age where the connection is the value. In today’s internet world, we have ad blockers, Spotify Premium, YouTube Red among others to free ourselves of ads. In yesteryear, when ad ad came on the TV we would get up and get a drink or water or use the bathroom.
Branded Entertainment has emerged as a new form of advertising, but one that is accepted by consumers. I asked our friend Wilson Cleveland to expand on this topic. 
Enter Wilson…

Eliza Dushku from Leap Year

In the TV world, networks green light shows they believe will draw a large audience. They rely on advertisers to buy inventory of spots during those shows for six-to-seven figures per-episode in order to recoup their investment. That model doesn’t work as well in digital for many reasons but summed up, quality content costs money, period and the very nature of the internet makes its advertising rates exponentially lower than TV.

The cost of ONE 30-second spot during new episodes of TV’s highest-rated comedy, The Big Bang Theory is approximately $350,000 (Nielsen). That’s roughly $5.6 million ad revenue CBS recoups per episode for a show that averages 16.7 million viewers every week.  By comparison, PewDiePie – YouTube’s most popular creator with 43+ million subscribers earns roughly $43,000 (SocialBlade) in ad revenue per video and averages approximately 10.8 million views every day.  

Online video isn’t cheaper to make, it’s just harder for creators/platforms to monetize. Economically, networks can’t invest millions on a digital series expecting to recoup their investment through digital pre-roll and banner alone.  To get a digital series green lit, networks have to get a brand on board to cover the production costs, same as you. The challenge is, brands don’t like spending money on content created for any other purpose than compelling customers to buy their stuff.

So if you’re hoping to get a brand to back your idea, you need to approach them from the jump.  Are you down? Great! Here are 5 things you need to know:

  1. FIND BRANDS THAT NEED YOU (AND THEY DO NEED YOU)

As an independent filmmaker or producer, you’re better-positioned than you might think to tell stories that interest you creatively and support a brand economically.  See, advertising – particularly digital advertising, has become progressively less effective in recent years thanks to ad blockers, click fraud and a myriad of other factors.  Instead, brand marketers are shifting more annual budget toward content marketing, social media, and influencer campaigns.  So we’ve got that going for us.

When first investigating brands to approach, ignore the big names that will inevitably be top of mind.  If you already know who they are, they likely won’t need your help. Why? Because the mere fact you’ve recalled the brand on your own means you’ve probably seen their ads on TV or billboards or online banners. That means they already have at least one, likely multiple ad agencies who feel they’re doing just fine without you siphoning a morsel from their Jurassic-sized budgets.

$43,000 in revenue per video.

Most of the brands I work with are smaller units of big financial companies, non-profits or middle-market B2B services companies that the gen pop is less aware of. These are the brands that have the money and vested interest in getting their name out there and doing something cool to break through the clutter. Financial, non-profit and B2B brands need compelling messages to attract the attention of busy decision makers. A brand’s message may be one of dozens or hundreds its audience sees in a day, so it needs to be useful, unique and fit into their target audience’s day-to-day experience. Valuable and/or entertaining content creates an ongoing relationship with the audience, particularly through social media channels that can evolve into buying customers and brand advocates. That makes your awesome idea awesome and potentially useful.

A well-produced series or short has the potential to improve a brand’s awareness and reputation. High-quality entertainment is frequently shared, improving a brand’s reach and its industry standing. Existing customers also have a reason to pay attention to continued messaging from a company when it puts out highly relevant entertainment.  Plus, branded entertainment fosters better organic search rankings in content quality and authority.

Once you’ve identified a handful of brands, visit the press page on their site to get the name of their internal marketing, PR or communications contact (pro tip: it’s the person listed at the bottom of every press release).

But before you reach out…

  1. KNOW THE BRAND

Your initial outreach to any brand should be a succinct, informed and customized answer to their one inevitable question: “How does the story you want to tell help my brand sell more stuff?”

First, you’ll need to think like a marketer. Check out sites like Adweek and Ad Age to get a digestible crash course in what “thinking like a marketer” looks and feels like. Next, try familiarizing yourself with the brand’s needs and goals. What story isn’t being told and how can your project help them tell it a different way? How does your script or idea align thematically with its brand narrative?  Use free tools like Simply Measured to audit the brand’s social media followings and compare with your own audience demographics. You want to look for overlaps in audience data – age, interests, geography, etc.  Why?  Because if your audiences are similar, chances are the brand will trust your ability to create content their customers will engage with. For example, when I open my YouTube channel analytics, it shows my subscribers are comprised primarily of men 25-34 and women 18-24. The content I typically create just happens to appeal to that demographic more than others.  This is useful data to mention if I’m pitching a brand looking to raise awareness among or currently selling to those audiences.

Leap Year Season 2 Trailer

Branded Entertainment BTS

Hiscox Insurance used branded entertainment to increase sales by 35%

It’s important you never come at a brand like your idea is a silver bullet for their marketing problems. Brands don’t like hearing what they’re doing wrong or should be doing. Don’t poke that bear.  Find a way to explain how your show idea will help the brand tell its story in a new, innovative way.

I work with an insurance company client – Hiscox Insurance, who was looking to promote a new line of coverage geared toward tech entrepreneurs. Being a British insurer brand-new to the U.S. market, their core challenges were lacks of awareness and credibility with that audience. Our strategy was to lean into that reality – If you want to show tech entrepreneurs you understand them and their needs, we needed to make a scripted show specifically for and about realistic tech entrepreneurs founding a startup.  Long before HBO, we created a Silicon Valley dramedy series for Hiscox called Leap Year about five friends who get laid off from corporate jobs and found a startup.  Leap Year directly contributed to a total 35% increase in product quotes viewed and products purchased online over the course of two seasons.  But it wasn’t just the series’ high production quality or the parade of TV-familiar guest stars like Eliza Dushku and Emma Caulfield from Buffy, Craig Bierko and Scandal’s Josh Malina that pulled viewers through the Hiscox sales funnel.   

Here’s how we did it:

First and foremost, we went to great lengths to insure Leap Year’s storylines would feel relevant and authentic to Hiscox’s target buying audience of startup entrepreneurs.  Season one followed the five main characters through fundraising with season two chronicling their struggles to bring their “Skype with holograms” product, C3D to market. We set part of season two inside the actual Techstars startup incubator and cast Valley-friendly cameos like Rachel Sklar, Reddit Founder Alexis Ohanian, Guy Kawasaki and former TechCrunch writer, Ryan Lawler.  The result was a series that struck a chord with the target audience, established a trusting relationship with Hiscox and generated over 10 million views. General consumer surveys conducted after each season revealed aided brand awareness nearly doubled.  Brand impressions across traditional and social media hit 425 million by the end of season two and netted a total 55,000 followers for Hiscox across socials. 

  1. BRANDS AREN’T BANKS

Brands make useful partners beyond funding your production outright.  In fact, many will lend or gift you things you need in exchange for promotion value.  Locations, wardrobe, craft services, props, etc. cost money same as talent, gear and crew, right? Think about how you can offset those costs with help from smaller, local brands. Find clothing designers on Etsy or local boutiques and bars/restaurants/specialty stores on Yelp. The likelihood of getting free stuff increases if you have an existing following or body of work.  Sometimes the promise of a shout out on your socials or a credit in the project will be enough.

Branded Entertainment is fun, and we have fun on set, too.

Producer Wilson Cleveland on set.

  1. PICK YOUR CREATIVE BATTLES

Asking brands to drop cash on your project then step back is a hard sell. After all, most companies in a position to pay big bucks for branded content are hands-on if anything.  The bigger (and more consumer-facing) the brand, the more protective they are of their image.  

A couple years ago I co-created and produced a branded series for Trident Layers called The Webventures of Justin and Alden about two dudes who road trip across L.A. on a mission to make “the greatest web series web show that’s ever been on the web computer.”  The client insisted on the gum playing a starring role. They were very particular about how the gum could be featured – how you unwrap the gum, how you could show it, how you describe it, who was allowed to touch it. I mean, it’s gum you guys. That degree of meticulousness and product placement would make most storytellers burst into flame but we created a world within the series that was so completely absurd, it made sense for the gum to be treated as a character.

There have been cases where the further you get into the script, the company starts to get a little bit nervous. They will get a little protective because web series as marketing is still new to many brands. My advice to brands on the fence is always: Trust the people who are making the content for you. If you’re focused on how your product is unwrapped versus the story happening around it, you’re never gonna get there. It’s never going to help you as a marketing vehicle. Because it’s not an ad. The audience will not watch it and most networks will require a significant additional media buy if it’s overly branded.  Get the brand to pay for the groceries and sit at the table, but stay out of the kitchen. That’s the recipe for branded entertainment worth watching.

  1. NEVER PUT DOLLAR AMOUNTS ON PAPER BEFORE YOUR PITCH

Never assume how much the brand contact you’re pitching knows about the process or related costs of production. I’ve seen filmmakers who feel they need to attach pitches to low ball estimates to get in the door, only to hear the brand marketer say, “Oh wow, that’s much lower than we expected.” Face palm! Now you’ve potentially stuck yourself with making a $100K project for less. I’ve also seen filmmakers get greedy, assuming brands have unlimited budgets, so they come in too high not knowing they’re pitching an experienced exec who used to run marketing at a Fortune 500. Double face palm!  Now you’ve priced yourself out of your own idea!

Always sell a brand on your idea first, then price it accordingly.


Wilson Cleveland is a professional actor/producer/Internet personality and creator of the Webby-honored indie shorts like SPiN and Kept Man and brand-sponsored series like the Vox docuseries Courageous Leaders, The Temp Life, USA Network’s Leap Year, The Webventures of Justin & Alden and the Lifetime miniseries, Suite 7, among others.  His current project, Intricate Vengeance created for Ron Howard and Brian Grazer’s New Form Digital studio is streaming now. Follow Wilson on Twitter @WilsonCleveland.

What are your thoughts on this article? Let us know in the comments below!

Best of NAB 2016

Best Products from NAB 2016

Every year we post a round up of NAB and what we think are the most impressive product announcement. For reference, you can read out previous Best of NAB from 2015 and 2014. Naturally, we’re storytellers, and that’s all we really care about, but having the right tools to help us tell these stories are essential.

By no means are we gear heads, and these roundups are our own, independent, opinions.

The impressive, 4K, HDR Atomos Shogun Inferno

Atomos Shogun Inferno

For the first time on our NAB roundups, Atomos makes the list. Their products have always been impressive and director monitors are essential, in our humble opinion. The Shogun Inferno packs a punch, too, with 4K recording and other essential features such as false color, scopes and XLR audio inputs.

What’s truly impressive is that the Shogun Inferno records HDR with log images. HDR is the next leap in filmmaking and allows for a more realistic final product, meaning your audiences will be that much more attached to your story. Netflix and Amazon Prime are both delivering content in HDR, and that means YouTube and Vimeo and mobile phones aren’t that far off. The time to starting thinking about this is now.

Lumberjack System Derived Keywords

Lumberjack is an essential tool that we use on every documentary project or anything with interviews that need to be transcribed. Last years at NAB Lumberjack added transcription keyword ranges for FCPX, and this year they’ve taken it a step further with Derived Keywords.

This may not be the most exciting feature but it’s incredibly powerful. It’s our guess that in the near future we’ll be able to fully automate transcription and, in conjunction with, derived keywords we can quickly and easily make assembly edits- so long as you know your story going into it. This will speed up many laborious steps in post production even more so than FCPX and Lumberjack have already done.

DJI Ronin MX and M600 Drone

DJI is always coming out with awesome products, we’re big fans from the Phantom line of drones to the Ronin stabilizers. We use them all the time and these are two our favorite tools that help us tell incredible stories. DJI has continued to refine and update their product line and the Ronin MX and M600 Drone are two of their best. Check out the awesome video featuring TAR Production’s frequent collaboration DP Ernesto Lomeli.

Re:Vision Effects

We would be missing something if we didn’t feature any VR. Long before our VR shoot with Samsung, we’ve been big fans and proponents of Virtual Reality. Besides HDR, this is also the next big leap for filmmaking. GoPro, Nokia and others are all making multi-camera VR possible, but this always involves stitching the camera together. At NAB 2016, Re:Vision Effects launched a new product plug-in Re:lens for After Effects (with more compositing platforms and NLEs coming soon).

As the video above suggests, you can shoot 360˚ video using a single lens. This works using a combo of hardware lens adaptors and software. It’s pretty catchy.

What are your thoughts on NAB 2016 and where the video industry is going? Let us know in the comments below!

Critiquing Other’s Work

Yesterday I was asked on three separate occasions what my thoughts were on a video by colleagues and people around the office. They all knew me as a video producer, some more so than others.

Two of them simply asked, “what are your thoughts?” and the third asked for my thoughts and added her notes. Other than this, I didn’t have much direction.

I watched all the videos blindly- meaning, I had no prior knowledge as to what they were about or how the intended audience would see them or even who the intended audience was. Furthermore, I didn’t know the purpose of each project. Without knowing what the videos were trying to achieve, how was I to give any kind of intelligent feedback?

Feedback shouldn't be an empty feeling.

However, having no idea what the control environment was (or what it was intended to be), or the message I was supposed to finish the video with, I felt like I had a completely unbiased opinion.

I’ve been working in video production and storytelling for 13 years- a long time. I’ve told a lot of stories, worked with numerous brands and verticals, reached millions of people, and sat through tons of client meetings of people sharing their thoughts.

It makes sense why I was asked for my opinion. And I happily oblige these requests. Being that I was able to provide unbiased feedback, I felt I was adding a value to the project.

It seems the more experience you have in a field the more your opinion is requested. The most powerful feedback is based on data and experience, after all.

So I began offering my thoughts and writing email responses back. I found my saying, “I presume this video is intended for…” and “How many videos in this series will your target audience watch?” and a slew of other questions.

I had so many presumptions. My thoughts are unique to myself and are probably affected by my current mood and atmosphere. The next person’s opinion could have been completely different and just as valid.

The one thing I was sure of was that I was not the intended audience, this much was clear. So, in essence, my opinions were just that- opinions, otherwise useless.

Does it matter if I think the color palette should be blue instead of yellow? I was watching these videos  in a small conference room and on my computer at my desk. Was this the same setting that everyone else would watch them?

Knowing this, I felt the value of my opinion was less than what it was built up to be.

After 13 years of working in video production, we still rely on feedback everyday.

As a content creator, should you change an edit based on one opinion? Probably not. Going with your gut is going to be more valuable when you create with design, with purpose. (this is why you follow a process).

This will lead to doubt, second guessing and sometimes an end product that is not what it’s potential could be. Knowing your audience and how they’ll watch it will be a huge aspect of how your final presentation will be received.

A two-hour video that you want someone to watch on their way to work or class is a tall order. But if someone is sitting on her couch relaxing without much else going on, two hours is more feasible. If someone is on the bus commuting as they do everyday two minutes might be too long.

Sometimes people give feedback because they think it’s valuable, but could be completely off topic. You may ask for feedback and hoping to hear about different attributes to your video, such as color, and you might receive feedback on sound, pacing or something else that you’re happy with.

So, yesterday, after I began writing my replies with the feedback I had to stop and pause for a moment. I deleted all my comments and then gave general feedback on best practices to make a more refined and polished edit.

Perhaps this is what they were looking for, perhaps they wanted to know what I liked or disliked about the presentation as a whole and was looking for confirmation on their thoughts. I’ll never know either way because they never coached me on the feedback they wanted.

Someone with experience can surely provide a lot of helpful feedback, but ultimately it’s up to the requestor to provide an adequate proposition on intended feedback without compromising or influencing your own thoughts.

Constructive Feedback

Feedback is incredibly important on any project. This is why major Hollywood motion pictures have screening tests for blockbuster movies. In some of our projects, we set aside time and budget for focus groups that provide us with a wide range of feedback.

We never send an edit over to review until we think it’s as best as it can be, even for rough cuts. We take the story as far as we can, we keep in mind our targeted audience and how we’re going to reach them. We make something based on our process and research, and where ever the story takes us.

And yet, even after 13 years of doing this, we still rely on feedback from our clients. Sometimes we assume a plot line is very clear or even expected knowledge by our audience. Sometimes we think a certain shot, or line of dialog, is required. Our clients let us know what’s working and what isn’t working. They guide us as much as we’re guiding them.

Feedback always improves projects, and we’re always happier after a couple conversations back and forth debating edits. Sometimes I reflect on where an edit was when we first delivered and I’m amazed and impressed by where our team can take it.

It’s the sum of little bits of feedback that really make a big difference.

Data Points

Harvard Business review recently did an entire podcast about giving and receiving feedback. The podcast is interesting because it talks about feedback at a very high level. It isn’t specific to video production, storytelling or even creatives in general. However, the principles can be used for nearly any business, I highly recommend you take a listen.

In short, the more experience you have the more feedback requests you’re likely to receive. I think that feedback is essential, and I’m happy to provide it where I feel I can add value. And if I feel I can’t add value I make these disclosures as well. This separates my opinions from constructive feedback.

Don't fear feedback, embrace it!

How you give feedback is incredibly important.

We’ve all asked for feedback and received feedback that wasn’t constructive or not what we wanted to hear. While the responsibility is on the requestor, I think those will great experience can read through the lines and provide feedback in most situations.

The following are some questions I would consider when asking for, or when providing, feedback:

What is the purpose of this video/documentary/campaign?
How are you planning on reaching your targeted audience?
Who is your audience? What do you want your audience to do after watching this video? (share, buy product, attend event, etc.)
What will make this campaign successful?
How does this fit into your long-term marketing plan?

How do you feel about giving and receiving feedback? Let us know in the comment below!