Cracking the Code on Scalable B2B Video

March 14, 2016

“You can play a shoestring if you’re sincere.” – John Coltrane

Video is big. Done right, it engages your audience like a well-conceived solo, breaking down complex ideas and offering standout takeaways that stick in the viewer’s mind for a good long while.

But unless you happen to manage a sizeable budget, video marketing may have hitherto seemed out of reach for your company—an expensive choreography of set designers, lighting specialists, sound technicians, editors, and the like.

Recently, I did an experiment to see if I could prove that assumption incorrect. LinkedIn’s Trading Eights campaign was a one-man show (except for our content marketing rock star subjects), with yours truly directing, producing, and recording everything. I wanted to prove a point: You can do video on a small budget.

The results came out pretty well, if I say so myself, but you be the judge. Here are a few takeaways I can share with you:

  • Put together a simple strategy. For Trading Eights, I recruited several content marketing icons I admired and came up with a few good questions. Then, I posed the same questions to each person, and rolled each question up into a single short video. Simple, effective, and I didn’t need a script.
  • Come up with a good story. Technical execution is all well and good, but your creative take on the project adds passion and insight, and ultimately sells your work. Take time away from email and meetings to jot down a few ideas, and come up with a theme that inspires you to a fist-pump or three. Maybe instead of a “Trading Eights,” it’s about basketball, gourmet cooking, or a cross-country road trip. Let your own personality and interests be your guide.
  • Do your homework. If you bore your subjects, they’ll bore your audience. Read their recent work, bone up on the topic you’ll be discussing, and find out what they’ve been up to lately. Then come up with questions that both charm and challenge them. It’s your job to inspire spontaneous brilliance. Prep time is everything.
  • HD is the way to go. Find a good camera and tripod, and light your subject well. Take a good amount of raw footage, and don’t be afraid to ask the same question in several different ways. Your subjects will appreciate you giving them more than one chance to nail it.
  • Record your audio separately. Next to the moving pictures, sound is the most important element of your project, so don’t skimp on your equipment. I used a Zoom RN4 with a simple lavaliere mic. Go with a wired mic—wireless ones always seem to malfunction. You’ll get a clean, crisp audio channel that you can easily sync to the video later.
  • Be creative with your B-roll. To break up the talking heads and add interest, take footage of anything remotely related to your subject: Someone skateboarding down a busy street. A guy checking his newsfeed. People talking over a project plan. Just remember that people are generally more interesting than landscapes or computer screens.
  • Do a series, and release them all at once. Take a cue from Netflix and Amazon, and edit your footage down to easily digestible, 90-second clips. Five to seven is good. Drop it on a landing page, and then “leak” out one video at a time on your blog.
  • Don’t throw ANYTHING out. To help keep your subjects animated and relaxed, you’ll intersperse serious discussion with plenty of light-hearted banter. But don’t stop there! Save all that silliness, and roll into a bloopers reel. If nothing else, you can play it the kickoff party.
  • Make your audience laugh. I had two “extra” videos from my series. One was the bloopers reel, and the other was a fun question. (“How well do you know Ann Handley?”) We hid them like Easter eggs on the landing page to add a level of entertainment and intrigue that B2B campaigns often lack.
  • Don’t forget trailers. Borrow from the motion picture playbook, and start the buzz before your official release. I selected a few great moments from the videos and put together two trailers. The first was a 30-second teaser clip, released four weeks in advance. We followed that with a 60-second trailer two weeks before the launch.
  • Track your success. You need to know how many potential customers are pressing play, whether or not they’re watching all the way through, and what they’re doing afterward—ideally sharing it, talking about it, or buying your product. For Trading Eights, we’re using Vidyard to help us collect those engagement metrics. We’re also experimenting with gating the series, because we believe there’s enough value to justify it. Stay tuned for a report on how that strategy is working for us.

As a writer, I love the simplicity of putting words on a page. As a photographer, I love the instant gratification of that perfect shot. But I think video doesn’t have to be as complex as we often make it out to be. Yes, I had to learn a few new tricks and terms for this project and yes, there was a fair amount of trial and error. But I think I proved you can do video on a shoestring budget -- take a look at the videos for yourself. I may even want to do it more than once. 

Photo: Elliot Bennett