When you offer an abstract service rather than a tangible product, telling a story–and a good one at that–helps customers envision using it. At Seattle-based Trupanion, a pet insurance company founded in 1998, the marketing team was determined to find ways to make the service resonate among both customers and veterinarians. To do that, they created 10 branded video testimonials a year, showcasing the stories of pet owners who have reached out to the company to express their gratitude. The videos are posted on the Trupanion website. One of the most popular, “Joe’s Dog Pack,” tells the story of an employee who owns two deaf dogs and two hearing dogs, with the goal of debunking negative myths about deaf pets. The clip has clocked more than 11,000 views. “A Pet Fire Drill,” which offers fire-safety information and stars the staff’s pets (some 80 animals come to the Trupanion offices with their owners each day), has generated 8,500 views. The videos are also distributed to veterinary clinics nationwide, many of which show them in their lobbies. “Pet insurance is two pieces of paper and a staple,” says Anne Tomsic, Trupanion’s vice president of brand and communication. “We have to bring that to life, and a video is a compelling way for us to paint the picture of a pet owner who has benefited from Trupanion.” In turn, thousands of customers have begun sending in their own pet stories and posting them on Facebook. “It’s a win-win,” says CEO Darryl Rawlings. “We get lots of ideas from the stories our customers send in.” If you’d like to talk about telling your story with video, we’re here (and you can bring your dog!)
For tips on how to avoid the pitfalls, I found these 5 from Adam Lisagor, arguably the preeminent director of video ads for startups in Silicon Valley. His company, Sandwich Video, has produced about 140 videos for clients including Square, Flipboard, and Airbnb. For a startup, producing a video advertisement is one of the boldest ways to announce your presence to a wide audience. In no more than a couple of minutes, a cleverly executed video can explain what your business does and galvanize viewers in a way static ads can’t. YouTube clips can be produced and broadcast for lower cost than slick TV commercials, and don’t need to conform to the same time restrictions. Connect with viewers in just the right way–by making them laugh, tugging at their heartstrings, or inciting them to action–and the video can generate instant brand awareness and many new customers. ￼The flip side, of course, is the potential embarrassment and damage to your brand you can cause with an ill-conceived ad. Striking the wrong chord can be devastating when the audience can easily voice its disapproval in YouTube’s comments section and share the offending clip on social media.
Here are Lisagors’ 5 tips on how to avoid the pitfalls:
1. Length is flexible, but keep it brief.Compared to commercials in other media, online video advertisements afford some freedom to tell the story of your business or product in greater depth. “Humans receive and retain information at a certain pace and in a certain linear order,” Lisagor says. “So the longer Web format allows us the space to receive new information without having it shoved in our eyes and ears.” He recommends keeping videos in the 90- to 120- second range; if the product is relatively straightforward, a minute or less can suffice. Be careful not to abuse the relative lack of time constraints, however, he warns. “If you have the viewer’s attention, don’t squander it. It’s the most valuable thing.”
2. If you’re not funny, don’t make a jokey video.Many videos go viral due to a smart, well-timed joke, so it’s tempting to come up with a funny concept for your ad or at least try to inject some humor into it. That can be a smart strategy–or a disastrous one. “If funny comes natural to you as a storyteller, then tell a funny story,” Lisagor advises. “If it doesn’t, then forcing it is a huge mistake.”
3. Use clear language. No jargon. Period.
4. Make viewers envision using your product.“If you can allow the viewer to project him or herself into a mental state of experiencing the product and having a positive reaction, it can go a long way toward convincing them that they should take the next step toward having it. Nobody goes where they haven’t first gone in their mind. We even verbal this fact, “I can see myself doing/owning that…”
5. Understand the limitations of what a video can do.Just as a good movie requires a strong cast and a solid script, the effectiveness of a video ad ultimately rests on the quality of the product. “The biggest mistake to make when embarking on a video is to assume that a video can answer questions that the product can’t on its own,” Lisagor says. So try to produce as smart a video as you can, but don’t expect it to succeed solely on high production values. If these 5 tips make sense to you, but you’d like to have a deeper conversation about your goals and needs, let’s talk (maybe even longer than 2 minutes…)
“Eighteen years ago I was misdiagnosed with bipolar disorder. It was a terrifying time with uncontrollable mood swings and physical changes that defied explanation. Frequently, I would go through depressions so debilitating I couldn’t get off the couch for weeks. I couldn’t take a shower or fix meals. It was bleak for a long time. But intuitively I knew the diagnosis didn’t fit for me. So, I started searching. Over the next nine years, I was in a number of hospitals and doctor’s offices. I probably went to every kind of doctor you can imagine and eventually they found I had mercury poisoning. That began the journey of struggling for my health. Along with the physical challenges of mercury detox came a great deal of soul searching, meditation and contemplation. And something very unexpected happened, I became extremely sensitive to everything around me, to light, to noise, to everything. I found that even a harsh word could bring me down for days if not weeks. And I also found the opposite. I found that a kind word could not only lift my spirits, it could lift my energy. It could change my health. That’s right, I found that a kind word could change my health. And it really woke me up to the power of words – and how few people realize the power of words. And I wanted to do something about that. ￼ I wanted to bring more of these words out to see the light. I wanted people to be reminded that there is compassion and kindness and we can choose love. And that desire gave birth to Positivity Designs.” When I stumbled upon the power of delivering video that is unscripted, unrehearsed and unconventional, I felt the same way. Nothing is more powerful than the truth and no one has more power than you to deliver your own unscripted, unrehearsed story. It is powerful because it’s true, it feels and sounds true to the viewer because it was captured: a word straight from your heart, to the heart of the viewer-nothing is more powerful than you speaking your truth!