This week, the top selling N.Y. Times nonfiction title is about a World War II bombardier who endures agonizing, unspeakable horrors. After crashing, he’s stranded in the Pacific without water or food, fending off shark attacks and strafing by Japanese planes.
Finally he’s rescued, only to be starved and brutalized by evil captors in a POW camp. People tell me they raced through the 496 cheery pages of Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand in hours. So did I. I had to find out how it ended.
It was a dark and stormy night. Suddenly, a shot rang out. Want to know what happens next?
Albeit a tired cliché, this opener is what journalists call a “hook.” It tells you a dramatic story is coming. Stories are perennial crowd pleasers and human brains are wired to process and remember them. Narrative is the framework of every popular novel and hit movie. Reality TV shows employ writers to create narratives for their ostensibly real life footage, which is actually edited and reworked to create drama for story-hungry viewers.
Your video needs drama, too. Not that you must stage a Shakespearean drama to sell your product or service. Just understand and solve your customer’s problem, and if you can capture his or her emotions, the viewer is yours. If not, as my editor used to say, “zzzzz!”
Lest you think this can’t be done in the short space of a marketing video, recall the famous Partnership for a Drug Free America ad with the fried egg, with its three stark lines: “This is drugs. This is your brain on drugs. Any questions?” That’s a gripping story told elegantly in 10 seconds.
Too many videos could be titled “Look at the Great Company We’ve Built!” Customers could give a Flip. They just want their problems fixed, in the easiest, most convenient way.
Effective marketing videos are, at heart, simple stories. Testimonials are personal stories of how your product or service made someone’s life better. How-to videos are stories of how to solve a problem or improve a situation, such as a driveway that needs sealing or a job hunter who needs a credential.
Plan your video by analyzing your customer’s problems and what he or she’ll respond to. If you don’t know that, your video will crash and burn. Work from a script, or at least some notes. Practice your delivery. And please, keep it short. Not because of short attention spans, but because viewers are smarter than you think. If you say it well, you need to say it only once.
So before you turn on your shiny new camera, remember that having decent equipment and technical skills, while necessary, are not enough. What counts most is making the viewer care. Your video should make the viewer wonder: What’s next?