Product demo videos are hard to do right. Here’s how we made one that worked…
Our first attempt at a product video was less than stellar.
That’s not to say that it looked bad; a friend of mine shot and edited it, and I think it turned out great.
But we created it when we were still young and immature as a company. Before we really took the time to understand our customers as deeply as we do today.
And it showed.
It was, essentially, a feature-packed “all about us” video press release.
And much to our chagrin, in all of our customer development, not a single customer has used the terms “hassle-free ticket management,” “smart automation” or “intuitive self-help tools,” which is why watching that video now makes me cringe.
We’ve come a long way since then. We’re a little bit bigger, a little bit smarter, and armed with a lot more data and feedback to help us tell the right story.
We swapped out the old video with a testimonial video a while ago, but we were missing anything that truly showed our product in detail to the people that wanted to see it.
So when we redesigned our marketing site a few months ago, we decided to take a new look at our video.
How to Pick a Video Production Agency
In this area, we were lucky.
Note: Less Accounting is a Groove customer, but we’re getting absolutely nothing for mentioning any of the company’s brands here, and a blog post was never part of our discussions with them. They didn’t even know this mention was coming until yesterday when we reached out to confirm a few points in the post for accuracy.
The biggest reason I mention them is because we keep getting emails like this one:
We had the Less folks produce a great testimonial video for us earlier this year, so it was a no-brainer to pick them for this project.
With that said, we have gone through this process before when we took earlier stabs at making demo videos.
I’ve asked a lot of different questions of potential video partners, but really, any good agency can answer most of them “correctly.”
By far, the best screening question (that actually made a clear separation between agencies we wanted to work with and those that we didn’t) was:
How will you approach creating this video?
This question is designed to make sure that your goals are aligned with those of the agency.
If the answer doesn’t include critical elements like getting a deep understanding of our potential customers and their wants, needs and objections, along with what makes them want to buy, that’s an instant red flag.
We’ve done the work and can supply this information, but if the agency isn’t prioritizing that over fluffier things like “creativity,” then our goals aren’t aligned.
This also helps you get a feel for whether the agency’s project management workflow fits with yours (e.g., do they use tools that you’re familiar and comfortable with?), as well as a more general sense of what the team will be like to work with.
Eric at Less Films also pointed out a great technical question that we should be asking:
Do we get to keep all of the assets/illustrations from the video?
As a startup, our product is constantly evolving and improving, and we want to show off new developments. We also want to be able to make changes to the video if we think that parts of it could be working better.
It’s possible, however, that we wouldn’t want to engage the same agency for that work, especially if we didn’t have a great time working with them. If it’s something we can do much cheaper — and just as well, for minor changes — in-house, it’d be a poor business move to outsource it.
Plus, there’s no guarantee that whatever agency you work with will be around when you need to revise your video, so it’s important to ensure that you’ll always have access and ownership of those assets.
With a partner picked, it was time to get started.
Writing the Product Video Script
While many agencies offer scriptwriting as part of their services, it was important to our team that we wrote the initial script ourselves.
We didn’t just want to show off the product; we wanted the core of the script to focus on what we already knew from our customer development efforts: what our customers’ burning pains are, what’s most important to them about solving those pains, and what key points about Groove actually trigger them to sign up.
Do not start this process until you’ve done the upfront work to figure out what your customers’ biggest pains are (in their own words), and exactly how your solution can solve that pain for them.
Once we had that, we’d feel comfortable handing the script off to the agency for them to apply their storytelling expertise to it.
The approach that we took was similar to our approach to writing website copy. We took the exact language that we heard from customers in our conversations with them, and applied it to a simple flow:
What we ended up with was a 90-second initial script, which we would change several times throughout the process.
I can’t stress enough how important customer development was to this project, just as it has been to every marketing project we’ve done.
Once we were satisfied with the script, we were ready to move on to production.
The 5-Step Product Video Production Process
Armed with a script, we walked through our ideas with Eric, and he had some great feedback for us on how to make the story more compelling. The way a story comes across in video is completely different than the way the same story might come across in print, so the agency’s expertise is vital here.
We agreed on a general direction, and Eric was off to work.
A few days later, he sent us a rough storyboard of his vision for the video (click on the image below to see the full storyboard).
To make things easier, Eric sent an audio walkthrough of the storyboard, which was incredibly helpful.
One lesson I’ve learned from working on a number of products with agencies is that “rough” means exactly that. A lot of folks I’ve talked to about this feel timid about giving tons of feedback, even early on, thinking that it might offend the agency.
This couldn’t be further from the truth, and if your agency doesn’t take feedback well, run.
The process is a collaboration, and you won’t get to where you need to be without both parties being deeply involved.
Len and I had a lot of feedback on the first storyboard. And the Less team was happy to get it.
After a few days of back and forth, we had a storyboard that we were happy to move forward with (click on the image below to see the full storyboard).
We agreed that we liked the illustrated look that Eric came up with, and it was time to work on visuals.
Eric focused on building illustrations that evoked the simplicity and emotions that we felt represented Groove, while we focused on picking in-app screenshots for the features that are more interesting to Groove prospects.
We took lots of extra screenshots to make sure that Eric had plenty of options to work with.
The heaviest lift of this whole project, on Eric’s side, would be to put the images together and animate them, so it was important to get final sign-off on the images before the animation started.
3) Voiceover and Music
While Eric worked on the visuals, he had a few voiceover artists from Voices.com read our script and send us auditions.
Of the eight options, we picked our favorite, though we still had notes for revisions.
One non-obvious thing we did which has proven to be very valuable down the line:
Have the VO artist record alternate lines that you might use in the future. For example, we had them record lines that included future integrations we had planned, as well as alternate free trial lengths so that we could A/B test them later on. This saves time and money having to track down the artist to record again.
The process for picking music was much the same. Eric sent us seven options from Audio Jungle, made a recommendation, and we picked our favorite.
I wish that we could say we had some scientific, data-driven process for the audio, but really we just went with our gut on which voice and music we felt sounded most like “Groove.”
4) Putting It All Together: Rough Cut
About a month after we started, we had a rough cut of our product video to review.
It was amazing to see the video come together from our early script. Of course, though, there were plenty of notes:
But we were close, and we could feel it. After a couple of final revisions, we had our video.
5) The Final Video
To say that we were happy with the video would be a big understatement.
We finally had a video that represented everything we had learned from and about our customers as our company grew up.
Unfortunately, the fact that we loved it didn’t really matter. The only way to gauge the success of the project would be to test the video in the field.
We A/B tested the new video on our homepage against the existing testimonial video that was on there previously.
After a few days, the results were clear:
A .6% boost nets out to an 11% increase over our previous conversion rate!
Beyond that, we get some great insights from the first email that we send to every Groove customer.
We’ve gotten more than a few responses just like this one:
In all, we spent in the neighborhood of $5-$8K on this project, and over time, the results look like they’ll more than pay for it.
How to Apply This to Your Business
Video may not be the best medium to sell every product.
But for us, it’s boosted our conversion rate and helped us tell the Groove story to a lot of customers who might’ve otherwise not read our copy or tried our app.
If you’re considering building a product video, I hope that our experiences help you make the right choices along the way, and that you end up with a video that actually does what it needs to: gets people to buy.