Not so long ago, products and services were advertised on the internet with words and still photos to tell their story. However, the explosion of bandwidth and ever more capable consumer devices means that video is now the killer medium for showcasing the things your business offers.

Using video to promote products and brands used to be the province of only the largest and de facto wealthiest of organisations, with production costs and expensive air time excluding the majority of would-be advertisers from even considering video as an option. More recently, however, the proliferation of platforms like Youtube, Facebook and Twitter, along with anytime-anyplace internet connection has brought a revolution in advertising and promotion at virtually all levels of enterprise. Let’s face it, using video to showcase your products or services is a no-brainer in terms of audience engagement, conveying key information quickly and effectively while engendering powerful emotional responses on the part of the viewer. Surveys suggest that more than 95% of consumers find that video aids their purchasing decisions and more than 70% say they’re more likely to purchase products advertised using video. So, how can your business avoid being left behind this trend?

An easy solution, or so it first appears, is to use a homegrown approach and to make the video yourself. After all, everyone has the facility to do this with their smartphone these days, right? Actually yes….. and no! While its very true that the cameras in your phones, if used well, can record really great footage that could be used to create a really authentic showcase video for your company; the likely outcome is a little different, particularly if you aren’t aware of some simple but essential bits of know-how, without which your promotional showcase could end up looking decidedly rough around the edges.

This article deals with some essential tips and tricks to ensure that your showcase video does the job you want it to.

A little planning goes a long way (pre-production).

It can be very tempting to dive straight into something like producing a showcase video, without thinking about some of the crucial elements that will make the difference between success and failure. If I was working on a video showcase project for a client, my first step would be to ask the following questions: 

What are your key and hopefully unique selling points or propositions (USPs)? If you don’t showcase these loud and clear, then the finished product will definitely fall short of the mark in terms of making you stand out from the crowd. Ensuring that you have your USPs clearly identified will really help you to focus your efforts and may even help you to decide a broader structure for your showcase video. 

Who is/are your target audience/s? Clearly identifying the demographic that your showcase is aimed at can help set key parameters for your production, including pace, shooting style, background music used, and so on. For example, if you know that your primary market is single graduate professionals, then all of the above is likely to be significantly different than if your target audience is families. If you are to have people appearing in and perhaps speaking in your video showcase, then your choice of those on-screen may also be very different for each of these two audiences.

What should be included, what can be left out and what order will I show it in? Remember that you’re aiming for a high impact production of around two minutes in length, so having a clear set of priorities and a sense of proportion in terms of important features of your products or services is crucial. Some things simply have to be included at all costs, while others might be nice to include if time allows, but are hardly deal breakers. It’s surprisingly easy to miss something important if you don’t plan, leaving you with an elephant missing from the room situation. Giving each key feature a proportionate amount of air-time and emphasis is also important. For example, the bedrooms in your hotel may be wonderful, but showing every single one of them in turn may not be the best use of your two minutes, especially if this is at the expense of time given to the hotel’s beautiful period dining room, basement gym and sauna, ample customer parking, and relaxing cocktail bar overlooking the Atlantic. Although the ability to edit your video clips together means that you can leave some decisions until the end of the process (post-production), I’d always advise the creation of a basic plot outline and storyboard, or at least a shot list as a way of organising your thoughts, establishing a flow to your video and ensuring that you don’t miss out anything important. A storyboard can be as simple as a set of still photos, which can be shuffled around to experiment with different structures and to balance your production. Using stills is also a great way to experiment with camera angles.

When and where is the best time to capture your product or service in action? An empty bar may not give the best impression to potential customers, similarly, an outdoor attraction may well look sad and uninviting if filmed on a damp, overcast day in January! 

What would you like the audience to do after viewing your video? This may seem obvious, but without a simple call to action, your viewer may very well move on, particularly if you don’t include all the information necessary for them to respond, such as your contact information or a list of outlets where your product can be found. Again, this is so easy to either miss completely or to relegate to a clumsy add-on at the end of your showcase video, if you don’t plan it into your production.

Where is your video going to be viewed and on what sort of device? Until around eight years ago, chances are that your video would be viewed on either a desktop or laptop device, with a fairly large screen and most definitely in horizontal, i.e. landscape format. It was also highly likely that the device in question would be on a desk or in someone’s lounge in a fairly quiet environment. With the advent of tablets and smartphones, all this has changed and chances are, depending upon your target audience, that your video will be viewed more frequently on a mobile screen than anything else. In addition, because of our increasing anytime/anywhere viewing habits, your video is just as likely to be watched on a smartphone n a busy cafe, train station or street as it is in somewhere quiet. The possibility of noisy environments might influence how you rely upon audio and whether or not to include text information with lower thirds or subtitles. Also worth considering is that commonly videos are viewed with devices held vertically, particularly among younger audiences, which might place demands on how you compose your shots. You may even consider shooting your video in vertical format, as Youtube, for example, now has a vertical player, which can easily be embedded in your website, meaning black sidebars can be a thing of the past for mobile viewers.

Are there any legal considerations for my video? As everyone becomes increasingly privacy-conscious in a highly recorded and connected world, there are important considerations with respect a to the legalities enshrined in GDPR or the DPA, but just as important is the sense of common decency with regard to including other people in your videos. Permission is, therefore, a must, if your video showcase is going to feature people other than yourself on-screen. Gaining permission is quite easy if your video is only going to show two or three individuals, these could easily be family or friends, however, depending upon the type and circumstances of your business, it may be necessary to get a little creative. For example, getting all the diners at your restaurant to agree to being filmed without notice is a big ask, but having a clearly notified ‘filming night’ where perhaps those seated at particular tables are asked to sign a model release and given free Prosecco for their troubles, maybe a way around this.

Getting the thing filmed (production)

There are some very simple rules to filming video footage that looks professional and high quality as opposed to looking like someone has filmed on their smartphone at a party, after drinking a little too much!

Film in good light. Modern cameras are great, even on phones, etc, but they rarely function well in the dark. Also, consider the quality and direction of light you’re filming in, bright sunlight can be temptingly wonderful, but harsh shadows, lens flare, or a main subject that’s in silhouette can be a big problem. It may be a simple case of coming back later when the sun is in a different part of the sky, or when there’s a little cloud to soften the light. If you’re shooting indoors make sure you have adequate light and again: consider the quality and direction of lighting and making necessary changes if you can. Once again, a little work in the planning stages will help with deciding under what conditions you can film certain things to show them at their best.

Think about what’s in the frame -especially in the background. Generally speaking, if something is important, it needs to be large in the frame and in a prominent position (intersection of thirds on your screen or dead centre tend to work best), otherwise, its significance is lost. If the key subject is moving it may also be important to track this movement with your camera to ensure that your viewer’s focus stays with them. Always be aware of what is happening in the background as perfectly good footage can be utterly ruined by anything from distracting or unsightly clutter in an interior shot to some idiot giving you the finger as you film in an open space. A simple tip is to check all around the edges of your frame before you press record. Moving something, waiting a few moments until it’s gone or simply relocating can make all the difference between useable and unusable material. Checking exactly what’s in focus is also crucial, especially if you’re using autofocus on your camera or smartphone as sometimes devices can make very odd decisions about what’s important in a frame.

Make your camera stable and level! If a shot is supposed to be steady, make sure it is: a simple tripod can cost as little as £20-30 on eBay or Amazon and can easily be adapted to hold a phone with a simple plastic clamp available from the same outlets (or failing that a large lump of Blu Tack). There’s nothing worse than unintentionally shaky camera footage, which can be distracting and can look downright amateurish, to say the least! If you’re using movement in your shots, make sure this is as smooth and as consistent as possible – practice the movement, use an elastic band to pull the panning arm on your tripod – this takes out a lot of the jerks that hand-holding the arm can cause. Ensure that your shots are level – even cheaper tripods commonly have a small spirit level fitted – but use your eyes as well to be sure!

Always shoot a little more footage than you think you’ll need. This provides you with plenty of editing space in post-production if you want to add transitions and can help prevent the need to re-shoot a scene if you find that you needed just an extra second or two.

Check your footage as you shoot. One of the great advantages these days of working digitally is that we have instant replay available to us – use it! If in the slightest doubt shoot the scene again while you’re there – this may save you a lot of time in the long run! 

Getting the sound right. As strange as it may seem, the quality of sound in any video production is as crucial, if not more so than the visual quality of our footage! Straining to hear someone’s voice above traffic noise or hearing muffled, indistinct speech can be unbelievably off-putting. Similarly, if you’re using natural-ambient sounds in your production, make sure they’re recorded well. In 95% of cases, good quality audio recording starts with proximity – the further away your microphone is away from your sound source, the more problematic your audio becomes. For natural sounds that don’t necessarily need to sync with the action on-screen (the sound of a stream running through a garden for example) record the sound separately with your phone, mic or camera close up to the sound source. For speech its almost always desirable to use an external mic – I.e one that plugs into your camera such as a lapel mic of some sort, which can be placed in close to the source. Again usable mics can be purchased at very little cost and could make a huge difference to the audio quality of your voice recordings. If you can, check audio quality over headphones after each shot or preferably monitor the audio live as you record.

Practice makes perfect. The more you use your camera or phone to make video, the more you’ll learn how to get things right when shooting and how to get a clean, professional look in camera. Remember that there’s rarely an effective fix in post-production: out of focus material can’t be sharpened without looking quite grim, bad lighting can rarely be fixed to any degree without losing contrast or generating lots of graininess, bad sound can’t be magically sorted!

Putting it all together (post-production)

You can get excellent results from many of the free video editing apps available these days. Apple’s iMovie, for example, offers facilities and ease of use that amateur filmmakers would have happily sold their soul for just a couple of decades ago. Don’t get fooled into thinking that you need heavyweight professional software to produce perfectly good results, as this will inevitably come with a hefty price tag and a steep learning curve.

Less is more. Depending upon your target audience, its probably best to keep your production clean and simple as overloading your video with funky transitions and wild special effects may look great to you at the time, but will wear thin very quickly and may well prove very distracting to viewers. I’d always advise keeping transitions down to maybe two or three subtle types, which can be used at different points and to some degree rotated throughout your video: maybe cross fades/dissolves, fades in and out of black and good old fashioned hard cuts. I’m afraid I’ve never been a big fan of things spinning or flipping in and out of the frame and the only time I ever seem to see stuff like this is in kids projects or low-end Youtube videos. Special effects that give a particular look to a production are all well and good but can date very easily and unless used very subtly can look incredibly amateurish. If using lower thirds or subtitles, ensure these are clearly visible over footage and, again, stick to a single clean and simple font such as Arial or Calibri, leaving things like Comic Sans well alone (unless your target audience is under 12s).

Audio. If you’re using any self-recorded sound, particularly voices, check this over a decent set of headphones for intelligibility and unwanted noise or distortion. Most editing software will have some facility for noise suppression or for equalising the tonality of your audio. If you’re using a musical backing track make absolutely sure you have the right to do so. It’s very popular to think that just because you’ve paid 79p for an MP3 download, that music is now yours to do whatever you want with. It really isn’t! YouTube and other platforms are becoming very good at spotting copyright violation and it’s becoming common for videos to be taken down for copyright breaches. There are plenty of sources for library music, some completely free, which you can use in your videos without fear of breaking the rules and having your video blocked, so take the time to find something suitable and legal.

Flow and structure are everything. When you’re editing your video, it’s important to remember that you’re essentially telling a story, a story that needs to flow logically from one sentence to the next, between paragraphs, between chapters and so on. It also needs a sense of structure and balance, in its simplest form a beginning, middle and end. Ideally, by the time you get to that all-important call to action at the end of your showcase video, your audience will feel compelled to act upon it. When we’re involved in the editing process we can get so close to what we’re doing that we start to lose our way a little, again an important reason for having a clear plot outline/storyboard from the outset, which can be used as a reference point throughout your production. 

Take a break. Never publish your video straight away at the end of an editing session, always have a good break, preferably overnight or longer and then take another look at your work. You’d be amazed how often something will now jar that didn’t previously, or how often you’ll spot an obvious error that you simply couldn’t see as you were editing. You might also get someone else to cast an eye over your masterpiece, preferably not someone close who is likely to say exactly what they think you want to hear. 

And finally

Before publishing to the web, make sure that your video is rendered to a suitable specification. Many platforms are quite flexible in terms of the range of file types, resolutions, frame rates, etc that they’ll accommodate, but others are more restrictive so check with your host platform. If publishing to social media, try to make a splash with a scheduled premier; if you’re placing it on your website, send out a link to everyone on your mailing list. Let’s face it, you want people to see your work so why not shout about it!

Mooma Media offers a range of video production services to individuals, small businesses and not-for-profit organisations operating in the West Midlands region. Mooma offers competitive quotes to produce website or social media marketing videos and to film or live-stream events. To find out more about any of Mooma Media’s services, use the contact button below.