It was straightforward when I worked in television. We made video because that was just what we did, and the success, or otherwise, of a programme was measured largely by its viewing figures. Things became more complicated when we started to produce video at the Guardian. What stories and subjects would work in video and what formats worked best online were questions we struggled to answer.
Now I work with companies and other non-media organisations producing video (as well as helping with their content marketing and digital communications) I see similar questions going unanswered until too late. Beautiful videos are being made that are utterly unsuited for the things they’re meant to do.
This is often down to commissioning rather than execution. People don’t explain what they’re trying to achieve because they think they have a clear idea of what format they want. If a production company understands your objectives, what audience you’re trying to reach and where your video will appear and be promoted, you’ll get a much better film.
First, be clear about why you’re producing a video. This sounds obvious but it is amazing how many people commission video with only the haziest notion of what their objective is. Is it to sell something, persuade people to act in a certain way or present your company in a favourable light?
Second, decide who your audience is. If you have user personas, they should help you identify what your audience is interested in, where you can reach them online, and how they’re likely to be accessing the web.
A short video aimed at teenagers browsing Instagram via their mobiles should be very different to one targeted at middle-aged managing directors looking at LinkedIn on their desktop computers.
If you’re trying to persuade people of something, you’ll need to identify what points you want your video to make. Video can be a much more powerful medium than text but it can only convey a comparatively small number of points.
And if you’re looking to promote something it is helpful to consider where your video sits on your customers’ journey. Are you trying to make people aware of your product or services? You should be producing either what YouTube calls hero video, something jaw-dropping enough to be shared across social media, or hygiene video, which answers questions people are asking Google.
People tend to share things that are funny or moving, so Dollar Shave Club and Most Shocking Second a Day are good examples of hero videos. And as people turn to YouTube to see how to do almost everything, hygiene videos can cover anything from how to boil an egg to how to build your own Death Star in Minecraft.
Further along your customer journey people might simply want to watch a video explaining what your product or service does or see satisfied customers explaining why they’d recommend it. If buying the product online can be tricky - as it can be on some financial services websites - you might even want a video to explain that.
Even the most brilliant video will struggle to find an audience without a distribution strategy. So you need to think about how you’re going to persuade people to watch it and whether you’re going to commit ad spend.
Clarity about objectives should help you commission a video that is right for you. It should also help you define what metrics to monitor and ultimately how to determine whether you’re getting a return on your investment.