Explainers Shouldn't Explain Everything

Joe Clay | Aug 30, 2018

I'm Going to be Real with You

Let me preface this. I'm not talking about explainer videos that are supposed to be instructional—I'm talking about explainers that are supposed to give you an overview about a product. But this isn't just limited to explainers.

This article may be hard-hitting. But I think it's important to break the illusion, especially for people on the client-side.

No one cares about your product.

Many companies want to tell you every insignificant thing about their product in a video but they never mention the most important part.

Why Should I Care About Your Product?

Answer this question first: why should I care about your product? We make products to fulfill a market need, but when we're marketing we often completely forget about the need we're fulfilling. Someone dying of thirst doesn't care that your fizzy water has 2% carbonation after being run through a perfectly-tuned, reverse-osmosis filter that you had engineered in Stockholm—they just want to be quenched.

Always Think About the End Goal

Why does someone buy a new computer? Because their old one was too slow. So they need a faster machine? Yes. OK, why?

That last question is the most important one. Most companies just want to make their video and they stop just before asking why someone wants their product. That doesn't make any sense.

We don't buy a computer because it's fast. We buy a computer so that we can do something with it. Having a faster computer means we can do more of that thing or get it done quicker. Speed isn't the goal—it's what we need to achieve the goal. It's a subtle difference, but an important one.

Maybe you like gaming. Telling a gamer that your video card has 2,000 cores of 2.5Ghz processors isn't as effective as showing them a video rendered in real time, utilizing that card at the limit. Of course, people can logically figure out that more power means better gaming. But showing them your video card in use will lead them to thinking about gaming versus specs. And if they check out the competition, they'll be thinking of that sweet real time render you showed them while they're being bored with your competitor's video.

It's About Market Differentiation

The example I use all the time is Apple. They are in an incredibly crowded market. And most of their competitors make similar machines and advertise on specs alone. So there's tons of competition and Apple is usually the most expensive player. On paper, that sounds like a disaster. But their marketing is incredible.

Apple's marketing is heads and shoulders above all of the others. While their competitors hash it out over specs, Apple tells you what you can do with the machine. They show you lifestyle footage instead of spec lists. When they talk about a quality, they tell you how much more you can do with this product versus the old one.

Remember all of the great stuff you did with your machine before? Well now you can do more of that so you can either improve your work, or be done sooner.

When they talk about battery life, they don't just say this thing has 28 hours of standby. They compare it to how many songs you can listen to. When they say their machine is quiet, they don't say the fans are 3dB. They say it's whisper-quiet. They illustrate the product in use rather than educate you with specific facts. Remember the MacBook Air ads? The selling point was that it was super thin. While Steve Jobs did give the spec for thickness, he brought it out on stage like this:

Remember that? It was such powerful imagery that people sold cases for the MacBook Air in the shape of an envelope.

They show you what you can do with their products, or show the lifestyle their products help you achieve. Their videos are a tool to get you thinking about how you can use their products. And eventually that probably leads you to their site.

Look at all of the things you can do with that processor.

But even on their website they don't just show you specs. They talk about the engineering and the care that went into designing the product, and they leave you with what is important—what you can do with it. That is what people will remember when it comes time to hit that buy button.

You Still Want to Talk About the Features, Don't You?

The sad news is this—if you're selling on features and your competitors are selling on features, you're saying the same thing. You're basically making it a direct cost comparison and whoever has the lowest price wins. You're in a race to the bottom. Congratulations.

If that's the route you really want to take, skip the explainer. You're not going to get anyone jazzed by wasting 2-3 minutes of their time on an explainer that is too long to get them excited about a product that you're not even excited about.

Of course I'm excited about my product! That's why I made it!

Then it should be easy to explain to someone how your product helps them.

The Biggest Mistake People Make

A video is not a selling tool. Most people don't make snap judgements to make a large purpose after seeing one video. Instead you need to plant the idea that your product will be so helpful to potential customers that it is stupid to ignore it.

Ideally, you want to get them interested enough to go to your website to look for more information.

Scaring Your Customers Away

The problem with throwing a ton of specs at your customer, is that any omission in a detailed video might lead someone to assume your product is lacking something they need. Listing features is essentially selling someone away from your product.

But if your video talks about the problems your product solves, they might just inquire about what they need. And then you can tell them all about it. That let's you develop a personal connection with your customer, and they will appreciate the time you spent answering their questions. You've then established a relationship that your competitor who stuck that info in a video will never have with their customer.

How to Make a Great Explainer

You're going to need a script. If you're good at that, do it. At least rough it in and then find a good artist. Maybe someone who is good with scripts too. It makes the product better if you can find someone who can write a story while thinking of animation. If you can't find someone that can do both, hire a small studio, or hire a scriptwriter so you can tell the story.

The next thing is to work with your artist. Find someone who isn't just a button pusher, and don't advertise the gig that way either. You're not looking for someone to create a video for your idea. You're looking for someone to work together to make a great video. Hell, I'd even mention that you're hoping that it can be a portfolio piece for them. Artists work harder on something they know they can show other people as an example of their work, and it's always helpful to have an example for future clients to see how it should be done.

Collaborate. Teach your artist about why your product is amazing, and let them show people why it's amazing. Have them help you find flaws in your script and ideas. Often, things that make sense written one way suck in motion. So be willing to change your script and be receptive to input.

KISS - Keep it Short Stupid

And please, if it hasn't been obvious, keep it short. One minute max. If you can't explain how your product helps people in one minute, you're doing something wrong. This is not only a smaller investment of time for your potential customers, it's also easier on animation—and cheaper. I've done videos from a few seconds to 5-10 minutes. It's much easier to animate and make things visually amazing if it's shorter. Transitions are better. Creative is better. Everything is better.

See N' Say Sucks

My other suggestion is to leave text out of it. Unless you're putting it on Facebook or a platform where there won't be audio, try to use as little text as possible. Often I'll just use text to punctuate something. Let people watch and enjoy the video. The truth is that people are watching the video so they don't have to read something. So don't put text where something can be illustrated, even abstractly—especially if there's a voiceover. I don't know why there's a tendency to do see n' say. It just distracts from what you're paying an artist to show.

Good Luck

I promise you that these tips will lead to more interest than going the utilitarian route. Don't waste people's time. That's the number one rule. Good luck out there.