Video ads have become mainstream in online advertising. Many of the more traditional online marketers struggle with creating this video content. In this article, I’ll give the perspective of a quantitative marketer on how to approach video marketing, an increasingly important acquisition medium.

Background

I’m a quantitative marketer who consults for local and tech businesses. Over the years, I’ve spent over $100 Million on online ads. In 2011, I was working with an online auto repair shop. My team and I were used to programmatically creating text and banner ads in the tens of thousands and finding the winners via a/b testing.

One day, my Google rep called to offer me a $5000 credit towards create a video to run on Google ads. For a team of quantitative marketers, the idea of spending $5000 to create just one ad was a bit mind boggling. But heck, if Google was going to pay for it, why not?

Plus, a catchy video seemed like something we could use elsewhere, for branding. Even if the ads didn’t work, my perception was that videos have more soft influence than text ads. So, I hired a production company to film an ad for my client and favorite mechanic, Mike.  

It flopped. Our “video ad” looked very much like an infomercial from late-night television in the pre-internet days. Predictably, the conversion numbers were bad. It was cute, but long, not mobile friendly, and was not a seamless fit with our landing pages.  In retrospect, I knew as much about video marketing as Mike the mechanic did, and the creative agencies and Google reps themselves were still stuck in the infomercial era.

A screen cap for the video from Kapwing illustrating how to make videos designed for subtitles rather than for sound

A Left-Brain Marketer’s Dilemma

Even if we had been better at making video creative, it still would have failed. Almost no ad works well on first iteration, and creating dozens of video ads programmatically to test would have cost way more than $5000.

When I asked various video production experts, they told me the problem was I didn’t spend enough on the ad. Traditional video costs really a lot to make.  Even today, if you ask around to various marketing agencies to create a slick video, you will get quotes starting at $15,000.  

Fast forward to 2019.  Video ads have gone mainstream.  They are short, catchy, mobile-first, and designed to be played with sound off on social media. Facebook is pushing advertisers to use more video, YouTube is surging in popularity, and Instagram is investing heavily in video as well.

So, what is a quantitative online marketer to do? How should they make these conversion-friendly videos?  

Set an Objective

First, let’s clarify the goals.  If you are a quantitative marketer, you are looking for a conversion, either immediately, or later via your attribution model.  

Don’t get distracted by lower-priority goals. You are not making a video for your company home page, nor are you trying to make the most polished video ever. I admire super polished viral video like this one advertising Las Vegas made by my ex colleague Nick, but they’re more artistic, more expensive, and much more risky.

A screen cap for the video profiling the happy, popular 100 year old employee at the Las Vegas Convention Center.  It is really smooth, went viral, and is not suitable for ads driving conversions.

Then, let’s break the tasks into into the two parts: the video production and the editing/tweaking.

Produce and Film

I’ve experimented with seven different methods for producing video:

  1. Hire a full-stack video maker: Recruit a video person who is creative, result-oriented, and experienced with creating digital media.  Basically, a unicorn video person. This is a great option if you have the budget and time to recruit.
  2. Use a college or high school student.  Many students love making videos, and are good at them. I’ve had good success with this option, depending on the content required. Students will often shoot catchy videos that are relevant to younger audience. Note: If your student has their friends in a video, make sure to get those friends to sign a legal release.
  3. Shoot videos yourself on your phone or webcam. As smartphone cameras have become more popular, I’ve noticed that “selfie videos” are increasingly popular for videos posted on LinkedIn and Facebook. Even big brands are posting raw, unedited footage that was filmed right from someone’s smartphone.
  4. Rent a low cost professional location but shoot yourself.  For example, using Peerspace.  Many startup incubators also have a room to film such as GSV labs.
  5. Hire a contractor. This can be a good option if you are looking for animation or something not location specific.  The process itself, however, tends to be slow. This could be done on Upwork, Craigslist, or similar.
  6. Hire an agency.  This is a challenge for cost reasons as mentioned above.

The best option depends on your skills, situation, product, and available time, so you have to make a judgement call depending on the situation.

In my experience with YouTube videos, the ads and organic videos that do well are not the ones you expect to do well, so you should aim for quantity over quality. If you’re going for a DIY approach, exude confidence and draft an outline of your script before you start rolling to reduce the number of takes you have to do. I recommend blocking off time to film your footage in bulk rather than filming each video on a one-off basis so that you only do setup once.

Some other notes:

  1. Use stock video footage with caution.  There are cases where stock footage works, but in many scenarios it will not. It won’t have pictures of your actual product, and often looks transparently commercial.
  2. Note: to make later a/b testing scalable, it is important to shoot your video in discrete chunks.  For example, you can make four similar clips of the same length with a different call to action, and afterwards test each of the four unique Calls to Action (CTAs) for whatever key metric is most valuable to you.
  3. If you are using a multitouch attribution model, you will often find video works best at top of the funnel.

When I think of stock footage, the images of happy women eating salad jump out at me. I’ve never had this kind of image or video do well for me – probably because it’s just too inauthentic.

Then, Edit and Optimize

If you stutter, make a mistake, or get interrupted during a good take, don’t stop filming! You can always cut bad sections out of the video at the end. After you have your footage, you’ll likely need to cut and combine the videos together, add music and voiceovers, and insert labels and transitions. You can hire a video editing pro who has experience with powerful old-school software, but I recommend doing it yourself with a suite like iMovie or Kapwing.

Once your video is complete, you should apply simple optimizations to make it convert better. Here are some tactical tips for videos that convert:

  • Make sure that it’s the right size and length for the platform you’re posting on.
  • On social media, burn subtitles directly into the MP4 file so that people watching with the sound off still engage.
  • Add links where they make sense so that your viewers can purchase or start down the funnel.
  • Embed a call to action into your video or graphic so that your user knows how to take action wherever it is reshared.
  • Personalize your video or image content its target audience.
An example of an effective short video from BedJet.  Note it is authentic, drives conversion and is all of 5 seconds long!

Recommendation

The gold standard for every quantitative marketer: experiment! Make, edit, and test videos in a low-cost way such that you can test many different flavors. Now, my suggested best practice is to have the video footage itself created by a low cost resource: a student, intern, Upwork or Fiverr contractor, or DIY using your own smartphone. Then, the editing should be done in house, quickly.

Why?  In a/b testing, the key is to find a statistically significant winner and then iterate on that for the next a/b test. Those quick iterations are a challenge to do if you have a resource overseas or are using a student. Plus, us quantitative marketers are control freaks on the small details, so being able to do it yourself is a huge plus.