Liven up video with B-roll footage

‘Talking head’ videos can quite quickly get a bit boring, which is reason enough to use cutaway shots. This means that instead of staring at an interviewee’s face, we hear their voice while watching more interesting action — what we call the B-roll footage — that is relevant to what they are talking about.

For the nerds out there, the term B-roll comes from the pre-linear film editing days, when two separate rolls of film were used to create effects such as fades. When linear editing came in, the rolls were replaced with tape decks – but the term ‘B-roll’ stuck and became associated with the footage extraneous to the main interview or subject of the film.

Besides breaking the monotony of watching someone talk, B-roll has two other important advantages in corporate video; both of which will help you use video more effectively to get your B2B marketing message across.

1. B-roll simplifies editing
In the world of corporate video, especially for video case studies, you often have interviewees who aren’t used to being on camera — so you may need multiple takes to capture what you need. Even when that isn’t the case, it’s highly unlikely that the person you’re interviewing will deliver their lines word-perfect every time. They might stutter, give an answer they don’t like, or sneeze.

All of which means: your footage will contain lots of unusable takes among the good ones. Editing these out can make your interviewee look jerky, and that’s where B-roll comes in. Because the interviewee isn’t on screen during a cutaway shot, you can make any edits without affecting the look of the finished video. Besides cutting out poor takes, you can cut out parts of a good take, even words from a single sentence, to keep your video short and snappy.

Get some tips on preparing video interviewees in our free ebook.

2. B-roll adds to the story
Done right, B-roll isn’t just relevant to your story in terms of subject matter, but conveys the character of people and places, or the emotion involved in a scenario being described. When writing, we use the principle: ‘show rather than tell’ (eg, don’t claim to be innovative; give examples that show your innovation). One of the reasons that video is so powerful is that you literally can show things, rather than (or in addition to) telling your audience about them.

For example: take this B2B video we produced for Lightspeed.

It’s about a modern, trendy restaurant. The B-roll footage helps to convey this character – you see cutaway shots of the hustle and bustle of London, the smart interior and lighting, and the sense of sophistication that pervades the place. And of course you get to see Lightspeed’s software in action. The B-roll doesn’t just make the video look nice; it actively supports the B2B marketing job your video is trying to do.

Getting your own B-roll
There are two ways to get B-roll footage:
• You can purchase stock footage from sites such as iStock or Shutterstock.
• You can have your camera crew shoot it.

Both have their advantages:
Shooting your own B-roll footage allows you to include your interviewees in the footage if relevant — to see them in action. And if you’ve already paid for a crew to be on location for the day, there may be no additional cost, or only a small one.

Stock footage, on the other hand, can give you shots that are difficult to get yourself, like a time-lapse or the view from a helicopter. And if your video logistics call for a special trip to film B-roll, stock footage may be cheaper.

Planning for B-roll
Whatever you decide to do, it’s worth making sure that you plan a B-roll shot list before spending any time collecting it.

Consider the people you’re interviewing, and what they’ll be talking about. What might you want for your cutaway shots? Note your ideas down so you can use time (and budget) effectively in capturing (or buying) all the B-roll footage you need. You can always capture (or buy) other things on the day, if inspiration strikes. And besides saving time and money up front, your video editor won’t have to spend hours sifting through useless footage.

See 3 more tips for corporate video shoots here.

Content vs. communications, or the importance of the B2B audience

Given we’re a B2B content marketing agency, it probably won’t be a huge surprise to learn that we always put the audience at the heart of the content we write. After all, that content needs to persuade someone to take an action — be it to download a white paper, or call a salesperson. And if that person can’t see themselves in the content we write, they’re unlikely to take the action we want them to take. There is a useful trick you can deploy to keep B2B audiences at the centre of your content marketing efforts though, and that is to draw a distinction between content and communications.

What’s the difference?
We’ve heard it said that content and communications are one and the same. But while there might be a considerable overlap, we believe the subtle semantic differences are important — again, we’re a B2B content marketing agency; an obsession with words comes with the territory!

The difference between content and communications is that the word ‘communications’ carries with it the idea of an audience, while ‘content’ doesn’t. ‘Content’ is something you produce; ‘communications’ are something you have with someone else. Once you start thinking of what you’re producing as ‘communications’, then other questions come up:

  • Who are you communicating with?
  • What do you want to say to them?
  • What will they think of what you have to say?

The importance of the B2B audience
That last question is crucial; as marketers (and sales people), we should always be conscious of what our audience thinks of our message and, by extension, us. Even in 2017, it’s easy to find examples of marketing that start not with the audience, but with the company doing the selling. Will an audience respond positively to that? Not likely — you can produce the most beautiful content in the world, but it will just sit in a (virtual) dusty box, unloved and unwanted.

So how do we make sure not just smothering our clients with well-intended yet irrelevant content? Well, one very good way to keep your audience at the heart of your content marketing, is to keep asking yourself, “So what?” When you can no longer ask the question because you’ve answered it fully, you’ve found the holy grail of content marketing — a message your audience actually wants to receive.

Let us know what you think in the comments below and if you’d like some more advice on content that communicates, come and have a chat with us.

B2B copywriting: cut corners, not quality

Recent reports show that marketers are working harder than ever. For content marketers, a significant contributing factor is, no doubt, the sheer quantity of content they’re expected to produce.

Now we know you all love your jobs — marketing is the best job in the world after all — but that doesn’t mean you want to spend your whole life in the office.

So is there a way to cut corners with your B2B content, without taking a corresponding hit on quality? We think there is and here’s how.

1. Use time-saving tools Because, after all, the quicker you do things, the more likely you are to reacquaint yourself with the outside world. We use most of these tools here at HN and our loved-ones are grateful.

  • Hootsuite and Sprinklr are great tools for managing your social campaigns, helping you to store and schedule social content and measure its effectiveness.
  • Trello is a very flexible, online, collaborative project-management tool that works well for small teams and short projects (the kind that don’t call for Gantt charts, reporting, or active time-tracking). It also has a free, entry-level option.
  • Have you ever jotted down inspiration on a coffee-shop napkin, but struggled to take it to the next stage? Well, now there’s even technology to convert handwritten notes into digital content.

2. Repurpose content Once you’ve produced a great piece of content, don’t settle for using it just once. A good way to squeeze everything you can out of it – and get it seen by a wider audience – is to convert it into a new format. Another way to cut corners is to recirculate content without changing it. Or both. Here, for example, is another chance to read a post we repurposed earlier … about repurposing content.

3. Bring in extra help We would say this, of course, but agencies can be a great way to offload some of your work without decreasing your output. As well as sharing the load, an agency can become like an extension of your marketing team, helping you solve challenges quicker and save you even more time.

What are your favourite time-saving tips? Why not share them in the comments below?

Exit, pursued by a bear: another content marketing lesson from Shakespeare

April may have come and gone, but this year still marks the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death. In this post, we take a look at one of his greatest enigmas – and the content marketing lesson we can draw from it.

‘Exit, pursued by a bear’, appearing in Act III scene iii of The Winter’s Tale and heralding the death of Antigonus, is perhaps one of the most famous stage directions ever written — not least because there are none other like it in all of Shakespeare’s collected works.

A lesson from the Bard

But famous and unprecedented as this stage direction is, I can tell you (based on the rigorous test of asking all of my friends) that though many people have heard of it, they often know nothing else about the play it comes from (possibly not even its name).

I don’t pretend to know the mind of someone who’s been dead for 400 years, but I’d hazard a guess that Shakespeare probably wouldn’t be thrilled that one of his plays is best remembered for a stage direction. Which suggests, to me, a lesson about content creation: if you’re going to do something different, make it count.

Redesigning your white paper to be visually stunning (for example) is a great idea – unless it becomes remembered as ‘that paper that looked great’ rather than ‘that paper that was really engaging and made some great points’.

Where there’s a Will (Shakespeare), there’s a way

Innovation in content creation is awesome and absolutely to be encouraged, but how can you be sure it isn’t going to do more harm than good? Here are a couple of options to test any new concept.

1. Prototype it. Get a sample made up and think through the effect of the finished piece. Will it (still) have the result you’re looking for?

2. Ask someone not connected with the project. It’s possible that you’re too close to the content to see the impact your ideas might have – so find someone who isn’t involved and get their opinion.

Perhaps we’re being a little unfair to Shakespeare. Given that he purportedly invented around 1,700 of the words we use today, it’s fair to say that most of his innovations supported his content, rather than distracted from it. With a little thought, yours could do the same.

Why is B2B content failing to engage customers?

Are you struggling to create B2B content that provides business value? If so, then you’re not alone — it’s been said that as many as 83% of B2B marketing leaders are failing to produce content that engages their customers. Here are four top reasons content fails to engage and some practical advice to put it right.


Nuturing_contentProblem #1: content focuses on early stages of the buyer’s journey
Picking up customers might not be a problem, but keeping them engaged through their decision-making journey is more challenging.

Solution #1: create nurturing content
Map your content creation to different stages of the journey, and focus on moving the customer from one stage to the next. Then you won’t only be creating content – you’ll be creating a relationship with your customers.


Document_strategyProblem #2: no documented strategy
You might have a strategy, but it’s different depending on whom you ask – and that means not everyone is pulling in the right direction.

Solution #2: document your strategy
It’s not rocket science. Get that strategy written down, get everyone on the same page and join up your approach to content marketing.



Problem #3: stuffy content
“We’re a business and our content needs to reflect that. It’s what our customers will expect. But they just aren’t interested in our content.”

Solution #3: get human
Take the suit and tie off your content and turn it into something they’d want to read in the evening, not just at their desk. That’s partially about making it relevant to them, both professionally and personally, but also about the tone and style you adopt.


Say_something_newProblem #4: your customer already knows what you’re saying
Your customer does nearly 60% of their decision-making without talking to you. They’re smart and they’ve heard it all before.

Solution #4: say something new
Don’t settle for ‘interesting’ or ‘accessible’ content. Do your research and tell the customer something they didn’t know, which forces them to question their buying criteria. Perhaps they always assumed they couldn’t reduce their energy consumption, for example, when in fact you can help them with that?


You can download the full infographic here.

What are your secrets for creating engaging content?

Share your tips for creating content that grabs your audience and doesn’t let go on Twitter, LinkedIn, or in the comments section on our blog.

Listicle or Missticle? How to write engaging listicles

Listicles — bulleted lists of information presented as an article — are a great way to engage today’s time-poor readers. But have you ever stumbled on one that feels like it’s missed the point?

You know the kind: “Top 250 PR stunts” or “61 social media tips you don’t know about”. Listicles are designed to make the information they contain accessible, but there’s a fine line between achieving that and turning your readers off – sometimes before they’ve even clicked the link.

So how can you keep your listicle on the straight and narrow? We’ve come up with a few ideas to help your listicle avoid being a “missticle” (pardon the pun). To help, we’ve even arranged them in a list…

1: Get the numbers right
The best listicles keep to low numbers. Ten would be an absolute maximum, but five or three would be better. Though numbers like 13 or 9 stand out, they do risk giving people the impression you couldn’t decide which ideas to use so just chucked them all in. Even numbers are fine – as this listicle from hubspot shows.

2: Watch your language
If you have 30 points, are they all “top”, “significant” or “best”? It’s important not to over-hype your article. Your readers will see it a mile off and likely vote with their feet. Take this CMI article , for example – no hype; just a promise to list some useful tools that’s then delivered on.

3: Find the thread
This is the one that can make the difference between a good and a great listicle. Even though you’re writing a list, it’s still important to find an arc that draws your reader in and gives them a reason to read the whole thing. In a list of top social media tools, for example, you might start with tools that focus on curation and finding content and move through to those that are more geared towards analytics and review. Or, as we did in this listicle on barriers to social in business, start with a surface issue and then dig deeper with each successive point.

It does take a careful bit of planning to write engaging listicles – short and accessible as they are, they aren’t necessarily quick things to write. But once you’ve got the format working for you, your content will shine.

You’ve probably come across a variety of listicles. Why not share the best – and the worst – in the comments below, LinkedIn or Twitter?

Camels, horses and the secrets of creating impactful content

This cartoon raised a chuckle when it did the rounds of HN HQ recently, and it reminded us of the old joke about a camel being a horse designed by committee. But beneath those two jokes lies an important point about creating impactful content. We understand the need to get the most out of your content, and often advocate doing just that, but what happens when you try to pack too much in? Well, not to put too fine a point on it, if you do that, then your content becomes a camel.


We’ve all seen a project that ends up losing its way because six different parties want it to do six different things, and often the problem lies with not having a clear brief. A good brief is like a trip itinerary – not only does it tell you where you’re going (and why) but, crucially, how you’re going to get there.

So we’ve come up with some tips to keep your writers on track and your content looking more like a champion thoroughbred.

1.       Put your brief down on paper

Sounds simple, but you’d be amazed how many people don’t do it. If the brief is on paper, you can use it to get buy-in from all your stakeholders and refer back to it regularly to ensure you stay on course. Don’t be afraid to reject suggestions or changes that move away from the brief – no matter how tempting they are. Those ideas can always be used to inspire a new piece instead.

2.       Get your audience and message straight

Aim for one primary audience and takeaway message for your content. Remember: every secondary audience dilutes the impact of your original message.

3.       Don’t be afraid to create more than one asset

If multiple parties are all trying to use one asset to achieve different objectives, then consider creating dedicated variants tailored to each of their needs. It may cost you a little more (though it’s often not as expensive to create variants of a piece of content as it is to create new content from scratch), but it will ensure that your messages aren’t diluted.

What are your winning ways to keep your content from becoming a camel? Do share your stories — the good, the bad and the downright hilarious — through the comments box below, LinkedIn or Twitter.

The ARC of customer engagement

“81% of marketers say customer engagement is a top priority.”

This was one of the headlines from B2B’s new report on the ‘age of engagement’, so it’s a fair bet that some of you out there are on a mission to increase your customers’ engagement with your brand. At HN, we’re firm believers that engaging content = engaged customers. So, to help you in your quest, we’ve created a three-step checklist, and a handy mnemonic – the ARC of customer engagement.


Make sure your content is easily found and in a format that’s easy to digest. Optimise your content for search; embed social sharing buttons in your content, and optimise your content for viewing on mobile. And don’t hit your audience with a hefty white paper straight away – use a more digestible format, such as a video or an ebook, to coax them in and get the conversation started.


Connect your message to situations your customers are facing today. Don’t be afraid to newsjack if the right story comes up. And bear in mind your audience’s place in the decision-making journey: if they’re at the consideration stage, provide evidence that the challenge you solve is important and worthy of attention. At the decision stage, prove the benefits of your solution in the real world.


Nobody waits to be worn down by dull content. They just click and move on. Avoid that scenario by injecting some entertainment into your content, using persuasive and well-crafted storytelling to keep their attention – and keep them clicking.

What do you think?

Is customer engagement a key issue for your business? How do you go about keeping your customers engaged? Let us know in the comments, or get in touch on Twitter and LinkedIn.

You can download the full infographic here

Selling through storytelling: a parable by HN Marketing

At HN, we’re passionate about telling stories when we write. We know from experience that stories resonate with an audience, and using them wisely can greatly boost the success of your marketing campaign or sales pitch. What better way to illustrate that than to tell you a story? So – are you sitting comfortably? Then we’ll begin…

Geoff sat down in the conference hall, still hungry after the pitiful sandwiches that were a staple at these sorts of events. Prospects for the afternoon weren’t good; two hours on some new software that the CEO thought would really help him improve the running of the IT department. Between that and the sandwiches with their unidentifiable filling, he was certain he would be asleep in ten minutes.

The lights dimmed, a projector whirred to life, but instead of the usual presentation, with lists of USPs and dreary bar charts, Geoff found himself watching a short film about one of the company’s customers. They’d faced problems similar to the ones he faced back in the office, from connectivity issues right down to always having to stay late to run maintenance on the company’s machines. He found that he related to the customer in the story, and when the company’s software was brought in to solve the problems, Geoff saw exactly how it could help him out too.

After the video, there was a Q-and-A session, during which the presenter continued referencing the story; and even got a laugh or two for his joke about the tie and the staple gun. Geoff found himself thinking of how much easier the software would make his job – he might leave the office on time some evenings! – and he resolved to call the company the next morning to discuss his situation.

On his way out of the conference, Geoff was given a leaflet which continued to talk about the software through the characters from the film, and though Geoff was privately dubious that anybody smiled that much, or with teeth that white, he found on the drive back to the office that he was already thinking about what he’d have to do to get the software installed on his company’s network. He was, he had to admit, totally sold on the product.

Of course, case studies are not the only form of storytelling with value in marketing. Keep your eyes peeled for more blogs on storytelling in the coming weeks, as we explore how you can use this technique to boost the effectiveness of your marketing materials.

Additionally, we are re-telling this story as an cartoon, to see the difference between a story told in words and one told in pictures.

All content is content marketing: why you should take care with all your content

Quick – what’s the first thing that springs to mind when you read the phrase ‘content marketing’? Perhaps it’s a case study, or a white paper, or one of the many pieces of content that you work on every day.

Things like ‘technical manual’ or ‘internal training materials’ may not have sprung to mind as readily, but they’re still important pieces of content. They all communicate your company’s personality and brand, and they all consequentially have an impact on how your customers view you. A difficult technical manual may give them the impression that you are a difficult company to deal with, and even internal documents are important; if they don’t inspire your staff to represent your company, then your staff won’t inspire your customers to buy from you.

Of course, you don’t have time to go and inspect every piece of content that is produced by your company; there’s just too much there. What are needed are some comprehensive brand guidelines, which everyone in the company can follow, to do the job of keeping your content on-message for you. You might already have brand guidelines, but try reading them from a non-marketing perspective. Would they make sense to you? If not, then they might need some reworking to apply to a wider audience. Perhaps you could even make dedicated guidelines for specific types on non-marketing content, if you produce enough of them.

It might also be a good idea to hold a training day, or a workshop, so that everyone in the business understands the impact their content can have on your brand reputation and perception. Combined with easy-to-follow, well-defined brand guidelines, you can ensure that the content you produce sends a consistently positive message to your customers.