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.

The tortoise and the hare: animation tricks to create videos faster

Once a video is in post-production, one of the processes that can put the schedule out of whack, if you’re not careful, is rendering — especially when a video has lots of CGI (computer-generated imagery). So it’s worth understanding what rendering is, and asking: What animation tricks can we use to help create videos faster?

To answer this question, we can borrow from the fable of The tortoise and the Hare. But first: some baking.

What is rendering?
Think of creating a video as like baking a cake. In baking, once you’ve assembled all your ingredients, you need to put them in the oven and leave them for an hour or so to turn the mess into a glorious cake. In video production, once you’ve assembled all of the elements of your video – the audio, filmed footage, 3D graphical objects, and so forth – the computer ‘renders’ it all to transform it into a video file.

OK, I hear you ask: so why would rendering put a schedule in danger? And what’s this got to do with tortoises and hares?

Slow hares, speedy tortoises
Rendering isn’t entirely like baking. Unlike baking, rendering takes longer when the ingredients are more complex — when the computer has more to do, such as crunching a more complex algorithm, to make the image appear on the screen. This is why rendering times can be a particular issue with CGI.

Now imagine you’re creating a video with an animated hare. The hare is, well, a hairy creature. And making hair look natural is quite a complex animation. So as speedy as the hare is in reality, in your video he’ll really slow down your render if you want him to be lifelike. If you swapped him for a smooth-shelled tortoise, on the other hand, the render would be much simpler and quicker — because shell behaviour isn’t complex at all.

Textures, in short, can have an impact on your video production time – so they’re worth considering when you’re making your creative decisions. If you’ve created a virtual studio (like this one), smooth textures will be easier and quicker to render than leathery textures. The smooth, slim, abstract animations so in-vogue in corporate videos right now aren’t just elegant, but faster to render.

Of course, if you want to go for complex textures and other ‘render-heavy’ elements (wide shots with lots of movement, for example, or lots of complex camera movements) there’s nothing stopping you – just build it into your schedule. As a rough guide, the video in the link above took around 36 hours to render. Your video production agency should be able to give you a steer on the elements that may affect deadlines vs. the ones that won’t.

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?

B2B conferences: generating content to maximise ROI

B2B conferences are a fantastic way to connect with colleagues and customers, old and new. But they don’t come cheap. A lot of time, money and stress (!) go into them, so it’s only natural that you’ll want to maximise your return on investment from the conferences you organise. Fortunately, with a little thought and preparation, you can turn your conference into a content marketing machine. Here are some of our favourite ways to generate great conference-inspired content.

1. Video vox pops
Vox pops (vox populi, voice of the people) are informal interviews and a great source of soundbites that you can use on your website. Talk to your customers in coffee breaks or at networking receptions and get their take on the day. They’re really easy to do, too – all you need is a cameraman and an interviewer mingling with the crowd. Don’t forget to ask for permission from the interviewee, though.

2. Promo video
If you’re capturing the talks, atmosphere and highlights from the event, you’ve also got other video options. You could create a short teaser video, inspiring people to attend next year, or a longer summary video so those who couldn’t make it don’t miss out.

3. Blog posts
Every one of your speakers will be talking about a topic relevant to your business – and each session should be viewed as a potential blog post. Sometimes, we’re asked to provide a writer to attend sessions and write them up afterwards. Equally, you could invite each speaker to pen their own post at a later date. It’s a great way to quickly generate a bevy of relevant, topical blog posts that simultaneously position your event as a valuable gathering place for your target market.

4. Live tweeting
Though social posts from a conference have a limited shelf life, they can pay dividends on the day. Create an event hashtag for attendees to use when tweeting about the event before, during and after. Those who can’t make it can also use it to get involved.

5. Surveys
We don’t just mean a satisfaction survey. Asking just a few questions of attendees can give you valuable data about the issues facing your customers, their opinions on current trends or whatever you want to ask them. You can use the data as the basis of an infographic or blog. If you ask enough questions, you could even write a short paper.

Have a plan for your conference-inspired content
However you choose to generate content from your next B2B conference, the most important thing you can do is to plan it well. How will you use each piece? What part will it play in your sales cycle? If you can fit conference-content into your wider content strategy, then you stand to generate some truly impressive ROI from your next event.

Have you held a conference recently? Or are you thinking about holding one? We’d love to hear about your content plans for it. Why not leave a comment, find us on Twitter or drop us a line at LinkedIn?

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.

Two cautions about the positive shift in B2B tone of voice

There’s a growing trend in B2B marketing that is often expressed in brand guidelines as ‘write the way you speak’ or ‘use a conversational style’. This signals a big shift in B2B tone of voice that I think is great news (for reasons given below). But I also think it’s worth keeping two things in mind as we embrace this change:

1. Context is everything.

2. A friendly tone of voice is no substitute for having nothing to say.

Why ‘write the way you speak’?
The traditional B2B voice — serious, formal, often long-winded — was all about building trust through institutional authority and heritage. But as marketing has moved online and become entangled with blogging, tweeting and other social trends, the old voice no longer does its job.

In a more social context, trust doesn’t derive from stiff, cold authority. It comes from openness, honesty and warmth. And this is why businesses increasingly want to be associated with a more plain-spoken, friendly tone of voice – even when speaking to other businesses. Most of our clients have been moving in this direction for some years, and the trend is picking up pace.

This is great news for B2B marketers and writers because, at long last, we have permission to treat our audience as human beings who respond to human qualities in writing. We can leave dull, convoluted language behind and tell stories that use a more varied range of tools to engage, educate and sell.

Be careful of context
My first caveat about ‘write the way you speak’ is perhaps too obvious to state, but for the sake of completeness, here it is. Clearly, people speak in different ways in different contexts. So which ‘way that I speak’ should I be using when I write a piece of B2B content?

What I should be doing, surely, is writing the way my audience speaks; or, more specifically, the way they want me to speak in the context in which I’m addressing them. A CIO may be quite sweary when he’s down the pub and be perfectly happy for his friends to swear at him. That doesn’t mean he’s happy for his bank manager to swear during a business conversation, or for an IT service provider to do so in a blog.

As shorthand for ‘be human, be genuine’, the advice to write the way we speak is just fine. But obviously brands need to provide more complete, specific guidance to avoid forms of communication that are inappropriate to the context and the audience.

Don’t forget the message
The second, more serious, point that I want to make about the shift in B2B tone of voice is this. We need to be careful not to become so caught up in an exciting new style that the marketing focus becomes all about tone rather than the message or content being conveyed.

However well we ‘write the way we speak’, if there’s not a worthwhile, interesting and valid message beneath the words, our audience will see right through us. After all, the whole shift in voice is driven by a more canny audience, looking for an honest and open connection. Content that dresses up marketing hype in language carefully crafted to sound friendly and transparent is the opposite of what they’re looking for.

But as long as we have something of substance and value to say, ‘write as you speak’ should help us to sound like human beings rather than faceless organisations when we say it. Which is a very good thing indeed.

How clarity can make your B2B messages more powerful

They’re an unlikely pairing we know, but Barack Obama and Simon Cowell have at least one thing in common — their straight talking. Barack Obama’s perception as honest, trustworthy and intelligent may have been crucial in his presidential campaigns, while Simon Cowell is both revered and reviled for his no-nonsense feedback to musical wannabes.

Their direct, confident approach plays a big part in building public confidence, as does their avoidance of rhetoric. An ancient art that was considered a noble accomplishment for many centuries, rhetoric is used to persuade and inspire. Unfortunately, nowadays it is frequently prefaced by ‘empty’ and is associated more with politicians and spin doctors than with compelling argument.

Although rhetorical flourishes can be useful in persuading someone to see things in a particular way, when they’re used on weak messages, they can appear disingenuous or even nonsensical — especially in B2B marketing. This example is from a software company advertising a seminar:

“…gathering leading minds in business intelligence and the analyst community for expert consensus on the answer. Industry experts will highlight how you can leverage business intelligence to provide visibility into business critical information.”

If you consider the message, all it actually promises is information about how to use information to get… information.

A better strategy in B2B copywriting is to get straight to the point in understandable plain English — talk about your product or service simply and clearly and you’ll be on the right track. Best of all, plain speaking for B2B messages is easy to achieve. Just follow these simple rules:

  • Use short sentences containing only one main idea
  • Never use a long word when a short one will get your message across more powerfully
  • Avoid jargon, clichés, acronyms and management buzzwords whenever possible
  • Favour Germanic words over Latin — say ‘each year’ instead of ‘per annum’
  • Be active — say ‘we will do it’ rather than ‘it will be done’: active verbs bring a document to life and are a lot easier to understand
  • Be definite — if at all possible, use ‘will’ not ‘can’
  • Be brief — your readers will appreciate it, and there will be more of them

We’d love to know what you think. Share your ideas or jargon horror stories in the comments below, on Twitter or LinkedIn.

B2B video shoots: 3 tips to make yours run smoothly

You’ve got budget approved, interviewees appointed and the film crew is due next week. Great! The process of filming a B2B video is exciting and one that we love taking clients through. If it’s the first time you’ve done this, though, you may be a little unsure of what to expect. The crew may have mentioned needing parking and told you the size of room required, but what else do you need to do in order to keep the day running smoothly?

Distilled from our years of filming interviews on location, here are the top 3 things you can do to enjoy a smooth B2B video shoot — and get great content from it.

1: Make sure that interviewees are prepared — and appropriately dressed
It’s easy to give interviewees notes or a script and assume they’ll arrive ready to go, but we find this is often not the case. Make sure they understand the importance of preparing properly in advance, and if possible get them to practise. We’ve known even experienced interviewees to practise over a weekend at home with long-suffering partners, and this always pays off for them in the quality of the content captured.

Dress is also important. Avoid stripy clothes and complex patterns (they can cause odd effects on video). And if it’s a green-screen shoot, then, naturally, green clothes are a no-go. Otherwise, it looks like we’re talking about naturally green clothes!

You can find more on preparing to appear on camera in this blog and ebook.

2: Don’t just assume that access will take care of itself
Even if company policy doesn’t require visitors to be escorted, the crew usually won’t know where to go and will depend on someone being there who does. If you’re organising the shoot and not going to be there (after all, the filming location may not be at your office or the crew may be arriving very early in the morning), make sure that somebody else is. Don’t assume. Arrange specifically for someone to be available and contactable by reception.

Sites sometimes also require security clearance or special permissions to bring cameras and associated equipment in. Organise these ahead of time, or risk costly delays.

If you’ve got the crew capturing other footage (of people, places or activities), you’ll also need to ensure that they can get to everywhere you want them to go. Assuming that permissions aren’t an issue, appoint a chaperone for the day who has the necessary access.

3: REALLY make sure there’s enough space
A camera crew brings a lot of kit with them – they’ll always bring lights, they may be setting up multiple cameras, and as mentioned there may be a green screen. Don’t assume that any office will do; usually all this setup needs at least 15 square feet (1.4m2) of space. If you aren’t sure and the crew is local, ask them to come over and tell you which rooms would be best – or send them some photos and measurements. Remember: the more room you can give the camera crew, the better your video will look in the end.

Prepare and enjoy
Usually, a B2B video company will happily take the time to help you prepare if you ask them. They want to do great work and know that proper preparation directly affects the quality of the footage captured and the video produced.

The best crews can also adapt to tricky scenarios (we once had a memorable shoot in a restaurant that was still under construction!). But taking the time to get organised before the day will mean less time spent overcoming obstacles and more creating beautiful video content for you.

Five tips for optimising PDFs for search engines

The Internet is arguably the best — and certainly the most accessible — source of personal and business information. But unless we know exactly what we’re looking for, we rely on search engines to help us find that needle in a haystack. That’s why many companies (especially those in the IT sector) have web infrastructure in place designed to ready their content for the web.

The popular PDF format is ideal for sharing your valuable content — almost anyone, on any computer system, can open a PDF file. And it’s a great way to ensure your content always looks good and prints properly. But, while most leading search engines can now read and index the content of a PDF, there are still steps you can take to optimise your PDFs for the search engines.

  1. Make sure your PDFs are text based. Some PDF programs simply convert text into a large image, which the search engines cannot read. Instead, create the PDF file using a text-based editor like Microsoft Word or Adobe Acrobat — it will look better too.
  2. Optimise your PDF copy using the same search engine optimisation (SEO) techniques you’d use for your web copy. Use specific keywords wherever you can — in headings and subheads, throughout the body text, in the table of contents and in alt text for images. And use the title as a header or footer throughout the document.
  3. Complete the document properties to prevent search engines from yielding untitled PDF files — making it difficult for visitors to tell if this file is useful to them. If you didn’t add them before saving as a PDF, you can use Adobe Acrobat instead. Add metadata properties at the same time to avoid indexers mislabelling your valuable content.
  4. Optimise the links to the PDF. For a PDF file to be indexed, the search engine must be able to find it. The links to the PDF files should be on a web page that is frequently ‘spidered’ by search engines, not hidden deep in your website.
  5. Build links into your PDF — search engines do recognise these links. So make sure these important hyperlinked words give them, and your visitors, useful information about the content of the page you’re linking to. You’ll also give readers an easy way to click back to your website where you can influence them further.

Have you tried optimising your PDFs for the web? Did it drive more traffic to your website? Get in touch on Twitter, LinkedIn or in the comments section and let us know what you think.