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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.

Don’t do innovative marketing just for the sake of it

Do you worry that you’re not being innovative enough with your B2B marketing? You’re not alone if you do; research by Accenture indicates that many marketers worry that they aren’t being innovative enough to deliver.

We’re worried too, but mainly because the value of ‘innovation’ seems unquestioned. Unless we define ‘innovation’ as ‘whatever works best’, we think it’s odd to simply assume that ‘traditional’ can’t drive growth and only ‘innovation’ will do.

Give ‘em what they want
Going back to first principles, as marketers we exist to help sell stuff to customers. That means we need to be doing things that customers are interested in. We need to be in the places they’re in, saying the things that will resonate with them.

Now, that might mean you need to turn your marketing on its head and start “actively driving the disruptive growth agenda”, to quote Accenture. But it equally might mean that you just need to really hone your value proposition and messaging so that you’re saying things that your audience simply can’t ignore.

Assess the value of innovation
Don’t get us wrong — we love innovative B2B marketing ideas as much as anybody. We get that most audiences respond to creativity, to ideas that are clever and different. And the strategies suggested by Accenture make perfect sense, because they focus on meeting customer needs and delivering outcomes that matter to customers.

That said, we’d caution that innovation needs to be backed up by solid customer insight and business reasoning.

Innovative B2B marketing concepts are often expensive — if not financially, then certainly in terms of your time as you climb a learning curve, win over internal audiences and overcome objections from more conservative colleagues. That kind of effort shouldn’t be entered into unless you’ve got good reason to believe it’ll work.

Sounds obvious, but it’s easy to forget when your boss is staring you down in a planning meeting and you feel like you need to impress.

Back to basics
So the next time you’re sat at your desk, wondering what you’re going to do to shake up your marketing efforts and deliver the results the business demands, ask yourself: do you need to come up with a bleeding-edge, ahead-of-the-curve marketing agenda? Or do you first need to make sure the basics are covered really well?
• If your assets are uploaded as PDFs, are they optimised for search engines?
• Is your content engaging?
• Are your email campaigns up to scratch?
• And so on.

A foundation for innovation
Of course, looking after the basics isn’t nearly as exciting as blue-skying the next paradigm shift in your content marketing.

But given how stretched marketers are, activities that can deliver relatively large improvements compared to the effort required — such as covering the basics — seem to make sense.
And of course, once those basics are covered, when you do find an opportunity and a need to be innovative, your efforts will likely be that much more effective.

Robot writers: the potential and perils of AI copywriting

Last year, campaign.co.uk published this article about how Goldman Sachs is investing in an automated copywriting startup. Naturally, this got all the human copywriters here at HN to wondering whether our jobs were about to be lost to robots.

Although the boss assured us that there were no immediate replacement plans, the question remains – does AI copywriting have a future in B2B marketing?

Come on… really?

Even in an age of VR, where the digital world is inching closer and closer to the physical, the ability of robots to take over creative jobs sounds a little far-fetched.
But it’s definitely being worked on; Google’s AI has written some eerie, haunting short poems, and has beaten a grand master at Go, widely believed to be the most complex game ever devised. And there are the incredible feats that IBM’s Watson is pulling off, from cooking up a storm to saving lives.

So why shouldn’t AI be able to match human writers when it comes to B2B copy?

After all, we can do quite a lot to define the sales funnel or buyer’s journey that we hope to move targets through. Our job is to match solutions and messaging to stated (or assumed) customer needs at various points on their journey, and both halves of this equation (solutions/messaging and needs) seem amenable to being specified for the AI.

We can also point to loads of examples of good B2B copywriting for AI to learn from.

And as I sit here with a cold while my computer perches contentedly on the desk, one of us seems rather obviously to be a far more resilient worker…

The rise of the machines?

But I’m not panicking — yet. Because what is possible in principle is perhaps not so much in practice — yet.

Rarely do we receive a brief that is completely unambiguous in intent and complete in every respect. Because, frankly, composing such a brief is time-consuming and our clients are busy people. So they’re looking for us to connect lots of dots by ourselves, and to clarify where necessary through the faster and more efficient process of having a conversation.

Asking even the cleverest computer to reliably identify gaps and then pick up the phone to ask questions feels like a very tall order right now. Maybe in a few years I’ll have to reassess, but right now I’m feeling pretty secure.

What would be cool is access to an AI copywriter to use as an additional tool in my copywriting toolkit.

I’m thinking of how Watson’s recipes work best when filtered through the judgement of a human cook. And of how machine translation can make the lives of translators easier, but rarely works well enough without human post-editing. I can see how a robot copywriter might help me think of options I’d not have found on my own, and that could help me become a better writer.

So bring on the robot copywriters; I’m not scared… yet.

Ones to watch: HN’s 2017 B2B Marketing Predictions

With some pretty major predictions having been rather wide of the mark in 2016, you’d be forgiven for viewing prediction-based articles with a bit of scepticism. But you can’t stay ahead of the curve unless you’re looking forward. So let’s look at some of the trends that we think could shape B2B marketing activities in 2017.

Prediction 1:  360° video takes off

A lot of what’s currently touted as ‘VR’ is — at least outside the video game world — more accurately 360° video.

Nonetheless, it’s been an exciting development in 2016, being used in medicine and even to retell the story of the crucifixion. Facebook and YouTube have already integrated 360° video into their platforms. And 360° video ads and other marketing are surely not far behind. Visit Austria’s collection of videos demonstrate perfectly how 360° video encourages viewers to spend more time with the content you create.

Part of what makes 360° video so exciting is that its design is ‘mobile first’. Viewers can survey the panorama by turning and tilting their mobile phone. 80% of internet users own a smartphone, making the need for mobilised content more pressing than ever, and 360° video could be a powerful way to stand out from the crowd.

It also provides some of the immersive experience of more complex VR technology, without the price. So B2B content marketers can use it to bring content to life, especially dense and hard-to-visualise content.

For example, you could create a 360° video that places the viewer at the heart of a computer network during a cyber-attack. Or to liven up a virtual tour inside a data centre.

Prediction 2: Live video enhances corporate events

There’s something about the immediacy and unpredictability of live content that engages people much more than if it were recorded. With tools such as Facebook Live and Periscope growing in use, this is a trend to watch out for in the 2017 B2B marketing world.

Tools such as these could be used to livestream corporate conferences and events, allowing people all around the globe to tune in from the comfort of their office chairs.

Savvy marketers can also encourage delegates, speakers and employees at their events to generate their own live video content to share with their networks, increasing reach and engagement beyond those who follow your corporate social channels.

Prediction 3: White papers become mobile-friendly

Increasingly, your target business audiences will be accessing your social media channels (Twitter, LinkedIn et al) through their mobile phones. So have you thought about what happens when, for example, they click on a tweet promoting your white paper (a piece you’ve invested a lot of time and effort in), and find themselves having to download and read a PDF — on their mobile?

This is not an effective way of engaging and starting a conversation: the traditional white paper format just isn’t designed for the mobile channel. Which is why we think that condensing white papers into a mobile-friendly format could be a big thing this year.

The idea is to take ‘flat’ long-form content (your white paper) and create a teaser or trailer with mobile-friendly screens, designed for scrolling and swiping and using video or animations to bring it to life. Unlike infographics, which aren’t always easy to view on mobile devices, the ‘mobile white paper’ would be designed specifically to work on a mobile screen, giving the user a slick experience that adds to the overall power of the piece.

Where the full paper (in PDF form) would cause them to disengage, the shorter, mobile-friendly version would keep them interested and give them handy options for accessing the full paper once they’re using a more appropriate device (or have access to a printer).

Look out for a further blog on this topic, which will more fully explore why we think there’s a gap here that needs to be filled.

And with those predictions laid down, may we wish you a prosperous, exciting and fulfilling 2017.

Abridging quotes – how to do it properly

A great quote can give a piece of writing impact and emotional context, making it more compelling for the reader (as this case study demonstrates). But many people struggle to give you a quote that packs a punch in just a few words. If you don’t want your brochure, case study or presentation to lag, you may want to shorten a wordy customer quote. Sounds straightforward enough, but people get nervous about how to do it properly. So let’s take a look at abridging quotes.

Deleting words: the ellipsis

If you’re removing some words from your quote, simply replace them with an ellipsis (…).
For example:

Jon at HN says, “Agency life is fantastic because it’s so fast-paced and the clients are so varied; you’re always working on something new and exciting.”

Becomes:

Jon at HN says, “Agency life is fantastic… you’re always working on something new and exciting.”

Adding or replacing words: the square brackets

If you need to add words for clarification, you put square brackets around the words you’re adding. They can even replace the words you’re clarifying, like so:

Jon at HN says, “It’s fantastic because it’s so fast-paced and the clients are so varied; you’re always working on something new and exciting.”

Could become:

Jon at HN says, “It [agency life]’s fantastic … you’re always working on something new and exciting.”

Or

Jon at HN says, “[Agency life]’s fantastic … you’re always working on something new and exciting.”

See also: The importance of punctuation

Use with caution
Simple as it may be to abridge quotes from a formatting perspective, it’s important to remember that your abridged quote needs to still carry the same meaning as the full quote. Sometimes including or excluding one word too many can change the meaning of your quote. Revisiting our example above, changing:

Jon at HN says, “Agency life is fantastic but challenging, because it’s so fast-paced and you’re always working on something new.”

To:

Jon at HN says, “Agency life is fantastic … you’re always working on something new.”

Isn’t right – you’ve changed the meaning of the original sentence from a qualified endorsement of agency life to a wholehearted one, somewhat distorting Jon’s views in the process.

Clarifications also need to be treated with caution to preserve the meaning of the sentence. Changing “Agency life is fantastic.” to “[HN] is fantastic” would, sadly, be straying too far semantically to be an acceptable reflection of what Jon said (though working at HN, of course, IS fantastic; the sentence is perfectly true).

Should you bother?

If you’re finding it hard to make a quote fit your purpose, one option is simply to rewrite it – as long as you make sure the person you’re attributing the quote to approves it. It’s common practice in B2B copy to convey the sentiment and meaning of what someone originally said, but using language that is perhaps plainer, or more specific, or more emotional than originally expressed — then get them to approve the new form of words. We generally find that those we talk to are happy to have their sentiments expressed more concisely and clearly, to make their point more effectively.

For more advice on tweaking your language to give it more impact, check out our blog on straight-talking (and discover why Simon Cowell and President Obama are more similar than you might think). Or get in touch and let us see if we can help you convert your lengthy prose into converting content.

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.

The only B2B marketing advice you need (don’t take our word for it)

I’m a bit of a fantasy nerd in my spare time, and there’s a quote from one of my favourite series that got me thinking about marketing advice.

“We base our assessment of the intelligence of others almost entirely on how closely their thinking matches our own. I’m sure that there are people out there who violently disagree with me on most things, and I’m broad-minded enough to concede that they might possibly not be complete idiots, but I much prefer the company of people who agree with me.”
David Eddings, Belgarath the Sorcerer.

Do you ever find yourself reading an article about how to improve your marketing, simply to confirm your own opinions on the subject? I know I’ve done it plenty of times. Comforting though it may be, it doesn’t actually help me know that I’ve found some advice, or a marketing strategy, that’s actually going to improve my skills as a marketer – it just lets me know that I’ve found a writer who shares my world view. So, if you’re in that boat too, how can you find out what really works in marketing and what doesn’t?

Our best marketing advice in three simple steps

Step 1: Test
Test everything you do on your audience: different content styles, different messages, different fonts – and gather data on how those different options worked.

Step 2: Listen to your data
After all, the data you’ve collected is the only data in existence that’s about your audience specifically. That makes it far more valuable than any surveys, reports or other marketing advice out there.

Step 3: Act on it – then repeat
Once you’ve tested your strategies and have the data to prove that they’re working, trust them. It’s as simple as that. But remember to keep testing what you’re doing. As your market and audience grow, or the environment they’re operating in changes, you may need to refine your strategies or create new ones.

Of course, we aren’t suggesting that you should never read another marketing article again. What we’re saying is that, helpful and inspiring as these articles may be, they’re no substitute for getting out there and gathering your own insight into what works and what doesn’t in marketing.

What’s the best marketing advice you’ve ever received? Let us know in the comments below, or join in the dialogue on Twitter or LinkedIn.

Customer experience: setting the mood with unforgettable content

Have you had an unforgettable customer experience — one that stands out in your memory for all the right reasons? I still remember a call I made to Virgin Airways for two reasons: the hold music was Stevie Wonder’s Superstitious (what’s not to like?) and it was also great quality, unlike most hold music which sounds like it’s being played through a toilet.
In business, it’s not just what you say that matters — the quality and tone of your content can have a massive impact on the way your customer feels about you. Compare a datasheet that’s presented as a dense list of numbers, against one that’s well laid out and easy to understand. The first can leave you feeling none the wiser, while the other can be an absolute pleasure to read.
So how can you give your content this treatment and ensure it gets customers talking?

1: Critically assess the tone
Even if you have brand guidelines, there are things you can do to make your content engaging, lively and an all-round joy to read. Read it to yourself and see if you get bored; if you do, chances are your customer will too.

2: Make sure it’s clean
It might sound obvious, but weeding out spelling errors and grammar mistakes is essential — nothing looks worse than a rogue apostrophe or a typo in the title. It’s essential to do a spell-check, but you could also use a proofreader or engage an agency to create sparkling, word-perfect content.

3: Think about the user experience
The user experience (UX) is something we tend to talk about in the context of web design but it’s equally relevant for content. What information does your audience want to see up front, and where will their eye be drawn to first? Do the two things match? Does your video include lots of text? If they’re watching it on a smartphone, it’ll be too small to read. Putting yourself in the reader’s shoes can really make good content great.

Over to you
What do you do to give your customers an experience to remember? What’s the best treatment you’ve received? Share your thoughts with us in the comments box below, or via Twitter or LinkedIn.

Tailor your customer reference programme to suit your client

Customer reference programmes are a great way to promote your product or service to potential new customers and overcome any objections they may have. However, the amount of time your reference customers are willing budget for this may be limited.

If that’s the case, you can still deliver value for yourself, and them, without investing too much time. Ideally, you’ll offer them a range of options and allow them to choose the level of involvement that best suits them. For example:

Level 1: Logo and name only

Use of your customer’s name and/or logo on your website and in marketing collateral requires the least amount of commitment. But, remember, you still need their permission.

Level 2: Testimonial

Customer quotes that endorse your company’s work are valuable when you have to work that little bit harder to engage with your audience, such as when using direct mail or PR activity, for example.

Level 3: Text-based customer success story

In an ideal world, your customer will be willing to participate in a telephone or in-person interview and to review the copy before publication. This can take the form of a press release, newsletter article or printed case study.

Level 4: Video story

If your story is one of real human interest, why not exploit  audio and video for your customer reference programme to show the emotion behind the words? A three-minute video interview can be used at conferences or seminars, published online and promoted through social media channels.

Level 5: Speaking engagement

If customers have a very high level of goodwill toward your company, they may be willing to speak at a conference, trade show, seminar or similar event. Get the most value you can from this commitment: such presentations can be recorded and broadcast on your website as a video or podcast.

Level 6: Reference visit or telephone reference

The highest level of commitment a customer can make to your company is to agree to be a reference site. The customer will agree to take telephone calls or host visits from your qualified potential customers to allow them to discuss their experience with you and see elements of the solution in action.

Which customer reference activities have worked best for your company? Let us know in the comments field below, or through Twitter and LinkedIn.

Dowmload our free Customer reference ebook

Download our ebook:
‘Your guide to supporting the sales process with an effective customer reference programme’

Continuing the cycle: when the buyer’s journey is over

It’s a familiar scenario: someone has bought your product or service and is satisfied. A customer’s completed their buyer’s journey, you’ve made a sale and everyone’s happy.

But what about the next time? How do you ensure that you’re considered in the future? How do you stay at the forefront of your customer’s mind?

In short, the answer is: genuine interaction.

When we say genuine, we’re talking about going beyond product-focussed communications. Remember, your customer hasn’t just bought your services; they’ve bought into your company ethos, your approach to business and your brand personality. In fact, it’s likely that those were the factors that led them to choose you over your competitors. Keeping those aspects of you shining through – rather than what you’re selling – will go a long way towards your customer considering you the next time they have need of your services.

But how do you do that? At HN, we’ve been helping businesses continue conversations with existing customers for a while and we’ve seen the following examples have great success.

  • A quarterly update email lets everyone know what your company’s been up to. Perhaps you’ve announced a new partnership, or attended a recent industry event. Even if there’s nothing like that going on, you could always share your company’s latest blog post (if you haven’t got a company blog, then you’re missing out!)
  • Build an online community, be it a LinkedIn or Facebook group or a technical forum, and get discussions going among your customers. In doing so, you’ll create multiple opportunities to engage directly with your customers – showing your knowledge and passion for the issues that affect them. You never know, you might even learn a thing or two from them!
  • Organise a customer event where you can discuss issues and upcoming developments that you know they’ll be interested in. It doesn’t have to be a Gartner Symposium-sized event; even an informal get-together gives you a chance to interact on a personal level with your customers and plenty of opportunities to discuss further business opportunities if the time is right. And, anyway, nothing says thank you like free food.
  • Interact on social media by responding to mentions and posts or even reaching out to influential customers or industry figures. When done right, you can start and maintain conversations on key topics facing your customers, just as in a forum or at an event.

Have you tried any of these for your  sales cycle? If you already do these things regularly, how do they work for you? Let us know your experience by leaving a comment, or getting in touch via Twitter or LinkedIn.