Early mistakes that’ll doom your first explainer video

Visit any startup homepage and the chances are the first thing you’ll see is an explainer video: a video explaining their product, service, or company – and for good reason. When done well, explainer videos are an engaging and easily digestible way to introduce your startup. They help your audience immediately understand what you do while connecting them to your broader vision. So it’s no wonder 96% of people say they’ve watched an explainer video to learn more about a product or service.

But as we discussed in our post demystifying B2B video marketing, producing a video is hard, and creating a single flagship video to represent your entire organization is even harder.

Author and chess grandmaster Edmar Mednis famously said out of the twenty possible first moves in chess, the Barnes Opening (pawn to f3) is the worst. It doesn’t exert control over the center or develop any other piece. Similarly, when producing an explainer video, not taking the proper first steps is akin to not controlling the center or enabling the success of your vision.

In this post, we won’t debate whether you need an explainer video (check out this post to evaluate whether you need one). Instead, we’ll assume you’ve decided to create an explainer video and tackle the most common early mistakes we see when companies embark on producing their first explainer video.

Mistake #1: Choosing the video vendor with the most sophisticated portfolio

People are often tempted to choose the vendor with the most diverse and complex portfolio. After all, they’ve clearly shown that they’re capable of producing high-quality, sophisticated content, so they’ll be able to do anything and everything you’re looking for.

While the sentiment is true and a high level of video editing aptitude is important, it shouldn’t be your only priority. Also pay attention to a vendor whose natural editing and design style closely aligns with your brand. They’ll have an implicit bias towards your vision for the video, and if you aren’t a seasoned video producer, this alignment allows you to lean more on their creative expertise.

If you can pick out two or three videos in their portfolio that are close to what you’re looking for, that’s usually a good sign. It requires some extra time but can ultimately shorten the delivery time by reducing the number of revisions and handholding throughout the process.

Mistake #2: Treating your intro call with your video vendor as a one-way interview

An intro call with your prospective video vendor is a two-way job interview. Just like the vendor, you want to make a good first impression and get them excited to work with you. This creates buy-in and can make budget and deadline negotiations easier.

So like a job interview, you should prepare as many items as possible so your vendor can have a better understanding of what you’re looking for and whether they’re the right person for the job. Investing in these items before your intro call can make or break your explainer video:

  1. Video brief: A video brief should be your first take at a storyboard, meaning it should contain sample imagery of each graphic motion, a description of the animation / action, and the associated narration snippet (you can find samples here). Overall, your video brief should contain enough for your vendor to visualize the entire video. The more detailed the better.
  2. Voiceover: It’s easier to edit the video to match a specific voiceover than vice versa, so recording the voiceover first will give the vendor concrete timing for each scene and avoid having to revisit completed progress.
  3. Color palette, logos, icons, and other branding items: Bring any existing imagery and branding guides you have. The more guidelines you draw early on, the less guesswork your vendor will have – reducing the number of review cycles you’ll need.

Mistake #3: Not being granular in the steps leading up to the final product

Having a project deadline is standard, but many organizations make the mistake of not establishing deadlines for the steps leading up to the final video, e.g., the storyboard, drafts, review cycles, etc. Being granular in these steps not only gives you the ability to track progress but also limits any other stakeholders from requesting too many revisions.

The timeframe for each of these steps ultimately depends on a bunch of variables like video length, project complexity, vendor’s schedule, so on and so forth, so work with your vendor to create a reasonable timeline for each of these steps.

Our “must-have deadlines” list for explainer videos:

  1. The first few frames
  2. The full storyboard (v1, v2, …)
  3. All review cycles
  4. Drafts (v1, v2, …)
  5. Final project deadline

The bottom line

Producing your first explainer video doesn’t have to be intimidating. Set yourself up for success early by spending the extra time to find the perfect vendor, prepare your guidelines early on, and create a bulletproof project plan. Creativity and unpredictability belong in the video itself – not the process.

Tim is a Marketing Director at Blue Seedling, avid surfer, and proud cat dad.

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