I’m a fan of explanatory videos for several reasons:

  • High engagement (for at least the first 20 – 60 seconds). In a TL;DR world a well placed video will hold a visitor’s full attention for at least 20 seconds.
  • Multi-media. You’ve got moving pictures, words, music, and sound effects all working to convey information and create emotion.
  • Emotion & Impact. Nothing beats video when it comes to high-impact demos and/or conveying passion, enthusiasm and sincerity.

Unfortunately, very few explanatory videos take full advantage of these strengths.

  • Many waste their high-engagement window with too much unadorned exposition and preamble.
  • Most over-use the “say-it, show it” technique and under-use visual storytelling techniques to point where they become nothing more than poorly illustrated radio ads.
  • And more than a few tend to overplay the cartoon-y animation in ways that undermine effective emotional impact

But Salesforce knocked their video on Cloud Computing out of the park. If you haven’t seen it yet, watch it now:

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Granted, the video could jump to the point even faster than it does, but even still, the central meat of the message starts after 15 seconds — within the 20 second window of engagement. Moreover, the fast-moving animation easily keeps viewers’ attention until then. And after that, the video just keeps getting better.

Here are some specific aspects of the video that are worth noting, copying, and demanding from your explanatorry video, should you decide to get one:

1. The video counterpoints less-emotional words with more emotional imagery

For example, at the 40 second mark, the audio says “you call technical support, and they don’t know, so they blame someone else.” But the imagery shows the tech support guy lounging in a chair with his feet up, laughing at the customers predicament while mindlessly throwing darts. The neutral audio combines with the cutting video to create a messaging impact that’s greater than either one alone. Nice.

Another great example occurs when one stick figure “sticks up” a customer stand-in, firing a pistol that unfurls into a microsoft flag — all while the announcer says, “…the way you pay for cloud apps is also different.”  Well played, Salesforce. Well played : )

2. The animation enhances the emotional impact of the messaging rather than undermining it

At the 44 second mark, the video shows a rather unstable-looking stack of software, which topples when one of the software boxes get’s swapped out forr an upgrade.  The toppling of the boxes is meant to represent and dramatize a serious real-world problem.

A less-effective video would show the stack crashing straight to one side or another, without employing any depth cueus. In cinematic terms, they’d use flat staging, more suitable to comedy than drama. Worse, they’d probably make the crash cartoony in a way that would belittle the real-world consequences supposedly represented by the animation.

In the Salesforce video, on the other hand, they show the stack crashing towards the camera/viewer, using depth staging and serious sound effects to enhance the dramatic effect of the crash. And it works, because the producers of the video knew their craft as visual storytellers.

You can see this same depth staging when the “hairball” crushes the small business two. The scene is shot at an angle, looking up at the advancing hairball, rather than shown flat.

Remember: videos should use serious staging and serious sound effects for serious subject matter.

3. The video builds upon visual symbols from one scene to the next

The Salesforce video emphasizes the mess of a software crash by creating a giant hairball of IT difficulty/failure around the toppled software stack at the 50 second mark. Then that same hairball crushes a small business under the weight of IT difficulties 10 seconds later, while the audio track says, “small businesses don’t stand a chance.” Great pairing of visual storytelling and symbolism (IT failure will kill your small business) with explanatory audio.

Later the video will also contrast the wobbly software stack displayed at the video’s 44 second mark with a nice, super-stable, cloud-supported stack of cloud-based apps showcased at the 2:40 mark.

4. The Video Makes Effective Use of Reality Hooks and Analogies

When the Salesforce video compares gmail with Microsoft Exchange, a light goes on. Anyone with the slightest gMail experience knows that it truly delivers on Apple’s claimed promise of “It just works.” gMail might not have the best interface in the world, but it does work uber-reliably, with no technical fiddling required on the part of the user.

So what better way to drive home the advantages of cloud-based computing over reguar, enterprise level software than bringing it to the level of immediate, shared experience.  The ability to bring the benefits of cloud-based apps home to the viewer, serves not only as an explanatory analogy, but as a persuasive “reality hook.”

5. The video’s strongest and boldest claims are followed by a genuine “Here’s why” sequence

Starting at the 1:50 mark and running all the way till 2:10, the Salesforce video makes several bold claims about cloud-based apps: that you can be up and running in a few days, that their apps cost less, are more scalable and secure and reliable than regular software. Then, they give a nice reason-why explanation for those claims.

Right at the 2:10 mark the video launches into an explanation of multi-tenancy, comparing it to renting space in an office building (rather than paying for the whole building yourself).  Strong, Relevant Claims + Credible Proof = Persuasion. The salesforce video gets this in a way that a lot of explanatory videos don’t.

6. The video uses music to its advantage

Go ahead and listen to the video as it switches from the piano music of frustration and pain while it explains business software’s shortcomings to playing a high-beat, up-tempo music when explaining the advantages of cloud computing. When you control the music, you control the emotional tone of the video, meaning that every explanatory video ought to make persuasive use of music, just like Salesforce’s video does.

The Bottom Line

If you’re planning on creating an explanatory video for your business or start-up, it’s well worth the time to watch a bunch of them from different providers.  Watch them with the sound off. Watch them with the sound on but the video covered up. Now ask yourself:

  • Which ones make full use of visual storytelling?
  • Which make effective use of music?
  • Which take too darn long to get to the point?
  • And which ones actual achieve both clarity and credibility regarding the products claimed benefits?

What you’ll probably find is that great explanatory videos require a strongly persuasive script AND strong visual storytelling. Just make sure you’re getting both parts of that equation into your video…

P.S. There are a lot of solid explanatory videos out there and I’ll be reviewing more in the coming weeks, so if you’ve got a favorite you’d like analyzed, link to it in the comments.



  1. carl on 01.25.2015

    Nice article!
    I have a question…what software program do you think they used to build these videos?

    thank you

  2. Jeff on 01.25.2015


    I don’t know for certain, but I’d guess Adobe Flash or Adobe After Effects. That said, I don’t personally produce this kind of video (though I have been hired to script them), and there’s a ton of software out there, making it nearly impossible to tell what software created this or that look. You can always ask the creators themselves.

    – Jeff