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:
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
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.
Case in point, the triangle to the right doesn’t exist. The only shapes in that picture are three black pac-man shapes.
Yeah, the negative space left by those pacman shapes include wedges of white — but the larger triangle that you see connecting those wedges of white into a meaningful pattern only exists in your mind.
And yet, if the pacmans are there, you can’t help but see that triangle, can you?
In fact, the only way to not see the triangle is to remove two of the pacman figures, ’cause as long as the dots are there, you WILL connect them.
Designers refer to this as “closure,” and it’s more than just a parlor trick or visual illusion.
Closure and Image-Text Interaction
Closure, as it turns out, not only comes into play between elements within a picture, but also between image and text. And this interplay was especially on display in a recent post by the always-interesting Derek Halpern (h/t Melissa Breau)
Halpern references recent psychological studies showing that statements accompanied by related images are considered more believable than the same statement without an image. So, a statement like “The liquid inside a thermometer is magnesium” was more frequently rated as true when it was accompanied by a picture of a thermometer!
Similarly, statements about whether some obscure “celebrity” was alive or dead were also more frequently rated as true when the statement was accompanied by a picture of the celebrity. And this effect was the same regardless of whether the pictured celebrity was pronounced dead or still living.
Clearly, pictures have persuasive power beyond what anyone has ever suspected.
And just knowing this is incredibly useful, but in my opinion, the real meat of these studies comes from asking WHY. Fortunately, one of the posts that Derek links to nicely summarizes the hypothesis formed by the scientists who conducted these tests [emphasis mine]:
“The reason for the difference lies in the suspected mechanism at work. The “truthiness” researchers (Newman et al., 2012) speculate that a not necessarily probative but relevant image, like the tire slide above, increases the “cognitive availability” of the concept. That means the mind finds it easier to think about and elaborate on the concept. In the process, that makes the claim seem more familiar which in turn makes it feel more true: “Truthiness” achieved.
There are also other mechanisms that facilitate elaboration. For example, the researchers refer to the notion of a “semantically predictive sentence,” which means phrasing that leads a listener to anticipate what the upcoming words will be. For example, “the stormy seas tossed the boat” is more semantically predictive than “he saved up his money and bought a boat.” That expectation causes a listener to feel more familiarity and translate that into greater veracity (Whittlesea, 1993). When people are engaged — by anticipating the final word in this case — they engage in more fluent processing and that leads to a feeling of truth.
That process extends past the role of imagery. In Newman and associates’ second experiment, they showed that including non-probative words instead of a photo produced the same effect (e.g. accompanying a political leader’s name with information about ethnicity, sex, hair color, etc. — factors that create a picture in the mind, but without telling the reader whether the figure is alive or dead). The additional information led people to believe that the associated claim was more likely to be true.”
Ok, so first thing, what the heck does non-probative mean? Basically, it means the photo does not logically prove the statement to be true or false. Non-probative images are merely decorative.
For instance, if you have a statement like “The US has the highest incarceration rate of any country” and you then accompany that statement with a bar graph like the one on the right, then that image would be considered “probative” because it would logically “prove” the statement to be true, assuming that you took the image at “face value.”
This is opposed to a more decorative image of a convict behind bars. That photo would be related to the statement about incarceration rates, but it would not logically “prove” anything.
Why “Non-Probative” Doesn’t Mean Non-Persuasive
So who says suggestion is any less persuasive than outright statement?
For instance, if that photo of the convict behind bars was black, it might remind the test subject that the US jails a disproportionate number of African Americans — a visual suggestion that would surely color one’s judgement of the accompanying statement, right?
Because people can’t help but connect the dots between image and statement.
It works the same way with the celebrity statements as well. because we believe in internal consistency. If someone hands us a statement with spelling and grammatical errors, we become less likely to lend credibility to the statement or the person who wrote it. Anyone recall Dan Quayle’s Potato gaff?
So when someome mentions a little known celebrity and provides a picture of said celebrity, we not only automatically connect the dots between picture and celebrity, but we connect the dots between knowing who the heck one is talking about with knowing what the heck one is talking about. The thought process goes something like, you obviously know who this guy is and I don’t, so you probably also know whether or not he’s still alive…
Why do I think this is a greater factor than the psychologists’ “increased cognitive availability” hypothesis?
Because scientists who conducted the same test, but who accompanied the celebrity statements with facts and stats about the celebrity instead of a picture recorded the same effect: the stats boosted the perceived credibility exactly as the photos did in the previous test. And my guess is that the stats “prove” to the test subjects that the people making the statement really know who they’re talking about, in pretty much the same way that a picture would. Makes sense right?
But would stats really help people hold an idea in their heads? Would stats make the celebrity more “cognitively available” to the test subjects? I rather doubt it.
And images don’t have to do that explicitly, as implication and closure work just fine, if not even better.
A picture of an old-fashioned thermometer displays a silvery strip in the middle of it, implying the idea of liquid metal. Connecting the dots between image and statement, and suddenly the idea of liquid magnesium seems a whole lot more plausible…
It makes me wonder if a picture of a modern-day thermometer would have had the same results…
Using Closure To Improve Persuasion & Impact
So… we know this closure between image and text creates greater believability. But how would one use it for images alone?
Well, for images, the short answer is to give the viewer 2 + 2 rather than just handing them 4. Create an image that makes them connect the dots between elements of the image. Here are some great examples of that:
OK, so these are cheating a bit because they’re both text-based images, but neither of them make much sense until you connect the dots — allowing both ads to make their statements all the more strongly.
Here’s another example, this time with an honest, no-kidding image:
Again, the image is meaningless until you mentally “fill the gap” about what those sets of feet really indicate. Closure at work. There’s also a nice gap/connection between the stockinged feet and the text.
And on a more purely visual note, much of the emotional impact of this image can be attributed to the “gaps” that it forces your mind to fill in:
Great example of closure used to increase mental engagement and impact. But what about using closure to select more powerful imagery to accompany your persuasive copy and messaging?
How to Use This In Web Copy
Here’s what I suggest:
1. Use the “I saw it with my own eyes, so it must be real” approach
If you’ve got a testimonial, you could, as Derek suggests, place a picture of the customer who gave it to you next to the testimonial. That’ll work. Or, if you don’t have that, you could take a photo of the hand-written testimonial and place it next to the testimonial.
It sounds silly, but just imagine the difference between someone saying “this person wrote in to say X” and someone handing you the actual hand-written note and saying “look what customer X had to say.” Which would be more persuasive? The latter, right? Because then you could say that you saw the testimonial “with your own eyes.”
Of course, the “so it must be true” part would likely go unsaid, but it would be all the more powerful for it. And that’s why an image of the hand-written testimonial would be more persuasive than the statement alone.
So within your sales copy, determine which elements people would most want to see with their own eyes, then find images that would give them a similar sense of verification.
Another example, I once worked with a metal roofing company that claimed a no-kidding 50-year life span on their roofs. Now the claim and guarantee is great. But what I advised them to do was find the oldest roof they had ever installed (which turned out to be 30+ years old) and to get both an establishing pic of the building/roof and a close-up picture of the metal “tiles.” It’s one thing to claim a 50-year life span, and another entirely to show a 30-year roof that looks brand new.
Just don’t do the cheese-ball thing of using blacked out bank statements to “prove” how much money you make!
2. Use images to suggest and emotionally prime belief
No one does this better than apple. Take a look at this screen shot from Apple’s page on the new iPad 4:
It’s not an accident that the iPad sports an image of two Porsche’s about to race, or that the image is from a graphics intensive game. The messaging is about speed after all. Speed achieved through high-performance engineering. Don’t you think the image of “Porsche Race Cars” brings all that to mind rather powerfully?
Here’s another example:
So… what the heck is that black ring in the middle of the picture?
It’s not a magnifying glass. Nor is it a camera lens, is it? Maybe it’s some kind of weird bastard love child between the two…
But it doesn’t matter, does it. We instinctively know that this is showing us that even when you magnify the picture 2.5X, it’s still high-res enough to look crisp and un-pixelated. Of course, the copy never makes that claim. But the picture certainly suggests it, doesn’t it?
If Images Combined with Statements Are Powerful, What About Video?
But were this really starts to come into it’s own is in explanatory videos. But that’s a subject for another post…
The basics are not basic because they are easy, but because they are fundamental. And when it comes to Website optimization, the three fundamental questions pretty much never change:
- Who is coming to the site? How did they arrive? And what are their goals?
- What’s the next step forward for them both in terms of their goals and your conversion funnel?
- What do they need to understand, believe, and feel in order to confidently take those next steps
The beauty of these questions are that they help you understand WHY web visitors do what they do. Analytics can tell you what visitors are doing, but you’ll never really figure out WHY they’re doing it until you get a grasp on these questions.
I was reminded of this when looking at this week’s Which Test Won column. Now, I like Which Test Won, but my usual pet peave with their columns is that they often fail to give readers enough context around the tests and the user experience and clickstream in order to make a fully informed guess as to which of the two variants won.
At best you have to sort of make educated guesses regarding the three basic questions. Here’s an example:
The contest explanation/headline is: “Does Adding a ‘Refine Your Search’ Toolbar Help Clickthroughs on a Category Page with 99+ Products?” And then they just present you with the two pages, one with and one without the ‘refine your search’ toolbar. I’ve screenshot the images and pasted them below:
So… it sort of matters how people got to this page and what they’re shopping for, or if they are shopping vs. just getting information, and WHY they are shopping. But no one tells you this, so you’re sort of left to imagine or “make up” the visitor’s intentions/goals and path to this page. Here’s how I pictured it, based on the information provided in the breadcrumbs up at the top of the page:
- The visitors came to buy some sort of wood finish for a home improvement project, I’m guessing some kind of deck finish
- They came in from the home page, went to “Decorating,” selecting “Woodcare,”
- Finally clicking on “Cuprinol,” OR
- The visitor searched on “Cuprinol Wood Finish” (or similar) and this page represents the search results.
- Is it easier to refine by price or do you really just want to look and see what the price is? Probably the latter.
- Does it help to refine by brand? No, because you’ve already done that by specifying Cuprinol.
- What about refining by product type? Meh, what if you’re looking for a combination stain and preservative? Or maybe you want to see all your options?
- Might it help to refine by application? Yes, but would you even have seen that or would you already have dismissed the refining tool as useless by now?
Bryan Eisenberg Still Kicking CRO Butt w/ the 3 Questions
I have guest posted over at Web Marketing Today for a while now, but the Website itself has recently undergone a redesign as well as a slight editorial change with regards to my posts. While the focus on Web Marketing for small to medium-sized businesses remains the same, my posts are now focused on:
- Website Improvement for Service-Based Businesses
- Content Marketing for Service-Based Businesses
I’m excited about this because SMB Service Providers are a largely underserved market when it comes to Web Marketing. Most examples focus on either etailers or enterprise-sized B2B service providers.
Yet, a majority of what my Wizard Partners call “Main Street Businesses” are either service providers (think HVAC, carpeting, contractors, printers, advertisers, Web designers, accountants, consultants etc.) or are retailers who manage to stay profitable and, frankly, relevant to the customer based on their ability to provide services around the sale (most niche or specialty stores & boutiques). So this is an extremely important market to serve and speak to, and I feel uniquely privileged to be able to do so.
If you’re interested in this kind of content, you can find all my Web Marketing Today posts here. A recent one that I think many of you would like is this post on 5 Sales-Generating Photos for Service Websites.
At any rate, I hope you like what you find, and please let me know if there is anything that you’d like me to cover in future articles.
OK, the headline exaggerated it — most of these resources won’t help you improve your entire Lead Gen Website, just your Lead Generation Forms.
But, if your forms suck, then all that hard persuasive work you’ve done on the rest of the Website goes to waste, right? So why not get hot on improving your forms now, so you can enjoy a full pipeline of well-qualified prospects later?
So let’s start with…
Wisdom from the Eisenberg’s
Great information for ensuring your Website is pulling in profitable and qualified leads rather than tire kickers. This is one of the few resources that does actually talk about more than just lead forms. And just for good measure, here’s a ClickZ article from Bryan that also gives recommendations applicable to both your entire Lead Gen Website and your forms.
This is a great strategic, top-down look at the three big flaws afflicting most lead-gen forms. I’m sure you’re doing to know what those three flaws are, but you’ll have to click-through to find out
Resource #3: 7 Form Factors to Increase Conversions
This one looks at the major elements that are part of every lead generation form, and then tells you how to maximize the effectiveness of each element.
Now Let’s Look at…
Split Test Results Worth Studying
Resource #4: Wider Funnel Tests a Newsletter Sign-up Form
This is a great test for a few reasons, but mostly because the test explicitly forms hypothesis to test, prior to creating the test, rather than just throwing variations against a wall to see which one “sticks.” Plus the hypothesis and lessons learned are really insightful and broadly applicable.
Resource #5: Wider Funnel Tests for Form Length and Form Flow
Another solid testing write-up from Wider Funnel. Worth the read.
Case Studies & Usability Guidelines
Resource #6: Lesson From Madlibs Signup Fad: Do Your Own Tests
If you’ve never heard about them before, the Madlib style sign-up form proved a hit with several businesses and bloggers on the Web a few years back. But when this guy tested it out for himself, he found a different story. Bottom Line: best practices are in no way guaranteed to work in your specific situation, and surprising, head-slapping tests are fairly common for anyone that runs them. Think for yourself & do your own testing.
Resource #7: An Extensive Guide to Web Form Usability
Smashing Magazine has no shortage of great articles on Web Design and Usability. This one is no exception.
Resource #8: Testing Form Length Reduces Cost Per Lead
Marketing Experiments has a nice blog post on this, and one of the more interesting points about this isn’t the findings — since shorter forms almost always DO increase conversion, thereby driving down cost per lead — but the point made at the end: that the “extra” information you’re holding out for is probably not that accurate or valid to begin with. This is a great one to show to naysayers who fight the “shorter is better” mantra. That and the ol’ “Let’s just test it and see” strategy : )
So that’s all eight of them. Now go out and do some optimization testing!
Sounds like a “duh” piece of advice, but it’s amazing how often this advice gets botched. And it usually get’s botched in one of two ways:
1) The copy doesn’t make it easy for the customer to realize WHAT she would be saying yes to.
In other words, the site doesn’t clarify:
- WHAT is being offered for sale,
- WHEN or in what FORM the customer should expect the actual deliverables to arrive
- WHY this is a good deal and better than the other options
- HOW MUCH the offered product or service will cost
2) The copy doesn’t make it clear HOW to say yes and take that next step.
Now, don’t get me wrong: I’m a big fan of having different conversion points for early, middle, and late stage shoppers (where appropriate), but you shouldn’t let that get in the way of having a nice, clean, simple Call to Action. If prospective customers have to decide between 14 options just to buy, you’re making them work too hard, and your sales will suffer accordingly.
You Might Be Messing This Up If…
What’s really insidious about this particular conversion flaw is that your marketing and Web teams are unlikely to know about simply because they’re suffering under The Curse of Knowledge. To them the offer seems perfectly clear, and the different options for buying are a bonus rather than a burden. So even if you don’t think you suffer from this, you might want to check to see if:
- You have unusually high bounce rates on your home page.
- People are clicking on your Calls to Action and then backtracking to “How it Works,” “FAQ,” and “About Us” pages — almost as if they’re looking one last time to see if they can’t find some answers.
- You have unusually high exit rates from “How it Works,” Services, and Product pages
- Your cart or checkout abandonment rates stay high despite a high-quality check-out process and repeated optimization efforts aimed at this portion of your Website.
I’m not saying these issues are proof positive that your messaging and basic offers need work, just that the represent a good reason to look into it.
How to Fix It
The best advice is to hire an outside expert. I realize that sounds a bit self-serving, coming from a messaging-driven Website Optimization professional, but, well, what can I say? It’s the simple truth.
But if you’re trying a DIY approach, here’s what I recommend:
A) Try the “Here’s the Deal” Exercise.
Imagine that you’re at the bar with an acquaintance who knows almost nothing about your product or service, but who would benefit from it, if only she understood a few things. If you were to turn to her and say, “so here’s the deal,” what sort of short and sweet pitch would you give to her that would get her ready to say yes or commit to learning more in 120 seconds or less?
Also, make sure you don’t use jargon — remember, this prospect isn’t an industry insider — during your “so here’s the deal” speech, and make sure the benefits are dramatized and compelling.
B) Try Using Schemas
I had Baba Ghanoush for the first time a few months ago, and when I asked what it was, a whole bunch of people started to explain it to me, with varying degrees of success. But then Bryan Eisenberg — a consumate marketer and my personal Website Optimization mentor — nailed it when he said it was “eggplant guacamole.” Boom. Suddenly everybody got it.
Because Bryan invoked a schema we already recognized, guacamole, and then modified it with eggplant. Isn’t that a much more elegant explanation than Wikipedia’s, “a Levantine dish of eggplant (aubergine) mashed and mixed with virgin olive oil and various seasonings”?
The same thing happens with movies, too. According to Chip and Dan Heath, Speed was initially pitched as “Die Hard on a Bus.” Boom. You get it. Aliens is a science fiction movie, but it’s nothing like Star Trek. Totally different feel, right? But if you say “Jaws in Space,” you instantly grasp both the concept and the feel of the movie.
So what schema could you use to describe your product or service?
Caution — the schema you use can greatly impact the customer’s expectation of value and price, so choose wisely.
C) Streamline Your Call to Action and Conversion Process
Now, don’t get rid of your lead nurturing program or anything, but do consider whether you might narrow down your offerings and options. Or at least consider making one option the “default” and most promoted option. And as with any piece of Web Optimization advice, test it out. See what actually converts the best. You might just be surprised at the results.
And that’s today’s Practical Tactical Tuesday Tip