The inimitable Andrew Davis is the best-selling author of Town, Inc. and an in-demand marketing speaker. After his presentation at Content Marketing World 2017, I can see why.

He made me feel stupid. And I’m incredibly grateful.

The best presentations make you feel stupid in retrospect. Of course! It’s so obvious that this is the way to do it! Why haven’t we been doing it this way the whole time? Feeling stupid after-the-fact means you just got smarter.

You see, video content marketing has gone from the next big thing to the current big thing. Brands that pump out a ton of text-based content are now flooding the attention marketplace with video. And just as we had to learn how to make content work for marketing, we’re all still figuring out how to make effective marketing video.

Over the course of 45 minutes–which included exploding watermelons, Ice Road Truckers, and impromptu dance breaks–Andrew laid out exactly what is wrong with how most marketers are approaching video. And, more importantly, how to fix it. Here are some key takeaways. I hope they make you feel stupid in the best possible way.

Creating Video Marketing that Holds Attention

As Andrew explained it, video is a linear medium. We want viewers to hit the play button and barrel down the tracks to the end, where our CTA lives. But people rarely take that straight journey. They can skip forward or backward, or even bail entirely.

When people bail on a video, conventional wisdom holds that the video’s too long for a short attention span. It’s not the lack of attention span, though: It’s the lack of content designed to hold attention. As Roger Ebert said, “No good movie is too long and no bad movie is short enough.”

Our goal, then, is to occupy our audience’s interest – their desire to know – over time. How can we do that?

#1: Raise questions to drive content. What keeps a person watching is the desire to have a question answered. As Andrew put it, “Eliminate our audience’s desire to answer a question, and we eliminate interest in our content.” Is your content giving it all away up front? If you answer the audience’s burning question in the first fifteen seconds, without promise of further answers to come, what’s their motivation to watch the next three minutes? Or six minutes? “When someone says your video is ‘too long,’” Andrew says, “they’re really saying, ‘I have no more questions.’”

#2 Create suspense. The primary method to keep the audience asking questions–thereby keeping them watching–is to create suspense. Show your audience something the character desires, then threaten it. Raise obstacles to the character’s goal. Leave the outcome in doubt. Raise the stakes over time and you keep the questions going – what’s going to happen next? How will this problem be solved?

#3 Put your CTA before the payoff. The suspense you’re building will lead to a moment of catharsis, when the questions are answered and all is revealed. But don’t put your CTA after that moment–see the previous comment about “I have no more questions.” Rather, put it right at that peak of interest. Think of it like the commercial break before the big reveal on a reality show. Just make sure your payoff is worth your viewer’s invested time and emotion.

Think Like a Reality TV Editor to Tell Compelling Stories

To build suspense and keep the audience guessing, we need to draw from the masters of suspense. Yes, reality TV shows, especially makeover and talent shows. The editing tricks of the TV trade can help make your content compelling, even if it’s not about toddler beauty pageants or salmon fishing in Alaska.

Consider these key elements as you edit:

  • Music. Too many corporate marketing videos use the same generic jaunty tune all the way through. Use music to set the mood and change that mood throughout the video.
  • Beats. No, not drumbeats or overpriced headphones. Beats are little moments of pause, a breath or two to let the audience process what you’re telling them. Don’t be afraid to pause and let things sink in–if you’ve earned the audience’s attention, that will build tension rather than dissipate it.
  • Pacing. You control the rate at which you give information to your audience. Withholding information builds suspense, balanced with the need to keep moving forward.
  • Narrative structure. Too many testimonial-type videos start with “This product is great and solved my problems, which were….” and the viewer says, “I have no more questions. You told me the product was great and solved your problems.” Instead, work toward the solution in a way that builds suspense and raises stakes:
    • Start with the problem
    • Intensify the problem
    • Show the struggle for a solution
    • Hint at the solution
    • Reveal the solution

Your Best Asset: A Critical Eye

Being aware of these elements and tactics is the first step. However, you can only truly master the form through conscious studying. Andrew said, “You will become a better video producer when you learn how to watch videos better.” The next time a video captivates your attention, study it. How is it continually raising questions? How is it building suspense? What editing, beats, and music choices make it compelling? Start watching video with a critical eye, see what works, and don’t hesitate to steal it.

In other words, what makes video marketing effective is exactly what makes any video effective: It tells a compelling story with tension, stakes, and a moment of catharsis when the tension is resolved.

Feel smarter? I know I do.

Author: Joshua Nite
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