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3 Simple Strategies to Tame Your Video Content Budget

Online video works. It brings your message to life. You love it; your prospects love it; even the bean counters love it, simply because it gets results. In fact, a recent Ad-ology study, 2011 Small Business Marketing Forecast, found that 45 percent of small businesses planned to increase resources for online video (double last year’s number). And Interactive Media Strategies reports that bigger companies plan to grow business video spending by 30 percent.

Every message begs for a video. Every product. Every offer. Online visitors expect video. And since messages, offers, and products change constantly, you need to keep churning out updates before your precious online video assets go stale.

But the uncomfortable truth is that demand for online video is growing much faster than the budgets necessary to produce it. Without a modern approach, and a whole new strategy, creating video can chew up your precious content budget before you know it. You can tame your video content budget, however.

Until recently, online video often required specialized skills, fancy equipment, big budgets, and lots of effort. A super-slick video could cost anywhere from $10k to $100k or more to produce. Small armies of camera people, gaffers, lighting specialists, and makeup artists descended on the world of marketing. And while it’s impressive to see a little bit of Hollywood unfold on your company’s production floor, the new reality is that you don’t always need Hollywood production values to make a video that delivers value.

You can stretch your budget to fill all those video needs, by being smart about three simple strategies to tame the online video content beast.

1. Segment your video needs into three tiers, and employ different approaches in each one

Imagine you have $60,000 in your annual content budget earmarked for online video. Would you rather spend your entire budget on producing three Hollywood-style video assets at $20,000 a pop, or can you live with just one video masterpiece and save the remaining $40,000 to create dozens of perfectly good videos for scores of different campaigns?

In my experience, marketers are well-served by dividing their video efforts into three tiers — each with different levels of visibility, production values, and expenditure/effort per segment:

  • Showpiece videos: These are the splashy pieces that grace the front door of your website. They play in your trade show booth. They kick off your sales meetings. They are meant to turn heads, grab attention, get the heart pounding, and stop a visitor in his or her tracks.  Kind of like this one from Olympus or the General Motors video-enabled homepage. Pull out all the stops on these videos, for they help define your company, your brand, and the aura that surrounds them.
  • Workhorse videos: These videos explain your most important products, highlight your key technologies, and introduce your most visible people to help move prospective buyers along in the buying process. They’re important because they show and explain at a high level. They are crisp, clear, and are typically the videos that get passed around when a group is involved in a buying decision.  Take, for example, this simple product video from — one of more than 2,600 on their website and YouTube channel. You don’t need to be splashy or cute here — just focused, authoritative, clear, and in a style that conveys the personality of your organization. And the expenditure per minute can be one-fifth what your showpieces will cost.
  • Long-tail videos: Video is a great way to provide prospects with a much deeper understanding of your products (and the thinking behind them), as well as to answer frequently asked questions. This is where the involvement of subject-matter experts in your company — the people who invent your technologies and support your customers in the field — can really add value. The topics covered in these videos typically apply to more of a niche-based interest — they exist on the longtailof interest. Here’s an example of long-tail video content from Alcatel-Lucent: an online video presentation that’s really a chalk-talk about a key technology. This content can be critically important to a content marketing strategy; the key is to preserve the power of video while keeping the expenditure very, very low.

Allocating your marketing budget among these three tiers — and making sure you spend appropriately for each video you produce — is a critical first step. But it’s just a start.

2. Broaden your definition of what a video is

Over the course of years, network television ingrained in us a concept of what a video is: a linear story, with a beginning, middle, and end, designed to be viewed in its entirety. All the action happens within a 16-by-9 frame. It creates a largely passive experience — the choices are to watch it or turn it off. And it’s got a certain “look”, characterized by high production values. Take, for example, this example of a showpiece video that DigiNovations produced recently for Piper Aircraft.

That’s what your showpiece videos should look like, too. And in fact, these showpieces can break through some of the network TV boundaries by becoming more interactive, engaging, and non-linear.

But what about the rest of your video portfolio, where you can’t afford to do the “full Spielberg” on every bit of workhorse and long-tail video content? That’s where it’s helpful to broaden your definition of what’s acceptable — and even what’s defined as video. Consider these options:

  • Short, educational mini-segments: When you discover a good, expert storyteller in your organization, take advantage of the asset to create a series of mini-segments. In addition to the showpiece video shown above, Piper Aircraft created a much simpler series of “Tech Tour” videos — consisting only of an engineer, a computer, and a mouse — that take viewers inside the design of this new aircraft. Here’s one short segment, and here’s another. Six of these segments were filmed at a single 90-minute seating, keeping the per-segment budget low but the impact high.
  • Formula-based videos: Clothing retailer Zappos has evolved a formula approach that takes creating workhorse and long-tail video down to a science. The company has posted literally thousands of “video descriptions” of its products, like this and this. Each is less than 60 seconds, very simply produced (the budget per video is probably under $50, since their shop produces around 60 to 80 per day), and is reported to raise conversions by between 6 and 30 percent. That’s a high ROI!
  • Text-and-still videos: Not every video needs to be a documentary, complete with interviews and b-roll. Nestle Waters, for example, has a long-tail video series that addresses frequently asked questions about bottled water. Each segment is mostly a series of text slides, complemented by still images, but each one is search-optimized around keywords that reflect the most common concerns about bottled water. And because videos like these are highly modular, they can be created and added to the collection one at a time, spreading the effort and expense out over time.
  • Man on the street: The material you use doesn’t always need to come from inside the organization. Sometimes you can get surprising results just by taking a camera out on Main Street and asking passers-by to help create your content, like a suburban Boston auto dealer did. Total field production time: about 3 hours.
  • Online video presentations: Perhaps the easiest way to make video assets is by taking PowerPoint presentations, combining them with your best communicators, and weaving them together into online video presentations. What organization doesn’t have a library of presentations and a really great storyteller for each of their products, technologies, and concepts? For example, the international strategy consulting firm Parthenon Group puts out a regular economic outlook video presentation, featuring its chief economist, Roger Brinner. These are simple to produce, but powerful in effect because they combine the detailed analytical charts with the authority and color that Mr. Brinner’s commentary provides.

These are just some of many ways to create video content without pulling out all the stops. The key is to keep it simple without compromising on basic production values like good sound, good lighting, and a steady camera. (Notice that none of these is shot by an intern with a Flip-Cam — a technique that, more often than not, conveys production values that hurt your brand image more than helping it.)

3. Enlist the help of a video-creation community in your organization

You really can produce a lot of great online video by yourself. By why not share the effort — and the glory — with others in your organization? Many companies are bursting at the seams with valuable, re-useable digital content, and great storytellers. Use these resources! Let your subject-matter experts focus on the content, and assure them that you’ll take care of the rest.

The first thing to realize is that potential video content is all around you, every day. Every time an executive keynotes a conference, a product manager gives a briefing to the sales team, or a technologist gives a customer briefing, that’s potential content marketing fodder. Smart content marketers keep their antennae up, watching for opportunities to videotape these sessions for possible re-use. Even if you don’t use that exact presentation because it may be situation-specific, you can ask the presenter to recreate a more generic version for content marketing purposes.

Sure, some will run the other way if you mention you need help with a video — being recorded is the last thing that some folks want. Change your tack with the more timid types and just point out that you need their subject matter expertise. They’re sure to warm up over time and share their valuable knowledge in the form of existing slides, graphs, charts, etc. You can narrate the online video presentation for them, if they aren’t willing to appear on-camera. Once they see the finished video, they may come to you with their next great idea, ready and willing to make their video debut.

Using video for content marketing doesn’t have to be hard. And it doesn’t need to be expensive. By dividing your content needs into tiers and matching production process to these tiers, you too can stay within budget and unleash the full persuasion and conversion power of video on your prospects.