Wednesday, August 08, 2012

How to Write Effective Promotional and Explainer Videos

(c) 2012 by Tom King

They are called everything from marketing videos to startup videos, Internet commercials to promos.  No one in the marketing industry seems quite satisfied with the term “explainer” videos, but nothing else seems to capture the concept quite as well. In fact, this could be the first tip we offer as to how to write a killer explainer video script.

Say what you mean. Know who you’re talking to.

Before you do anything else, remember that it is best to make yourself clear to those who will view your video. Know who your audience is and prepare yourself to speak their language. If you’re speaking to a college educated audience, you’re vocabulary will be rather more sophisticated than if you’re trying to sell your goods or services to a more blue collar audience. An explainer video is no place to show off your artsy side or to exercise your vocabulary. 

Identify your call to action.

We make explainer videos for a purpose. We want viewers to do something specific once they’ve seen the video, whether it’s to buy a product online, make contact with a sales person or to visit the rest of the website. Knowing what you want the viewer to do before you write is essential. Without a call to action, the viewer may drift off into the sunset without doing what you wanted him or her to do. Write down your call to action in one or two sentences before you start writing the script.

Choose a look.

Once you know why you are making the video, who the video is for and what you want them to do at the end of the video, it’s time to decide on a look for the finished product. Do you want a calm, sedate talking head in an office, a funny story, bold outdoorsy documentary, a colorful animated romp or friendly classroom feel? The look of your video will to a great degree determine the cast you choose, the setting for the action and the words your actors speak. Make notes describing settings, clothing styles, backgrounds, colors, music, tempo, etc..

Cast your video

Of course, you won’t be hiring people at this point, but at least have strong types of people in mind. You may not be able to get Brad Pitt or Julia Roberts, but you can use them as mental placeholders while you write. Your video will sound more authentic if you write to specific characters. Choosing strong characters helps you avoid ending up with a script where everyone sounds like everyone else.  It’s far easier to capture the rhythm of speech, the inflection and tone of a character if you write one you know well. Make a character list and describe each character in detail.  If you want someone like John Wayne in your video, put that in your notes for whoever casts the video.

Planning and blocking the action.

Sit down with the notes you have and create a storyboard.  Draw pictures or make boxes on a blackboard and put ideas on sticky notes in the boxes. However you do it, block out what will happen, how the characters move, when things happen and how long each action takes.  This will dictate how much dialogue you have to write for each segment of the video.  Get key people involved in the project to join you for the story-boarding process. You’ll get better ideas from the group and they will help you avoid wasting time with dumb ideas that seemed brilliant to you at the time you wrote them down.  The story-boarding process will help you determine a good length for the video and creates an outline for your scripting. Often the storyboard will practically write the script for you. 

Remember these tips as you lay out your explainer video storyboard:
  • Keep it short. If you have a captive audience, say at a fair or workshop, six to eight minutes is about maximum. On a website on the other hand, keep your time to less than half that. In the editing process keep trimming the video till it stops just before you lose your audience’s attention.
  • Put the important stuff first if you don’t want your audience to miss it. Try to get your message spelled out in the first 30 seconds of the script.
  •  Make your video personal and specific to the audience. They have to feel like you’re talking straight to them. If they don’t, their attention will drift.
  • Watch the pacing. Don’t use more than 125 to 150 words of dialogue in a minute and don’t keep up that pace for more than a minute at a stretch. Create a conscious rhythmic interplay between dialogue and action that keeps re-engaging the viewer every 30 to 60 seconds all the way to the end of the video.
  • Be careful with humor. It should support the story. Unless humor supports your message, it becomes a distraction and poorly executed can lose you your audience.
  • Use screen-writing software. These handy programs run anywhere from free to several hundred dollars and help you format your script as you go so that you can focus on creating screen directions and dialogue rather than how far to indent and formatting cues.

Write your first draft.

Writing is a disciplined process requiring you to be absolutely honest with yourself. You’ll write pages of stuff that seems totally inspired, only to have to go back and toss out all you’ve done and rewrite it. It’s good to have a partner who will read your stuff as you finish each segment and honestly tell you what he or she thinks. It will save you a ton of time over writing the whole thing and then revising, but work the way that best suits you. Every writer has his or her own process. Use what works best for you. When you’ve got your first draft, show it to the team.  Revise and repeat until most everyone on the project likes it.

Tips for First Time Explainer Video Writers
  • Tell a story.  Avoid the temptation to rely too heavily on bullet point slides in an explainer video. People think in stories with an arresting beginning, some conflict in the middle and a satisfying resolution. 

  • Don’t hammer the viewer with statistics and dry factoids.  Tell the story of your product or service. Statistics and facts are only useful when they support the story-telling. 

  • Show how your company makes its customers’ lives better or their jobs easier or their bottom lines healthier. Don’t just tell the viewer you can help.  Show them using powerful stories. 
  • End your video with a clear resolution and an unmistakable call to action. 

  • Test your video.  Movie companies spend a lot of time testing the endings to their films. They want people to leave the theater satisfied with the ending so they’ll encourage others to buy tickets.  In the same way you should audience test your video to see if people understand the message you were trying to get across and respond to your call to action. Ask the audience what they liked and what they didn’t like and take careful notes.
  • Rewrite and reshoot. If audience testing reveals the audience didn’t understand your message, if they didn’t like the ending or if they didn’t respond to your call to action fix it.

In Short:
There’s not a lot of glory in writing promotional videos, explainer videos and ads for small businesses and nonprofits. The great American novel it ain't.  Still, in this day and age, videos are critical promotional tools. Hiring someone to write and producing effective videos is hideously expensive if you’re starting a new business or working for a small nonprofit. If you’ve got decent writing skills, however, you can do it yourself.  After all, who knows more about your business than you do, so who better to articulate your message.

The video that we made from my first promotional screen-writing effort won gold awards at two international film festivals in the promotional film category. The judges said the film stood out in the category because of its emphasis on story-telling rather than the mere recitation of statistics and facts. The advice I got when I wrote my first script was the same that’s given here. Good luck with your video.



  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. The certainty of a winning promotional video depends on the content. Using compelling content will surely get people to talk about your video. A straightforward title is a big help, as well. The title should tell exactly what the video is about to generate interest and to increase the chances of maximum exposure.

    Tiffaney Alves

  3. its always better to connect a professional explainer video company.
    there are many , for e g adVIDS 2.0 provides end to end explainer video production including scriptwriting , animation , music , voice over.

  4. Great information about Business Explainer Video for website. It is useful for us........

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  5. It's very good to know about how to write effective promotional and  explainer video production and learn from this site. Thanks to you all for making it possible to our viewing.

  6. Nice I also share with you something hope this helpful for you my friends. Post your video on sites like YouTube, Google Video and Vimeo. Then communicate about it to customers and prospects, through social media tools like Twitter, Facebook, and your corporate blog. Train your sales team to share the video link with customers, and include the link in email communications. Keeping a video library on your website makes it easy for interested prospects to view relevant content. Word-of-mouth can play an important role in sharing your video – when you have created the right engaging content, customers and prospects will be happy to share your video with others. Check it out thanks.

  7. This is the great procedure to write script for a video. The script is the main thing in any kind of explainer video. Thanks for sharing this information. explainer videos

  8. The certainty of a attractive promotional video depends on the content. Using forceful content will certainly get people to talk about your video. A simple title is a big help, as well. The title should tell exactly what the video is about to generate interest and to increase the chances of maximum exposure.

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  9. Well in creating a video explainer, it is a must to compose concise and good quality script. You script must tell somthing about the company or your self, what services/product you offered, tell them why they should buy or choose your services. but creating this stuff will be tough.

  10. I am inspiring after read your blog because it contains informative matter about Animated Explainer Video Production.

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  11. It is well known that videos we see have a great impact over our mind that is 54% as compared to the written text we read which is only 7%. We provide unique and result oriented videos for your organisation to introduce new services and to raise awareness about existing once.

    A compelling explainer video inspires sales only if someone sees it. Consumer is confused by the overdose of advertisements and sales pitches every minute. They learned how to get rid of these advertisements.

  12. Conversion rate of explainer video website is 54% more than text oriented website.

  13. Yeah writing a promotional and creating video is an important task in manner to have more traffic. The tips that you have mention in this post is quite good in manner to write a good promotional so thank you for this.

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