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Camera-Ready During COVID-19

Camera-Ready During COVID-19

Steve Heisler

smiling man holding up smartphone to take selfie

How DIY video can help marketers connect with audiences from home

Screens dominate daily pandemic life, which means video has become one of the most reliable ways for brands to reach audiences. COVID-19 has encouraged marketers to find flexible and cost-effective ways to produce DIY videos for promotion, content and sales. In fact, video production house Wyzowl found that budgets for videos have increased 31% since quarantine first began in the U.S.

But the impact of video was evident even before the pandemic: Wyzowl also discovered that 92% of marketers cite video as an important part of their marketing strategy, with 80% of video marketers attributing the format to increased sales, while 87% say video has increased traffic to their website. They also report that consumers are twice as likely to share videos with friends than any other type of content.

“You can use videos to do anything you want,” says Carl Kwan, owner of the video marketing agency Kwan Multimedia. “But unless you have a specific goal, you’re just doing a shotgun approach, which never really works.”

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The creation of videos does not count as a strategy in and of itself. Here are ways that video can enable your marketing goals and tips for producing DIY content from home.

illustration of fingers holding up frame

1. Types of Video

Before hitting record, determine what your goal is for the video. Your choice has implications on topic, editing and where it’s posted.


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Direct Marketing

Ivana Taylor, publisher of DIYMarketers.com, likens direct marketing pieces to having a conversation with your customers—except that it’s not happening in real time. Direct marketing videos should address frequently asked questions about your product or service in a way that replicates an in-person chat.

A video version of a buyer’s guide is a great direct marketing opportunity. It allows your brand to draw comparisons between your products and what your competitors offer, and such videos typically enjoy a longer shelf life. The content also lends itself to charts and other visual aids to break up the video.

Prioritize posting direct marketing videos to YouTube. The platform is owned by Google and functions as a search engine, which means your videos will be much easier to find.

If you’re producing videos designed to increase customer sales, aim for an “80% video”—hold back about 20% of the information to encourage potential customers to reach out for more.

Content Marketing

Content marketing on video can take the form of how-to videos, thought leadership, corporate culture pieces, case studies or product reviews.

The best content marketing strategies require an audit of what competitors are doing in the space. “The key with content marketing is [that it involves] constant comparison and improvement,” Taylor says. Deconstruct compelling video, explore what your competitors aren’t doing and refine previously scattershot efforts. 

Taylor says marketers will often supplement video content with written pieces, or vice versa. You should also think of your video content as you would an article, with a clear intro and divisions between sections. Viewers will more immediately become engaged with what you are saying.

Break up content marketing videos into multiple installments, each covering a different section of a larger topic. This division affords each idea you’re presenting with some breathing room and provides viewers with a reason to return to your video channel for the next installment—or to only tune in for what they need.

Content marketing videos aren’t just informational, they can also be an opportunity to show off your company’s culture. Video chat platforms such as Zoom are ideal for gathering employees and highlighting the goofier side of the team. “It’s easy to get overwhelmed with all the stuff that’s going on right now, so any chance you have to show some people’s personality is really great for any company,” says Jessica Bonacci, digital video specialist at the digital marketing agency WebFX.

Paid Ads

Maximize your ROI by tailoring your content toward topics represented by relevant SEO keywords you can purchase. For example, a plumber could buy ads on Google that would appear in response to searches that include the words “clog” and “drain.” The ads could link to a video that explains whether you should unclog your own drain or call an expert. Visitors are likely to remain on a website if the content is relevant to what they were looking up.

The content of the video must mirror the content of the ad. If not, sites such as Facebook will block your ad from appearing. “If you say in an ad, ‘Lose 10 pounds in three days’ and you click on that ad, the page you see must have the headline, ‘Lose 10 pounds in three days,’” Taylor says.

microphone

2. Equipment

Modern smartphones have placed much of a video production studio in the palms of our hands, including a powerful, high-resolution camera. All that’s left is to make a few small upgrades to audio and lighting.

Microphone

Alex Winter, creative director at sales and marketing agency IMPACT, says that it’s easy to forget about audio quality. But a small lavalier microphone can make a huge difference between crystal clear vocals and the incessant drone of an air conditioning unit. External mics capture audio up close, rather than relying on your phone or computer’s built-in microphone across the room.

Before springing for a new gadget, though, test the equipment you already have. Taylor once spent $300 on a new mic only to discover that her iPhone earbuds were capable of capturing quality audio.

Kwan has a simple trick for enhancing the look and sound of his videos using Apple’s earbuds: He tapes the microphone to the inside of his collar, then hides the rest of the cord under his shirt. “You can use very minimal amounts of equipment and still get maximum results,” he says.

Andrew Phan, CEO of New Pixel Films, says the best audio comes from plugging a microphone into a device specifically designed for capturing voice. He recommends a Zoom H1, a high-quality recorder that allows marketers to adjust audio levels on the fly for pristine sound. However, he notes, these devices produce audio tracks only, which then need to be synched with your video during the editing process.

Camera

camera, shutter, light

“Everybody will overrate the importance of buying a nice camera,” says Tyler Stalman, an independent video production consultant. “If you have an iPhone [or other smartphone], you can go as far as you want.” However, avoid the selfie side, as that camera is inferior to the one found on the back of your device.

If you insist on going a step up from your phone, purchase a nice lens; cameras are updated every few years, but it takes longer for lens technology to become outdated.

And beware the built-in webcam. “Having a good webcam is like putting on a suit and tie in the morning: It’s how you present your face to the world,” Stalman says. “The difference between the thing that’s attached to your computer and a real camera is night and day.”

Invest in a simple tripod or jury-rig your own solution to keep the camera steady. For a homespun look, consider vertically orienting the camera to resemble selfie footage.

Lighting

Lighting makes a noticeable impact on visual quality as well. Many content creators opt for a ring light—a halo affixed or next to the monitor—but Stalman cautions that “you might look like a beauty blogger.” Instead, consider using key lights, which are flat panels about the size of an iPad and are often used by video game streamers.

Standard table lamps cast a decent amount of light and can be used in a pinch. Phan recommends placing the lamp as close to your face as possible without pushing it into the shot itself. Set the lamp off to the side a little bit in front of you. “What it does is create a little shadow on your face, and it looks better than having a light blasted straight onto your face,” he says.

If your office basks in beautiful, natural sunlight (congratulations!), you may not need to purchase any additional lighting. Do avoid an overly shadowy visage by keeping the window in front of you, not behind, and ensure your desk isn’t cluttered with reflective tchotchkes.

chair

3. Filming

Not everyone sparkles in front of the camera. Find someone who remains a stalwart at your organization and exhibits best practices when speaking to the audience: articulation, maintaining eye contact and going “big” with personality.

Casting

film reel and clapper

Behind-the-scenes videos allow customers to meet the people who run their favorite brands. Corral in-house brand representatives, magnetic members of upper management and other marketing folks to be your on-screen personalities—and set up recorded video calls between these spokespeople. “The end viewer … can really feel like they’re part of the conversation,” Winter says, adding that calls with fewer people work best. “Figure out a way to record it where the main screen is cycling between [speakers],” he says. “People tend to be more engaged versus having ‘The Brady Bunch’ pain of 50 people up at once.”

Thought leadership videos work best when a single person is on camera in front of a neutral backdrop. Studio B Films, a production company that has worked with brands such as Facebook and Adobe, recommends casting team members who have experience giving presentations that have been filmed.

Ideally, videos will feature colleagues who are likely to remain at the organization for more than a year. “People are going to associate this person with your company,” Stalman says. “And if they leave after a year, you’re not just training someone else up, you’re getting your audience used to a new face.”

Set up your technical team members for success. Brands that are marketing “high-involvement products”—computers or cars, for example, which are expensive and meant to last a long time—might want to invest in product demonstration videos. Taylor says such videos could be hosted by team members who may not be your biggest personalities but can directly address the technical aspects of the product.

Regardless of a company’s best on-screen talent, Taylor says small business videos should include the owner. “No one [else is] going to have [your] passion for the business, and all of that comes through on video,” she says. Other team members can certainly be featured as well, such as a front desk associate with whom customers are familiar.

If the person in your videos doesn’t feel like a good fit or they seem unnatural in front of the camera, replace them immediately with another team member who can cover the same topic. 

Action!

Resist the magnetic temptation of your face: We’re all guilty of spending entire Zoom conference calls ogling our own image in the corner of the screen, not other people or the camera itself. But it’s bad form when capturing video, so remember to look directly into the camera lens.

When working at MSNBC, Taylor received some advice on how to maintain a dynamic TV presence: “Be big.” Speak slowly and clearly and incorporate animated hand gestures where appropriate. “If you think you’re talking too slow, it’s just right,” Taylor says.

Maximize your time and energy by recording four or five videos in one sitting. Use tape to mark off exactly where you placed your camera and positioned your chair so future videos will have a continuous look and feel.

In general, you want to get as close to perfect when recording the video, rather than assuming you can clean up issues with lighting or sound in the editing process. “If [the footage] really can’t [be fixed], then don’t publish it,” Kwan says. “It’s better just to redo a video than to publish a bad one.”

computer monitor with mouse cursor

4. Post-Production

A few small edits can transform a short video into a can’t-miss piece of content. Ensure the audio and visuals don’t overpower one another and recapture viewers’ attention by inserting a cutaway or two. Then, keep making videos; the process will get easier with time and results can take months to show themselves.

Editing

Editing is not as important as the content of the video itself, but a few flourishes will go a long way. Taylor recommends, at the very least, inserting your name and contact info as graphics on the lower third of the screen.

Editing software is easy to find. Apple enables users to edit video on their iPhones, and all Macs come equipped with iMovie. PC users can use free online programs such as Lightworks or download Movie Maker 10.

If using background music, adjust the levels so as not to drown out your voice. Kwan says the optimal volume for speaking is -6 decibels. “Your voice fluctuates, so sometimes you speak louder when you’re excited, and sometimes you’re a little bit calmer,” he says. “You give a little bit of room to have your voice fluctuate in volume.”

Set the music level to -20 or -22 decibels. “[Music is] not something that people need to really notice,” Kwan says. “They should be paying attention to you and what you’re saying.”

Include a few graphics or some B-roll footage—a term used to refer to supplemental or alternative footage—to cover up when you may have looked away from the camera or the shot went out of focus. Kwan breaks up his videos by inserting something visual every 15-20 seconds to interrupt the monotony of a single shot.

Verizon Media and Publicis Media found that 92% of consumers view videos without sound when they’re on mobile, so you might want to add subtitles so as not to alienate folks who aren’t wearing headphones. Subtitles and a transcription are also good accessibility features.

Produce, Produce, Produce

Think of video content creation like farming: It takes days—sometimes weeks—of watering and care before even the smallest sprout breaks through the ground, but much has been happening below the surface. “You don’t water your seed for three days and go, ‘Where’s my sunflower?’” Taylor says.

Patience is a virtue: Stalman recommends committing to producing between 50-100 videos before deciding whether or not the project is worthy of attention. Taylor adds that marketers are unlikely to see meaningful results until after 18-24 months of regularly posting videos. “Acknowledge that this is a challenging space and it may take a while for you to conquer it, and you can make some mistakes on the way,” Stalman says.

If you aren’t seeing the results you expected from video, consider other factors that might have gotten in the way of success. If sales don’t skyrocket, for example, “They blame it on the video, but in actuality it could have been that your website may have crashed when people came to see it, or your sales process isn’t very good,” Kwan says. “Yes, the video can help, but you’ve got to make sure that everything else is in place as well.”

Post often enough that you remain on the minds of your viewers without overwhelming them with content. Kwan recommends posting one to three videos a week to get started in order to nurture a regular audience.

Where to Post

For most B2C businesses, YouTube is a great location for posting. But for B2B companies, LinkedIn is the best platform—especially for thought leadership videos.

For content marketing, consider using Vimeo or posting on your company’s website. Using these platforms means you won’t have to contend with YouTube’s algorithm that recommends or auto-plays other videos—which provides viewers with an easy excuse to exit.

Brands have started using Instagram to make sales, but Jessie LaMacchia, director of marketing and outreach at Lillstreet Art Center in Chicago, recommends focusing your Instagram efforts on building community. “I’m more interested in creating engaging content—then, the sales follow,” she says.

LaMacchia says the videos that do best on Instagram provide a sample of the services her company offers—in her case, classes in art, photography, ceramics and more. “We recently started hosting artist demos on Instagram Live, which made for tons of engagement with our community and brought in a lot of new followers,” she says. “These videos increase the value of continuing education by giving a taste of what you can expect from a longer-engagement class.”

While sound and video quality matter when producing a YouTube video or a piece that lives on your company’s homepage, go easy on yourself when creating content for Instagram, particularly Instagram stories. The vibe of this platform is far more casual, according to Stalman: “You can just hit record on your phone and let it go live.”

Steve Heisler is a staff writer at the American Marketing Association. His work can be found in Rolling Stone, GQ, The A.V. Club and Chicago Sun-Times. He may be reached at sheisler@ama.org.