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How To Make Effective Explainer Videos

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There are three keys to creating effective explainer videos. Whether you need one to promote a for-profit company, product or service, or you are looking to help explain/advocate for a nonprofit enterprise, these are the most important tasks at the outset:

  1. Know Your Target Audience

People often start the video production process, understandably, thinking about their company, their product or their service. But actually, when planning a video, it’s smart to start with your audience. Who is your viewer? How old are they? What language(s) do they speak? Will you need to make your video accessible to the visually impaired or hearing impaired community (and if you are a federal agency, this is required by law.) What does your viewer already know (or not know) about your company, your nonprofit, or the featured product or service? Most importantly, what do you want them to know, and how does it affect their lives? Once we delve into these questions, we can start developing a conceptual framework or creative direction for your video.

  1. Know the Viewing Environment

Some of my work gets shown on giant screens at big events. Many of my videos get viewed on a smart phone. How we approach each project—from the visual design to the audio planning—depends largely on the primary viewing screen and environment. For example, if you think someone will likely be watching your video in a fairly quiet, home or office computing environment—let’s say for a training video—then we might use graphics that move pretty quickly and some fun music. If, however, this is a video that might be watched on a smartphone without the audio on, we’ll need to plan a design that has impact with only subtitles.

  1. What Do You Want the Viewer to Do Next?

When working in the fundraising and nonprofit arena, you often want the viewer to Volunteer Their Time, Write a Check, or encourage others to Get Involved.  If you are selling a product or service, you want someone to Click and Buy. These are very specialized goals that require the right kind of crafting of the story and message, because causing behavior change can be quite challenging. Usually we (or your in-house marketing team) spend time in pre-production interviewing people who are the target market, or in the case of a nonprofit have become involved as volunteers, to find out what triggers made them care.  We also may spend time out on location, meeting those people who have been affected by the product, or by the work of the nonprofit so we can hear their first-hand stories and scout the location to figure out the best way to show impact on the screen.

This pre-production preparation is essential to successful storytelling. Only then can we craft a design, the messages (script), a production timetable and budget.

What about some examples?

The video at the top of this post is an animated explainer I produced for a children’s hospital, to ensure families engaged in rounds while their child was in the intensive care unit. We had to translate this into multiple languages, thus the choice of mouth-free animated icons.  Animation by David Fuchs at RHED Pixel.

 

Here’s a fun US Postal Service explainer using what we in the production business call a “practical” visual effect (in other words, a real effect created on set, not done through the magic of post-production) to accomplish the visual “flip”. (Shot by Matt Gottshalk)

Here’s an animated explainer I created for an issue advocacy organization, in the style of the famous Monty Python graphics, in order to capture attention at a large membership event.  Animation by David Fuchs at RHED Pixel.

Here’s a fun stop-motion style explainer about a subject that isn’t always fun–dental care–produced by Rachel Rasby, with co-producer, Julia Hoppock, and cinematographer, Lee Gillenwater at the Pew Trusts.

This video for a farewell gala was created entirely in After Effects from archival photographs, interspersed with some original graphics and quotations that we solicited from supporters about the leader of this performing arts organization.  Animation by, you guessed it, my favorite animator David Fuchs at RHED Pixel.

What about costs?

It’s best to set firm parameters for you project, including the number of reviews you want to be able to have, whether you want live-action or animation, and any significant or quick turnaround deadlines, plus the target length. I know 2 minutes seems short, but it is double the number of frames of a one-minute video, so can take twice as many resources! For the purposes of this blog post, and based on my years of experience, I can give you some fee ranges.  If you’re project is entirely animated, and you have a very small team helping to guide the project and do reviews/approvals (i.e., there aren’t layers of bureaucracy or board members etc who might make significant changes along the way, thus adding to time and costs), then you can get an explainer for as little as $5,000-$7,000. Remember that on the low end of the scale, you must be sure any quote you receive includes proper licensing of any stock graphics, photos and music!  (Be VERY skeptical if someone tells you they can produce an explainer for much less than this.  I’ve seen some websites advertising $500. The professional rate per day for an editor or graphics designer and their equipment is this amount, and that’s just an average rate and doesn’t include time for scriptwriting, storyboarding, meetings with you, and working with your team to research and verify the factual content to be included, not to mention the creation or licensing of music, hiring and directing a narrator, etc.)  On the higher end, if live-action videography is involved, for example, because there are impact stories and interviews to be filmed, perhaps with travel to various locations, then you are more in the $20-25,000 ballpark.  Many videos will fall somewhere in between, and with a streamlined internal process for content design and approvals , you can get a quality product for about $12-15,000.

The opportunities and the options are endless with video. So start with 1, 2 and 3, and then engage some professional help to get you across the finish line.

Amy DeLouise is a writer-producer-director and love to explain things using video!