Marketers everywhere have begun singing the praises of video so loudly, they sound like Oprah at Christmas.
“You need a video! And you need a video! Everyone needs a video!”
Sure, it’s the new and exciting way to share information. Everyone who’s got a mobile phone has the means for creating, distributing, and watching of all sorts of video content. I watch Netflix while I eat breakfast. My kids watch comedy videos throughout the day. And we’ve all used YouTube as a search engine to solve a problem — I changed out my air conditioning filter a few weeks ago, thanks to a South Korean video.
Except video is not, and should not, be the final word when it comes to content marketing.
The written word should still get most of our attention as content marketers. If you’re going to add video to your marketing efforts, then you need to increase your overall content marketing creation. Don’t replace written content with video content and hope for the same engagement rates.
For one thing, gathering information by video is time consuming. If people want to do a lot of research about a major purchase, videos will help, but your customers still want written specs, performance details, and product information. And they want to be able to look details up quickly, rather than watch 87 minutes of video to find one specific detail again.
(Think of it this way: if you want to know the horsepower of your car, are you going to Google it or watch a 10-minute product video and hope you catch it?)
For another, video viewing is not going to replace reading. We’re not going to stop reading books in favor of watching someone read them to us on video. If that were the case, the audiobook revolution would have been massive, and brought about a faster end to bookstores.
We’re also not going to stop reading news articles online in favor of videos of those same articles being read to us. And before you say “but TV news!” keep in mind that most individual news stories only get 20 – 30 seconds of airtime. And that there’s also a more thoroughly written version of each story on a news channel’s website.
In other words. . .
Video Will Never Replace the Written Word
So before you outfit your entire company with GoPros and YouTube accounts and flood the world with your video masterpieces, consider these four problems with video.
1) Most of us do not do well speaking off the cuff in front of an audience. We stammer, stutter, and lose our train of thought when we’re having a normal conversation, let alone if we’re in front of an audience and are not 100 percent prepared. And there are a lot of videos where people just hit record and started talking.
Don’t believe me? Pick a topic — how the original Star Wars trilogy is an allegory for today’s American political system — and record yourself talking about it for five solid minutes.
“But that’s not how I’d do it!” you protest. “I’d prepare and practice and make sure I got everything down just right.”
I know you will. Which means it will take 4 – 6 hours to produce a five-minute video. Now squeeze that time into your normal workday of meetings, writing TPS reports, and doing your actual work.
Meanwhile, I wrote this blog post, including edits, in about 90 minutes. I could write four blog posts in 6 hours.
2) A visual element is not always helpful. A lot of video content is just talking head videos of someone straight staring at their camera, usually on their laptop, and talking to us for three to five to ten minutes at a time.
Why the hell are we watching this? What are you actually doing that’s so interesting that I need to stop everything I’m doing and stare at my phone to watch your mouth move?
Are there graphics? No. Special effects? No. Is their kid going to run in and do something awesome? No. It’s just that person’s head, talking, for several minutes without doing anything else.
This is an inefficient use of your viewers’ time. Your video can easily be replaced with an MP3 and nothing will change. There’s no actual visual value that requires the amount of focus we usually put into video viewing. This information could be shared in a podcast or a blog article instead, rather than us taking the time to watch you talk.
I started listening to the audio tracks of TED talks for this very reason. When I realized the talks are usually nothing more than someone standing on a stage with a few slides, I found I could listen to them in the car during my commute. Nothing changed, the information wasn’t any different, and my life wasn’t better or worse for having done it.
Here’s a good rule of thumb: if we can listen to your video without missing anything important, you didn’t need to make it a video. Consider making a podcast instead.
3) A lot of videos have poor production values. Most mediocre video content is usually shot on a mobile phone, and it shows. The lighting is poor, or the lens is dirty, or the person forgets and holds the camera vertically, so we all have to turn our heads 90 degrees just to see what’s going on.
And the sound is all tinny, like the speaker is in a giant coffee can, or sitting in the bathroom 20 feet from the microphone.
If you want to make good — and I mean good videos, not just “barely acceptable” ones — you need to invest in a good DSLR camera, a decent lavaliere/lapel microphone, and a tripod. And you need to get very good at using them. That means hours of practice, learning how to use the equipment properly.
Sure, you can make an okay cell phone video, but if that’s your company’s video marketing strategy, just shut the business down now and send everyone home. Otherwise, you need to hire a dedicated staffer whose sole job is to make videos, or you need to outsource your video production work to professional video marketers who know how to do this kind of thing quickly and efficiently. (For one thing, they can produce your 5-minute video in an hour or two.)
4) Short videos are inefficient. This is the biggie: The average person speaks at 100 – 150 words per minute, but the average adult reading speed is 300 wpm. (It’s also 450 wpm for the average college student, and 575 for high level executives).
That means a 300 word video will take 2 – 3 minutes to watch, but your average customer can read that same 300 word article in 30 – 60 seconds. Meanwhile, your college student will read it in 45 seconds, and your executive will read it in nearly 30.
This article clocks in at roughly 1600 words, which should take approximately 5 – 6 minutes for the average person to read (3+ minutes for our average college student, slightly less than 3 for our executive). But if I read it to you in a video, you’ll have to watch it for 10 – 16 minutes.
Now, imagine reading 12 1000-word articles in your favorite business magazine versus watching 12 videos of the same word count. That’s 24 – 48 minutes of reading versus 120 minutes of viewing.
Videos are great if you can add strong visual elements to them, like Moz’s Whiteboard Friday videos. There, Moz president Rand Fishkin lays out the latest research and developments in search engine optimization, using a whiteboard to illustrate his point.
But without the whiteboard, he’s just another Wil-Wheaton-with-a-handlebar-mustache lookalike talking to a video camera, and the information is much less enjoyable to watch or easy to absorb.
Bottom line: I don’t want to watch someone talk to me for 5 minutes when I can read that same block of text in less than 2 minutes. Combine that with bad production values, poor sound, and lots of hemming and hawing, and you can understand why “Just flip on your phone’s camera and start talking” is bad advice.
By all means, use video in your content marketing. It’s important, it’s helpful, and it’s the wave of the future. But just for God’s sake, do it right! Get proper equipment, learn how to use it, and write scripts of your talk beforehand. Practice and prepare. And if you need to, join a Toastmaster’s club and improve your public speaking.
Just don’t half-ass your video content because someone told you it was as easy as putting your phone in selfie mode and talking into it.
When it’s done properly, video content is a beautiful sight to behold: explainer videos, demonstration videos like Will It Blend, or even entertainment videos, like JW Marriott’s amazing “The Two Bellmen” series. Even videos of you giving a talk at a conference are great uses of video.
But don’t expect video content marketing to replace written content marketing anytime soon. Don’t fire your copywriters and replace them with GoPros and Quentin Tarantino wannabes.
Video will expand over the coming years, and we’ll be able to make it look better more easily and for less money, but don’t stop focusing on improving your writing skills or your written content.
Photo credit: Darian Hildebrand (Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons 3.0)
Photo #2 credit: Subject: Friedrich William Murnau (Photographer unknown. This photograph is in the public domain in the United States and Russia.)