Monday, April 8, 2013

Shooting Testimonials - Part 1/3 - The Human Factor

As video marketing grows and companies struggle to fulfill the level of proximity that nowadays connected world demands, video testimonials are part of both online and offline communication strategies.

Testimonials are even more valuable for its power of seduction and proximity than for the transmitted message itself. That's what makes the difference with text content or still images.

In these three-part post series about video testimonials, I think it's important to start by the human factor, because it doesn't matter how great are the camera, the lenses, the lighting, the make up, the sound quality or the location: Everything is ruined if the testimony is not comfortable.
Talking in front of a camera is frightening for most of the people not used to it, even for people who is used to talk in front of an audience, and this fear can manifest in different ways, like talking too fast or with low voice, or exaggerated gesticulation.

However, they're ways to prevent or decrease the insecurities of a testimony, and the work of the filmmaker may include the competences to do so. Here are some strategies that have been useful for me.

1. Cast who talks

Sometimes the testimony is imposed by the client for different reasons, but certain times it's possible to be involved on choosing who's going to talk. This is a step to take in serious consideration. If you can meet the candidates in person, try to chat with them while observing how they sound. If there's no opportunity to meet in person or watch a video casting, try at least to make the client consider the importance of choosing someone who is secure and communicative.

2. Meet the testimony in advance

Specially if you couldn't meet the person during the casting, it's very important it happens at best the day before shooting, and if not, an hour or so before, maybe by having a coffee together while talking about the content of the speech in a relaxed way. The idea is to prepare the testimony so that he/she feels confident and with an ally.

3. Stuff scares

Generally, the amount of human and technical stuff in testimonial shootings is proportional to the pressure the subject feels. The more flamboyant the ambiance is, the more overwhelming is the experience for the testimony.
DSLR cameras are great for this kind of shootings for two reasons: They're small and its photo camera shape is easily more familiar to the subject.
If the shooting happens in a room, invite some people to go out before start to record. Only essential people should remind when the interview starts.

4. Testimonials are conversations

"Everyone is ready? OK. Camera Shooting? Okay, so, question 1...". It shouldn't be like that. The relationship established by meeting the testimony in advance must continue on set. Try to minimize conversations with other people during the shooting unless they're truly necessary, and focus strictly on the subject. When shooting starts, make the questions flow as part of the conversation, don't say "question number...".

5. "Let's make a test"

It works so well. The word test makes the subject feel the decisive moment hasn't arrived, the pressure is not at its top. You record the test and sometimes it becomes good footage to be used.

6. Forbid reading!

The main insecurity of testimonies is to think that they're not going to remember what they have to say, and they will ask you if someone can hold papers with the printed speech (sometimes they have already printed the text with a big-sized font). While it's comprehensive that they come up with this idea in order to solve their insecurity, it never works. The reason is very simple: If talking in front of a camera is already uncomfortable and unnatural for them, reading while trying to look like they don't do it is worse.

7. Forbid reciting!

Reciting a memorized text is also a bad option as it doesn't sound natural at all and makes the testimonial be more aware of concrete words than the content itself. Encourage testimonies to talk with they own words. If they have been chosen to talk means that they are qualified to do so. I've seen cases where the interviewer recites sentence over sentence so that the testimonial repeats it. The result is a kind of mass that the editor is supposed to edit by cutting the parts of the interviewer. It's bad for the image, because it forces you to cut the interview in little pieces, limiting the edition, and it's also bad for the content as the testimonial doesn't sound like talking about a topic, but just like reciting a list of sentences.

7. Just one interviewer, please

If there's an agency, a marketing director or whoever involved in the content of the interview on set, supervise the questions and the points that should be answered in advance and come to an agreement on who's going to be the interviewer. It really confuses the testimony to have two voices talking, and the ambiance we've tried to create in order to have a relaxed conversation becomes a chaotic interrogatory.

9. Low voice? Move away

If the person is shy and doesn't project its voice, place yourself farther away and be sure that the subject talks for you. Generally the person will be forced to talk louder, improving the projection.

10. Too much gesticulation? Move the camera away

A certain level of gesticulation can be bothering in close shots. If the testimony gesticulates too much or just too fast, open the shot.

11. When the interview is finished, start it again

And finally, by the end of the interview, the level of the testimony's pressure generally decreases. If time is in your favour, ask the testimonial to repeat the first questions now that the situation is settled.
Also, if you couldn't avoid the testimony to recite or to read, invite him / her to answer again with its own words.

Those are just some ideas that worked for me. Do you have others in addition? Don't hesitate to share them!

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Hotel video: Storytelling matters

Technology has changed traveler behavior. The web 2.0 has a huge impact on hotel business as there's nothing more relevant than the opinion of other customers to book a room, but it's not easy to control what users say specially because in many cases those are comments or punctuations published on third-party webs like tripadvisor or

As a consequence, firms can not avoid social media. The solution seems to be the presence of the hotels themselves on social networks. On the playground of this powerful way of engagement, video becomes a relevant tool.

While photos are a good introduction to hotels, videos give the opportunity to dive into them. Hotels from four to five stars invest time on having their own personality. Besides, it's increasing the idea that people finds the experience more valuable than the amenities, and that's something that video can empower very well, as it allows marketers to explain a story through it. When talking about a story I'm not necessary talking about fiction and drama (although they're really good branded shorts out there), but to use the storytelling tools that video provide to tell the customer what he needs to know.

As discussed in the previous post, price is an advantage for video marketing. You don't need to be a huge hotel firm with dozens of hotels spread all over the world to afford something else than a photo slide show aired in the local TV that no tourist watches. Not just the production is largely less expensive nowadays, but also the channels where the content is published worldwide (the most relevant are literally free).

But can video be useless or counterproductive?  For sure! Useless if there's no effort to position it. They're outstanding hotel videos around the web with less than 200 views. There are hotels that have a video in YouTube, with no description or keywords, and it's not displayed anywhere else (neither in their website). There's no excuse when embedding video from YouTube is so easy. Video needs to melt with each marketing strategy.

And what can make video counterproductive? A bad one.

I've stolen this descriptive photo from Patrick Shaver's blog 

Saying that video is much more affordable than before is a reality, but basing the choice of a professional or film company just by the price is a big mistake. The low-cost has its limits and best price should be an option only when the offers to consider ensure the following elements:

- Visuals: No matter how round-about is the story told in a hotel video, one of each objectives (in many cases the single one) is to showcase the hotel and / or its surroundings. If there's no notion of composition, lighting, camera movement or color correction, the cheapest can cost you very expensive.

- Storytelling: The challenge doesn't end when the user clicks play. We want the viewer to watch until the last second of the video and to bring its interest beyond. A sequence of random shots won't fulfill it. Whatever the video explains must be previously defined, and every single element (script, camera, sound, editing...) must lead to that objective.

- Sound design: I'm wondered how sound is underrated sometimes. There's no better complement to image than sound to explain the dimension and feeling of space, and even the choice of the music can give different senses to that. The best sound mix is unperceived by the viewer, but makes the video much better and three dimensional.

In conclusion, video worth as a marketing complement because storytelling matters, but price can't be the only factor to consider if visuals, storytelling and sound design are not guaranteed.