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Making Videos for Your Small Business or Personal Brand

Approach it more like a documentary than a commercial

We’ve all grown up seeing ads on television. Car commercials, insurance, food, toys … all trying to sell us something, tugging on our desires, insecurities, and fears. The makers of those ads are trying to “get” us, and we know it. That straight ahead traditional ad format may work for the big corporations, but it’s not necessarily the best approach for small businesses.

First, there’s the issue of budget. We don’t have millions to barrage people to point where our brand becomes a household name. The big companies are in it for the long haul, knowing that over time, the repeated messaging will become entrenched in our minds. I always laugh at Limu Emu, it’s memorable. But it’s also on ALL THE TIME. (My 10 year old daughter, Abigail, has the Farmer’s Insurance and Arby’s theme songs jumbled together. “We are Arby’s, bum da bum da bum bum bum.”) The problem is that most of us don’t have the budget to even make a dent using traditional ads. If we don’t have the resources to go “all-in,” we need to make our videos more personal.

Second, there’s the messaging. I’ve been working with business owners for over 10 years, and most of them are not crystal clear on who their target market is and what they’ll respond to. They don’t have a marketing department to test ideas, or a sales department in the trenches to provide feedback. Without that clarity, running traditional ads is just gambling. And most business owners tell me that new customers come from word of mouth, relationships, and referral partners. “People buy from us because of who we are,” they say. If that’s the case, then the video better have some depth to it. Not like the law firm commercials where it’s grossly obvious that the elder lawyer, who “cares” about you, is reading from a teleprompter. That doesn’t give me the warm and fuzzies.

What’s the solution?

Make real, authentic videos that capture some of what’s already going on inside your business. Document rather than advertise. This way, whoever sees your video – even if it’s just a link in your email signature or a boosted Facebook post – it’s an extension of you and your team. It may not double the size of your business, but it will help maximize the interactions you’re already having. When someone visits your website, they will be more likely to lean-in if they see real people being real, rather than hitting the back button to avoid your ad.

Forget about writing scripts that sell your features and benefits. Embrace the idea of not knowing exactly what the video will be about. Pick out some interesting people (you, employees, customers) and focus on a situation, and keep an open mind. A good writer would tell you their inspiration comes from somewhere beyond thought (Stephen King calls it uncovering fossils). You want to go exploring, interviewing people, and looking for genuine moments. Then, go through the footage (the 2nd draft), and only use the parts that stand out. This could be talking or it could be visuals – or even better, both. The exciting thing about this process is that you get to see yourself and your company from a completely different perspective.

We’re looking to capture passion and substance. Why do you get out of bed in the morning? What’s the reason the company was created in the first place. (Be careful, we want emotional moments, not a history lesson!)

This is the stuff that, when someone visits your website, or scrolls through their Facebook feed, it makes them stop and feel something.

Remember, it’s not just the words people say, but how they say them. Sometimes everything can be summed up with a look. That kind of content can’t be faked, and the viewers know it. That’s why we purposely don’t script things. Gather first, then judge later.

BUT, for this to work, you and your people need to feel comfortable. They need to let down their guard, so the conversations unfold naturally. A good producer will create the atmosphere, and ask the right questions – and, of course, listen with obsessive curiosity.

Header image “Cash Squirrel” by Heather Prescott Liebensohn, Zen Mantis Photography

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  1. Scott Scott

    Spot on! Integrity in advertising is something that is hard to find. Most marketing is manipulation, and nobody wants to feel manipulated. I hope more businesses understand the sincerity of telling the story of WHY they are in business will resonate with their audience (the customer). Maybe they don’t, because they don’t know themselves.

    • Thanks Scott! That’s a good point, something I didn’t consider. If your company does not have a strong why, or even, perhaps has a bit of a toxic culture, then this kind of authentic marketing may not be the best approach. Although, going through the process could actually help things internally if spearheaded by the right person.

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