You Ought To Be In Pictures! The Process of Making A Company Video – Part 3

Let’s take another step in our continuing series, looking at the process of making a high-quality company video that can be used to educate and entertain your audience through social media.  In the previous segments, we’ve talked about the importance of effective social media video marketing for your business, as well as the need for quality production by an experienced media company.  In this third part, we’re going to briefly discuss your essential preparation list … those things you need to know and do before seeking out and meeting with potential video production companies.

You’ve Passed the Audition … and Your Role Is …

If budget was not a consideration, the ideal scenario would be to hire an expert marketing company with loads of advertising experience to script a perfect video campaign for your business.  They would then hire a video producer to handle turning that script into an award-winning and effective viral video from which you would reap the rewards of fame and fortune beyond the fortune you already had that allowed you to hire the expert marketing and video production companies.

However, if that was all true, you probably wouldn’t be reading this article.  For the rest of us, budget IS a factor … an extremely important one … and most of us don’t have a budget for a marketing expert AND a video production company.  And let’s be clear about something … they are, in fact, two very different services.  Marketing/Advertising experts are not video production companies … and video production companies are not marketing/advertising experts.  They may overlap to a degree, but they do not perform the same role.

A marketing/advertising expert DESIGNS a campaign, which may be intended to take the finished form of a video.  The video production company turns that design into a finished product, or FABRICATES a video product from a given design.

As a business owner, you already have the skills to design marketing campaigns.  (You do create marketing campaigns for your business, right?)  So … for your business video, you will be the DESIGNER.  Yay!

“Storyboard” … not “Story-Bored”

Okay, so you’re now a marketing video designer … and you’ll hire a production company to fabricate your design.  Sounds simple, right?  Well, before you start writing your Oscar acceptance speech, it’s important to keep something in mind:  If you want the production company to properly fabricate your design, you have to be able to communicate that design very clearly.  I like to tell clients that, as a multimedia engineer, I’m a magician, not a psychic.  In other words, I can make amazing video, but I can’t read your mind to know what you want, especially if YOU don’t know what you want.

So how do you put together a plan to communicate your vision?  (We’re assuming that you do have a vision … otherwise, you’re not ready for this whole thing, right?)  The very best asset you can bring to a meeting with a potential video production company is a Storyboard.  What’s a Storyboard?  Simply stated, it’s a rough sketch, or outline, of every scene of your video.

A storyboard generally takes the form of a video frame (or multiple frames) for each scene, which contains a sketch of the visual content (all necessary visible elements).  Below the frame are notes that detail the scene activity, including object/actor placement and movement, dialog, scene duration, etc.  The quality of your drawing isn’t the important thing, but rather the ability of your sketch to communicate what should be taking place on the screen in your video.  Stick figures are fine, as are handwritten notes, as long as they’re legible and sensible.  Here’s an example:

Storyboard Sample 1 Storyboard Sample 2

Storyboard frames are, by nature, fairly generic.  If you want something very specific, however, make sure you include very specific details in the notes.  For such an event, you must detail the “what”, “where”, “how”, “when”, and “how long” specifics. For example:

What:  “Before” image moves off screen as the “After” image appears.

Where:  “Before” image slides off screen from lower left to upper right.  “After” image slides on screen from upper left to lower left.

How:  Both images move simultaneously so the “After” replaces the “Before”.

When:  During the voice-over line “We can replace your weathered old sign with a new vibrant work of art …”

How Long:  Images begin moving with the word “weathered” and finish moving at the word “art”.

This kind of detail eliminates questions/guesswork and makes the editor’s job much faster.

Make as many of these frames as necessary to accurately portray each section of your video.  This will act as the visual guide for your production company, so it needs to be thorough.  Give your storyboard to a friend, family member, or colleague and ask them to tell you honestly if it makes sense … and perhaps have them describe the scenes back to you in their own words.

In addition, write out a full script of what you want to be produced, including written dialog for every section that will require spoken word (voice-over recording).  You should also be prepared to provide graphic files or other artwork for any company logos, photos, or images needed during production.  If images or video of your employees or clients are to be used, make sure you get proper release forms signed.

When you’ve done all of this, start meeting with prospective video production companies.  Make appointments and be on time.  Go through your storyboard and script with them and make sure they understand it, and have a feel for your vision.  They should be willing to spend the time to do that.  If you feel rushed, move on to the next meeting.  ‘Nuff said.

Leave nothing un-discussed, nothing left to interpretation, unless you want surprises when you see the finished product.  This doesn’t mean the producer/editor/engineer shouldn’t enhance your vision when/where it makes sense, since they may have a keen eye for certain details.  After all, that’s what you’re hiring them for.  But they should not be responsible for designing the content of your message, nor should they be given a free hand to alter it without your approval.

What tends to happen with this amount of preparation and planning is that you’ll quickly get a feel for the “right” company or person to hire.  They’ll appreciate your work, and will be impressed that they don’t have to ask you for it.  They’ll “get” your vision and feel inspired with ways to bring it to life.  You’ll not just hear them tell you they understand … you’ll know it.  They won’t have that tell-tale blank look in their eyes that says “Wait … what?”, even though they nod and say they’re “with you.”

Congratulations!  If you’ve done all of this, you’re in the elite class of video production clients.  The vast majority of clients seeking video production have done very little to plan, script, and storyboard their project.  Their projects will take far longer to complete.  Their projects will likely have the same look and feel as every other “house-produced” video from the company that makes them.  Their video will not be fresh and unique, and will not represent their business as only the owner of said business could represent it.  YOUR video, in contrast, will be the opposite.  Your video will be easy to produce, as the planning and scripting has all been done.  Your video will have the unique quality of expression that comes from the experience of living and breathing your business for many years, and knowing what makes your business better than your competition.

Next time … turning your business experience into dynamic visual expression that draws your audience in!  Then later … file formats!!  WooHoo!!

You Ought to Be In Pictures! The Process of Making a Company Video – Part 1

Why Make A Company Video?

Bank Video OptionsWith social media becoming more and more important for small businesses, company videos streaming from the web are often a very effective way to communicate with your existing and/or potential clients.  No longer are you limited to DVD or other physical media for your product marketing, events, or promotions.  The quality of online streaming video today can be absolutely stunning, light years beyond the low-resolution grainy short clips with poor sound quality that were commonplace only a few years ago.  In addition, research shows that more and more people in the workplace are turning to the Internet as their primary source for media, including news, entertainment, and general information.  Take a look at this infographic, prepared by Accredited Online Colleges, that illustrates the current trend away from traditional television and toward the Internet for media needs.

The Death of TV

Courtesy of Accredited Online Colleges

So it seems the savvy business owner of 2012 is taking advantage of this trend and creating video presentations to educate and entertain the infinite audience of the Internet.  Be careful, though!  The best intentions will be completely ignored if your video is poorly planned and produced, creating a less-than-desirable first impression of your company for the viewer … who may not give you a second chance to impress them.  And, as you may already know, once your video has entered the social media world, it can be difficult to undo it.  As much as your competition may love to have something that makes you look bad, I’m guessing that’s not something YOU want.

So how do you make a video that looks great, properly represents your company, effectively communicates with your audience, and is formatted correctly to play well on everything from a fast computer to a smart phone?  Well … that’s why I’m here, my friends … to bring clarity to a confusing process through a series of articles that I hope will help inspire you to start planning your own video projects.

In this series, we’re going to walk through the process of making a company video, from the perspective of YOU, the business owner.  We’ll look at the preliminary work you’ll need to do, how to locate and select a video production company, how to effectively communicate your plan to ensure a clear understanding of the work to be done, and some tips for keeping your video vendor on track.  Stay tuned … it’ll be fun, I promise!

Next up in the series:  Know Your Limitations!

Those Special Codec Moments…

The following is not gibberish: A portmanteau is a blend of two or more morphemes. The word codec is a portmanteau of “compressor- decompressor” or, more commonly, “coder-decoder”.   Wikipedia explains: A codec encodes a data stream or signal for transmission, storage or encryption, or decodes it for playback or editing.

If you have been involved in dynamic sign content, you know those moments when the screen gives you a blank stare, and you fear that your beautiful video has fatal flaws? Well, isn’t it almost always the case that this is simply due to a missing “codec?” Then you go on the hunt to fix this embarrassing situation before the client sees the project. It’s pretty funny to hear audio and see nothing on the screen, and run to check the cables. Admit it, we all do that. A good hunch, but not relevant.

Codec for VideoLet’s talk about codecs, because making the move from digital print to dynamic signage requires that you know how to avoid those precious codec moments.  Although it has many other definitions, the term “codec” has become synonymous with digital video playback and encoding.

If you are in the business of graphics, digital print, advertising, or the sign industry, you are very familiar with lossy file formats, such as jpgs. The compression achieves a manageable file size, but there is data loss in the process. Images can look pretty pixelated after some edits and “saves.”  Well, the same holds true for codecs.Some popular codecs are “lossy” – losing some quality to achieve compression –  and some are “lossless — typically used for archiving data in a compressed form and keeping every byte of information present in the original stream.

What does this mean to you? Well, if you are rendering content for high-quality display (the good stuff all of your clients want), then like our media engineers at LobbyPOP, you want to use a lossless codec. All of those edits, text changes, music tweaks, video insertions, and saves, saves, saves, will create a pretty unpretty mess if you use a lossy codec in the process.

Of course, your final files will have to be decoded with the proper codec. We are familiar with one big name, popular content management system that doesn’t have the codec to decode MP4 files! The notion of AVI being a codec is incorrect as AVI is a container type, which many codecs might use (although not to ISO standard). There are also other well-known containers such as QuickTime, RealMedia, Matroska, DivX Media Format and containers defined as ISO standards, such as MPEG transport stream, MPEG program stream, MP4 and ISO base media file format.

Determining Codecs (thanks to Cisco for this information below)

Many tools are available to analyze a video file to determine what codec was used during encoding. One is AVIcodec, which you can download from http://avicodec.duby.info. The program recognizes most video file formats and delivers additional details in an easily viewable interface. Figure 3 shows a sample of the download output.

Figure 3. AVIcodecAnother program that is simpler is GSpot, which you can download from http://www.free-codecs.com/download/GSpot.htm. Figure 4 shows the output of the same file when viewed with GSpot.

Figure 4. GSpot 

Well, this blog was a bit more technical, but remember, we gave you risqué news in the last post!

We’ve Come a Long Way, Baby, From Sneaker Net!

It seems like just yesterday we were discovering the world of dynamic signage, and loading up our content by manual transmission, ie, flash drives and DVDs, aka, using the “sneakernet.”

Sneaker Net

With a DVD or VHS network you have what is called a “SneakerNet” – can be prone to human errors. Just look back to 2009, when a “sneaker net” system was used in a WalMart department not served by WalMart TV. The porn videos that played in that Arkansas WalMart certainly received a lot of media coverage (pun intended). In case you  don’t recall the millions of tweets, two employees swapped out DVDs in a device controlling 6 TVs in the furniture department. They got caught and the term SneakerNet took on a whole new meaning…

Here’s the point: Because the system is not connected, you have no guarantee the promotion you intended is being played. Making the content in the first place is costly (burning DVDs) and you can really only afford to do this once per month. If you run weekly specials, it’s impossible to advertise those on your screens because you’re running the same loop every week for a month. With a networked system, you’ll be able to change this on the fly easily and have completely synchronized media campaigns, both in-store and in-home. So, you understand how far we’ve come, yes? But, if you are comfortable for a little while longer in sneakers, you can simplify your own process, so read on!

Turtle Content DeliveryA large number of signage deployments today are still actually done by sending around VHS tapes and DVDs by turtle mail. Sometimes this is because when talking with the IT department, someone always says “no”. So the digital sign professionals and the ad agencies serving the client think, “No problem, we’ll just use DVDs!”

If you are starting out, and the sneakernet delivery system is the simple model you or your customer wants to deploy, there are a few tips that will make the picture quality, and your costs, better all around. But remember, that’s not the way to become a well-heeled digital sign pro. Just picture ad agencies, who have high expectations of the direct-out-of-home industry to deliver campaigns as contracted. They are becoming increasingly vigilant in ensuring that they are getting value. They will want proof that the campaigns are running.

Okay, here are your important rules for sneakernet:  First of all, never, ever use a consumer model DVD or BluRay player!  These are rated for about 2000 hours maximum, and certainly not for continuous play! Invest in a commercial player – which is often what your kiosks will feature at one price point – and you won’t be replacing the unit every few months.

Next, consider the video quality. If you are driving a plasma screen with a DVD player over composite video, the picture is going to look pretty ordinary. Now, swap that composite video cable for an HDMI cable, to your commercial screen, and with your commercial DVD player, your image is “up-rezed” and voila! Vastly improved picture quality, not to mention audio is always synchronized!

Now, how about the cost to burn and ship? Here’s a baby step from sneakers to something a bit less informal. Connect with your client’s (or your) IT department and gain access to an FTP site. Upload the files (yes, this takes a little time, but so does uploading and distributing through connected digital sign systems!). Make sure there’s a  DVD or BluRay burner at the other end, and let the IT guy or gal burn the contents to it. Now, load and play! You’ve saved time and cost burning these DVDs for these smaller digital sign projects. You’ve also saved days in transit!

Another step: Some “stand alone” digital sign systems will simply play whatever is on a gig-stick and loaded to its media player. This eliminates the BluRay or DVD player. And then there’s always Apple-TV, but that is another blog for another day.

It is apparent, if you give this some thought, that a simple media player, internet-connected system will ultimately save time and energy, and sneakernets, while still an option, will give way to the need for more frequent updates, reports of play, ROO and ROI calculations, and the chance to finally through away those old tennis shoes.

Just letting you down easy…

March of the Statistics

Many of our past posts have discussed marketing, retail environments, sign design, content and audio considerations. But why is this dynamic sign technology getting so much attention? Why should you invest in this new learning curve as a digital print or sign professional? From software selection, to network design and configuration, to the right displays and peripherals and then installation and training for the client, it is quite an investment. Is it worth it? Okay, let’s march a few statistics out for March, and then you decide…. (We’ll use plenty of pictures to keep it lively!)

It is no coincidence that with 74% of all purchase decisions in mass merchandisers made in store, an increasing number of brand marketers and retailers invest in this medium.

When electronic digital signage first came onto the scene a few short years ago, there was no way to quantify it in terms of return on investment or impact on the marketplace, or even consumers. With the advent of scanner technology, brand marketers and retailers have been able to immediately determine the effectiveness of P.O.P.

POPAI‘s studies, undertaken from 1994 through this year, have consistently demonstrated significant sales increases for products supported by Retail Marketing across industries and geography.

Digital Signage has been proven to reduce perceived wait time by 40%-60%. That makes for happier, friendlier, more relaxed, and more satisfied clients.

LobbyPOP SayingAt the same time, you have a unique opportunity to tell your audience about additional products and services you offer.  You can be sure they’ll remember… it’s proven that digital signage can increase ad recall by more than 60%. And in case you’re wondering about the bottom line: Digital signage increases sales by 18%-62%!

InfoTrends/CAP Ventures has been tracking the industry since 1999, and adjusted Compound Annual Growth Rates are over 30%.

And, the most recent Digital Signage Pricing Report from Wirespring shows that the cost to deploy displays has dropped 14%. When Wirespring first began tracking in 2004, the cost per node (screen and media player) averaged $8500. In 2010, this had dropped to $3720.

It was only a few short months ago that Walmart released some information pertaining to their (in)famous Smart Network. In case you missed the announcement, the company calculated the following percentage increases in store departments using the Smart Network:

Sales lift by department
  • Electronics: 7%
  • Over-the-counter: 23%
  • Food: 13%
  • Health/beauty: 28%

They also disclosed the point in a product’s life cycle when the network seemed to be most effective:

Sales lift by product type

  • Mature items: 7%
  • Newly-launched items: 9%
  • Seasonal items: 18%
  • Items on rollback: 6%

From two case studies on how the Smart Network affects product sales (thanks to Digital Signage Today for the summaries):

In the first, a breathing-strip manufacturer purchased an endcap campaign, in which a 90- to 120-second message ran on endcap screens with product positioned around it. While the program was running, the brand saw a 100 percent sales lift on the specific product, determined by testing versus a control group.

In another campaign, the retailer wanted to increase the number of shoppers that opted in to receive discounts and offers via SMS. It staged a four-week campaign in which shoppers were told that if they’d sign up by dialing a specific code, they’d get exclusive announcements of new “Rollback” offers. During the four-week period, the retailer saw a three-fold increase in daily opt-ins.

Still with me here? We’re giving you this so you can go forth and conquer your clients’ fears!  Okay, how about YOUR fears 😉 Check this out:

According to data cited by Microsoft’s Edson, there are approximately 2 million digital signs across the US right now, and that number is expected to grow to 7 million over the next 5 years. For that to happen in a nice, linear fashion, it would mean that the industry will deploy 1,000,000 screens every year for the next 5 years.

The above chart shows that Retail remains the largest piece of the digital sign pie, and that Hospitality is second. With Retail, we find every imaginable style of display – from kiosks and endcaps, to video walls and window projections. In Hospitality, the range is not so dramatic. Both present ready opportunities for digital sign professionals.

Hopefully this March round-up of current research has given you a new perspective on your own potential in this arena. Next post, a bit about technology as it relates to content…

Sounds Like…

When it comes to digital signage and the dimension of audio in the environment, you are bound to see that sound has the ear of many, and important boundaries for others. It would be nice if we could provide a hard and fast rule when it comes to audio enhancements of your dynamic messaging. But we can’t. We can, however, give you the retail environment “rules of thumb” and bend your ear a bit on ways to implement this worthy tool.

First, it helps to think of audio as sugar in your content recipe. You may not need it, and if you add too much, it is just too much. And like sugar, it can add a great deal of appeal, and assist in delivery – the way a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down… In the most delightful way!

Second, you can simply destroy your employees as though using some wicked form of torture, if you play the same audio track over and over and have no way to limit the sound to a particular environment. This is a fact. And it leads to manual disengagement, as in, the volume is turned off.

Third, however, is the new research showing that comprehension, attention, and retention are improved with a good music and voiceover track. In fact, a music bed helps to deepen the experience, and depending on your system objectives, it can enhance a brand’s style.

And Fourth, audio will often reach a client before they are aware of a screen. What you have then is the power to draw eyes to your digital display that much earlier.  

So, how do you compromise between engaging the ears, and saving your employees’ sanity? You can and should give serious consideration to a sound cone which hangs over your display, and presents sound waves in a tight dimension around your system. Only when someone is within a few feet of the display can they hear the music. In addition, motion detectors can assure the sound plays only when someone is present.

We like the Cone of Silence offered by Interface Group. The patented design delivers a column of sound directly below the sphere providing crisp clear stereo sound. Outside the column, sound level drops 80% so that adjacent patrons are not bothered by the audio content.  In fact, the Library Journal supplement publication Library By Design featured this product for the library system. So if it works for a librarian, it will work great for your clients as well!

The audio component of your presentation gives you a distinct advantage when it comes to edutainment content. Without music, most material falls a bit flat. Test this yourself: play a movie trailer with and without audio. The impact of a good music score can’t be taken lightly. But if you have no way to control the audio either by motion or a “cone of silence” then you run the risk of creating a negative where there was a positive impression. In your needs analysis, look at your environment and the factors above.

That’s very sound advice 😉

Kiosk, You Ask?

We thank the Kiosk company for assisting with information on the subject of kiosks – a great product for many applications. KIOSK has many years of experience in working with customers to deploy small to medium to very large kiosk projects. They have found six factors to consider when choosing and deploying kiosks for your intended purpose. By no means is this list inclusive of everything -This is a summary of those six considerations:

1)  The Hardware Solution –

You want a kiosk that is build to ADA guidelines and UL specs. And you should choose a form and design that fits your environment, brand and size requirements. In addition, the enclosure and structure should be inviting. There is no reason in today’s market that you should sacrifice esthetics or durability. Every option imaginable is available!

2)  The Application –

Think about your experience when you check in at the airport. Your kiosk operation should be that simple! 2-3 buttons, a clear touchscreen, and simple graphic elements. Who will develop the content and application? You may be able to do that in-house, but there are several companies that do nothing but help companies develop applications, tie in with existing systems/databases and help remotely manage the kiosk.

3) Remote Monitoring/Reporting –

Without remote monitoring/reporting – how will you know what people are doing on the kiosk? Will you know if one of your 2500 screens is down? What about the screen saver- can it be updated to play store specials as they become available?

4) Service –

Think about the warranty, and who actually owns the hardware. If a service call is needed, do you need to outsource on-site maintenance where an outside tech will service the kiosk? You may want to keep spare parts on hand for common replacements.

5) The Kiosk Project –

What is the intended purpose of your kiosks? Decide on 2 or 3 priorities at least initially – you can always add on later. What does a good pilot program look like?  Number of stores? What types of stores?  What’s the budget for the pilot?  The MOST important part of the pilot is determining you success criteria.  What is the budget and who will own the kiosks? It may make sense to lease the hardware.

6) Employee Involvement –

Employees can sometimes feel intimidated or threatened by the kiosk. We’ve seen examples where a kiosk is placed in an existing environment without much employee involvement and the program will fail. 

So, in summary, a kiosk is a great tool and resource, useful for in-store surveys, product descriptions and applications, and guidance for customers. The most important moments in the life of the kiosk campaign are those before it is installed. When you think kiosk, think ASK – the questions above will help guide you to the right answers for you.