Note: this article was previously 4-part series, and has now been consolidated into a single post.
Professional video production can be an investment, we know. But fear not. In this candid guide, I’m going to tell you exactly how to make a brand video the way we do it, with all that emotional authenticity we’re constantly pushing on everyone.
Basically, I’m going to demystify our process so you can do it yourself and save the thousands and thousands of dollars you’d have to pay us to do it for you.
And no, this isn’t a cheeky, sarcastic post designed to make you feel bad for questioning our prices. I really want to help you make a better video. Maybe you’re even sold on our process already, and you’ll take this information and give it to another video production company to use as a guide. That’s great! I really, really just want to help you make a better video.
Although this is a step-by-step guide, I’m not going to discuss the technicals of filmmaking, like lenses and lights and editing software and all that stuff. Nor am I going to discuss the administrative procedure of video production. Those things are not secret, and the Internet is already full of amazing free resources on them. This guide is purely focused on what makes our process uniquely adept at making authentic, emotionally resonant, and highly watchable brand videos.
How to make a brand video
Without further ado, here it is, laid bare, the process upon which our entire business is built.
Step 1 of 8: Find the right people to tell the story
This is important. Not everyone in your whole company or department needs to be included in your brand video. And not everyone who should be included is necessarily an obvious choice.
The first unbreakable rule is that the head(s) of the company must appear and be the backbone of the story. The CEO/president/founder/whatever is the central processing center of the brand. No claim made by anyone else means jack if the leader isn’t there to affirm (genuinely) that the message is what the company stands for. The big dog doesn’t get to sit this out.
The only other rule is that everyone else being interviewed, whether a leader, team member, or customer, must give a crap. We’re making an authentic story, after all. We need to tell it through people who actually have something genuinely good to say about the company. Do not choose your interview subjects solely based on arbitrary considerations such as “camera friendliness”. Find people who love to serve your mission.
Step 2 of 8: Interview them on camera without a script.
Prepare a rough outline for the interviewer (who will be off-camera) to make sure certain points are discussed, but only use this as a tool to inspire tangents into visceral conversation. Don’t treat it like a script.
Ask subjective questions:
- How do you feel when you…?
- How do you feel when a customer…?
- What’s your favorite thing about…?
- What gets you up in the morning?
- What’s your purpose in life?
- Why were you drawn to this work?
- What brings you joy?
Don’t ask objective (aka boring) questions:
- What is [company name]? (We already know.)
- What does [company name] do? (We already know.)
- What year was [company name] founded? (We don’t care.)
- *Snoring sound*
- (Sorry, I fell asleep while writing this list, so I’m just going to continue with the post.)
FAQ: But I’m a startup creating a new category that people haven’t heard of. I HAVE to explain what we do.
Great question. If your business needs explaining, explain it through subjective statements.
Octatrex is a robotic exoskeleton that helps babies keep up with their families on advanced mountain climbs.
As an arachnid wonk, I always dreamed of birthing a tarantula, but my biology prevented it, so I created a way for my human baby to transcend Mt. Everest on eight legs.
The point is that we’re trying to tell a story that’s interesting and watchable. That means it’s built entirely on human emotion, and contains nothing that’s purely information. This is a universal characteristic of all great stories.
Step 3 of 8: Shoot interesting b-roll
If you’re in a business that naturally has a lot of cool visuals, like a factory with sweet machines that etch smiley faces into wax pancakes or an inflatable ball pit rental company, you’re probably not going to need my help with this. Actually, yes you will. Keep reading.
The thing about b-roll in brand videos is that people tend to just use footage of their work taking place, no matter what it is. I can’t tell you how many lawyer and PR firm videos I’ve seen that make liberal use of footage featuring:
- A person writing at their desk
- A person using a photocopier (interesting only how comically dated it makes them look)
- Someone moving paper into or out of a file cabinet
- Expressionless people passing each other in a hallway
I’m not saying your job is boring – it isn’t. What I am saying is that all the excitement of your job is taking place inside your head. While just as real and valid as the excitement of high-rise window washing, it’s not visible on camera. To other people, it looks like, well, people being boring.
Let the audience inside your mind
Your brand video is a story about you, right? If you’re telling a compelling, authentic story on the audio track but your work is nothing a peeping tom would find exciting, here’s the secret to good b-roll:
Get all up in your face and let the audience dwell on your expression. Use b-roll as an opportunity to show how you’re feeling inside while you do the boring-looking thing on the outside.
If you have to stage shots, try to actually be doing real work on camera so your expression will reflect the way your work makes you feel. If you’re doing a shot where you’re interacting with someone else, talk about something that’s actually pertinent business between you. Focus on faces. Authenticity.
One of my favorite b-roll shots is the subject just driving their car. There’s something about being on the road that gets people into a contemplative state of mind. As long as the audio track is focused on beliefs, values, and passions, any shot of a face that’s genuinely thinking will play wonderfully. If you follow this rule, even a person writing at their desk can be great.
Always do the above, but if your company is a paintball course or something, definitely shoot lots of paint exploding out of plastic balls.
Step 4 of 8: Transcribe all the interview footage
I can’t emphasize enough the importance of transcribing interviews. You’ll never remember everything that was said, and if you care about building your story from the absolute most spine-tinglingly delicious moments of real humanity, you need an easier way to find them than trolling endlessly through mostly dull footage.
Don’t do this manually, obviously. Actually, it’s not that obvious. I used to do it manually. It took forever.
Once I discovered SpeedScriber, Rev, and other transcription services, I found I could see everything laid out in text and easily find the best moments from the interviews to build the story with. No more watching and rewatching everything and trying to remember where I heard that one good line. This process saves me about 6 hours of mind-numbing toil on every project.
Transcribing also gives you the ability to search for and easily find powerful words in the interview, or for phrases you remember being moved by.
Step 5 of 8: Comb the transcripts for statements of emotional subjectivity
You’ve shot your interview footage, and you have the whole thing in text form. Now what?
The best thing about working with transcripts is that they make it really easy to disregard boring stuff. “Boring stuff” can be defined simply as statements that contain no emotional weight; rote facts about your business and advertising clichés that would apply to any business in your industry.
- The year your business was founded
- Reasons that the business was founded that have only to do with the needs of customers, and nothing to do with your own desires
- The number of employees you have
- Any of the following advertising clichés:
- “Commitment to excellence”
- “Dedicated team of experts”
- “Committed to providing the best…”
- “Only the highest-quality…”
- “Our mission is to provide…”
- Contact/location information
- Details about the process or procedure of doing the company’s work
Most interviews contain a lot of that stuff, like over 90% of the total footage. But armed with the knowledge you have now, you can keep your interview focused on the why so you don’t have to sift through as much of it.
Skim through all that, and look for statements of emotional resonance. These are non-boring things that let us into your heart and connect your business mission to your primal drive, just like a great movie protagonist.
- Why the business mission is important to you (not to the customer)
- Statements about things you believe in that would be true with or without your business
- Personal stories with epiphanies that led to your current mindset
- Statements that contain the following (note that these are “I/me/my”, not “we/us/our” statements):
- “I love…”
- “I want…”
- “I believe…”
- “I hate…”
- “I don’t like…”
- “…is important to me.”
- “…brings me joy.”
- “…drives me crazy.”
- “My favorite…”
- “My passion…”
- “My pet peeve…”
Statements that fit this criteria will likely be just a small fraction of what you recorded, so you can already see that by going through the transcripts and isolating the prime material to build your story with, you’re saving yourself a lot of bad watchin’ and rewatchin’.
Be ruthless. You’ll be tempted to include boring stuff, because you’ll worry that your video isn’t going to explain to viewers what you do; that it won’t inform them. But that’s not your video’s job. Your website can do that. Your video is for getting prospects to like and trust you.
Once you’ve separated out the good stuff, it’s time to start arranging it into story form. The first rule is:
Step 6 of 8: Bookend with beliefs
The best brand videos begin and end with one of the following:
- A direct statement of belief
- A personal anecdote that supports a belief
- A personal habit or modus operandi that reflects a belief
The best way to explain this is through an example. This is a video Kerri and I made for my sister’s dog training business:
I have a really good relationship with dogs. I’ve always loved dogs, and I’ve never had a bad experience with a dog. They’re just amazing creatures.
This is a personal anecdote (“I have a really good relationship…” that supports a belief (“They’re just amazing creatures”).
That’s all dogs care about. They just wanna be with you and they just wanna make you happy, and there’s no better relationship than that. It just makes me happy.
This is a direct statement of belief.
When you bookend with beliefs instead of information, your boring, salesy ad becomes a compelling, authentic story.
Step 7 of 8: Focus on a single theme
During your editing process, you will find a lot of great bits that don’t connect to the central message and be extremely tempted to include them on the basis of how great they are. I still experience this while editing videos for my clients, and I have to put myself though a wringer of painful purges. After all, it’s hard to find truly visceral moments, and when you do, you’re not going to want to apply even more scrutiny.
Unfortunately, a lot of brand videos miss the mark on this point, and when they do, viewers get confused and bored.
Let’s say you’re making a brand video for a pottery studio, and you’ve interviewed the owner and several employees.
The owner is rock solid on her purpose and passion, and she speaks at length about several whys: to be a gathering place that strengthens the community; to provide arts opportunities for vulnerable groups; to honor her mother’s legacy.
The employees expand the list of themes even further: a great place to work; a product that makes them proud; love for the customers.
That’s a lot of stuff, and it can all be good, but the trick to making a video with a resonant message is finding the thematic overlap and focusing on it.
With some focus, you’ll be able to find snippets from each interviewee that support your chosen theme.
Your audience must leave with the ability to describe the message in one sentence. For example:
Milwaukee Pottery Company is a place where I’ll find community.
Knowing this, leave out the stuff about Mom’s legacy and the quality of the product.
Instead, make more videos about those topics. That’s one of the many advantages of working without a script: you end up with a lot of stuff you can use for other content.
Step 8 of 8: Use decent music
There’s a lot of cheap and free royalty-free music available on the internet, and not all of it is good. But not all of it that isn’t great is necessarily bad, either.
I can’t really help much by way of specific recommendations here, because music is a matter of taste. Further, the tone and message of your brand video is going to have a major impact on the most appropriate genre, tempo, and energy.
Still, the music is a very important aspect of your brand video and the right choice can make it sing (yep).
Try to think a little more deeply about the mood you’re trying to communicate. Attach a word to it (e.g. lighthearted, jaunty, sad, aggressive, suspenseful, etc.) and search for that word on Pond5 or AudioJungle. Be open-minded about genre and instrumentation.
The one type of music that will never make your video better is the overprocessed inspirational corporate background. I’m guilty of using this kind of thing in the past, even though it reminds me of PowerPoint. I apologize profusely to anyone I’ve hurt.
For a premium sound
Try a higher-end stock music library like Audio Network, or better yet, a service like Marmoset that offers well curated, interesting music from real indie artists who aren’t just composing for stock libraries.
Did I Tell You Everything You Needed to Know?
Go make it!
For more in-depth instruction on this process, check out my e-course: How to Make a Brand Video that Isn’t Boring.