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When it comes to making an effective explainer video, things aren’t always black & white…

Before you get into this post, I want you to understand something. I am not posting this to make the person involved in this appear stupid or ill informed. In fact, I am posting it because we should all be-so-lucky to have our potential customers think so deeply about our messaging and then take the time to share such thoughtful feedback with us.

In my view, there’s loads of value in this person’s opinion and there’s also loads of value in my answers for anyone considering making an animated video to tell their company’s story.

I also promise you that if you take the time to read this whole thing, it will stimulate some very valuable thought about the true effectiveness of the messages you are putting into the marketplace.

The context…

Yesterday I received a long and passionate email from a prospective client who thinks the video above, our own explainer video, sucks. In fact, according to him, our own explainer video was the only thing stopping him from hiring us.

If you haven’t already, it will help to watch the video above before reading what follows.

Here’s why your video sucks…

Below is the actual email I received with very slight edits to protect the innocent:


Dear Fire Starter Videos,

I like your hip feel, your site, the fact that you post your pricing unlike others I’ve seen, and I liked the feel, animation, score, and narration for your own demo video.

That being said, I have to admit that I’m mighty disappointed by your own video. It was enough to get me to wonder about using you folks. Sure, I could have just gone to another site and taken my feelings about your demo video to my grave, but I preferred to give you my feedback as I have always appreciated feedback that my website customers give to me.

Like I said, the overall look and feel of the video is good. Really good. It has the level of production value that I’d be proud to have in a demo video on my site.

Here’s what I don’t like. After watching your own video (and a couple of the interviews with your CEO), I noticed that your video violated a couple of the guidelines your CEO stressed and that plain confused me.

The first is length. The overall industry, your CEO, and your pricing structure all say that the recommended length is 1:30. And your CEO says that two minutes is the absolute maximum. Yet yours runs 2:21. I think you could simply remove sections 1:10-1:14, and 1:20-2:19 and improve the overall video instantly, more on that later.

Then there’s the point your CEO emphasized about understanding the difference between benefits and features, of understanding the customer’s point of view. The example he gave was the old one of someone selling a drill – you’re not selling the bit, you’re selling the whole in the wall. Your video doesn’t mention a single benefit to me the customer, unless you count the “psychedelic ideas.”

Yes, it’s fun and you get the point across (cleverly and humorously) that your folks work hard. Great. It still doesn’t explain what *I* get out of it. And I’d rather have a good video from a company where most folks do “lazy animation” but one person nailed my particular video. Your video is about why I need you to make my video, but you don’t make that case. Yes, you mention a benefit in the text to the left of the video, but the one you mention – customer engagement, is weak. As a website owner, I can tell you that I don’t give a rat’s ass about “customer engagement.” I care about conversions. Period. Talk my language!

In my view, the reason your video is too long, and why is can be so easily cut down, is that apart from the two seconds of conclusion, everything after 1:20 is client “Rules.” (Also 1:10-1:14). When you’re trying to wow clients, you spend almost half of the whole video telling me exactly how I, the client, will need to behave. To the extent that I should be nice to your team. What’s the thinking behind that?

I work in entertainment, and know all-too-well the importance of making sure that our clients clearly understand the overall approval process before we begin – and agree to it in writing, but I would not take up almost half of a pitch meeting by telling them that they need to make their selects and how they need to format their change orders, etc. It’s generally understood that you’ll have some kind of company policy for approvals, so it’s not some kind of bait and switch to introduce that later. I expect it. To my way of thinking, that stuff belongs in whatever agreement document you have the client sign before officially beginning the engagement, but not before you generate the interest to make the sale.

Granted, you still present the rules in a fun, creative fashion, but that’s not the point. They shouldn’t be in there in the first place. They are certainly not a benefit, heck, not even a feature, they are requirements. We’re not even honeymooning yet and you’re already bitch slapping me. I’m guessing you’ve had a lot of sticky engagements with clients wanting to make endless changes, probably especially with the narration, but don’t lower the hammer before you raise my interest level. It’s like trying to sell me the drill by emphasizing not the bit, and not the whole, but its product liability limitations.

The first part of the video is your process, which I guess is feature-esque, and the fun stuff about your underground, abused minions. I suppose it helps to show the concrete process, and demystify it for me, but it still doesn’t tell me why I should hire you guys.

After seeing the CEO interviews, here’s more of what I would have expected from your video:

-“You have a website and you want to increase conversions.
-“Web videos are the proven cost effective answer. you can increase conversions by…..”
-“Ok, so you need a video. You could have an animator do it, but here’s why a professional explainer video company is better…”
-“But why us instead of our competitors?” (Then you show all your cool internal process stuff.)
-“And you don’t have a lot of money?”
-“We proudly display our pricing front and center on our website, we’re proud of our lower prices. Check out our competitors, none of them have the cojones to show their prices – what does that tell you?”
-“So if you want to increase conversions, you need an outstanding video at a reasonable price done by our amazing team. Call us today, and start making more money in a few short weeks.” (Then maybe show the customer as the guy with the whip now, whipping his customer service people as they struggle to handle the flood of new customers created by the fire lit by the fine folks at Fire Starter Videos. Your busy staff meme makes for a really good contagion.)

And I would end with the last bars of the Mission Impossible theme.

Everyone’s a critic, right? Especially in this town. Sheesh.

I need a kick ass video for my site, and I’d like you guys to be the ones to do it.

Do I practice what I preach? Hell no! I have a 12 minute monstrosity on my site right this very minute that consists of a Camtasia screen capture video of me narrating while I wade through my goddamn Excel template! Holy crap! That’s why I need a good video so badly. And I think I’m one awesome Fire Starter video away from getting my island in the South Pacific.

There you have it. Feel free to ignore my ramblings, tell me that I’m maybe partially right, or tell me how I so completely missed the boat.

Help me to have you help me!


Why nothing is black and white when it comes to making an explainer video…”

At first pass, there’s some very well-considered and valuable observations in the email above. It is clear that he means well and I truly was/am grateful that he cared enough to share what he did. Now let me share my response. I promise you, if you are thinking about how best to tell your story to potential customers, you will learn something from this.


Hey <writer’s name>,

Well that certainly is one of the most unique emails I have ever received about our explainer video. I love your passion!

Perhaps you were more looking for a video like this:


That is the explainer video we first started out with.

Then we interviewed our customers and found out that they didn’t need to be sold on why they need an explainer video at all. Their top questions when they reached our site were:

– How much does it cost?
– How does the process work?
– How long does it take?
– Do you guys have a grain of originality or are you just another “me too” company?

Our first video (the one above) answered almost none the questions our customers were wanting answered (except the one about originality. It clearly showed that we had none). It was structured based on how all of our competitor’s videos were structured.

So to answer your question…

“We actually know what is in the minds of our prospects because we have asked them.”

To drill deeper, all of our incoming web traffic is either from intentional search (like Google AdWords and SEO) or by referral. We don’t do any banner advertising or any interruption marketing (like Facebook). In other words our visitors have already made the decision to buy a video. Selling them (as you suggested we should do) is actually just wasting their time.

When we found this out we smacked ourselves in the head and said “WTF are we doing? Give the people what the people want. Straight answers to the questions they want answered rather than taking their time up with a presentation we want to give. If that takes 30 seconds longer then do it.”

In short, you have to know EXACTLY what is in the minds of your customers at the exact moment they are going to be watching your explainer video and cater to that.

Since releasing the new video (the one you suggest we cut in half), our conversion rate doubled.

Almost without exception, 100% of the feedback on that video has been overwhelmingly positive. We know that most customers want to know what’s in that video, and we also trust that they are big enough to not be too easily offended. We are conditioning the clients that are right for our business in a self-deprecating and humorous way. As a result their expectations about what’s ahead are set properly and they end up loving us (which is almost always the case).

We deal with entrepreneurs, some of the toughest SOBs around and generally speaking, our video inspires them to have more fun, stop being so precious about offending people and enjoy the process of serving their clients.

Anyway – let me know if that doesn’t make sense.

BTW – I am the guy in the videos who contradicted himself 🙂

Thanks again for your awesome feedback and we’d love to work with you.


The take-aways for everyone looking to create a killer marketing video…

First, you have to know (REALLY KNOW), who your customers are and what is on their minds at the time they are looking at your video. Writing a script based on how your competitors write a script may not be the best course of action. These days, in a world of way too much information, you have very little time to get your foot into the doorway of people’s minds. We have no time for messages that don’t give us what we need – fast!

Do you really know who your customer is? Do you really know what mode they’re in when they find your video? Do you really know what the top two or three things on their mind are when they find you?

If not, you may be dealing with half the inquiries that you could be, if only you actually knew.

Happy marketing.

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