Supposedly, if you haven’t jumped on the very fast moving band wagon of video production by the end of 2012, you will be behind the times. So if you have already starting using video as a way to promote your business, well done. If you haven’t, you might want to get a move on. Whether you are a seasoned pro or a nervous newbie you should find the information in this article useful to help you think about what to have in your videos or at least how to structure them to keep your watchers watching.
When producing corporate videos there is a lot we can learn from the film and documentary traditions. Think of your corporate video as a short film and imagine that the message you are trying to get across is a story you are trying to tell. (More and more we seeing television adverts that are more like short blockbuster movies). An understanding of storytelling and its link to emotions could help you produce corporate videos that provoke the responses you want from your audience.
This Chanel No. 5 advert was the most expensive advert in the world at the time and is structured like a miniature movie.
The length of your video
Generally, shorter and to the point is better. However, creating shorts is an art and isn’t as easy as it sounds. For this reason, you need a director who knows what they are doing and only shoots what is needed – otherwise you will end up spending more time and money on an editor who has to sort through reams of footage. You also need an editor who is in tune with the story you are trying to tell and the message you are trying to get across. They should have the skills to help you tell the story efficiently.
Focus Forward Short Films have some great examples of important and potentially very long stories being told in a meager 3 minutes. Take a look.
The importance of a good introduction
You supposedly have 9 seconds to capture the attention of your audience before they switch off and walk away. You therefore need to think creatively about how to keep your viewer engaged from the beginning. There is no formula for ‘the right way’ to introduce a corporate video – there are a number of ways you can make an immediate impression. Here are a couple of examples of videos that have particularly strong introductions.
The music, short close up shots of the horse and the slow motion element cleverly draw the viewer in – there is a sense of build up and an increasing intensity, despite the fact that there is no dialogue, it does have a structure that involves a climax.
This is a great example of the potential of animation. In terms of the introduction, it is quite a classic approach with an immediate introduction to a protagonist for the viewer to empathise with throughout.
The classic narrative structure
The classic narrative structure looks like this diagram:
using narrative structure in corporate videos
This is by no means the only way to structure a story (and therefore a video) but this structure does highlight the importance of building interest in the beginning, then with the introduction of some ‘obstacles’ or ‘crises’ and two thirds of the way through a climax point.
Here I have broken down the components of the classic narrative so that you can think about each one individually in relation to your video:
Protagonist: this is the main character who will be involved in the events throughout the story. This doesn’t have to be a human being either; it could be an animal, a car or place for example. Also, you can have more that one protagonist. If you choose to have a narrator the narrator could be the protagonist, but it doesn’t have to be. If you choose a different narrator, you need to think about what the relationship is between the narrator and the protagonist because this will affect the perspective.
The chances are that in a corporate video the protagonist will be your company.
Aims: The aims should be those of the protagonist. Aims can take many forms. They could be material aims e.g. your character is trying to get the car they have always wanted, or they could be psychological aims e.g. they are trying to get over some unrequited love. You need your viewer to understand the aims of your character to engage them in the story.
The aim of a corporate video can be almost as varied as a film. However, you need to clearly structure the video so that the viewer is clear on where you are taking them.
Obstacles: In order to create some tension or conflict, any good story has obstacles to the protagonist achieving their aims. Again, an obstacle could take a number of forms. It could be an antagonistic person or it could be a physical or political problem for example.
In a corporate video this could be the problem that your customer faces that you have the solution to.
Climax: This is the crisis point in the narrative and would usually fall at about two-thirds of the way through the story. You can include ‘dramatic irony’ which is a really useful device for engaging your audience: it involves, for example, your viewer having some information that your protagonist doesn’t have and which will make the difference between the protagonist achieving their aims or not.
Resolution: This is your conclusion and it is where you close the narrative (even if the story continues outside of your video). A good resolution should leave your viewer with plenty to think about.
Change, development and conflict
Whatever type of narrative structure you choose to use, it is essential that there is some change or development over time. ‘Conflict’ is recognised as a central driver in the development of any ‘story’. This doesn’t mean you need to go to war with your competitors. Conflict or tension could be created by comparing the old with the new, by setting one set of values against another.
In some contexts, any element of ‘conflict’ might seem completely inappropriate or misplaced. It might be that changes between people or between people and their environments are what provide some development in a story, rather than conflict as such.
Here is a comic example of conflict as a driving force in a narrative for a Weetabix advert:
An ending with a resolution
A good ending is one that gives the viewer some closure but also something to think about or something to do (a call to action or a conversion in your case!).
The Weetabix advert above was on YouTube and in the video description viewers were encouraged to watch the advert and then enter a competition.
Here are some other structuring devices to be aware of when planning the content of your video:
Chronology: this would be using the passage of time to tell your story. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you are just moving forward through time. There are other ways to use time e.g. looking at the past, using memory or flash back, or being slightly more abstract and mixing up the past with the present.
Thematic: organising your video in terms of themes is useful if you need to get messages across about a number of themes. For example, you may have three different types of products that you need to feature in your video and it might be simplest and clearest for the viewer to spend a minute on each.
Essay or journey: for example, you open with a question, you take the viewer on a journey to find the answer and then you come to some kind of conclusion or resolution.
Comparison or juxtaposition: The Mitsubishi advert above compares their vehicle to a horse. Juxtaposition is about placing two abstract things next to each other and stimulating some kind of thought or creativity. It is an extremely useful tool.
This video is a good example of juxtaposition with computer style animation juxtaposed with melancholy music.
Multi-story structure: this is quite common in modern television documentary and is a good tool for keeping people engaged, especially in a world of short attention spans! It is more difficult to pull this technique in a short piece but it is not impossible. An example might be that you follow a couple of different members of staff looking at their experience of working for your business and your video would move from one story to the other.
Being aware of the rules you are breaking
You have a lot of options when making a corporate video. These options will be narrowed by what is appropriate to your goals. There are no strict rules and there is nothing to say you have to create a corporate video incorporating all or even any of these elements. Having an awareness of them is just as important so that you can draw ideas from the traditions or at least know what rules you are breaking.