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March 3, 2011

Killer Web Video Techniques II: Audience Engagement

We are inundated with advertising messages from the time we wake to the time we go to bed. Some of these messages are welcomed and some are a source of irritation. The difference between noise and communication boils down to relevance, and relevance is a function of how advertisers deliver three basic ingredients: substance, style, and technique.

Our brains have a built-in spam filter that can filter out much of the irrelevant and absorb the significant. In a room full of people all talking and laughing at once like at a party, your brain is able to recognize your name being spoken while everything else is a cacophonous blur. The goal of advertising is to make your message significant like the sound of your name, significant enough to demand your attention. So, is your marketing communication significant, or is it merely noise?

Most Advertising Is Just Noise

The advertising industry has for the most part failed in making their clients’ messages significant. Instead they turn up the volume and increase the visual pollution in an effort to standout and be heard, but it doesn’t work. It all becomes background noise and confusing clutter easily filtered out by a brain designed to know the difference between significance and irrelevance. Any subliminal effect achieved is offset by the irritation that accompanies junk information.

If you want your audience to listen to you, you first must have something relevant to say, and second you have to know how to say it so that it makes an impression. Substance, style, and technique make a Web video communication significant and therefore worth remembering.

The Substance Every Business Can Deliver

There is a clothing store chain called Syms whose motto is, “An educated consumer is our best customer.” It’s a brilliant tagline and an even better marketing strategy. Educating your audience creates trust and that is one thing lower prices and more features can’t compete with.

It’s one thing to provide information, it’s quite another to provide understanding. How-to-do-stuff is a major industry because people suffer from what Richard Saul Wurman calls, “information anxiety.” So much to know, so little time to learn it. Your audience craves information, but what they really need is understanding.

If you really want to connect to your audience, gain their trust, and build a relationship. You should start by educating them about how to get the most out of what you sell – the real reason why they will continue to do business with you. In a world of copycat products and services, the difference maker is trust and trust begins with clients who understand exactly what you do and how it will improve their lives or businesses.

Everyone in our organization is constantly learning new things. Each of us receive dozens of newsletters on all kinds of subjects, some of which are directly related to what we do, and some help us better understand the world we live in and the needs of our clients. And some of it is just intended to make us think.

Substance Without The Pitch

I recently received an email with a video from the Editor of AE Tuts Plus, Adam Everett Miller. AE Tuts Plus produces a website that specializes in After Effects motion graphics. After Effects is a high-end software program used to create all those fancy motions graphics everyone loves. Most of the information is pretty sophisticated and aimed at a specialized design community but in this case they sent out a video that wasn’t about how to do something but rather why something was the way it was.

Would the video make anyone a better designer – no. Would the video provide its viewers with a technique they could sell their clients – no. The video merely explains to people why Hex Color Values are what they are. There is no sales pitch other than a subliminal message that AE Tuts knows what it’s talking about, is in business to help its audience, and can be trusted to deliver on its promise without always feeling the need to sell something.

Aetuts Plus Hex Value Quick Tip

Style Enhances Identity

From a branding and marketing point-of-view this video establishes an approachable, friendly style that helps define the AE Tuts brand, and indirectly makes their audience wiser and more informed. It’s interesting, memorable, and entertaining; and it makes viewers a more knowledgeable audience.

The style portrayed is not a random accident. The video uses a number of techniques intended to deliver a carefully thought-out image designed to gain audience acceptance as the industry knowledge leader.

A Casual Non-Pedantic Approach

The Web has changed many things not the least of which is how people expect to be taught. Your standard old fashion no nonsense schoolteacher approach is just so pre-Web and quite frankly turns people off. If you really want to educate an audience you better be approachable and entertaining in your delivery, and that is exactly what Adam has managed to do.

Everything from the casual monochromatic attire to the geek-chic glasses and beard are designed to deliver the impression that Adam is just like his audience: just one of the guys with some cool stuff to tell you. The presentation focuses attention on Adam and the accompanying mnemonics by placing everything within a plain white environment, slightly enhanced by a gradient spot to frame Adam, who is placed slightly off center nicely qualifying as a good example of the Rule of Thirds that provides space for the onscreen text and graphics.

The language Adam uses is down-to-earth, delivered in a cadence and rhythm that is just fast enough so the audience doesn’t get bored but slow enough so the information can be absorbed.

Each point is highlighted and emphasized with some onscreen graphic, text, or sound effect. Some of the points are accompanied by a humorous visual and verbal aside that maintains the presentations rhythm while at the same time allowing a small mental respite so the brain can absorb one idea and get ready for the next. And it’s all packaged with a Sesame Street style music score that goes unnoticed but is critical to the overall impression of learning can be enjoyable and doesn’t have to be tedious work.

The Last Word

It takes a lot of knowledge and know-how to make something look easy and this video does a damn good job doing it. Every detail from concept to content was carefully thought-out and the execution was spot-on.

Educational and how-to videos are very popular – there is no great revelation in that, but much of what is on the Web is quite frankly terrible, and that applies to both amateur and professional efforts. In order to benefit from your audience’s desire to learn, enhance your brand, and build confidence and trust in the marketplace with educational Web videos, you first must understand how people process information, and how to present material so that it is both enjoyed and retained.

Jerry Bader is Senior Partner at MRPwebmedia, a website design and marketing firm that specializes in Web-video Marketing Campaigns and Video Websites. Visit,, and Contact at or telephone (905) 764-1246.