What Makes a Good B2B Online Video

I spent some time with comic video whiz Tim Washer (also @timwasher) at B2B Forum last week, and he followed up with a few questions about how B2B companies are using online video as part of their content marketing programs. I shared some opinions with him, but why not share them with everybody else as well? I’d like to hear your answers to these questions, too.

What companies have succeeded/failed at using videos for B2B marketing?

There are numerous successes, and Tim’s list on SocialMediaB2B is a good starting point.

I would add Cisco to that list. Cisco has long done a good job of leveraging video in almost every kind of communications, from product announcements to contests to customer testimonials. Here’s one:

I like IBM’s customer videos a lot (example). Its Centennial video was outstanding, and it used video very effectively for the wholeWatson Jeopardy challenge. (Full disclosure: Both Cisco and IBM are past or current clients.)

Of course, you have to hand it to Corning for the most successful B2B viral video ever.

PTC’s “I Am a [Pro] Engineer” is a great example of how to use a theme.

The Ben Heck show on Element14 is perfect for its audience.

Google also does a great job. The Project Glass video is inspired. You might argue that this isn’t pure B2B, but it’s pretty damn good.

As far as failures, I don’t want to name names, and there are so many candidates that it wouldn’t be fair to do so. Here are some of the most common fails I see with business videos in general:

  • Long, monotonous monologues by talking heads. I believe three minutes is about the threshold for the audience’s attention span. If all you’re doing is reading a script, then video adds no value.
  • Scripted but poorly rehearsed stunts. Someone writes a parody song or a comedy skit and a group performs it without any attention to staging or even without any apparent rehearsal. The result looks amateurish, and I think that reflects badly on the company.
  • Poor quality lighting/sound/composition. You see this in a lot of do-it-yourself videos, particularly if they’re composed in a work environment. The content may be interesting, but the sound quality is poor or there are distracting images or noises in the background. It’s worth investing in a wireless mic and a couple of spotlights if you’re going to make video part of your public image.

What is the value of using a “non-messaging” approach to B2B videos, e.g. storytelling, entertainment, humor?  

As I frequently tell audiences, storytelling is the most basic form of human communication. We instinctively relate to the experiences of others, and that’s why framing your point in the context of a story is so effective. Ronald Reagan knew this. He drove his critics crazy because of his ability to shoot down a well-researched and  supported argument with a single anecdote.

The reason non-messaging is becoming critical is because people don’t have to listen to messages anymore. It’s become very difficult to interrupt people and deliver a message, particularly online. We have to attract them to come to us because our content is useful, interesting or entertaining. In a world in which people have developed ways to block nearly all messages, it’s the only way to get their attention. That’s why “content marketing” is now so hot.

Which metrics most accurately measure the success of videos?   

Look for engagement metrics: subscribers, likes/dislikes, favorites, comments, shares. I really like YouTube’s “relative audience retention” metric, which shows a video’s ability to retain viewers during playback by comparing it to all YouTube videos of similar length. The point isn’t to measure whether people start the video, but whether they complete it.

Do you see any new trends developing around online videos and B2B marketing? 

I think business videos are becoming much more professional. In the early days of YouTube a lot of companies posted videos simply because they could. The quality was spotty and most of them were too long. This is natural with any new technology. People triangulate until they get it right.

Now the technology to make good quality video has become affordable to nearly everyone. A lot of professional videographers have developed the skills they need for fast and high-quality online production and people are learning some basic best practices:

  • Have a story to tell and a script to work from.
  • Keep it brief.
  • Have good lighting and sound quality.
  • Rehearse and re-take until you get it right.
  • Keep the pace brisk. Even static images can look more interesting with panning, zooming and creative camera angles.
  • Use sound bites. Avoid monologues.
  • Identify people in the video.
  • Use attractive title and closing screens.
  • Edit aggressively to keep down the overall length and quicken the pace.
  • Use restraint with transitions and music. They should accent the content, not overwhelm it.


3 thoughts on “What Makes a Good B2B Online Video

  1. Paul,
    Nice summary here. Tim is indeed a funny guy, but also a funny guy that gets it. I like the round-up here, and ways to highlight not just funny, but other methods to create videos (disclosure: I work at PTC).

    I also agree that it’s not easy to always get right, and easy to mess up. But this list and Tim’s list and the general accessibility of Tim (and others on line) make the research easier.

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