A beginners guide to creating your own promotional videos

Paul Boag

Adding videos of people can make your brand feel more human. But, knowing how to go about it can feel too difficult. In fact it is easier than you think.

“People buy from people they trust and they trust people they like.” – Garrison Wynn

When it comes to sales personality matters, a lot. If we like somebody we are much more likely to buy from them. But how does this translate online? How can users get to know the people behind the brand?

Innocent Smoothies do a good job with their blog. You are just as likely to read about their team and their antics as you are about the nutritional value of their drinks.

Writing is great, but if you want to communicate the personality of your brand, video is the way to go.

I know what you are thinking. That sounds expensive. But it is not if you do it yourself and it doesn’t need to be that difficult. In fact a super professional videos not always the best thing.

Video quality is not as important as content

We live in the era of YouTube. We no longer expect all video content to be TV quality. In fact an increasing number of people are suspicious of high quality video. Professional video is more likely to be promoting a product or service.

But, YouTube video is authentic, raw and somehow more personal. Best of all you can record them with nothing more than a smartphone and a ton of enthusiasm.

If you want to build a relationship with the watcher, the quality of the video should be low down on the list. What matters is the stories you tell. That doesn’t need lots of expensive equipment.

Telling stories using video

One of the best ways to use video is to tell stories. The most common type of story is the customer testimonial. These work well, because it helps the viewer imagine using the product. The product or service moves from the abstract to the useful.

Companies like MailChimp and Basecamp have learnt to present their products through customer stories. The focus is more on the customer and less on pushing their products. This engaging format makes you feel less that you are buying a product as buying into a community.

But don’t stop at telling the stories of your customers. Consider telling the stories of your staff too. Audiences love to look behind the facade of company and get to know people. Whether it is the guy who works in your packing room or the woman who answers customer queries. These stories humanise the organisation. They let potential customers know who will be looking after their needs.

None of these videos need to be complex to produce or expensive. As I have said you can do a lot with nothing more than a smartphone. But, if you do want to increase the production value, a small investment in basic equipment can go a long way.

Taking it to the next level

My aim here is not to help you create professional quality video. But I can show how spending less than £350 can go a long way to helping your videos look just that little bit more professional.

When it comes to creating more professional video’s yourself, there are four things to consider:

  • Camera
  • Audio
  • Lighting
  • Editing

None of these issues need to be expensive to solve, although spending some money on a camera is not a bad idea.

Get a better camera

Don’t get me wrong, your smartphone has a pretty good video capability. Your DSLR certainly does. But, if you want to get into a habit of recording video it is worth making your life as simple as possible.

I have found a few issues when I have attempted to work with smartphones or DSLR’s. None of them are impossible to overcome, but they get annoying. They include:

  • Some DSLRs will only record a few minutes of video at a time. Nothing is more annoying than a camera switching off half way through an interview.
  • Even if you get a tripod that can hold your smartphone they are hard to setup and easy to knock out of position.
  • Smartphones and DSLRs have a tendancy to auto focus while recording video. This means if the subject moves too much the camera will adjust and lose focus for an instant.
  • If you are recording yourself, you cannot see yourself while recording. This makes framing and lighting the shot a challenge.

When I was working with my DSLR I found myself forever having to do more than one take. Either the picture was out of focus or I had chopped off my head. Worst of all was when things were going great and then the camera just stopped recording.

The Canon HF100 is not the best video camera in the world. But it is cheap and will do what you need.
The Canon HF100 is not the best video camera in the world. But it is cheap and will do what you need.

In the end I bought myself a Canon HF100. It is not the best camera out there but it had the features I needed and was cheap! Like me you only need a few basic things:

  • A view finder which I could turn to face me. This allowed me to check framing and lighting when recording myself.
  • A remote. This prevented me from knocking the camera when I press record.
  • Unlimited recording. It will keep recording until the battery gives up. Even then you can record while connected to power.
  • The ability to record 1080p HD quality.
  • A mic in socket.

That last one was the most important to me. That is because audio makes or breaks a video.

Improve the quality of your audio

No matter how great your video camera, the audio is going to sound shocking. Smartphoines, DSLRs and video cameras all suffer from the same problem – ambient noise. If your video is hard to hear the viewer will give up. That is why getting your audio right is so important.

This is easy to fix with a cheap little lapel mic. I got one that included a condensor because that is what my camera required. But to be honest you could get away without the condensor. All the condensor does is improve the quality slightly.

Of course the problem with a lapel mic is that you need a video camera with a mic in. If you don’t have that, then there is a work around — you record the audio seperately.

Instead of recording the audio into the camera, you record it onto your computer. Then when you edit the video you match the audio from the computer with the video from the camera. To make sure the two match you start each video by clapping. That allows you to match the visual of clapping with the audio of the clap. Simple!

Except you get fed up with messing around with the audio after a while. That is why I recommend a video camera with an audio in. That way you can record from your lapel mic to the camera.

That brings us to lighting.

Spend some money on lights

Lighting is so important with video. I have spent more time getting lighting right than anything else and I am still learning.

If you are careful and have good natural light then you can get away without purchasing lights. But, to be honest it is never worth the hassle.

If you spend money on one thing I would suggest you spend it on lighting. You can make do with a smartphone or DSLR for recording, but a couple of good lights will make all the difference.

The preferable setup is to have three lights. One lighting the subject from the right, one from left and a third lighting the background. But, if you want to cut some corners you can get away with two. One for the subject and one for the background.

Lights aren’t that expensive either. I got a couple of these from Amazon and they do the job just fine.

Before I finish, I just want to say a little bit about editing.

Cunning use of editing

There is no shortage of editing software out there and they will do everything you need. The challenge you will face is not the editing, but the lack of second camera.

Let’s say you are interviewing somebody and they mess up part way through the interview. You need to edit that part out. The problem is that with only one camera you will see a jump where you have edited. You cannot cut between camera angles. There are a couple of work arounds to this.

First you can edit in some establishing shots. These are extra bits of video you can record of the surroundings or the subject in a different context. You can even focus in on their hands gesticulating. Anything that doesn’t show their lips moving. You can then simply cut between your subject and these establishing shots allowing you to make the audio edit.

In this video of mine you can see how I have used ‘cut away shots’ to cover up edits I have made.

The other way you can deal with it is to record at 1080p but save out your video at 720. What this means is that you can zoom in and out of a shot without losing quality. When you want to edit you can cut to a tighter view of the subject and it leaves the viewer with the impression you have cut to a second camera.

Learning these kinds of tricks is easy, just watch a lot of video. You will start noticing the little editing tricks they use.

Good enough video

I am no expert in video, but I have been able to produce reasonable quality videos through these techniques.

It is about producing video that is good enough to engage without spending a fortune. Video can be an effective tool, but until you see the results you will be unwilling to spend a fortune. That is why do it yourself video is a good place to start.