Sunday, July 05, 2009

How to shoot customer interview videos

Several years ago I was asked to put together a series of customer video interviews to be used for generating customer leads and to help close sales. Like most companies, our customers were dispersed around the U.S. I put together a request for proposal and sent it out to professional video vendors. All the bids I got back were for about $35,000 plus travel expenses. As I reviewed the bids, I could see that their costs were reasonable. It simply costs a lot of money to script, shoot, edit and deliver business-quality videos. As a start-up, we didn't have that kind of budget so the project got pushed back several times.

Some of our more enterprising sales people were shooting videos with their personal hand-held cameras. These amateur videos were quite compelling because they were eye-level, face-to-face interviews with the customer about what they liked about the product. The sales people began to pass these videos between each other to show to prospective customers and to help train new sales people. It was apparent that we didn't need the glossy, voice-over video to help advance our sales prospects. To our audience, the "people-like-me" videos were far more compelling. To the marketing budget, these videos were also more compelling because they cost less than $100 each to produce. In a short period of time, we were able to build a library of customers from different backgrounds that would appeal to many customers.

In the process of shooting and publishing these videos, I learned a few tips that can help your marketing and sales teams do the same.

1. Train your army

You aren't going to be able to shoot these videos on your own. Most marketing and PR people aren't in front of their customers regularly. The best way to get a lot of customer interviews is to train your sales team to shoot the videos on their own.

To get started, ask sales teams to shoot four interviews of their teenage children. Ask the teens about their favorite topic - themselves. Practicing a few times in a pressure-free environment goes a long way to help your sales people master the camera and sound. They should also edit and upload them to YouTube. Getting them comfortable before they sit in front of their customers will help them build confidence and will ensure that you get a lot more usable video content.

2. Shoot first, ask questions later

Good marketeers ask their customer's PR department for permission before they shoot a video. Don't do that - Shoot the videos first and then get permission. Capture everything you can with your own camera while you are in front of your customers. Of course, don't upload it publicly to YouTube without permission, but get it in the can now and ask permission after.

This single principle will dramatically increase the volume of customer interviews you have to develop. A good customer reference program needs lots of customers and you can bet that some of the interviews will not turn out as planned.

Even if the customer decides that you cannot publish the video publicly, they will most likely allow you to use it for internal training. Whether the customer approves it or not, you will still have the case documented for marketing or training.

3. Master the minute

Your customer interviews should be short. Even the most complicated of products can be discussed by your customers in one or two minutes. You don't need them to discuss the technical details. What you are looking for is a simple endorsement that will help your prospects see that someone else has trusted you to solve their business problems.

Getting an interview down to a minute or two takes a little bit of practice. First, interview the customer off camera to hear their story. Take notes about why they selected your product and listen for what is unique or different from other customers. Second, help the interviewee outline the top few points and then immediately shoot the video. This allows the person on camera to remember what they are saying and allows their passion for your solution to come through on the camera.

4. One shot, one kill

Shoot the interview from beginning to end without stopping the camera. Before you hit record, check that the interviewee is positioned properly and is ready to speak. Cue them from behind the camera and let them speak. When one or two minutes has elapsed, let them know with another cue to wrap up. The goal is to shoot the video so it doesn't need to be edited at all. For every two minutes of video that you shoot, it will take you 20 minutes to edit that video. If you are producing even a modest amount of interviews, that editing time can quickly consume your budget and will become the bottleneck.

It took me years to learn this lesson. I'd shoot video and it would sit on my computer for weeks as I tried to find the time to edit it. Then David Spark taught me this simple technique and I quickly began to shoot videos with nearly zero edits. Producing content always slows down at the editing stage. Metaphorically kill your subject in one shot and you'll do yourself, and your budget, a big favor.

5. Hosting is hard, let YouTube do it

Streaming video content in a reliable and scalable way is very difficult. Fortunately, we now have great services to do it for us for nearly free. Let YouTube, Vimeo, or one of the other free video services do all the hard work for you.

Also, these services have millions of people coming to their sites daily. By having your videos on their sites, you will attract their audiences. YouTube has become one of the top search services so uploading your content there will immediately start to drive traffic.

When you upload the video, carefully consider the tags or categories you assign to the video. These words are how the video service search engine will help direct people to your content. Use the natural language that your prospective customers use when talking about the problem your product solves. I find it helpful to playback the video and type every relevant word said by the interviewee. Then add all the appropriate acronyms and product names. Often this can tally 20+ words in an average customer interview.

6. Viral videos

Each page, video, photo, press release, whitepaper or piece of content on your Web site should have a universal sharing menu that allows people to push that information to their friends. There are several free tools that do all the hard work for you. I don't have any reliable stats, but people see roughly 10 percent more page views by simply adding a sharing menu to plain content. Stuff that is hot (like videos) will see much sharper increases in views as fans pass it along.

One way people determine the value of a video is its viewer count. This is often visible at the bottom of the video window. Because of this fact, I recommend driving all of the traffic to one video hosting site so the view counts steadily climb. If the video is hosted in several locations, then counts will also be split and it will appear less successful.

For more detail on making your content viral, see this post titled Marketing in the Feed.

7. Geared up

I've shot several videos that follow these basic points using a simple hand-held video camera. I've included links below to a few examples.

I recommend arming your sales and marketing teams with inexpensive cameras, like the Mino HD Flip. These cameras can shoot in high definition and cost under $200. As with all company-owned electronics, some of them will get damaged or evaporate. At this low price, you can easily re-arm your team when you lose the equipment.

Video examples:

Chris Gulker - Rays of Light for Cancer Patients

TradeMark G at Maker Faire

Habitat for Humanity - La Ceiba, Honduras


When you add video testimonials from your customers to you marketing and sales collateral you'll quickly see that they become the most viewed and credible tools in your marketing mix. These videos are compelling because they help your customers see that someone like them solved a similar problem with your product. With these tips I hope you are able to produce 350 videos for $35,000 instead of only one.

What works for you? Tell me about it in the comments.

Friendly disclosure: I work at a PR agency that represents several social media companies. One of those companies makes tools that allow you to share content online.

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