Interrogative on Corporate Videos

Video has been the future of communications since the song “Video Killed the Radio Star” was first recorded in 1977 (this is a video of the Buggles’ version from 1979, when nascent home video tape recorders were still called VTRs).

Much has changed since it was the first music video broadcast by MTV in 1981, starting with the fact that MTV hasn’t really played music videos for ages and radio not only didn’t die but was reborn as a thriving medium for talk (and, more broadly, audio in the form of podcasts are the new long-form medium).

More intriguingly, video isn’t really about video anymore. Just spend 15 seconds on TikTok.

Sharing killed the watching star.

What hasn’t changed, however, is the propensity of companies to make videos, complete with narration, soaring soundtracks and, gasp, often more than a minute of content.

Before you commit to making another one, there are at least three questions you should ask:

First, who wants to see it, and how do you even know? An endless array of breathless reports and surveys make the case for video, often citing how it dominates mobile traffic, or declare the self-fulfilling prophecy of other companies using it as reason to follow suit.

Little of it is true, and certainly not reliable enough to drive any meaningful business decisions.

Measurements of the time people spend watching videos are squishy, both because they can be based on survey data and usually provide no correlation to lasting awareness, let alone understanding and preference. You need to start with the assumption that nobody wakes up in the morning wishing there were more corporate videos in the world, and work from there. Challenge yourself to understand the experiential dynamic of video consumption, not just the aggregate numbers.

Second, what content and/or circumstances require it? What can be best communicated in video or, more to the point, only done so? Things that simply need to be seen to be believed come to mind; not so much how something exists, but proof that no written words could convey. A complement to this would be revealing things that people otherwise couldn’t see, such as wildly remote locations or, better yet, secret stuff.

The more practical use for video is to express human emotions…joy, fear, passion, and other personal qualities that just loose their oomph if they’re reduced to written quotes. We human beings tend to make judgements about credibility based on our perceptions on sincerity, and we use visual and audio cues to form our opinions. Imagine if your videos communicated aspects of your company, and its leadership, that couldn’t be communicated in any other way.

If I’m right, most scripted corporate videos are useless, irrespective of length and ingenuity.

Third, does your video have a purpose beyond being watched? Unless you’re producing a TV show or run the platform on which it’s shared, your company doesn’t make money showing videos: You want people to do something during or after watching them, ideally something that involves giving you money or at least moves them further down a defined path to buy from you (or endorse you, buy your stock, or join your team, etc.).

Accomplishing this requires much more than entertaining content, and it can’t get done by attaching a link “for more information” at the end. There has to be a broader, ongoing narrative, or story that you’re telling, whether via video alone or across your content media, that involves your stakeholders while giving them things they can do. Parse it on TikTok or whatever shorter duration platform comes next. Good luck figuring out consistency across inconsistent exposure, though.

Video didn’t kill the radio star but it can certainly kill a chunk of your communications budget, so you might as well maximize its utility. Ask better questions about your audience, your message, and your commitment before you start working on being hilarious or on-brand.