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Anatomy of a Product Video Part 1

This is a series of posts about the making of my marketing video for Fin. You can see the other parts of the series by following the links below:

1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10

In Episode 18 of Release Notes, the second part of our discussion on product web sites, I mentioned that promotional videos were something I considered to be almost essential. Particularly with the new minimalist design of iOS 7, it’s very hard to communicate your app’s design without being able to show it off in motion. Screenshots, no matter how dolled up with fancy text overlays, don’t cut it in today’s app market. You won’t make the sale.

In that same episode, I also talked with Charles about the costs of having one of those videos made by a professional team, and how that cost can be a nonstarter for most indie developers trying to launch a new, unproven product.

No doubt, if you want a really pro-level video, such as this one, or this one for your product, you’re going to need a budget in the thousands (USD). And looking at the results, you can see clearly the money is well spent. However, given that many apps never make much more than a couple thousand dollars in their lifetimes, it is hard to convince most indies that spending that much on a video will improve sales enough to justify that cost. Maybe on your third, or fourth, or fifth app, when you have more budget to reinvest in your apps, you can take that leap. But in the early development of your company, it’s just not feasible.

Fortunately, as I mentioned that day on the podcast, you can make a video yourself on a much smaller budget. It may not be quite as polished as what the pros do, but it will be enough to present your product in a positive way. And it’s certainly better than having no video at all.

Product Videos on a Budget

The trick to making a video on a budget that is still a good reflection of your product and brand is to avoid the part of those videos that costs the most and looks the worst when it’s done wrong: the live action shots.

To film live action, you need professional lighting. You need settings that can be manipulated to suit the needs of the story. And you need actors to perform the action. You also need to know a thing or three about how to position your camera so that you don’t see it in the screen reflection. And on and on. Believe me, I’ve tried many times to take a video of an iPad or iPhone being manipulated by a real human, and it always comes out looking amateurish without the right equipment and expertise.

And an amateurish video is the one thing that’s worse than having no video at all.

Live action is without question the hardest part of the product demo. Even if you have some knowledge about the logistics of camera placement, and you have a team that’s charismatic enough (and willing) to appear in the video so you don’t need to hire actors, you can’t get past the need for pro lighting.

Fortunately, live action is not 100% necessary. You can accomplish quite a bit with screen captures and some clever animation, if you get creative enough.

Over the next days, I plan to detail the making of my latest product video for my new app, Fin. Hopefully, it will inspire other indies to consider making videos for their apps, even if they don’t have the budget to spend on a really high-end pro video just yet. It’ll at least put you in a state of mind where you consider a promo video a valuable tool in the overall marketing plan.

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