10 Rules for Creating Great Direct Response Video

The rules for video differ from the rules for most other graphics-based direct response efforts. Static communications like emails, web pages or printed pieces lack several elements present in video: sound, movement, and visual progression/change. Without going deep into the common elements (having a compelling offer, etc.), these are my rules for creating — then executing – a successful direct response video project.

1.    Make Sure the Script Supports the Call to Action

The script must weave the compelling, relevant story, but it can’t stop there. To be effective, your script must also clearly communicate the avenues for the audience to take action, and it must be immediate and easy to remember. Your script must incorporate phone numbers, URLs, hash tags or SMS codes so the audience is driven to take action.

2.    Design Graphics for Memorability

Because DRTV leaves “no trace behind” in terms of paper or collateral, graphics are the primary way to support the calls-to-action while the on-screen action builds. Use elements like the bottom-third band to provide your audience with the information they need to act. Don’t be shy about including them from beginning to end of your production. They don’t have to be interruptive, but they should be clear, easy-to-read, and on-screen long enough for a viewer to act upon. Being subtle and clever will cost you response. Be clear and make it easy for your audience.

3.    Consider Your Audience in the Planning Stage

Different audiences require different approaches. For example, quick-cut editing, heavy use of music, and fast action in your production may work well when communicating to Millennials, but not as well for Boomers or Seniors.  Assess the TV viewing styles of your audience, and build from that. Make sure your director and producer is aware of these considerations as well.

4.    Storyboard

It doesn’t matter if you can’t draw your way out of a wet paper bag; storyboard every video first. Draw stick figures on a paper napkin if that’s what works for you. Storyboarding allows you to show a rough concept of your end vision, and it also helps to account for your need for production resources. There’s usually a team of people involved in even the lowest-budget video. The storyboard helps to bring every team member on board with the desired end result. Storyboarding can also help you work out awkward transitions and script issues before you actually start spending money.

5.   Get Detailed Budgets from Everyone Involved

Every member of the production team should present detailed budgets on exactly where the money is going. Clients presented with high-level video budgets tend to balk; all they see is the big fat dollar sign. Once they see the detail—talent, hair, makeup, lighting, wardrobe, props, venue rental, catering, director, cameramen, equipment, editing, music, graphics, etc.—the cost will make more sense. Detailed budgeting will also allow you to make intelligent cuts if you have to.

If you lower the budget and try to take on more yourself, be prepared for the higher risk of things falling through the cracks and creating cost overruns that may negate the savings.

3.   Cast for Video, Not for Photography

Some people who look great in photos simply don’t translate to video because of their voices, body movement/language, gestures, or expressions. Don’t cast from still photos; you need to see them on-screen to really be able to gauge their appropriateness for this medium and your specific project.

You don’t want to be in the studio with the client when your on-screen talent turns out to have a chronic tic/twitch or a voice in the helium balloon range.

4.   Assess Graphics and Charts for Video-Appropriateness

Graphics and charts that work well in print need to be assessed for how well they will do within the time and scale restraints of video. Complex images tend not to translate well. And you can’t leave charts on-screen for too long, so they have to be easily grasped within a short period of time. If the available graphics aren’t appropriate, spend some time with the client to get them reworked. In some cases, material can be dropped out because it isn’t required to make the point. Or the charts can be simplified so that the viewer is not required to spend time squinting at too-small type and overly complex images to understand the information before the image is whisked off the screen.

5.   Designate a Guardian of the Script

The script can occasionally get out of control, running up production costs and potentially dragging the project off-track. Your designated Script Guardian is the final arbiter of what goes in and what gets left out, and is the keeper of the One True Script.

6.   Designate a Guardian of Continuity

People notice the oddest things. If your talent is shown in one scene with a red pocket handkerchief and in another with a blue handkerchief, people will notice—and you don’t want the audience to be thinking about pocket handkerchieves when they should be focusing on the marketing message.

7.   Have Wardrobe and Props Ready Before Shooting

Don’t rely on the talent to provide the wardrobe. The guy you picked because he looks like a bank president might show up in a shoddy suit 10 years out of fashion, accessorized with grimy running shoes. Get the actors’ sizes and pick out the appropriate clothing beforehand.

Make sure you have all the props you will need, and that they are the right size, color, etc. Watch out for copyrighted graphics, like the logos on electronics and other products. Put the props that will appear in one scene together; do the colors clash? Is something too big or too small? You can waste an enormous amount of time and money if you have to stop shooting to go look for new props while everybody waits around eating up your budget.

8.   Use Professional Talent

Everyone wants to be in movies, but your best bet is to pay professionals who are trained to do the job right. It will save tons of time and money in retakes and editing. This is especially true when working with children and animals (something the late comedian W.C. Fields said never to do). In the case of children, trained actors will give you a more predictable range. Child actors know they are there to do a job. In the case of animals, good handlers make all the difference.

9.   Put the Director in the Director’s Seat

The director is the glue that ties together what the client wants and what everyone else involved does to achieve the business goals of the video. The director needs to have a firm grasp of the main messaging and tone of voice. A good storyboard helps, and so does a good sit-down briefing when the final casting is done. Sit down again with the production crew to discuss how the cast will deliver the tone and message, based on what you saw in their casting videos.

The director makes sure that everyone understands the purpose, desired result, messaging and tone of the project. During production, if you see something that causes you concern, bring it up with the director, and let the director handle fixing it with the team. If you, the client and the client’s wife all get involved, the team will get mixed or garbled messages, and little good will ensue. Putting the director in the director’s seat ensures a single, coherent point of direction—which is why you have a director.

10.      Don’t Get Too Cute

Some of that new production technology is mighty yummy—cool swipes and elaborate fades and CGI. Always keep foremost in your mind the question, “Does this further the business goal in any way?” If something eye-catching also supports the business objectives, great. If not, be strong and walk away.

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Originally a guest post on the Beasley Direct Marketing Blog

I'm a creative problem-solver helping clients who use Direct Marketing but need more effective lead generation and deeper customer relationships. You can learn more about me on LinkedIn.