Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Making an Effective Video Without it Costing the Earth

After my last post, I’ve been thinking some more about what makes a good video, whether it’s possible to produce one without it costing the earth and whether, in fact, it’s worth the effort.

Andy Jenkins, a Grand Master of video production, is of the opinion that “Video can give you a fighting chance against the giants of the industry . . . Large and established companies are often quite careful about their marketing strategies, because having built a reputation for themselves, they are quite careful about how they do things.”  Smaller companies, he says, are likely to be more creative, or even controversial.  And he declares that as far as promoting a brand is concerned, video is the next best thing to SEO.

However, the video has to be done right.  Andy Jenkins lists some vital strategies:
●    be creative - the concept needs to attract the viewer’s undivided attention
●    the video needs to create an impression that’s hard to forget
●    videos work better if you can produce a series rather than a one-off
●    it’s important to make it easy for people to share your videos
●    and your videos need to be promoted to where your audience is, not just on YouTube
●    the video must be optimized with keyword tags
●    and you need to use the right tools

So what are the right tools? Well, if you want to make a simple cartoon-style video, there’s GoAnimate.  I tried out the free version and, quite honestly, wasn’t madly impressed.  It was quite fun but the electronically produced dialogue sounded very stilted and unnatural.  However, it’s possible to upload your own dialogue and music (although I think this may only be available in the paid version) or to show dialogue as speech bubbles.  My feeling is that it would take quite a lot of work to get a professional-looking video, but at $18 for three months or $58 for a year it’s not expensive and, if you like cartoons, probably worth a try.

But most people, when they think of videos, think of Camtasia, and certainly, in my experience, it’s the software that the gurus tend to recommend.  When I started to make my own videos, I had a look at it and I thought it looked quite complicated.  Great if you want to make videos with lots of bells and whistles . . . but for a simple video to put on a sales page or to upload to YouTube to advertise a website, was it really what I needed?  After all, at $299, it’s not cheap. 

On the other hand, it had been recommended by the person whose course I was following.  I decided that the best thing to do would be to look at some of the online reviews.  Now, it’s only fair to say that CNET gives it a five star editors’ rating.  But with users who registered their opinions on that site, it only scored an average of three and a half out of five.  I had a look at some of them and the glitches they described were quite off-putting.  One said “Crashes. A lot.  Sometimes when you add audio tracks . . . you cannot save, export, or even PLAY your movie so far. It will also at random remove a large section in the middle of your film.”

Another wrote “Just 5 days in to the 30-day, free trial, I have had to un-install and re-install Camtasia twice . . . Today, am having to re-install AGAIN because over 2 days worth of recording and editing have been invested and now when I play the video it runs for between 5 and 15 seconds before crashing. I have sent 7+ error reports . . . other videos produced by other people also cause Camtasia to crash. The videos don't even have audio. Just basic videos with basic editing.”

A third called Camtasia “a piece of junk”, while a fourth listed a whole sheaf of complaints such as “freezes and loses files”, “awkward file structures, naming conventions and editing processes”, “doesn't support common audio devices”, “sucks up HUGE amounts of system resources” and “the longer the video and the more edits, the greater the risk of losing the file.”  This last user was also singularly unimpressed by the customer support provided by the parent company, Techsmith

Obviously a lot of people found Camtasia excellent - maybe they were the professional video makers who knew how to deal with the glitches, or maybe they were just lucky, I don’t know. But from what I’d read, I wasn’t going to invest $299 in a piece of software that might not work perfectly.  So I looked around for something else - something that would do the basics and that wouldn’t cost the earth.  And I found Screencast-o-Matic.

For $15 a year you get a bunch of editing tools, which include resizing, cut out or insert, trim, speed change, zoom and adding captions.  For my first videos I used PowerPoint with a spoken commentary - and they couldn’t have been easier to make.  On my most recent video, though, I used a PowerPoint background and, in the bottom left hand corner inserted a small video of me talking.  Again, it was very simple to do.  (And if you'd like to see the finished article, click this link.) 

I suspect that the difference between Screencast-o-Matic and Camtasia is the same as the difference between Photoshop and one of the cheaper photo-editing programs.  If you need loads of tools to produce fancy videos and you are clued-up enough to sort out any glitches, then probably Camtasia is worth a try.  But if you just want to produce simple, effective videos to put on your sales page, I reckon that Screencast-o-Matic takes a lot of beating.

Friday, 20 July 2012

What Are We Trying to Achieve With Video?

If you use Twitter, there's a good chance that you've come across HootSuite.  I think it's brilliant - not only can you see your own tweets, the tweets of people you're following, your direct messages and the tweets in which you've been mentioned all clearly laid out on a single screen, but you can schedule your tweets, all of which saves a lot of time and trouble.  What's more, the basic version (which I use) is free.  So I have no hesitation in recommending it.

However, HootSuite has now introduced something called "Hootlet with AutoSchedule".  When I arrived at HootSuite today, there was an introductory video to promote this.  Now, we're constantly being told by the gurus to use video whenever we can, particularly on our sales pages.  Video, so they say, is a more dynamic, more impacting way of getting our message across.  Well, perhaps their videos are . . . but I would seriously debate that this applies to all videos.  HootSuite's video is a case in point.  I watched it - and was no wiser at the end than when it started.  First of all, it was accompanied by loud music with lyrics.  It's very hard, I find, to read what's on the screen when there are lyrics being belted into your ear.

So I watched it again with the sound turned off and read the five statements that came up, which were:
  • instant sharing while you browse
  • so you can focus on content
  • autoschedule for optimal impact
  • let autoschedule do the thinking
  • easy optimised scheduling

Ermm . . . yes . . . and how does this autoscheduling differ from the autoscheduling that is already available on HootSuite?  Instant sharing - OK, useful but not original - it's something you can get elsewhere.  So your unique selling point is . . . what?

For content, I think we can mark the video around 3 out of 10.  But there's more!  The video is 52 seconds long and is full - and I mean full - of animated graphics which moved so fast that I really couldn't see what they were meant to be showing.  Then I saw that there was a full screen option.  So I watched it yet again.  But the picture quality was so poor that, together with the speed at which it all moved, it was quite impossible to follow.  And all the rushing around made me feel quite giddy!

There's a lesson to be learned here for anyone who thinks that any video is better than no video at all.  If you're producing a video, the rules of good copywriting still apply - particularly the need for a unique selling point.   And if you're trying to demonstrate how something works, don't do so at a speed that makes it impossible to understand.  If you're going to use graphics, make sure they're clear because otherwise the whole thing just looks amateurish.  And finally, if you don't have a commentary and are going to use a music background, don't use something which will prevent viewers from concentrating on what is being presented in the video itself.

Underneath the HootSuite video there was a link to "find out more".  Perhaps the idea was that this would compensate for the lack of clarity - but I suspect there are others who, like me, didn't bother to click it because the video completely failed to grab our attention.

Saturday, 14 July 2012

What do We Have to do to Get People to Read Our Sales Letters?

I've been thinking about what it is that makes us read things . . . or, more specifically, what makes me read things.  I am at the moment reading a novel which is incredibly badly written - jam packed with cliches, the characters cardboard cut-outs, and a few real howlers (such as a shape being described as "an eight sided octagon" - presumably to distinguish it from an eight-sided square!).  But what is truly amazing is not how badly written it is, but the fact that I'm over three-quarters of the way through it.  So, why?  Why am I wasting my time when there are so many better books around.  And the answer is simple . . . it's an extremely good story-line and I want to know what happens.

Now, whether this is transferrable to the 'genre' of sales letters is debatable - but something tells me that, even if you're not an expert writer, it should be possible to hold the reader's interest for something that is, after all, a great deal shorter than a 500 page novel.  However, I'm all too well aware that I very rarely read my way through a long sales letter.  Either I lose interest halfway through or else I cut to the chase and scroll to the bottom to find out how much it is.  So my first rule of sales letter writing is: It's Got to be Short!

And, let's face it, most sales letters seem to be remarkably repetitive.  I may not have the most retentive memory in the world, but I can remember things from one paragraph to the next and if I'm told the same thing three times in quick succession, I'm going to stop reading.  Again, to give this novel its due (and, no, I'm not going to tell you its title!), it doesn't veer away from the action.  The author keeps the story line going . . . his eye is firmly on the ball, if not on his grammar.

OK, so a letter needs to be short, concise and to the point.  What else can we learn from this novel?  Well, because it's so badly written, it tends to be quite funny in places (I laughed out loud at the octagon).  And a bit of humour never comes amiss, I think.  I was looking, this morning, at an internet marketing website, and there was an article with the fairly dreary title of "The growth and evolution of the performance marketing industry".  What drew me to read the article, though, was the accompanying graphic.  At first glance, it looked exactly like the London Underground map.  But on closer inspection, the names of stations had been replaced with 'Social Media', 'Blog', 'Google', 'Newsletters', 'Adsense', 'Photosharing' and other keywords relevant to internet marketing.  I thought it was clever and amusing - and, as a result, I read the article.

Now, internet guru Jo Han Mok says "When you’re writing headlines, don’t attempt to be cute This is not the place for humour."  And, obviously, that's true.  You've only got a limited number of words for your headline and they've got to be hard-hitting.  But if you can write the actual letter in a witty way, the reader will enjoy it and will, for the moment, lose sight of the fact that you're trying to sell something . . . and thus (we hope) will be much more likely to read to the end.

Perhaps it's just about expressing why you love the product you're selling and letting the reader share in your enjoyment.  But please don't think I'm advocating great long screeds about how you've made X number of dollars and bought Y number of houses and Z number of cars.  I don't know about you, but when someone starts bragging about his earnings, I lose interest.  Because, as it always says at the bottom of the letter in very, very small type, the fact that he made zillions is no guarantee that I'll make any money at all.  I don't want to know what it's done for him - I want to know what it can do for me.

So . . . that's my ideal sales letter . . . short, concise, witty, readable and focussed on the buyer and not the seller.  And I suppose the fact that it's really quite difficult to produce such a letter is why so many people employ professional copywriters.  However, those of you who know my high opinion of Armand Morin, will not be surprised if, at this point, I mention his new WordPress Sales Letter Plugin which, I first mentioned here on June 7th.  If you can't afford a copywriter this, to my mind, is the next best thing.  And, even if you can, this is a whole lot cheaper!  The great thing about it is that it comes with built-in ideas for headlines, introductions, closing statements and so on which can be modified according to your needs.  So you don't have to worry about the actual construction of the piece because it offers the bones of the letter and all you have to do is to flesh out with a little humour and a lot of enthusiasm!

Thursday, 5 July 2012

Coming Back for More - the Importance of Recurring Income

If you've been interested in internet marketing for any length of time,  you'll be familiar with the concept of back-end products - the idea that you start off by selling new customers something inexpensive in the hope that they will become loyal to you and buy more and more expensive products as time goes on.  Because, as the gurus are always quick to point out, you're never going to make a fortune from selling just one-off products at $29 each.  This is one reason, of course, why it's important to choose your products wisely (and, if you're an affiliate, to check them out for yourself before trying to sell them).  A dissatisfied customer who thought that the $29 product was poor value will not go on to buy a $97 product from the same seller.

Of course, no matter how good your products, there will be some customers who'll only buy once - for whatever reason.  Maybe the first product worked so well they've decided they don't need anything else.  Or perhaps they've lost interest in the subject.  Or it could just be that they don't have the money to spare.  So, while it should be possible to continue to get further orders from a list of customers to whom you've sold good value stuff, there are also other sources of recurring income that are worth considering.

The first of these is the newsletter - produced either online or published in the traditional way and sent through the mail.  They seem to work best in the fields, such as investment, where things are constantly changing and where people are looking for easy ways to keep up to date.  How much is charged for a newsletter varies from publisher to publisher.  Some on the subject of internet marketing cost $47 or even $97 a month, so the opportunity for making a good income is high.  However, unless you, personally, have all the necessary information at your fingertips and have the time and dedication to write about it for a monthly deadline, producing a newsletter entails the recruitment of experts and writers, who would need to be paid.

A less time-consuming (at least in the long run) and more cost-effective way to achieve a recurring income is to produce a training course of some sort.  Internet gurus are fond of pointing out that, while people may balk at paying $50 for a book which will teach them a new skill, they will often be happy to pay $20 a month for a course which is, in effect, that book broken down into bite-sized chunks.  Maybe it’s because it makes the information more accessible or because they feel that it’s more interactive but it certainly seems that, if you have the knowledge, it’s much better to write a course than a book. 

But better than either of these, to my way of thinking, is the membership site.  Certainly it will take some time to set up, and you need to invest in the appropriate software but it could end up running itself on all but the technical side.  I’m thinking here of a site that I belong to.  It was originally set up in 2002 by a woman in Australia, who wanted to talk about a subject that she was particularly interested in.  Over the past ten years it has grown steadily and now has 27,500 members.  Admittedly, not all of these are subscribers but, since the best parts of the site can only be accessed by those who have taken out a subscription, many of the twenty seven and a half thousand will be paying the $20 or so a year that it costs to join. 

There are three things that I consider to be very clever about this site.  First, the subscription is low and therefore affordable for most people.  Secondly, quite a bit of the site is accessible to non-paying members who grow to enjoy it and then want to see what it is that they’re missing on the rest of the site.  And thirdly, there’s a forum where members can discuss things related to the topic of the site - and, in the ‘chat’ section, anything else that they want to.  This has resulted in many people becoming friends (and, yes, I have met up with quite a few face to face in the seven years that I’ve been a member) and so engenders a loyalty to the site.  And, since the forum is now the focal point of the site (with, at the time of writing, over 150,000 threads and just under three million posts) it is the members themselves, rather than the site owner, who create the content.  Now, I’m not saying that any of this was planned by the site owner at the outset, but if you’re looking for a source of recurring income and you’re interested in a particular subject or hobby, this membership site could provide a worthy model to copy.