20 Pre-Production Tips to Create Successful Video Content in 2020

UPDATED! This post was refreshed with new content for 2020. Enjoy!

If you’re an experienced digital marketer, then you know that when it comes to content, video is increasingly more important. Whether it’s on YouTube, Instagram or Facebook, consumers love video. And not just on social media, either. Emails are opened 7% more when they have the word “video” in the subject line.

So if you aren’t producing it, you’re way behind the curve. Don't believe me? Check out these video statistics:

  • 78% of people watch online videos every week, and 55% view online videos every day.
  • By 2022, online videos will make up more than 82% of all consumer Internet traffic.
  • YouTube is the second most trafficked site, after Google.
  • 81% of businesses use video in their marketing strategy, a 63% increase since last year.
  • Users spend 88% more time on websites that have videos.
  • 97% of marketers report that video helps users understand their products or services better – and also helps to increase sales.
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So Why Isn’t Everyone Producing Videos all the Time?

Well, video production is not particularly easy, or affordable for that matter. Many teams set out to add video to their marketing strategy without having a clear idea of how much it's going to cost them or a clear idea of the process — especially pre-production.

The truth is that the most important part of the video production workflow happens before the camera starts rolling.

Pre-production, or the planning and logistics phase of a video project, is where most of the magic happens — long before you hit the “record” button.

As with most things, you can’t create a knockout video without first making a plan of how you’ll create it. Even if a video production team has on-staff creatives, they may not understand your vision or premise, and pre-production is where you put that image together. Taking the time to plan your video ahead will not only save you time, but money, too.

Fortunately, plenty of marketers and production managers have already gone through the steps and learned from their mistakes. Here's our handy list of 20 video pre-production tips that will save you a lot hassle.

Once you have an idea for a great video project, here's what you need to do.

1) Figure Out Your Audience

Whether you want better insights from Google Ads or a more targeted video, figuring out and defining your audience is the first step in any content-creation process. But don’t fall into the trap of assuming that all your customers want to see the same content.

Defining an audience is a complex process that includes building buyer personas, which are simply detailed descriptions of your ideal customers, written as though they were real people.

After all, your audience is made up of more than just one customer with one interest. The group of people you’re targeting is likely to have overlapping interests that you can exploit when planning your video content.

Every business, regardless of who they’re targeting, should have a buyer persona document that looks a little like this:

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Narrowing down your video viewer to a specific buyer persona — rather than a generic audience — will help you create a much more targeted and effective video.

The reason for this is simple: Writing with one specific person in mind allows you to tell an authentic and relatable story.

Too often, marketing campaigns are built to include everyone but result in interesting no one.

Or, as poet John Lydgate put it:

“You can please some of the people all of the time, you can please all of the people some of the time, but you can't please all of the people all of the time.”

Instead, craft your video message to your buyer persona: what they find entertaining or interesting, and how your product or service can help them.

To better understand this concept in practice, take a look at these two entirely different (yet effective) video content productions that cater to their unique buyer personas. On paper, the concept for the video is the same — accepting your physical self, whatever it looks like — but when you target two separate groups (women and men), you get two different videos.

Dove

Dollar Shave Club

Dive Deeper: How to Research Your Audience Before Producing an Explainer Video

2) Make Your Message Crystal Clear

Although the importance of knowing your audience and narrowing down a target market is critical, clearly defining your message is just as important. In other words, don’t try to cram everything into a single animated explainer video.

Your business likely offers different services or products, not just one, so you’ll need different videos for each of these. For example, you might need:

  • An explainer video to give basic customers a product demonstration

  • A more complex product demo for your upper management or B2B customers

  • A powerful TED Talk-type of message from your CEO

Don’t try to explain what your company does sell your products, and bring up a case study all in the same video. A tailored video with a specific message and a specific goal will be much more effective in the long run.

Dive Deeper: 8 Videos You Can Generate from One Interview with Your CEO

3) Set a Realistic Budget

Once you’ve defined your audience and your message, you need to set your budget. Failing to work out the financial costs during pre-production is a good way to inadvertently go over budget. Plus, vagueness means that it’s impossible to manage expectations.

Some elements of video creation are more costly than others, which could lead to you over-promising but under-delivering — especially if you’re planning to go above and beyond with your video content by including voice-overs or third-party interviews.

If you're thinking of cutting costs by whipping up a quick video on your smartphone with your employees as cast and crew, keep in mind that when it comes to brand perception, a poor-quality video is worse than no video at all:

Storyhunter video cost 1

The benefit of working with a good production company is that they value their work. Every video they make is placed in their portfolio and used as an online marketing ad. Giving them a budget before you hire them allows them to produce the highest-quality content within the financial constraints you've outlined.

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4) Write Your Script and Revise It. Then Revise It Again.

The written video script is a key part of pre-production that’s most commonly understated.

Contrary to popular belief, not just anyone can write a script. Often, someone on the team will dash off a script and think it's ready to execute without several rounds of critiquing and revising. It's important to get input from other members on your marketing team who speak to customers individually.

Take Zendesk’s explainer video, for example. Although the video itself is very simple, the video script (the dialogue) takes center stage — and that's what makes the production professional.

Don't worry if the script for your video goes through several drafts by the time you're ready to shoot. Even Martin Scorsese revises his screenplays many times. Having a solid foundation to work from will form a large part of your production and post-production schedules.

Dive Deeper: The Video Structure that Big Agencies Use to Create Successful Videos

5) Create Your Video’s Branding Elements

Traditional in-your-face TV infomercials and blatant calls-to-action have almost been replaced by a smarter, subtler brand of business video.

But that’s not to say that there isn’t room for friendly reminders of who you are. Greetings and sign-offs are an important part of video pre-production tips because subtly promoting your business can push your audience to complete the goal you’re working toward.

On the other hand, you should be wary about being too subtle with your ask.  “First Kiss” is actually an advertisement for Wren Studio, a clothing company, but you'd be hard-pressed to know that after watching it:

This interesting and emotionally captivating video went viral (41 million YouTube views in three days, and 143 million to date), but without a CTA or a next-step direction, it lost its momentum — and potential sales.

So how do you strike the balance between subtlety and over-promotional?

The answer is simple: Plan the video as you would normally, without mentioning any calls to action. Then, when the content is coming to a close, ask your viewer to take action — whether that’s by visiting your website, clicking a link, or making a purchase.

6) Put Your Best 8 Seconds First

Thanks to disappearing messages and smartphone-induced ADHD, the average attention span is just eight seconds these days. That means most viewers will click away from your video in as long as it takes to have a sip of coffee if their attention wavers.

Fortunately for video producers and scriptwriters everywhere, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The first eight seconds of a video is a perfect reasonable amount of time to include capture the viewer's attention and let them know what they can expect from the rest of the video.

Watch the first eight seconds of this video and tell me it didn't pull you in:

Check out this and other excellent promo videos: 10 Inspiring Examples of Promotional Campaign Videos for Startups

Don't underestimate your viewers and think that you need to pre-explain the video in a rambling introduction. Many writers refer to the term “mid-res,” an abbreviation for “in medias res,” which means “into the middle of things.” Starting a story in the middle of things kicks the viewer into a whirlwind of excitement that will keep them engaged long enough to hear your why in the video.

The “why” of your video is the reason your audience will benefit from your product or service (aka, the most important part). In other words, it's the problem that your company can solve for them (by the end of the video).

Just take an accounting software company, for example. Their target audience of SMB owners might not realize that they’re spending too much time collecting, scanning and filing receipts until they’re shown the brand's video — and convinced to switch.

Dive Deeper: How to Make a Video That People Will Watch Til the End

7) Choose the Right Run-Time

Although conversion and completion metrics shouldn’t be the end-all when it comes to determining the length of your video (hint: your message should make that determination), the final run-time will affect your overall completion rate.

As you might expect, there’s a direct correlation between video length and viewer drop-off:

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Shorter videos tend to have better engagement:

  • If a video is less than 60 seconds, over two-thirds (68%) of viewers will keep watching until the end.
  • If a video is over 20 minutes long, only 25% of viewers will finish it.

Generally, videos that are 2-4 minutes long perform best and will have more people watch to the end. But if your video supremely engaging, time is not as critical a factor.

Keep in mind that the length of a video generally varies depending on which stage of the marketing funnel you're creating content for. The lower down in the funnel you go, the longer (though still focused) your video content can be.

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8) Form a Personal Connection

The last guideline for effective video script writing is to be transparent and authentic.

Video marketing is a very effective type of content marketing, and the ultimate goal of content marketing should be thought leadership. In other words, you want your viewers to see you as an expert and place trust in your brand — not just about your own products and services, but about everything.

Authenticity is a great way to get your audience on-board with your brand and start building those personal connections that are so important for sales.

Here’s a great example of how Basecamp uses this friendly, transparent, non-promotional tone in their video content:

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9) Visualize Your Shoot with a Storyboard

A storyboard is a sequence of drawings that shows all the various shots of your video and gives everyone working on the project a solid plan to work from.

Vidyard has a good explainer post that covers the basics of creating storyboards from a non-artist’s point of view and shares exactly why video marketers should always make them before shooting a video.

Just as a video script is an indispensable pre-production tool, a storyboard is invaluable as an efficient way to visualize the shoot before it happens. Why? Because the storyboard verifies the possibility of taking the images in your head and putting them on paper.

It can also help answer questions like:

  • Where does the light come from?
  • What does the location need to have for the production to work?
  • Is there a location in mind?
  • What tools will each shot require in order for them to look and feel the way the script intended?

There are a variety of functions, lenses, tripods and sliders that may or may not be available for the shoot, so it’s wise to know what equipment you’ll need beforehand. The tools will also affect your budget, so knowing if you need that crane shot and the cost for the rental is crucial to pre-production.

Don't worry if you're not a great artist. You can always use a service like StoryboardThat to create the storyboard for your marketing video:

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10) Don’t Forget to Make a Shot List

Just as a storyboard is the scene-by-scene breakdown of a video, a shot list is the shot-by-shot breakdown of each scene.

Shot lists include specific details — like camera placement and lighting direction — making this document the ultimate pre-production planner.

Make sure this is on your pre-production to-do list (after crafting your storyboard). Covering these two areas with help from your producer and videographer will save you tons of time during production.

Shot lists usually include:

  • Scene number
  • Shot number
  • Location
  • Shot description
  • Framing
  • Action/dialogue
  • Actors involved
  • Props needed
  • Extra notes

20 pre prod tips3 1

11) Create a Production Schedule

Now that you’ve got the basics covered, it’s time to think about when and where you’ll be recording the video. This is your production (or shooting) schedule.

You’ll need this document to make any kind of judgment call on whether your video project is going according to plan and to manage the time expectations of stakeholders.

Your video production schedule should include key information, such as:

  • Location
  • Scene/shot
  • Equipment
  • People needed
  • Contact info
  • Date and time

A production schedule is a one-stop-shop for all your production questions and concerns and should be updated regularly and shared with the entire team:

chapter 12 img1 1

12) Overestimate the Time You’ll Need

As a rule of thumb (particularly when stakeholders are involved), it’s always best to under-promise but over-deliver.

One of the best ways you can do that is by not giving yourself a razor-thin window of completion, especially if you aren’t very familiar with video production workflows.

Underestimating production time is just as bad as overestimating resource capacity. You don’t want to rush through one section of your storyboard because you haven’t allocated enough time to film it — and potentially need more time to re-film, which means renting equipment and getting the actors back again.

So if this is your first time working on a video or if you still feel you aren’t very experienced, give yourself more time to prevent unforeseen scheduling, shooting and post-production conflicts wreaking havoc with your entire plan.

Dive Deeper: 9 Tips to Close Sales with Video Content

13) Choose the Right Location

There are few decisions you can make with a more resounding impact on the production schedule than whether you want to do your shoot at a studio or on location (like a beach, for example).

While it may not seem like a huge deal at a glance, it certainly is for your budget. Studios will already have everything in place for you to work with and all you’ll need to do is show up and bring your actors.

Shooting on location, on the other hand, involves travel and equipment transportation costs and the whim of the elements (like weather). You’ll need to be aware of these costs and include the location details in your production schedule.

14) Visit Your Chosen Location Before the Shoot

You should definitely visit your filming location prior to the day of the shoot. But even if you do decide to shoot in a studio, you should still visit it beforehand to get a full understanding of the space you’re working with.

Why? Because one of the best ways to build an accurate production schedule is by determining which locations will be problematic and scheduling them into your day based on availability.

Outdoor shots, for example, need to be scheduled based on the type of lighting you require and should be flexible in case of inclement weather. Or if you’re shooting in a real office, shots will need to be conducted after hours.

Visiting locations ahead of time also gives you the chance to preview each “scene” and update both your shot list and storyboard with actual, accurate pictures.

Unsure on where to start? Check out this article from DIY Photography about location scouting for other factors you’ll need to consider:

15) Determine Your Equipment Needs

Knowing exactly what equipment you’ll need for every shot in your shot list should be something that you have set in stone long before the camera starts rolling.

Understanding the basics of a script, storyboard, shot list and even production schedule might be easy, but knowing why a Canon 5D wide-angle lens steady camera is the best choice for a specific 3-second shot is not so intuitive.

Ideally, equipment needs will be managed directly by a production manager, who will coordinate equipment hire from your shot list. However, for smaller projects, the videographer should be the one making the call.

It depends on what type of video you're creating, the scope of the content, your budget, etc., but here is a basic list of video equipment you're likely to need:

Video Gear Check List 1

16) Do an Inventory of Equipment You Already Have

Once you’ve worked with your producer to list the equipment you’ll need for all your shots, take a moment to double-check what you already have in-house (because your producer certainly won’t know).

Larger companies with multiple departments could literally have viable equipment tucked away in some storage room. Maybe there’s a certain type of microphone that HR uses to make their recruiting videos, or a high-tech camera lying somewhere in the product department.

Checking before ordering new equipment could save you hundreds or even thousands of dollars in rentals!

17) Secure the Best Talent You Can Afford

Often, the narrator in large-scale business videos will be someone from the C-suite. But you might want someone who can get the job done better, quicker, and build stronger relationships with your audience, too. That’s when hiring professional actors can come in handy.

If you want to shave a bit more off your budget and identify a long-term talking head for your videos (especially if you want to start a company vlog), keep in mind that there could already be someone in your HR, sales or marketing department who’s just waiting to shine.

To find these people, send a company-wide letter inviting interested people to take part in a quick interview or even audition with the script you’ve put together. Every company has its fair share of interesting characters, and one of them might just fit the camera perfectly.

Where an actor or paid hire might study the script and play well, nothing compares to someone who lives and breathes your brand message every single day.

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18) Create a Call Sheet

Regardless of whether you decide to go with professional actors or in-house representatives, one of the last spreadsheets you’ll need to prepare is the call sheet.

This all-important companion sheet to the production schedule includes the contact information of every member of the film production crew and the actors.

A good call sheet will answer all the basic “who, what, where, when, and why” questions at a glance, and is practically invaluable when it comes to keeping organized, calming nerves and managing expectations.

The call sheet will be used more often than you think: from a daily checklist, to role call, to the emergency contact list when you’re missing a key player in the shoot.

If you're confused about how to piece a call list together, you can download free templates from How To Film School or Set Hero to make it easier.

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19) Rehearse, Rehearse, Rehearse

Once you have your script, storyboard, shot list, production schedule and call sheet lined up, you’re almost ready.

Now, it’s time to put your talent on set!

As any actor will tell you, the importance of line-readings and rehearsals cannot be understated. It’s a good idea to get your talent familiar with locations, dress, directions, etc., before they show up for the actual shoot so they – and you – know what to expect.

If you’ve found that one of the actors you’ve commissioned doesn’t fit with your vibe, now is the perfect time to recast if necessary.

Dive Deeper: Top 5 Reasons Why Your Videos Are Not Performing Well

20) Remember: Video Marketing Is a Must in 2020

If you’ve reached this point and are questioning whether the video you’re planning is worth the effort, don’t lose faith — and remember that video marketing is worth it!

People remember

The stats don’t lie:

  • 97% of marketers say video has helped increase user understanding of their product or service
  • 76% say it helped them increase sales
  • 47% say it helped them reduce support queries
  • 76% say it helped them increase traffic
  • 80% of marketers say video has increased dwell time on their website

Go Create Your Successful Video!

As you can see, there are many things to consider before hitting the “record” button on your newest video marketing campaign. Always make sure you’ve got the basics covered, know the purpose of your video, and have the equipment you’ll need to make a solid start when it comes to filming.

If you haven’t added video marketing to your mix, the time is now. Offering your potential consumers a more personal way to interact with your brand will help them to see you as more than a company — and that will translate to higher awareness and engagement and, more importantly, more sales!

Additional Content on Video Marketing:

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