Business > Merchant Voice

No Video is (far) better than a bad video

I know a few things about video. While my formal schooling taught me computer science, my father is a professional cinematographer. He taught me how to take photographs and eventually how to shoot and create video.

Before I got involved in e-commerce, my business (for about 7 years) was corporate video. This is the down-and-dirty world of local commercials (“Used cars for only ninety-nine ninety-nine!”), employee training films (“Notice how Bill’s inappropriate joke made Donna feel”), and publicity/marketing (“Introducing the new Omni-Pack 4000 packing peanut dispenser!”).

The world of corporate video sucks. The projects are boring, cookie-cutter, and overseen by legal departments that squeeze every last drop of creativity out of the project.

Today, I get to make videos however I see fit. Over the past 4 years, my company has made nearly 400 videos to promote the products we sell on our website and I have complete control over their style and content. For someone who came from the world of corporate video, it’s like winning the lottery.

The videos we’ve made have been watched more than 63 million times on YouTube. Our channel, dedicated solely to the commercials we make, currently has over 87,000 subscribers.

I’m not bragging (well, maybe just a little). Mostly, I’m trying to illustrate that I know video so that you’ll listen to me when I say:


Please, please, please don’t make a junky video and slap it on the front page of your website. You’ll instantly kill the credibility of your company and brand. The average person may not be able to pinpoint why your video is junky, but trust me, they’ll know it’s junky.

There’s a reason why the average national commercial costs $400,000 – $500,000 to produce. And there’s a reason why the average local commercial costs about $10,000.

I know entrepreneurs like to do everything themselves. In this case, however, put down the camera and return it to the store. Instead, hire a writer. Hire a cameraman. Hire a spokesperson. It’ll be worth every penny.

Obviously, there are exceptions to this rule. If you’re an expert in a particular field, you don’t need a stand-in. But, hire a video professional who knows how to use lights and microphones. Also, hire a writer.

Writing for the web is much different than writing for video and it requires a complete knowledge and understanding of the filmmaking process. If you don’t have these skills, you’re wasting your time. You’re better off hiring a professional writer.

Because video is a visual medium, your final product has to look good! This is why actors are picked for their looks and ability to convey emotion and not for their political views and (lack of) intelligence. Again, if your video is designed to convey professional know-how or opinions, then you can perform in it. Be yourself but have an outline of exactly what you want to say.

Your message will be diluted or lost if presented poorly. This is true now more than ever with the proliferation of online video. A few years ago, it was a novelty to have a video on your website. But today, video on the web is becoming as ubiquitous as photos. Plus, audiences today are very visually sophisticated. Just as you can’t have amateur, ebay-style photos promoting your products, the same is true for video.

Bottom line: A bad video can do more harm than good. It can make you look cheap, amateur, or even untrustworthy. You should think of bad video like typos on your website. Get rid of them immediately!

Assuming that you’ve completely dismissed everything I’ve said regarding hiring professionals and want to do it yourself, here a few tips:

Buy a tripod. Handheld video should only be done if you know why you’re doing it.

Buy a microphone. Audio creates instant connections with the audience. That’s why music is so important in movies. Viewers will have visceral reactions to terrible audio. They’re much more forgiving with terrible picture quality. The on-camera mic included with your camera is not good enough. Do NOT use it.

Lighting is paramount. That’s why they call it photography (which means writing with light) and not “who-has-the-most-megapixels-ography”. Standing in your basement using your overhead lights = bad–no matter how much you paid for the camera.

Buy some professional lights and invest in a portrait photography book. You can’t just “wing it” when it comes to producing a video. But, if you invest time in learning the fundamentals, you can save a lot of money down the road.

However, remember that simply having a video isn’t going to instantly generate huge profits. Video is abundant online.

Your key to success is creativity. What’s the concept of your video? How does it separate you from your competitors? Why are you shooting a video? Are you demonstrating something about your product or service that cannot be shown in any other way? How is your video building your brand? If you can’t answer these questions, you’re not yet ready to make a video.
Once you are ready, here are a few more suggestions:

Make it short. Even if your video is awesome, people have short attention spans. Plus, keeping it short will maximize the awesomeness per second. I would recommend starting with videos that are 30-45 seconds long.

Closeups, closeups, closeups. Most people watching your video are doing it on a small computer screen, so focus tightly on what’s important and have it fill the entire frame.

Call-to-action. Don’t be afraid to tell customers what you want them to do at the end of the video. If they should “buy now”, tell them. If they should sign up for an email newsletter, tell them to do so.

Video is a fantastic medium that can instantly seal the deal on a sale if done properly. If made carelessly, video can ruin your credibility.

Jamie Salvatori
Jamie Salvatori
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