As a result of COVID-19, video will become an even more important medium for marketers
We asked James Lane owner of video production company Future Sun Films, (and Fresh Egg partner) how he got into the industry, how others can get into video marketing and a perspective of what organisations need to be thinking about with video content as a result of the ongoing COVID-19 situation.
How did you get into filming?
I started off as a photographer in the late 80s, I graduated with a photography degree in ‘92 and picked up super8 and early DV cameras around that time. My first paid filming job was at Peter Gabriel’s Realworld, where I got involved in creating content for CD-ROMs in 1994. It's fair to say, I've got and worn the t-shirt!
What’s your heritage in the digital industry?
So from that Realworld experience, I got hooked on how much easier digital tools made it to create moving images - animation as well as video. It led me to do the MA Design for Interactive Media at Middlesex University and off the back of that I started up a design company that hit the first Shoreditch startup wave.
Commercially we made online interactive experiences, games and films for clients like Audi, Levis, The Arts Council and online lottery websites. We also created a full-screen interactive video experience for the first BT broadband beta tests in 1998.
I put a lot into maintaining an experimental, non-commercial practice which played with 3D immersive virtual environments and which got us commissions for galleries including the ICA and The Watershed in Bristol. That then snowballed into a BAFTA nomination and regular conference talks and festival exhibitions all over the world.
After the dotcom bubble burst, I went to work in digital advertising at JWT London. I spent four years as an art director creating video-based campaigns for Mercedes, Mazda and The Diamond Trading Company before leaving to head up the digital team for Ford at Imagination.
This was a time of transitioning their big, cumbersome auto show stand experiences at the start of user-generated content and about a year after Youtube first launched. We combined car launches with an audience-driven interactive soap-opera that all came together as a quite bizarre on-stand VJ experience and was as weird as it sounds!
After that, I freelanced and started being asked to make films for brands and campaigns. This led to starting my own production company and made me realise that I am happiest with a camera in hand and working in an environment where telling stories through video combines with digital, interactive delivery platforms.
I think the future of video is the increase in niche and on-demand content. Our happy place is of escapist telly and Youtube wormholes that our feed algorithms give us and the platforms thrive on. Marketing spend will go more and more into finding and maintaining micro-audiences that demand fresh content, new stories, unique insights and specific knowledge. James Lane, Future Sun Films
When did you see the shift to video take place, what were the key drivers behind this?
The key drivers were all technical, for both creating and delivering video; Youtube, iPhone and fast internet (streaming). If you build it, they shall come etc. The marketing and advertising industries have always been magpies for new ideas.
There were a few false starts. Interactive TV was meant to be a game-changer for marketing (I remember designing campaigns for the really clunky NTL interface in 1998), but it failed the early promise and was a very different beast to today’s red button experience. VR is a bit like 3D in cinema, always the new revolution. But until someone truly solves the UX it will remain a bit awkward and niche.
Youtube was the first platform that challenged disk-based (DVD/Blu-ray) video delivery, it also started to put production power in the hands of consumers. It gave people the ability to broadcast their own content and agendas and gave them access to potentially enormous earning power (Pewdiepie is currently worth $30 million and Casey Neistat anywhere from $12-$40m, depending on who you believe).
Historically the big shifts were around the broadband rollout - to enable people to stream more and more data, iPhone4, which built on the expectation that anyone could create video content to share by actually having a camera worth the effort and then YouTube being the place to watch it. As smartphones have proliferated, ad spend has steadily flowed into digital. Now that we mostly use the internet for watching video (approx 80% of data, at the last count) it is the perfect communication form in the current, lockdown world.
Where do you see the industry moving in the next 2-3 years
Screenflow has this strapline on their website which sums things up quite nicely - “Video is everywhere. You’ve watched it, you’ve shared it, why not create it?”.
I think the future of video will be with the increase in niche and on-demand content.
Our happy place is of escapist telly and Youtube wormholes that our feed algorithms give us, and the platforms thrive on. Marketing spend will go more and more into finding and maintaining micro-audiences that demand fresh content, new stories, unique insights and specific knowledge.
As the technical possibilities of story-telling become easier to overcome, our creativity has to match. In fact, our creativity as producers will become even more crucial in order to break through the noise.
For me, there are three things to consider: tech, audience and creativity.
Thanks to lockdown it feels as though a few things that were ideas and line items on Silicon Valley to-do lists will get moved into the ‘live’ column. Crises tend to focus the minds of those trying to shift the application of technology. Audience expectation will jump exponentially now that we’re all Zoom call experts and live-streaming is how we get everything from yoga to comedy to music to news. That gazillion hours of Youtube we never have time to catch-up on will need to work even harder still to catch our attention. In fact, we won’t even be worried about it as we become more specific in our watching habits.
Of those organisations questioning pre-lockdown practices, the ones with existing programmes and content that easily translate online will be at an advantage. For example, converting physical learning experiences to online ecosystems will fit with both remote and office-based workers and clients. And if you can monetize a white label version all the better. I’ve found that clients who were considering online video are speeding up their rollout - from individuals creating online, video-based courses to organisations boosting their social media presence via live streaming video and podcasts. A corporate HR consultant I know who normally spends weeks away, flying between global offices to implement initiatives, is now shifting his approach to online video solutions.
In 2019 Zuckerberg said, “the future is private”. Aside from the overdue privacy issues, open feed fatigue and overt brand plagiarism, this has led many creators to lock down their accounts and take a more measured approach to audience building. That audience has become wiser about retargeting and consequently more choosy in what it lets into its feed. Our attention spans are more granular, our demands for authenticity higher than ever. Interestingly this has an effect on how long we will sit and watch content for. The average length of a YouTube video among the top 250,000 channels is between 13 and 14 minutes (Pew Research Center, 2019). We binge on hours-long Netflix/Prime/red button series’ and our narrative craving now extends to Twitter threads and Instagram stories.
Video is everywhere. You’ve watched it, you’ve shared it, why not create it?”.ScreenFlow, screencasting and video editing software
What would you say to any organisations that have not yet invested in video?
Seriously, now is the time. There is still room for your voice. In fact, I would say that your clients, your prospects, your audience are wondering where you are. Of course, the how and the where and the ROI all need a solid strategy behind them and depending on the nature of your organisation, that strategy should start to be developed from some really broad and brave thinking. Include all aspects of your activity in that process, at least at the start. Get the stories and perspectives from all angles and departments of your organisation, ensure your marketing or comms people reach out early on to nurture a really exciting culture of participation and ownership of this process. Although a few years old, this video on the future of storytelling simply lays out the advantages of using video in an organisational environment.
If, in a 2020 COVID lockdown world, marketing feels daunting right now and video even more so, then it’s worth sitting down (at distance) with someone who really knows their stuff when it comes to digital marketing and who understands the central role that video should play in your strategy.
The understanding that video is becoming central to how you talk to people is crucial. But it’s critical that you start your video journey in the right way. Work with the best people you can find to help you do this and know that they should bring a willingness for collaboration and immersion in your organisation, as well as better production values than you’re capable of. In 2020, a video producer has to understand where their offering sits and how it can convert in the marketing landscape of any organisation. Video has to stimulate and drive an audience in the right way, it is no longer a luxury spend and nor should it be treated as such. Be very honest with yourself about your in-house capabilities and understand that video done badly will drive your audience away as fast as it should bring them in when done well. The best videos are often the most instinctive, but remember that they have to feel genuine, be thought-provoking and entertaining. That can mean anything from this lockdown Heineken ad to Ed Goodman’s bedtime reading on LinkedIn. And this great case study from Vimeo encapsulates a more likely and very attainable approach for most.
If, in a 2020 Covid lockdown world, marketing feels daunting right now and video even more so then it’s worth sitting down (at distance) with someone who really knows their stuff when it comes to digital marketing and who understands the central role that video should play in your strategy.James Lane, Future Sun Films
How important will video be for businesses as we start to come out of lockdown?
Compare how frequently you video-called people in January to now. The ease with which we now use the portable video camera in our hand to communicate without a second, self-effacing thought is indicative of how important video has become overnight.
So grasp this opportunity. Show a way forward. Take control of your organisation’s narrative and tell inspiring, genuine, funny, serious stories. Whatever feels right. This is an opportunity to engage with an audience who are craving change and who devour video content. If you already have a video presence think about a shift in message, a shift in your approach to using video - can it be more personal, more ambitious, how can it take a more central role in your online or marketing activity? If you haven’t created any video yet take a leap of faith; now is a good time to experiment with your creativity as people are in a generous mood and will be grateful for valuable information, news about opportunities, your approach to maintaining or restarting a service. There are many ways to use this time to put some serious thought into your video strategy.
What implications do you think COVID-19 might have in the future for video marketing?
From a creative perspective, beware the Zoom/Skype call/talking to your webcam visual device in any promos you make. People are already tiring of this format so be sensitive about when it’s appropriate to engage with the zeitgeist and when to move your story-telling technique on.
More broadly, video has already become THE way certain audiences interact or find the information and knowledge they need. That won’t reverse anytime soon - even Linkedin now offers long overdue video analytics.
Lockdown will exponentially move the dial for monetised online learning whether for internal training, product support, online courses or distance learning. Whatever life holds for us all over the next year or so, as ever with the nuance of marketing comms trying to anticipate the future is difficult but as a delivery platform, you can be sure video is queen. It’s exciting to think how it will develop as 5G and Gigabit broadband take hold and Gen Zers flex their muscles in the workplace.
How should businesses be using video to relay a positive message to their audiences?
Video helps you focus the story you want to tell. The old mantra of “show, don’t tell” should make you think about what tone of voice your audience will best respond to. What works at the moment are genuine, simply told stories that show people in authentic scenarios. Everyone loves a happy ending, but they love it all the more if the journey to that ending has some pitch and yaw along the way. And humour, when used sensitively, always makes us want more.
As with any messaging at this time, one thing is key - don’t get salesy. Be genuine and be useful; you will quickly alienate your audience if they sense you aren’t.
Does it make it easier to get into the industry having Brighton on our doorstep?
It depends what aspect of film, tv, video production you want to get into. Brighton has many small traditional production companies making a mix of corporate, advertising, charity promo content. It also has some well-established tv production companies whose reputation is for specific genres.
Getting started is always about attitude, energy and having something to say in your work. If you’re adamant about building a career in this industry do your research and find the right kind of production company to approach and then make yourself invaluable to them. Simple advice, but the trick is understanding yourself and where your strengths are, which often comes with experience. In the meantime, get to know the industry, understand who makes the kind of films or tv that you want to emulate, and if you get your foot in the door, be as aware of your immediate surroundings as possible - anticipating other people’s needs will get you remembered in the best way.
Do you think the barrier to entry in the industry has improved with the technology we all now have in our hands
Yes and no. Whenever a technology becomes more accessible it also means the industry it feeds becomes more competitive. So the old barriers to entry still hold true. Be unique (not necessarily original), be confident, be nice. It’s a small world and you will meet people as they come up or go down and first impressions always count.
What would you say to a student at school who thinks that video would be an exciting industry to get into?
That's easy, read this: How to Become a Filmmaker and Ways of Breaking Into the Film Industry
James has given a great overview of his path to becoming a first-class video producer. Video is a primary content medium that is consumed by many audiences across multiple platforms. If you are not sure where to begin in adding video content to your marketing mix, then start the journey by going back to basics and understanding the types of content your audience are consuming with customer experience journey mapping. The likelihood is video will be part of the mix.Lee Colbran, Fresh Egg Co-founder
What are some of the common mistakes made when organisations create video content?
Lack of insight, boredom and staying within your creative comfort zone.
There is so much content online now that if you are contributing you have to have thought through why you are spending this time doing so. So do your research into the current landscape, who your potential audience is and what that audience is already engaging with. Digital marketers understand the necessity of analysing and acting upon data. Applying this to any creative strategy is crucial, but please let the data inform your strategy, not lead your creative execution.
Boredom - content is ignored when it obviously feels like a marketing or comms obligation, rather than a genuine desire to engage with an audience. Equally, that engagement has to be authentic, two-way and nuanced. People take confidence in organisations who are relaxed, open, engaging and transparent about who they are. The world does not need any more corporate talking head videos of the Chairman. You have to be a bit brave, get out of your comfort zone with how you portray yourself or your organisation.
Put simply, don’t make your videos about you, make them for your audience and their needs. Then they will be fun to create and more likely to be watched.
About Future Sun Films
Future Sun Films are based in Worthing, they make videos that people like to watch. They also ensure those videos get watched by the right audience. Visit the Future Sun Films website.
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