Category: Video Production

How Much Does An Explainer Video Cost? (Part 1)

(Part 1) Defining Classes of Explainer Video Cost

The term “explainer” video has been popularized as the Internet has become a playground for distributing video. Whereas commercials and infomercials have historically been very expensive, explainer videos have have become an affordable alternative. Still, my company’s clients and prospective clients ask about explainer video cost, more than any other topic in video production. Who can blame them? The range of costs can make video production feel overwhelming.

So in this 3 part series I will take a more holistic look explainer video cost. First, I’ll break down the classes, which are based on the types of providers in the space. Second, I will dive into the murky waters of hidden costs. I’ll show that what you end up saving in “production costs” can often come back in the form of future organizational challenges and costs. Armed with that information, you’ll be able to decide on the class that’s right for you. Finally, I’ll help you narrow down your budget with the class you’ve chosen. So let’s get down to explaining explainer video cost.

Breaking down the range

The folks at Demo Duck say that their research puts the range between $1,500 and $50,000. Alternatively, Video Brewery says the range is narrower ($5,000 and $10,000). Clayton Lainsbury from Crowd Content says he self-produced his video for $650. I could go on citing other sources, but for the sake of brevity let’s say that “according to the Internet”, an explainer video costs between somewhere below $1,000 and $50,000. That is a huge range to consider, if you’re new to procuring video production services. So how can you narrow it down?

Just like you can categorize cars by their class, we can objectively classify video production of explainer videos. It’s important to pick a “class” so that you can manage expectations and get bids from the right external partners. Let me outline 3 classes to help break down explainer video cost.

“Economy” Class (below $1,000 – $5,000)

First is a category we’ll refer to as the Economy class. It includes a couple options: 1. producing it yourself with the help of freelancers. 2. outsourcing to providers in another country. Though the exact range is debatable, based on my experience, you’ll find explainer videos in this category cost between a few hundred dollars, all the way up to $5,000.

Producing an explainer video yourself can be a good option if you are a start up and you are strapped for cash. However, be ready to invest a significant amount of time assembling a team. You’ll need to consider support for each phase of production (pre-production, production, and post-production). We actually built a platform ( to help onboard, budget for, and manage your team, since the processing can be daunting. So, check it out if you are planning on managing the production yourself.

One alternative to assembling a team is to hire a freelancer that has multiple skills in production. There are different titles for these folks. Videographers, Preditors, and Animators (the rare ones who both design and animate) are freelancers that act as a one-stop shop. The obvious benefit to hiring them is that they can save you time and money. After all, it’s one person who is wearing a bunch of different production hats. The thing to be aware of is that the best get booked up quickly. So, if you decide to go this route, consider discussing your timeline upfront and in detail.

Outsourcing is another option in the Economy Class. Websites like Upwork have popularized going this route. By creating an account and doing a simple job posting, you can have a laundry list of applicants that same day. The costs are also extremely enticing when you consider that some rates are as low as just a few dollars an hour. The drawbacks to outsourcing are likely obvious, but they’re worth mentioning. First, there is usually a substantial time difference coupled with the fact that you may never have a chance to meet your partner face-to-face. Second, there is often a cultural / language barrier that can be challenging to face. Consider that your explainer video is a communication vehicle. So, if you’re working with someone to polish that communication vehicle, and they speak a different language, you may have your work cut out for you.

“Full Size” Class (about $5,000 – about $15,000)

Next up is the “Full Size” class. This type of explainer video ranges from about $5,000 to about $15,000. The major difference between the Economy and Full Size classes is that the latter should provide you with end-to-end service. With the Economy class, you are often serving as your own project manager. You may have to chase down deliverables, proactively manage your timeline, and carefully monitor costs. Assuming you work with a reputable Full Size option, these project management elements should be handled for you.

Moreover, there should be an element of built in quality control. Partners that operate in the Full Size class are often small production companies or ad agencies. They spend time recruiting and hiring employees and contractors, generally only selecting the ones that are a fit for the company and the clients it works with. As a result, they usually have a team that is experienced in working together.

Working with partners in this class (and above) also provides a greater possibility of meeting your deadline(s). Since you are working with a team, there is greater flexibility for capacity issues that come up. Companies in this class are used to scaling up and scaling down, depending on how busy a particular month is. So chances are that if they take on your project, they won’t suddenly be under water. Look into their history. If they have a track record and have been in business for more than a few years, they have more than likely navigated the tricky resourcing challenges that come with taking on new clients.

“Luxury” Class (about $15,000 – $50,000)

Finally, we have the “Luxury” class. This class ranges from about $15,000 all the way up to $50,000. That being said, I’ve found it rare for many explainer videos to go above the $30,000 mark. After that point, the level of spend is enough to start considering producing a low-budget commercial. I’ll address commercial production costs at a later date. For now, just consider that commercials are a whole animal on their own. Most commercials start in the low 6 figures and ramp up to the millions of dollars for big brands. Can we say Superbowl spot?

The thing about the Luxury class is that it is only luxurious relative to the other classes. I don’t want to mislead anyone who is new to video into thinking that this is the point where you start to be able to afford sophisticated CGI (Computer Generated Imagery) or posh locations for filming. That happens with commercial budgets. Rather, in this class you start to have a little more latitude with what you can do creatively.

For example, if you are filming, you can start to consider options like booking a small studio or a location that isn’t took expensive (though controlling location costs can be a challenge in and of itself). And if you are doing animation, you start to be able to access better creative (e.g. more layers. more complicated design. more intricate animations). For example, when we created the intro of a video for a venture backed tech company, that intro had more than 120 different layers in the animation. It took more than 8 hours to animate this 5 second intro.

Bringing It Home

Choosing which class of explainer video to produce is a very much a personal decision. There are pro’s and con’s to each class. And really, there is no right or wrong answer. Some of it has to do with budget, some of it with timing, and some of it with organizational goals. Yet ultimately, choosing a class is a step in the right direction to establishing your explainer video cost. You’ll start engaging with partners that work well in your budget range, plus you’ll be able to better manage your expectations as well as the expectations of anyone else in the organization.

In the next part of this series, I’ll talk through some of the hidden costs of the Economy and Full Size classes. Armed with that knowledge, you’ll be able to make a decision on which class to pursue, and you’ll go in with eyes wide open.

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3 Steps to Making Video Part of Your Content Marketing

AAEAAQAAAAAAAAv9AAAAJGY3NGIzNDgzLWEwYzItNGYzMy1hZGFjLWNhMGQzYmQ4ZDg1YQBy 2019, content marketing budgets will have doubled what they currently are. And in a growing ocean of content, marketers are looking for ways to stand out. According to Hubspot, the top two channels that marketers are looking to add content to in the coming year are YouTube (48%) and Facebook Video (39%). However, video is still consistently seen as challenging to execute and expensive to scale. What should marketers do?

I’ve seen 4 responses to this challenge. 1. Wait 2. Look for cheap resources 3. Invest in a couple of videos 4. Invest for the long term

Which approach you decide to take is often a function of your risk tolerance. Yet, if you’re serious about content marketing, then the following steps will set you up for success, regardless of which path you decide to take. Even if you decide to wait, keeping these steps in mind will ensure that you are successful once you take the plunge.

1. Pick a Single Format and Stick To It

When you start exploring video, the creative juices begin flowing and it seems like everyone has a great idea about what to make. “We should do some interviews!” “Oh, what about animation?” “What if we did a sort of reality series?” The ideas all come from a good place. Colleagues are excited about something new and they want to contribute. At the same time, every idea requires time and resources to execute. And if you pick more than one format, you’ll be spreading yourself thin.

Consider that picking a single format allows you to get really good at it. Whether you are producing the video internally or working with outside partners, that narrow focus lets you hone the storytelling, the budget, the internal resource allocation, and more. As you create more, your content will actually get better.

In working with PK4 Media to develop more than 80 episodes of their series “Foodie Next Door”, we constantly learned and evolved the made-for-web show. That evolution was only possible because we had an agreed to format from Day 1. From there, we were able to make constant adjustments to improve the show. Here are a few (of the many) things that improved as we went along. 1. We went from filming in our talent’s kitchen to filming in a studio; with a limited impact to the budget. 2. We were able to lower our equipment rental cost (and even improve the quality of the equipment we were renting) by developing a predictable list of necessary items. 3. We reduced our time to edit each episode, which in turn allowed us to allocated the remaining resources to further improve the quality of the show through means like additional color correction, motion graphics and more.

2. Determine an Optimal Runtime For Each Video

If you are able to identify a format for your video, then it should be easier to figure out how much time it will take to tell you each story. However, don’t be tempted to haphazardly throw out a number that sounds nice.

Start by understanding how much content you can comfortably cover in a given amount of time. Marching Penguin typically uses word count as a key benchmark in creating content for clients. Generally speaking, you can consider 75 words for 30 seconds of content, 150 words for 60 seconds of content, and so on. Of course, the format and the pacing will have some impact on your ultimate runtime. Yet don’t get tempted into thinking that you can hack these numbers. Unless you are willing to speed up someone’s audio to the extent that they sound like a chipmunk, it’s going to be very challenging to put more than 150 words into a 60 second video.

Now word count only tells you how much can go into the “container”. You still need to determine the size of your “container”. So once you have a reference point based on word count, you can start to think about runtime based on the actual needs of your audience. Factor in who you are talking to, the complexity of the topics you’ll be addressing, and the depth to which you will go to address them.

Also, bear in mind that if you are truly making content, and not promotional material, the nature of your copywriting is going to be different. Content is expository. It is meant to educate, provoke thought, and get into the details. As a result, it takes time to get into a topic when you’re creating content.

Here’s an example I use to illustrate the point with my clients. If you are a company that sells a kitchen appliance, making a 30 second video about that appliance’s features is straightforward. You can quickly list the features in a promotional fashion, without a lot of detail. Now, imagine that you are making a recipe video (where your appliance is featured at some point). Well, 30 seconds is barely going to get you past the first step of the recipe. In fact, if you consider BuzzFeed’s popular Tasty videos (which most of us find in our Facebook feeds), the average runtime is about 2 minutes. And if you’ve seen those videos, you know they actually speed up a lot of parts just to get to 2 minutes.

3. Batch Produce Your Videos

Budgeting in production is far from straightforward. Many costs are based on day rates (e.g. studio rental or crew). Other costs can be based on hourly rates (e.g. editor, though often can be compensated on a day or week rate). And in the case of equipment, you can even consider purchasing outright.

As a result, I always try to structure budgets and project plans to maximize the output for my clients. In other words, if I’m renting a studio for a day, I’m going to try and film for the entire day. I know that sounds straightforward, but there’s often a misconception that there is a sliding scale for many of these costs. There can be, to a degree, but it’s highly unlikely that a studio will rent to you for a couple hours and that the crew will agree to partial day rates.

So instead, given your format and runtime (if you’ve done your homework above), work out how many episodes or videos you can realistically capture in one day. The answer may come by way of part art and part science. Plus, you should leave some room for margin of error the first time around. Yet ultimately, by having a mindset of batch production, you’ll truly get the most out of your budget.

Bring It Home

I say it consistently. Video is hard, but it doesn’t always have to be. By taking the time to plan upfront, you can start to build a scalable strategy for incorporating video into your content marketing. And as you start to build your audience and obtain success from your efforts, adding to your video library will create a flywheel effect.

And if you are still skeptical, know that I’ve seen companies with fewer than 20 employees master this approach, while some Fortune 500 companies have failed. In the end, it’s not about scarcity of resources. That is always an issue, no matter how big you get. It’s about finding a consistent method of collecting value from the resources you do have. Good luck!

3 Ways to Better Capture ROI With Video


This isn’t the holy grail. It’s not the answer to all your prayers, even if you happen to pray about video. In fact, if you are reading this and are thinking about creating the first video for your business or brand, you might feel overwhelmed when you are done. This is, however, an attempt to reframe the dialogue and thinking related to video ROI.

Here’s a quick summary of what everyone will tell you and what a quick search on Google will re-enforce. Video is huge. Video is everywhere. Invest in video.

I’ll agree that video is huge and everywhere, but getting from there to “let’s spend money on it” is a huge leap of logic. It’s like saying cars are huge and everywhere, so let’s invest in car companies. Most analysts these days will tell you to run away from investing in car companies, with the exception of Tesla (Disclosure: I own a minuscule amount of Tesla shares). So if we aren’t running to all things that are huge and everywhere, shouldn’t we at least take a step back to evaluate our investments in video more carefully?

I know that may sound strange, especially coming from someone who makes their living in the video space. However, I don’t believe that video is the right solution for every client every time. And after a client who produced dozens of videos with us in 2016 suggested that I write about video ROI, I decided it was worth re-visiting the topic.

I was surprised to hear that he was convinced enough in the value of video to fund it on a monthly basis for an entire year, but still not completely convinced on the video ROI. I was puzzled. So, I rolled up my sleeves, dug into a long list of resources, and attempted to make sense of video ROI that would also make sense to folks outside the space. Here goes.

A survey of the literature shows that most metrics suggest that video is ubiquitous. For example, according to Cisco’s on-going Visual Networking Index, “IP video traffic will be 82 percent of all consumer Internet traffic by 2020, up from 70 percent in 2015.” If we drill down into one of the biggest channels for online video, YouTube, the case for ubiquity continues. “YouTube overall, and even YouTube on mobile alone, reaches more 18-34 and 18-49 year-olds than any cable network in the U.S.

The problem with these metrics is that they offer information about the volume of video being produced and watched, but little information about the KINDS of videos. You can’t be sure if a particular metric refers to a disproportionate amount of table-top kitchen recipes, Snaps of people using the doggie filter (which is the best), or actual educational videos. And without knowing much about what kinds of videos we’re talking about, it’s hard to even start a discussion about ROI. Yet rather than categorizing videos from a customer-centric point of view, getting to video ROI requires a different kind of categorization.

Categorize Your Video Strategies By Paid, Owned, and Earned

Ever since the first TV ad in 1941, marketers have lived in a world of (somewhat) immediate gratification. They create an ad, buy some ad slots, and then promptly wait for the results to come in. That model hasn’t gone away. In fact, we almost immediately copied it over to digital once the Internet became ubiquitous. We often refer to it as “pay-to-play”. Or, if you’re in the agency world, it’s just “paid”.

However, we’ve more recently added a content marketing model that is slower to create traction, but sometimes even more powerful than paid. Most of the content marketing model is propagated through digital, and OTT if you’d like to separate that out. As we’ve gotten savvier, we’ve used content from our content marketing and “boosted” it, thus creating a derivative of “paid”. Some might argue that it’s now all “paid” but we’ll leave that discussion for another day.

Paid tends to yield faster results. It’s also what we’ve been used to for decades. So, in a way, we tend to rely on it in the wake of uncertainty. The only issue is that it can be dramatically inefficient. And so if you’re not careful or hire the wrong help, you can destroy your margins playing the paid game.

Content marketing, on the other hand, is a slow uphill climb to a high mountaintop. It is the “owned” side of media. And when done right, it can also convert to “earned” media. Of course, the bar for earned media, in an increasingly cluttered world of video is very high. If you are counting on social media channels for distribution, the algorithms are geared towards volume and consistency. Post a great video once, it might go viral, but it more than likely will not. You probably have a better chance of winning the lottery, unless you are already famous. Post a video each week for several years, you’ll slowly build an army of followers. That is how almost every “celebrity” YouTuber has done it. YouTube rewards consistency, with most top contributors posting 1-3 times a week. On the other hand, most brands are completely inconsistent with posting, which makes it no surprise that according to, not a single business or brand cracks the top 100 YouTube Channels.

Once you are having a dialogue (both with internal stakeholders and external partners) about paid, own, and earned video strategies, that’s when you can truly start to set expectations about outcomes. Then you can eventually get to work!

The bottom line is that paid will almost always outperform owned and earned in the short term. And that’s kind of a no-brainer when you start to think about it. If you’re putting media dollars to support your paid strategies, then you logically expect an audience immediately on the back end. On the other hand, owned/earned video strategies will almost always outperform in the long term. It may take up to 6 months to see some tangible results, but you will eventually see them.

Owned/earned video strategies also have a strong ancillary effect of bringing you closer to the customer. When you are forced to come up with content that stands alone and will drive engagement of some sort, the bar for your storytelling is high. When you are doing it right, you shift from telling a story about your product to telling a story that helps your customer learn and derive some kind of value. Where marketers often go wrong, and you can see this showcased on YouTube repeatedly, is when they make content that is really intended for paid strategies, but they attempt to make it work for owned/earned strategies. A typical example is when a marketer simply takes a commercial that was shot for TV and they post it on a YouTube channel. Audiences on YouTube are not there to see commercials, which is why YouTube even allows you to skip pre-roll, so it’s no surprise that the performance is typically abysmal with this kind of strategy.

So before embarking on a video campaign or program, take a hard look in the mirror to acknowledge which game you want to play. Are you playing with paid or are you playing with owned / earned? Ideally, you’ll find the right mix off all three as your business progresses through different stages of growth.

Establish Key Performance Indicators (KPI’s) for Video and avoid old man metrics (e.g. likes)

This may sound simple, but it is a step that many skip, even some experienced professionals. There’s so much excitement and glamour associated with video that there is a tendency to immediately start brainstorming ideas before before knowing what the goals are. Are you after awareness? Purchase intent? Leads? Sales? Depending on your industry, some of these may not be even be good KPI’s to consider.

Also, as you’re thinking through the appropriate KPI’s there are some important considerations. For one, and given the micro targeting capabilities of Facebook, how will you measure them relative to your target audience. If you are trying to drive awareness, you may hit 1MM people with a Facebook video, but if only 5% of them were in your target audience, you really only helped raise awareness for a small group of people.

Moreover, verify that you have reliable mechanisms for measuring your KPI’s. Depending on what KPI’s you choose, you may quickly realize that you’ll have to pay extra to measure something like purchase intent or brand lift. And if your campaign or plan is “low budget”, it certainly won’t make sense to pay to get these measurements. In the case of sales, you’ll almost never have a fully accurate way to determine attribution, even with a pixel. So you’ll have to settle for a measurement that is based on a corollary (e.g. we spent X and made Y sales, even though Y sales could be attributed to another factor).

Find Out What Your Competitors Are Doing.

This may sound like marketing 101, and that’s because it is. Most business will do a SWOT analysis and through that exercise find out what their competitors are doing. Unfortunately, the SWOT analysis rarely gets down to the level of video. However, when it comes to marketers, it very well should.

Consider that if you are a small business, only 9% of your peers are using YouTube as a channel for marketing. And given how many low cost production tools are out there, this presents a great opportunity to start creating some content that will stand out. So if you are a small business, you may very well want to verify what some of your local competitors are doing. You may have an outstanding chance to capture all or a majority of the share of voice through certain video channels.

If you are in the B2B space, 70% of your buyers are going to watch video for EVERY step of the process. Once again, if your competitors don’t already have video, you have a tremendous opportunity to step up. At the same time, you’ll be helping your SEO out was well.

And if you have a website, which I’m not sure which business does not these days, adding a video can increase your conversion by up to 80%. So, if your competitors don’t have video (or even have a weak video), again you have an opportunity to exploit that. You can even go one step further by using platforms like Unbounce to A/B test your landing pages. At Marching Penguin, we’ve employed this technique on a number of client landing pages to boost conversion rates anywhere from 25% to 225%. We’ve even tested videos with different endings to optimize performance.

Wrapping It Up

Video is hard. Anyone that says the opposite is either lying or has never produced a video. Yet by understanding the mechanics of video ROI, you can better allocate precious resources to make video a truly powerful tool. There is no doubt that video is huge and here to stay. The tools for producing it only continue to get cheaper and better. So, all that is left is finding a way to align video to your goals. Once you do that, video doesn’t become easy, but it certainly gets easier. You can choose video strategies that deliver against the KPI’s that are important to your company and industry; you can keep internal stakeholders happy / engaged; and, you can find ways to stay ahead of the competition. All of that sounds like a great recipe for ROI.

The Top Four 360º Video Cameras at NAB 2017


It’s become clear that 360º video, along with 360° video cameras, is here to stay. If you attended the NAB Show in Las Vegas this year, it was obvious. Exhibitors, large (e.g. Nokia) and small presented many new technologies to help fulfill the growing desire to produce content in this space. This “360º boom” is creating advancements in capture technology, as creators rush to find the perfect end-to-end workflow.

However, when compared to traditional video, the technology is still very much in a nascent stage. Whereas new technologies for traditional video are all about improving on already great capture technologies (e.g. 4k moving on to 8k, HDR and beyond), new technologies for 360° are more about fixing flaws and fundamental problems.

For example, for years capturing 360° video involved capturing footage from several cameras and stitching it together with external platforms like VideoStitch or Kolor, adding laborious hours to the process, and often preventing us from being able to live stream. Stitching was as much art as it was science, and so results were often hit or miss. Look at much of the 360° content prior to 2017, and the chances are that the average person could identify stitching and/or parallax issues.

As of NAB 2017, and slightly before, multiple companies are offering the ability to either stitch in real-time (e.g. Orah 4i) or stitch for you (Google Jump). It’s a tremendous prospect for creators and tech geeks alike, bringing a new level of reliability to 360° content creation.

These new stitching capabilities are a step in the right direction. In an industry where creators can ill afford the risk of adopting unreliable tools, we are starting to see an uptick in reliability.

That in mind, our team at Marching Penguin ( put together a short list of our 4 favorite 360° cameras for NAB Show 2017. They are rank ordered, with #1 being our favorite.

4. Jaunt ONE

You may be familiar with Jaunt as a publisher of premium 360º content. One of their main selling points is the high standard they hold their content to, pushing for cinema-level quality in everything they publish. The Jaunt ONE is their own answer to this requirement, boasting some of the most beautiful looking footage that we’ve seen from a 360º camera. It has stereoscopic capabilities for creating immersive 3D content, and can reach 8K by 4K resolution using its 24 camera modules. Automatic stitching for your footage is available through Jaunt Cloud Services.

As impressed as we are by the Jaunt ONE, the price is equally impressive, coming in at a cool $100,000! This is the sole reason for ranking it at #4 on the list. That fact that, comparatively, you could go out and buy a Tesla Model S for 10k less, was surprising to us. Yes, that’s totally an apples to oranges comparison, but it provides a point of comparison. Bottom line: the price point makes this one of the least accessible 360º cameras for today’s content creator.

3. OZO

Nokia’s OZO is similar to the Jaunt ONE in their aim for cinema-quality 360º. However, the OZO is offered at less than half the price of the Jaunt ONE, coming in at $40,000. With only 8 cameras, it’s lighter on its feet, offering 4K resolution.

The OZO also has a shortcoming that the company has repeatedly underplayed in the past. It has a stereoscopic blind spot in the rear. Nokia claims that most 360° capture is for seated experiences, and so the need for stereoscopic in that area is limited. However, for $40,000 we expected more. It’s like buying a luxury car and not getting GPS. Sure, you can use your phone for navigation, but didn’t I buy a luxury car?

That said, one of the key things that makes the OZO impressive is its live streaming capabilities via the OZO Live software. While this is an extra feature (not free), you’d be hard pressed to stream footage that matches its quality with any other camera or service.

2. Orah 4i

When it comes to accessibility, VideoStitch’s Orah 4i is likely the biggest “bang for your buck” 360° video camera out there. While it doesn’t offer stereoscopic capture, it still maintains a high level of quality with 4K resolution on each of its 4 camera modules. What’s also nice is that it offers live stitching locally, rather than using a cloud-based service, cutting out any potential delays from connectivity issues. The Orah is packaged with a “stitching box” that attaches to the camera. This makes it the first camera with live streaming capability totally built in, without requiring you to configure any additional services. For that reason, we feel it’s a strong play for creators that want to livestream on Facebook or YouTube.

1. Yi HALO (Google Jump)

Our top pick goes to the Yi HALO. Created in partnership with Google Jump, this 360° video camera is a bit pricier than the Orah 4i, but far more accessible than the OZO or Jaunt ONE. It offers a solid set of features, including stereoscopic capability and high resolution (between 5.8K and 8K) using its 17 cameras. As part of Google Jump’s lineup (the other key camera being GoPro’s Odyssey) it includes access to the Jump Assembler service, offering automatic stitching of your footage through the cloud. Like the Jaunt ONE, the HALO does not offer a livestream capability. All the same, its other features manage to rival Jaunt’s for a fraction of the price.

But probably the biggest reason for ranking the Yi HALO as our #1 360° video camera is the quality of the experience. We were able to view footage through a regular Google Daydream (as opposed to a Vive or Oculus) and we were blown away. The stitching was seamless and the experience felt immersive, which is rare for a smartphone-base experience. This definitely made it the winner for NAB in our books.

Want to know more?

If you’re not through geeking out with me on these new technologies, we’ve also put together a comprehensive chart of 360° video camera detailing the features and prices of each one. We get into the more techy aspects, like frame rate, and give you the ability to compare side by side.

Sign up for our mailing list or e-mail us at and we’ll send you a copy!


3 Rules for Leveraging Animated Video


Most marketers are well aware that video can be a great tool for marketing. It’s well liked by search engines, in fact YouTube alone is the second largest search engine, which can give your website and content a better chance of being discovered, shared, etc. Video also happens to attract customers more than written content. It’s engaging and easy to consume.

However, for a marketer, video also happens to be one of the most expensive tools in the marketing toolkit. Generally speaking, media companies aside, only the elite Fortune 1000 companies can afford to make video on a consistent basis. And even they struggle with the economics afforded by their agencies and production company counterparts.

Enter the animated video, or what some refer to as the explainer.

Animated video has become a popular genre because of several advantages it has over more traditional live action video. First, it doesn’t require the vast amount of on-location filming resources that live action video does. No need for a crew, a fancy camera, permits for filming, and so on. Second, it provides flexibility. If you can imagine it, you can animate it. Let’s say you want to do a scene with penguins in Antarctica. With the help of a talented designer or art director, you can storyboard that in less than a day and be on your way to your moment with the penguins.

Yet for all the benefits animated video brings to the table, it is often a misunderstood genre. For starters, animation is not inherently cheap. If you’re not careful, you could actually end up creating a video that is more expensive than a live action one. Additionally, it can require more precision and planning than some traditional forms of video. Animation is precisely timed out to music and / or a voice over. So the idea of “just editing something out” does not always apply to creating an animated video.

That being said, with a few ground rules, Animation can be a marvelous tool for marketing a company. It can provide flexibility and scale in a way that no other genre can. So here are my rules (and rules we follow at my company: Marching Penguin – for getting the most out of your animated video.

1. Do not skip steps in the process – Animation, like most video production, is inherently a linear process. You start with a script, move on to production, and then to post-production. Yet with animation, it’s easy to get ahead of yourself and run towards the animation part. We’re so eager to see what the final product may look like, that we overlook vital parts of the process.

So start with a solid script. I suggest hiring a copywriter, no matter how great your (or someone on your team’s) writing skills may be. It’s tempting to want to do this piece in-house to save resources. However, it’s important to have a writer that not only understands how to write a great voiceover track but how to write for animation as well. You can have the best line of voice over, but you need the accompanying direction for folks on down the line (e.g. designer, animator, etc.) to create that important part: the animation.

Additionally, make sure to lock in your storyboards before moving on to animation. In other words, don’t wait to make design changes in the animation phase. If you do, you may add unnecessary hours to the process. It is generally easier to change the color of an object or its orientation, prior to animating. What those new to animation often don’t realize is that animation files often have hundreds of layers. So making seemingly straightforward design changes can get complicated and may require the animator to have to re-do parts of the animation.

2. Choose a specific sub-genre – Animation is made up of many different sub-genres. To name a few, there is Kinetic Text, 2D, frame by frame and 3D. Each sub genre not only has its own look and feel, but requires its own skill set to produce. As a result, the costs associated with each sub-genre are different.

Kinetic Text is one of the more basic sub-genres to create. The name implies what it is. You take words and animate them on screen. Often, the words are paired with voiceover to create an iterative effect. Personally, I love kinetic text. Something in the simplicity of its presentation makes it a very approachable form of animation.

2D isn’t so much a style as it is a line of demarkation, separating it from 3D. Most kinetic text animation is actually 2D, although it can be 3D. What tends to separate the two can get quite technical. The reality is that you can make 2D animation look like 3D, by using visual hacks. For example, in 2D animation you can make it seem like an object is getting closer, simply by making it bigger. However, technically speaking, it’s not actually getting closer. I will dig into more on 3D in a moment.

The other point I’d make just to separate most 2D from kinetic text is that there is usually an implication that 2D is about animating objects and designs. 2D gets us closer to reality. Whereas kinetic text is about words floating in an undefined space, 2D animation is about a scene when an action is happening. A penguin, for instance, could be diving into the water.

Frame by frame animation is really how animation began. If we think back to some of the cartoons first created by Disney, they were all animated frame by frame. In other words, an artist would make many drawings for an individual movement happening in the cartoon. So for example, if Donald Duck was going to open his beak, that would be accomplished by capturing a series of drawings whereby his beak progressively opens.

Frame by frame animation is tedious and can get quite expensive. So, I generally only recommend it for those that have the stomach for a big project.

Finally, 3D animation, like 2D animation, tends to be about animating designs and objects. The main difference is that these objects are naturally 3 dimensional. So this type of animation is obviously the most complex and realistic. It requires that designers and animators work with more detail and data. Let me provide an example. Say we wanted to animate a smartphone. If it’s animated in 2D, then we’re limited to movements on the X and Y axis. We can move it side to side or up and down. We can also zoom in or out on it. However, we lose the Z axis, meaning that we cannot rotate the object or rotate around it. We lose that part of perspective, which is so vital to realism.

3. Use a separate designer and animator – Designing and animating are generally considered two different skill sets. There are some very talented animators that are able to do both design and animation, but they’re a rare breed.

At Marching Penguin, we’ll use a designer or art director for the storyboarding phase. S/he will create the assets that we’ll later animate. It’s important that this person have some experience with designing for animation. That way, they create assets that are appropriate for the sub-genre you choose. Plus, they end up giving the animator assets that are easier to work with, from a technical standpoint.

Animators also have a tendency to specialize. Though most have experience with multiple sub-genres, each animator will likely have one or two that they are particularly good at. So take advantage of the specialization to make the most out of the video you create.

Bringing it all together.

Production for animated video can be complex and feel overwhelming. However, the good news is that there are a lot of talented people, agencies, and production companies that can help you get to a great end product.

These rules, though simple at face value, can help you stay in control of your project. You can better manage and predict costs. Plus you can ensure that the quality of the work meets your expectations.

Who is your Chief Storyteller?


Among the emerging titles for executives in the C-Suite, Chief Storyteller rarely makes the cut. However, successful, KPI-driven companies like SAP, IBM, and Microsoft all have Chief Storytellers. If you look on LinkedIn, you can find them.

So, why do these companies place such importance on an activity that feels like a lost art?

Searching for ROI

Content Marketing, on the other hand, drives more urgency on executive teams. Content is king (old news) and measurable content (via Content Marketing) is a King with tangible ROI. But what makes for great content? Is it the length? Is it the format? Is it how much money you spend? No, no, and no.

An episode of House of Cards can garner as much reach as a Facebook post. How can that be? One costs millions of dollars to produce, the other is generally considered to be “free”.

Most will credit authenticity. Both House of Cards and a Facebook post, to at least a degree, feel authentic. So what makes them authentic? Yes, you guessed it: a strong, relatable story. We are suckers for story.

The amazing thing is that we are all storytellers. We have our own personal stories and we have the stories of the organizations we are a part of. So to a degree, we are all qualified to be storytellers, if not Chief Storytellers.

However, our almost exclusive focus on KPI’s to lead us to success is blinding us from what makes truly great brands. Great brands are about crafting a compelling story and telling it repeatedly through many channels. So of course, we want to track KPI’s to ensure that we’re telling the story efficiently and in the right channels. Unfortunately, we don’t have KPI’s for the quality of the story itself.

This leads me back to the title of the posting, “Who is your Chief Storyteller?” If you’re like 99.9% of organizations that are not SAP, IBM, or Microsoft, you may never officially delegate one. At the same time, taking ownership of story in our sales & marketing endeavors is one of the most powerful things that we can do to boost effectiveness. The Advertising Research Foundation notes that “75% of advertising return on investment comes from creative quality, not media placement.” In other words, you can monitor and tinker with KPI’s all day long, but you’ll cap out at a 25% improvement on your ROI.

Now, most people say they aren’t creative or don’t have the ability to be creative. “That’s why we hire you” is what I often hear from our clients at Marching Penguin. That’s fair enough and flattering, but by the same token, as a creative partner, we’re only one part of the storytelling equation. The real stories come from inside an organization, and executives are best equipped to tell them. Coincidentally, that’s why a lot of executive teams turn to “talking heads” videos to tell stories about their companies.

However, “talking heads” are often an introductory foray into storytelling. You don’t see Nike, McDonald’s or Walmart running 30 second talking heads videos as advertisements.

Next Steps

I have yet to work with a client that has a Chief Storyteller. I may never. However, my hope is that anyone reading this can set up a structure and process for great storytelling. Here are 3 tactics that can get you moving:

1. Keep a Story Bank – Assign someone to be accountable for taking down all the stories about the company. Keep these summaries short. A log line and a brief description are more than enough. As your story bank grows, rank order the stories and ensure that they tie to the company’s brand and core values. Finally, incorporate the Story Bank into the ideation process with your internal stakeholders and external partners.

2. Use Outlines Religiously – Your high school English teacher taught you how to write an effective outline, and that may very well have been the last time you wrote one. In seriousness, I’ve witnessed many clients skip this step. “Oh, we know what we’re talking about.” “We’ll figure it out at the shoot.” They do know what they’re talking about. It’s just that figuring it out at the shoot is a recipe for disaster.

The reality is that not every piece of creative requires a full script and storyboards. However, every piece should have a story outline. Otherwise, there is no point of reference for developing the creative. It’s just words and design.

3. Put every piece of marketing communications through the story test – In other words, does your website, banner ad, and/or video, tell a clear and compelling story or is it just a mashup of internal thinking and brand promises? And perhaps more importantly, do people outside your internal stakeholder group actually get the story you are trying to tell? I’ve witnessed executive teams get so attached to brand promises, that they lose sight of how these promises are communicated.

Bringing it home.

KPI’s are great for tracking certain elements of progress. Yet ultimately, if 3/4 of our effectiveness in communications comes from creative quality, then it’s imperative that we build an engine for great storytelling. You may not have the budget to assign a Chief Storyteller, but you can take baby steps to making storytelling part of your organizational DNA.

2016 is the Year of 360° Video (and VR)


If you’re part of the advertising industry, you know we’re guilty of “shiny object syndrome.” Brands, agencies, and vendors all chase after the next big trend, often without carrying out the proper due diligence to make sure that trend is not a fad. However, after a few years of experimentation, some “shiny objects” gain staying power.

Personally, I’m excited about the prospect of 2016 (0r 2017 or 2018 for that matter) being the Year of 360° Video. It’s not only right in my company’s wheel house, but it’s a very exciting medium to play in professionally. It involves new technology (e.g. cameras and headsets), new workflows (e.g. software and skill sets), and new distribution mechanisms (e.g. 360° video players). There is so much to learn about and so it is, by definition, a shiny object.

From shiny to mainstream.

It also happens to be a mine field for marketers. As fun as 360° content is for consumers, it is equally as challenging to create. So much of the challenge comes from the fact that we’re so new at using this medium for mainstream purposes. And logically, but incorrectly, we use our current knowledge of video production as a reference point.

Let me explain through an example. Let’s take the concept of editing footage together. We are used to non-linear editing systems that allow us to cut from camera to camera. We are spoiled in that we can remove or add in bits and pieces of footage to our hearts content. However, this whole concept of editing is predicated on the fact that a camera is only capturing part of a scene at one time. So if I’m shooting a romantic scene between a man and a woman, but the man makes a funny face at the wrong time (oops), I can more than likely just “cut that out” in post-production. The challenge with 360° is that the “camera” is capturing everything around it! I can’t just remove or add in bits and pieces, or I’ll create a really jarring piece of content. I can’t simply cut out the funny face in a 360° video; I have to capture an entirely new scene if I don’t want to subject my audience to it.

Shifting our editorial mindset is one of several shifts that have to happen for marketers to get 360° video right. We also have to consider consumption and distribution. Currently, only Facebook and YouTube offer 360° video players on social platforms. For Google Cardboard, you need an app that has a stereoscopic output. YouTube offers that, but only on Android phones. Oculus just started shipping headsets and Sony is on the way with theirs soon. So all in all, we’re making progress, but we’re far from ubiquity at this point.

On the path to ROI

I’ve touched on some of the challenges of 360° video, but the real story is about the opportunity the medium offers. Travel, Hospitality, Food & Drink, Live Events, and Automotive are all verticals that can very quickly apply this technology. You can transport consumers to different parts of the world, showcase how it feels to be in a space (e.g. a hotel lobby or inside of a car), and capture the atmosphere of an event in a way that regular video cannot. To put it another way, you can drive greater engagement from consumers by giving them something to experience.

But where’s my ROI? That’s the question we all have to ask as marketers. Ironically, we never really get there with any medium, but we’re always on the hunt for it. So at a minimum, we need to establish that this has some kind of impact on our purchase funnels.

Establishing impact starts with grounding our use of 360° video in existing marketing activity. It cannot be a stand-alone initiative or it will die a slow painful death of internal scrutiny and politicking. Here are a few examples of grounding 360 in existing marketing activity:

1. When creating branded content with regular video, create a 360° video extension(s).

2. Use 360° video to accomplish an existing to-do, like a virtual tour or overview video.

3. Bring an offline activity / event to life with 360° video. You can not only live stream it, but you can capture it for others to view in the future.

Bringing it home

Will 360° video move from shiny object to mainstream marketing tactic? I hope so. There is so much potential for this medium to help with engaging consumers, telling better stories, and getting people to experience things they never have before. The key to success will ultimately depend on whether we can tie 360° video to our greater goals as marketers and business leaders. If we can see it in a light that applies to our own businesses, then we can make it part of our toolkit for years to come.