If an explainer video is the snack, a long-form documentary (think 15 minutes) is the marketing equivalent of a four-course meal.
The thing is... no content strategy can live on snackable content alone. Sometimes, you need to serve up a full meal.
First, some specifics.
"Long-form" isn't really that long. It's more like 15 minutes. But those 15 minutes can seem like an eternity when research tells us to keep our videos under 60 seconds.
So, right about now you're probably thinking any or all of the following:
- "I barely watch a minute of video at a time. Why would my audience watch more?"
- "I don't think we could actually fill 15 minutes."
- "We barely have the budget for shorter explainers. How do I justify something longer?"
- "When's lunch?"
We had those exact questions earlier this year before making our first documentary for Akamai's Gaming solutions business. Titled "The Most Awesome Game" and clocking in at 14:41, it's a behind-the-scenes look at how online games are conceived, developed, and delivered.
We lived to tell the tale, and no sooner was "The Most Awesome Game" in the can than Akamai commissioned a second documentary, this time for its mammoth media streaming business. "Revolutionaries: Voices from the OTT Frontline," is out now and showcased on Akamai's homepage.
What value did Akamai see in those projects, and why did it therefore greenlight them?
Here are four key reasons it did so, and at least some of likely apply to your own content strategy.
Why Long-Form Video
1. Three-Act Storytelling
Every campaign should tell a story, and a longer running time gives you enough time to bring your viewers through a journey with a beginning, middle, and end. In the case of "The Most Awesome Game," we told the story of how a cool idea in the mind of one developer becomes a shared global experience for millions of players. "Revolutionaries" takes viewers from postage-stamp Internet videos to new frontiers in augmented reality TV.
2. Expanded Focus
A longer running time means a bigger canvas. Long-form video lets you expand your focus beyond your core product or service to present the people, culture, and points of view that make your company unique. For example, though Akamai delivered 875 million online games in 2016, few developers or studio heads considered it a true "gaming" company. After watching "The Most Awesome Game," viewers would see a company that's keenly attuned to the passions and personalities of its key players and has a credible point of view on the entire game development process—and deep personal connections to game-development legends.
Which leads us to...
3. Demonstrate Your Expertise
Product parity puts a premium on promoting your people's expertise. Buyers need constant reassurance that they're going with the smartest option available. Key to the success of The Most Awesome Game was host Nelson Rodriguez, a lifelong gamer, gaming author, and former award-winning game marketer in his own right. Nelson's expertise shone through as brightly in his interviews as in his standups.
In addition, sales cycles, particularly in B2B technology, can be long, drawn-out affairs involving input from the IT, legal, and finance teams. With proper planning, long-form video lets you address the needs of an entire buying team within a single asset.
4. Greater Creativity
Making a long-form video documentary gives you the opportunity to go beyond your standard typefaces and color palette to create an experience that's as visually interesting as it is informational or inspiring. Video offers nearly unlimited visual innovations and audio treatments for your creative team to play with. For example, "Revolutionaries" features abundant footage from one of the industry's largest tradeshows and "next episode" treatments inspired by Netflix. And "The Most Awesome Game" was shot at multiple locations throughout San Francisco, as scenic a backdrop as you're likely to find anywhere.
Three Major Phases of a Video Documentary
So. How do you go about creating a long-form video documentary?
We'd be lying if we said you could do it overnight. Unfortunately, you can't simply just show up, shoot stuff, and hope for the best. You need a lot of planning, a rigorous attention to detail, and a reliable team.
And coffee. Lots of it.
There are three major phases to making a video documentary: discovery (the beginning), production (the middle), and post-production (the end).
The more thorough the discovery phase, the smoother the production phase. The smoother the production, the simpler the post-production. Miss a detail in any one, and the next becomes considerably more difficult. Miss a few, and you risk jeopardizing the entire piece.
Not to scare you, or anything.
Phase 1: Discovery
The discovery phase is when you need to make all The Big Decisions about the final product. In this phase, you'll need to decide on elements such as the following :
- Topic: What will the documentary be about? Be specific. Then be more specific. "We want to make a documentary" isn't good enough.
- Resources: Who's going to be involved? In which roles? Make sure people understand what's required of them and the time commitment they'll need to make. No one wants to hear "I thought you were doing that" the day of a shoot.
- Budget: This element can vary widely and wildly, depending on travel, crew, post-production, and myriad other considerations. A good rule of thumb would be roughly six figures, in US dollars.
- Timelines: Determine the absolute drop-dead date when the doc needs to be live. Then work back from there through each step to see whether the project is even feasible. (We turned around "The Most Awesome Game" and "Revolutionaries" in about four months each.)
- Viewer actions: It should be clear to all involved what you want the viewer to do after watching your doc. Clarity on this front has an impact on shooting and editing.
Phase 2: Production
This is when the camera starts to roll—in a metaphorical sense, at least, as most likely you'll be shooting on digital. Fun as this phase can be, everyone's attention must still be focused on their role in achieving a successful shoot. Here's how:
- Bring an overstock of SD cards, backup hard drives, and batteries. You can't fix it in post if you don't capture it first.
- Prepare run sheets for each day that outline who needs to be where, when, and how to get there. List critical phone numbers.
- It's the host's job to make sure energy levels stay high and the team stays focused. Give your host a daily briefing on interview subjects, topics, and locations. Keep them hydrated. Fix their hair if need be.
- Establish set etiquette. Disagreements over which camera the host should look at or which question to ask waste everyone's time and reflect poorly on you.
Phase 3: Post-Production
This is the most creative phase of the project, as it's when you start to see your story take shape. It can also be the longest. Post-production involves hours of organizing, uploading, sequencing, editing, and refining. Key activities here include the following:
- Segmenting: Create online folders for each segment or chapter of your story and upload footage accordingly.
- Transcribing: Get what your guests said down on paper. You'll need this file to search for that great quote later on. Transcriptions make for easy blog posts as well.
- Paper cut: A sequencing of all your chosen clips, usually in spreadsheet form. Include the time codes for each clip and indicate areas for speaker voiceover.
- Rough cuts: The video version of the paper cut, but without the refinements of the final product such as B-roll, music, or color correction. Use this version to see whether your story is coming through. Repeat as necessary.
- Motion graphics and color correction: This is like a layer of polish applied once the story is complete. Use motion graphics to illustrate abstract points.
- Final cut: The final, finished piece, complete with B-Roll, music, animations (if used), and all approvals.
That's a Wrap!
Don't kid yourself: Creating a long-form documentary is a lot of work. But the time, energy, and passion you put into it can elevate your content marketing strategy to a new level of professionalism.
The kudos you receive from your interviewees, the acknowledgement you receive from your management team, and the deeper relationships you can cultivate with your audience are all well worth the challenge.
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