17 Essential tips for getting started in video

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Yamaha has an in-house video team. Here they are on a shoot in Alaska.

Yamaha has an in-house video team. Here they are on a shoot in Alaska.

For years we’ve heard how vital it is for companies to make compelling video, but some people missed that this applies to literally every company.

It had been easy to think about as strictly a dealer challenge, says Liz Walz, vice president of the Marine Retailers Association of the Americas — until the group realized it should offer more video as part of its online learning but had no idea where to begin. “We were having the same struggles,” she says.

For those in the same boat, here are some tips for how to start.

Get over yourself

“I think it’s just intimidating, mainly because it’s one of those professions where everyone sees your work,” says Sean Wilkes, a self-taught videographer who shoots, edits, posts and tracks all video for Denison Yachting. “It’s there for everyone to see and it’s never going away.”

OK, that’s terrifying. But, he adds: “Knowing we’re in a day and age where technology is constantly progressing and everything is getting easier — whether it’s cameras or editing software that simplifies things” — should help.

“When you first start using video, there’s a learning curve,” says NMMA president Thom Dammrich. “It takes effort, and most people are busy. I’m just glad to people starting to do it. I’d love to see more using it—and using it effectively.”

Some mistakes will be public

Many of us create content or products for the public, but that’s different from learning a whole new skill publicly. “The thing is, don’t post your mistakes,” Wilkes says. “And learn from the things you do post.”

Companies need to create an environment in which it’s OK to test, innovate, and err, says Marcelo Puscar, Volvo Penta’s marketing director for the Americas. Creativity can be messy, but it can lead to compelling results.

Engagement is a powerful data point for figuring out what’s working, Wilkes says. There’s a good chance that cringe-worthy attempts will get lost in the abyss of content, while videos people like will have high numbers of views and will keep people watching for longer periods of time.

Don’t be boring

“Showing a running shot of a boat is fine, but you’ve got to still generate that spark, that interest at the top of the sales funnel to get people saying, ‘See this experience? I want to be a part of that,’” says Discover Boating president Carl Blackwell. “A running shot is not going to make that connection.”

Also remember to show and not tell.

“Don’t just go stand up against a wall and talk because that is super super boring, and amateurish,” says Jim Wacksman, owner of Association Studios, the firm that shoots video for Mercury Marine. “Put some depth behind the subject. That adds depth of field, which adds artistic quality to your shot.”

Wilkes can’t stand to see people talking about something instead of giving visuals — “talking heads,” he says.

And don’t be afraid to let your personality show in your work. Personality-driven videos that succeed on YouTube, especially with younger viewers, are often quirky and funny, though perhaps annoying to some over age 40.

Set a budget and a strategy

Companies will need to determine whether they want to budget for an in-house team, to use freelance videographers, or do it themselves; they also may use a combination of all three.

“The blessing and the curse of the world we live in now is access to technology,” says Bradley Massey, video production manager with Yamaha Marine. “It’s a blessing in that a lot of people have access to equipment and software that, a decade ago, would have been way out of budget — tens if not hundreds of thousands of dollars.”

Companies with more capital to invest can buy high-end equipment and hire professionals.

“You can fit a budget into any of that,” Massey says. “It’s just a matter of how much you’re wanting to spend, and your commitment to the quality of product you’re going to be putting out.”

Watch lighting and movement

Start small and work your way forward, Wacksman says. “Initially I would say do not feel like you need to add a lot of panning and movement to your shots. It’s just not important. Much more important is making sure the lighting is on the face of your subject, rather than behind them. Or at least that they’re evenly lit.”

When you do pan for the first time, you’ll probably do it too fast, so practice. Consider a handheld gimbal device that stabilizes your camera, Wacksman says.

Audio is important

Don’t feel pressured to invest in a lot of equipment up front, but do have a microphone.

“Just simply having a quality shot with good audio is enough — audio is far more important than the video,” Wacksman says. Association Studios, like many firms, edit video for much less money than they charge for a full shoot. “We can fix a lot of crummy video, but not the sound. You’re stuck.”

Using a recorder or a lavalier microphone (the kind that clips onto a person’s lapel) adds to audio quality.

Determine the goal

Wilkes compares people spearheading video strategies to first-time boat buyers asking themselves how they’ll use their boat. “The first question is, how are you going to use it? That’s similar to video,” he says. “On Facebook, Instagram, YouTube? Are you doing a walkthrough on your phone? Once you answer that question, it’s a lot easier to develop the program.”

Yamaha Marine’s in-house training videos look different from a dealer’s 10-second spot showing a new boat feature, and both look different from Mercury Marine’s video showing NFL linebacker Willie Young of the Chicago Bears at the Miami International Boat Show. All three styles, and everything in between, have a place. It just depends on what each company wants to accomplish with each piece of video.

Tell a story

This applies to all videos, according to the videographers interviewed. “When that innate power is mixed with the amazing visuals that the marine industry offers — powerful engines, boats, water, sunshine, fishing, family, fun, etcetera — there is a potential to tell very compelling stories,” Massey says.

“Consumers have watched videos, television and films for their entire lives. Communicating with them through visuals, audio and graphics is meeting them where they are and speaking their language. Content producers must understand this and be aware that consumers know the difference between good and bad video; they’ve seen plenty of both. A bad video can invoke emotions that are just as strong as a good video. Therefore, solid storytelling is paramount.”

Have a plan

Before shooting, map out all of the details, says Christine Carlson, marketing communications manager for Volvo Penta of the Americas.

“Define the story beforehand,” she says. “Develop an outline and associated script. Create a story board to include camera angles based on the script; while the script may not be followed verbatim, it will help set the stage. Also think about secondary shots, or b-roll. This is footage that helps tell the story in visual detail. It can be close-ups of what is being talked about or wide shots that help set the location; it’s best to get a mix of these as you rarely have too much b-roll. Make a list of the types of b-roll you want to get in advance.”

Also think about the time of day, weather, where the sun will be and what will be in the background. Understand there will be things out of your control, like weather, Massey says, adding: “The logistics can be a bit daunting at times.”

Know your audience

A wakeboard boatbuilder is going to have a different vibe than a yacht broker. Know the tone that appeals to your target audience.

It’s exciting that everyone is becoming a content creator, Wacksman says. “Everyone is empowered to get their message out, but it’s about building your audience.

Consider collaboration

OEMs are eager to collaborate on videos, so ask partners if they can contribute. “Collaboration helps a lot,” Puscar says. “Usually there are one or two people who you can ask for help.”

Tap customers as content creators

Consider holding contests that ask customers to submit videos and use those videos in promotional materials and on social media channels. The authenticity of that type of footage can be compelling and it taps into the believability of consumer testimonials versus company-produced content.

“We had a contest where we asked consumers to make a video about boating, and we got some great consumer-produced video,” Dammrich says. “The winner — we used that thing for a whole year in promoting the boating lifestyle. So, consumer-produced content is a strategy that can work.”

Don’t be afraid to try shooting from different angles for a new perspective. 

Don’t be afraid to try shooting from different angles for a new perspective. 

Know your platform

Wilkes posts most of the videos he makes to Facebook, Instagram and YouTube, but other options include LinkedIn, Instagram, SnapChat, Pinterest, Twitter, Google+ and Vimeo.

Posting to YouTube on the same day each week works really well, Wilkes says. Facebook tends to be more casual, and Denison gets better traction if the videos are posted and shared organically rather than promoted as ads. Instagram usually skews a little more artsy and eclectic. YouTube, the king of video, is more polished.

Use the data

“For us it was definitely doing it and seeing what works by really paying attention to analytics,” Wilkes says. “Thankfully Facebook, YouTube and Instagram have great analytics. If there’s a part of the video I didn’t think was strong, I can see if that’s where they clicked off.”

He also relies on viewer feedback. “We typically get more engagement from viewers on video than with a picture. Typically, that brings emotion out of people more so than just an image.”

Facebook and YouTube allow posters to dive into data to see what keeps people engaged. That information extends to time of day, demographics, types of posts, duration of engagement, and more. “On a very basic level, we look at analytics of social media every day,” Carlson says. “Video content is always the content that has the strongest reach.”

Set aside time for post-production

Editing video is harder than shooting one. “It takes a lot of creativity and experience,” Wacksman says. “This is where you have your technical programs that take a lot to learn and master, and you always have to stay up on the latest versions. It takes really artistic people and a lot of experience.”

If you want to give editing a try, consider elements such as music, angles, sound quality, color correction, transitions, b-roll and flow, Carlson says.

“Make motivated cuts and try to keep a consistent rhythm and flow throughout the video; cutting too much can make the video appear disjointed, while cutting too little can lead to a stagnant or boring video,” she says. “When possible, have co-workers proof the video from an outside perspective to ensure the storyline comes through and nothing seems out of place.”

Try going live

Using Facebook or Instagram Live can be another way to get started because it’s more casual, and viewers have lower expectations than they do for produced videos, says Bob Denison, president of Denison Yachting.

“While you want to protect your brand to a certain extent, people know it’s spontaneous,” he says. “They don’t expect production quality.”

Live videos can’t be edited later, but companies can opt not to share the live video. For those who missed it, the footage is gone.

Having a plan for a live video helps subjects relax, and a pre-live run-through can be helpful, Wilkes says.

“Facebook Live is so cool,” Wacksman says. “I cut my teeth in video production like 15 years ago streaming live video of bands out of bars and clubs. It was really hard. And now, you get your phone and hit a button and you’re streaming on the world’s biggest platform. It’s incredible how easy it is now, and how awesome.”

Basic equipment

A smartphone can work fine for visuals, and a gimbal device like a DJI Osmo Mobile (around $199) or GoPro can help you stabilize shots. Those devices can also help if you’re recording on a boat and you run into some chop, or another boat’s wake.

iMovie, the basic tool that comes with Apple devices, is fine for basic editing.

Inexpensive lavalier microphones work well, says Wilkes; one can be obtained for $10 on Amazon. Audio is more challenging when you’re on a boat with the wind, Wacksman says. A Zoom H1 recorder is useful, Wilkes says, but requires extra skills and time in post-production editing to align the pictures and sounds.

Drones are useful but come with a steep learning curve. And all drones must be registered with the Federal Aviation Administration. To operate a drone for commercial or business purposes, you need an FAA Remote Pilot Certificate for Unmanned Aircraft Systems. Getting that certificate entails passing an aeronautical knowledge test and undergoing Transportation Safety Administration screening. (Visit faa.gov for study guides and testing centers.)

This article originally appeared in the March 2018 issue.

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