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Explainer Video: Definition, History, Process & Implementation

Explainer videos are short-form animations used for training, marketing, or sales purposes. Companies produce explainers to clearly and concisely present a company’s product, service, idea, or concept.

What Makes a Good Explainer Video

When It comes to making a successful explainer video, you’re looking for a few common qualities: 

  • Is it short
  • Is it clear
  • Is it visually engaging
  • Is it targeted to a specific audience

Where We Started

By many accounts, the advent of the “explainer Video” goes back all the way to 2007, two years after YouTube was founded, and the credit often goes to UPS with their simple live-action + whiteboard videos. These delightful videos are certainly worth the watch, complete with humorous quips, and backed by the Postal Service’s Such Great Heights track. But most importantly, they were well-written, understandable, and short. They are also cited as the start of the whiteboard video.

Whiteboard videos show a person physically drawing an illustrated story using a whiteboard and marker. The animations frequently are aided with voice over to explain a topic. An early example of a true whiteboard video was created by RSA Animate in 2010. Companies used whiteboard videos as a template for ads for about a decade and still produce them today. However, nowadays, many industry professionals view these as a less desirable and dated option. 

Which is why explainer videos started out as simple animated videos that reflected the whiteboard style but eventually increased in elegance and quality. Now, companies are making increasingly informative and attractive 2D animation, 3D animation, and mixed media explainers.

How We Got Here

Corporations were already producing videos before the introduction of YouTube. So, if we want to be honest about the history of explainer videos, then we’ll need to pay some credit to industrial videos. These videos all target a specific industry with the goal of educating the audience on a topic related to the company producing the video. 

The National Film Preservation Foundation has partnered with the Library of Congress and the Internet Archive to curate a list of 159 examples of these historic gems, many of which use animation in conjunction with live action footage, as seen in this example created by American Telephone & Telegraph Co. Production Co. This example shows a visually interesting concept that matches what the audience needs. However, it’s lengthy and requires a certain amount of determination for the viewer to get through. 

Some famous examples are military training videos created by Disney in cooperation with the government of Canada and the US. Here is an early example from 1928 but there are a lot of interesting videos to watch. One that includes Hitler getting blown up and sent to Hell while also explaining how to operate an anti-tank rifle. This explainer video is visually engaging and informative and definitely keeps the audience in mind. However, the video’s length is substantial and would probably lose engagement if released today.

Where We’re At

Companies continued to create these videos throughout the twentieth century, until the line between industrials and commercials faded. Which brings us to today where we have commercial videos that are truly an advertisement or an explainer video that can be used as an advertisement, as seen in this animated video made by Pfizer. However, Explainer videos are typically created for non-broadcast use as seen in this example made by Uber Eats, which meets all the qualifications of being short, clear, visually engaging, and targeted to a specific audience. 

Process of Making an Explainer Video

Before beginning production on a 2D, 3D, or mixed media explainer video, there are a few things to remember. Every project starts with comprehensive research, which should include an understanding of what the video should achieve for the organization, how the target audience should respond, as well as an analysis of the competitive landscape. 

The organization will brief the creative agency with a questionnaire followed by a thorough kickoff conversation to demonstrate the creative team’s understanding of the story, goals, and target audience of the project. It also allows the company to be brought up to speed on all the details of the production process, which typically takes eight weeks to complete. 

Pre-Production

The script is the foundation for a successful video. Regardless of engagement, if your video is unclear or not well researched, then your video won’t convert your audience. It’s good to write multiple drafts that approach the story with a variety of narrative perspectives. Here is a common outline to get you started: 

  • Grab attention/introduce the problem
  • Further define problem/explain how the status quo is solving the problem incorrectly
  • Introduce solution/company/service
  • Distill and summarize the solution/service
  • How it Works 
  • Express unique/important value adds
  • Plainly re-iterate/summarize
  • Happy ending/resolution 
  • CTA

But scripts can come in all shapes and sizes. The outline above is a jumping off point to ensure you understand the basics. Some of the best videos break out of this format. Other options include telling the story with a use case example, using a simple analogy, or skipping the voice over altogether, relying on the visuals alone. 

Once the script is complete, you’ll get an initial sketch storyboard, which will consist of line drawings, stock photography or video footage. We’ll also fully design a few key frames into test style frames. This will preview what the rest of the visuals will look like and give you an opportunity to revise aspects beforehand. 

While the production team develops the sketch storyboards, voice over auditions should go out and narrowed down to a narrow list of 5 – 10 options. Any direction can be provided to the top choice and then the artist will record one or several takes for any final notes regarding emphasis, pronunciation, tone, or pacing. 

Combining the illustrated storyboard, the final voice-over recording, and music choices in a video animatic allows for visualizing the graphics and pacing of the video.

All of these steps provide ample opportunity for feedback so that production goes as smoothly as possible and the final product will fit seamlessly into your brand guidelines.

Production

Once the animatic is revised and approved, the magic of animation begins. This is the most labor intensive part of the process. We estimate that for every ten seconds of animation, it takes 1-2 days worth of labor. This also depends on how involved the movements may be.

The creative team makes the storyboard move through animation aligned with the voice over. They pair the video with music and sound effects, to create an effective and strategic video for any organization.

Final delivery assets include an uncompressed version, viewing version and all individual audio stems. It also consists of any desired collect files or illustrated art assets. These include characters or icons, which can be used in other marketing materials. We’ll also include closed captions and any shortened or re-formated cuts in the folder. You can also request alternative CTAs in order to A/B test which verbiage works best for the audience.

You’ve Created a Video: Now What?

There are a lot of ways to use the video you’ve created. Depending on the intent of the explainer video, implementation may go beyond the company’s landing page. Other use cases could be on social media, in sales decks, newsletters, blog posts, email sequences, email signatures, webinars, video business cards, conferences, and tradeshows.   

Once you publish the video online, tracking conversion rates as the video garners views is essential. You can use this data to track the success of the video by comparing them to pre-video metrics. With the analytics Wistia provides, you’ll be able to see common points where your audience’s engagement rate drops. This information informs is essential for future strategy.

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