A dozen years ago, I traveled across the country with a three-person professional video crew to tape five customers of a client in a fancy hotel meeting room at a national trade show. Two cameras, sound equipment, lights—and a bill of nearly $20,000. While the results were first class customer testimonials, in hindsight, this mission looks like a classic example of overkill! Today, who needs professional equipment and a crew, when a smart phone in hand can produce an acceptable video for virtually nothing? Whoa, you say! Is less than professional acceptable? Well, yes, according to thousands of small businesses shooting do-it-yourself (DIY) videos of satisfied customers in their homes or places of business. In fact, many marketing professionals feel that such DIY testimonial videos are more believable than slick, professional productions.
Tips for shooting quality cell phone videos
The cell phone camera is nearly ubiquitous and most smart phones can output good, high-definition footage. While this is the case, it’s also important for the camera operator to understand how this tool works and to have knowledge of some basic videography rules. Here are a few tips and tricks on how to use your cell phone camera to capture solid, simple video testimonials.
Don’t prepare a script
Testimonials are naturally better when given without too much coaching. Asking your customer to memorize or help write a script is not advised and certainly not necessary. Instead, you can warm them up before shooting by asking them to relate their experience in their own words. Help plan what your customer is going to say. But don’t plan too hard. Remember, you are shooting this, not an expensive film crew. Yes, you want to know where you’re going with it, but you also have the opportunity to screw up over and over. The point of planning things out is that you don’t want to spend much, if any, time editing your footage. Do it enough until you can get your message across in the customer’s own words—all in one take!
You want your customer to be relaxed; for that, there’s no place like home. Testimonials shot in the customer’s home or office will always seem natural. If possible, show them next to the product while they tell you why they like the experience of using it.
Don’t try to be artistic! Just put the camera at eye level, capturing the subject’s head and shoulders. If you want to provide some visual interest, frame your shot so that the subject is slightly to the right or left of the product. For example, if the subject is looking to the right, toward the product, position him or her to the right side of your frame. Always shoot video in the horizontal format. (Think of your TV screen and you’ll see why!) Don’t get fancy. Avoid panning or zooming. Hold the camera steady. By tucking your elbows into your body and using a defensive stance, you can turn your body into a natural tripod. But if you can use a tripod to steady your camera, that’s always preferable.
Your smart phone camera audio is probably adequate for recording simple in-home video. If they are a soft talker, ask them to speak up. If you can’t hear your speaker, your video will be nearly worthless. Shoot a three-second test video and play it back. Make sure the speaker’s voice is clearly heard above the noise of your surroundings.
Ask yourself, is the room bright enough? If the room’s light seems dim to your eyes, you may want to add artificial light carefully. Don’t back-light your subject; i.e., avoid placing bright lights, windows or other light sources directly behind your subject.
Record in 10-30 second bursts. Remember to record a few seconds before and a few seconds after the action. Consider shooting B-roll footage of the product; i.e., supplemental video you may choose to intercut with your interview footage. Try different camera angles when shooting B-roll.
If you captured your video in one take, congrats! But before you walk away patting yourself on the back, be sure to try it once more, perhaps asking your subject to rephrase. Sometimes what you think was perfect video can be marred by background noise that you hadn’t noticed, a funny expression from the subject or a wayward glance. It’s amazing how many small things you don’t notice! So capture extra footage and if you don’t need it, you can delete it. It’s always good to have extra video to work with, just in case. The best way to get better is to make mistakes, make videos and ask friends and colleagues for critiques
Keep it simple
Once you have framed your subject, think twice before you move the camera. Many video newbies have a trigger finger when it comes to the zoom button, repeatedly zooming in and out. The temptation exists to do something with the camera if, for example, a person is talking for an extended period of time. But using the zoom too often can be distracting and complicate your edit. Panning is a technique rarely used in testimonial video. But the best way to pan is to do so slowly, hold the shot once you’ve zoomed in and then slowly zoom out or cut away. If you’re brand-new to video, your best option when first starting out is to keep a steady shot with little or no panning.
Why use a tripod?
You want to shoot shake-free video every time. Using a tripod takes the shake out of your shoot. Testimonials should be shot at eye-level. A tripod will help you smoothly raise or lower the camera to achieve the correct camera angle.
If you’re looking to produce an image-building video to showcase your business and capabilities, hire a professional video producer. But customer testimonials are something else. Thanks to smart phones, even the smallest water treatment dealers can have easy entry into the exciting world of testimonial video marketing. The best part is you can do it yourself. So take that phone out of your pocket and put it to work interviewing your best customers. Use your phone’s video camera to help ring up sales.
About the author
David H. Martin is President of Lenzi Martin Marketing, Oak Park, IL, a firm specializing in water improvement and environmental marketing that integrates old and new media. He can be reached at (708) 848-8404 or by email at dmartin@ lenzimartin.com