All posts by Jen Zug

Three Reasons Your Animated Video Makes a Great Wingman

In person networking is not one of my favorite things. When introducing myself at events around town, I’ll often go into awkward Clark Kent mode and say something mild mannered like, “Hi, I’m Jen Zug. I write and produce animated videos.”

*pushes up glasses*

But when I attend events with Bryan, who’s my husband, business partner, and biggest fan, a whole other thing happens.

“Have you met my wife?” he’ll say. “She’s a great writer and can distill your Big Ideas down into a concise animated video! You should hire her for that project we talked about last week.”

He’s a great networking wingman!

Your video can be a great wingman, too, because it speaks for you anytime, anywhere — so make sure it’s an effective wingman by accomplishing these three things:

your video should

1) Clearly solve a problem for your customers.

This is the number one thing your video should do. Even if you only have fifteen seconds on Instagram, use the time to solve a problem.

The person watching your video has an In Real Life problem that sent them to Google looking for answers, and they ended up here, on your site, watching your video.

Make that person feel relief because they finally found someone who can help.

2) Set yourself apart from the competition.

Very few products or services lack competition, so you need to stand out like a Seahawks fan at a 49ers game. Do you know what makes you different from everyone else in the stadium?

Many years ago, FedEx set themselves apart from other shipping companies by guaranteeing next day delivery. When next day delivery became the industry standard, they introduced package tracking.

Define what your Secret Sauce is, and make sure your video calls it out.

3) Call the viewer to action.

And finally, your video should tell me what to do next. How can I buy, sign up, learn more, or get started?

Don’t just tell me how to contact you. Why would I want to do that? Are you going to buy me a margarita? Tell me a joke? I’m confused by this relationship already and we haven’t even gotten to first base.

Be clear about your intentions and invite your customers to take the next step.

Don’t invest time and money into a video that doesn’t work hard for you. Make sure it solves a problem, sets you apart, and calls the viewer to action.

That One Thing Preventing Your Business From Growing (and it’s not what you think!)**

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Over the last couple years I’ve really struggled with an identity crisis as a small business owner.

When it comes to my client work and what I do for other people, I’m super confident, but I’ve been unable to do for myself what I do for other people. I doubt and second guess myself all the time, and I know that it hinders growth.

Part of my identity crisis has played out on this blog. In the past I tried to write in a cut and dried, business-y, authoritative voice using appropriate keywords and link bait titles such as 3 Ways to Improve Your Story.

But writing those posts made me feel fake and distant from my work, because when I talk to my clients, I don’t say things like, “HERE ARE 3 WAYS TO IMPROVE YOUR STORY: FIRST, throw out all the marketing advice you’ve ever heard! SECOND, listen to everything I say! THIRD, I always come up with a third thing, because titles with 3 things always get the clicks!”

Yet, that’s how EVERYBODY writes copy these days, and that’s how I was being advised to write in order to position myself as a “thought leader” (a buzz word I’d love to punch in the face).

At the same time, we were struggling to land the type of client that would let me write in a voice that was captivating to audiences in every other medium in which I write — relatable and conversational.

One day my friend and colleague knocked me over the head via our Slack channel and said, “QUIT OVERTHINKING IT. Just be who you are in all your content, and the right clients will follow” (my paraphrase).

So we relaunched the blog and I started writing like a person and not a robot.

And let’s be honest: this blog isn’t going to close any deals, anyway, so I might as well be myself and have fun with it.

** (see what I did there?)

Redefining Balance

A couple weeks ago was the Autumnal Equinox, and I happened to be at yoga that night when I had a DUH moment.

On the Equinox, daylight and darkness are nearly equal. The Universe doesn’t achieve balance for a season or a year or a lifetime — just on that one day.

Do you know what this means?!

Balance isn’t a lifestyle

Even the Universe can’t maintain balance for more that 24 hours, so why do we — and I’m speaking mostly to my fellow lady friends — why do we work so hard to live a life of balance? Wouldn’t it be healthier to find contentment in the lopsided reality of the world around us?

I personally have a hard time seeing beyond the chaos I’m in right now. It’s always going to be this way! I whine. But it’s not always going to be this way. Yes, maybe life is a little lopsided right now, but in just a little while the world will tilt into balance, and I’ll find relief until it tilts out of balance again.

It’s a rhythm I can count on when times are desperate and I need a little hope.

Balance is a signal of change, not an example of permanence.

When we hit the Equinox, we can’t hang on to those long, wandering days anymore. Fall brings back a natural rhythm to our lives, and we need to leave the carefree days behind us. But then, just as we’re despairing that Winter will never end, the Spring Equinox tilts us back into those carefree wandering days of summer again.

When I feel overwhelmed, it’s usually because I’m doing too much. And I’m trying to do too much because I want to hang on to everything. But the momentary balance of Equinox encourages me to let go of something for a season so I can embrace whatever the new season has for me.

And based on my experience, those things I let go of usually pop up again in a season yet to come.

The {New} New Year

I’ve always thought of Fall as the real New Year. My kids are back in school, my clients are back from their summer time off, and I start setting goals and routines into place for the coming season, both personally and professionally.

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This week I had to make a list of Things That Are Stressing Me Out Right Now. My brain was filled with worry and conflicting priorities, so I wrote it all down in hopes that the piece of paper would carry my worries away.

Unfortunately, my paper was not a magical problem solver, but at least I was able to see clearly that I was hanging on to too much and that maybe it’s time to make a change.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed by All The Things, maybe it’s time to let go of the balance fantasy and embrace the tilt. Thoughts?

Four Podcasts I’m Into Right Now

I was on a big podcast kick this summer and listened to stuff whenever I could — walking, cooking, driving — pretty much anytime I wasn’t writing. Even my kids were on board and loved listening to a couple of shows with me.

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These shows are among my favorites:

Being Boss
These gals are chatty but full of practical tips and real world experience in running a creative services business. Also, they’re both moms who juggle All The Things and STILL have time for the side hustle. It was their show that gave me a framework for sorting through all the hats I wear so I could figure out which hats to delegate to someone else. I’ll write more about that in another post!

Startup
I have a big writer-crush on Alex Blumberg, so it’s not hard to binge-listen to his show. In fact, I think I listened to ten episodes while on a road trip with my family last winter. I love his vulnerability and willingness to be imperfect while still producing quality stories.

I also love that both seasons of his show explore the idea of growth businesses versus lifestyle businesses, a subject I wrestle with almost daily. Do we want to scale quickly and wear pants and commute to a studio and google “how to set up a 401k for your employees”? Or do we love being a small, boutique studio that grows just enough each year that we have time to catch our breath?

Mystery Show
Starlee Kine is great at asking questions and drawing out the hidden stories. I love each and every rabbit trail she explores because there’s always something interesting and unexpected to hear. For instance, the heart to heart she has with the call center guy on the Brittany Spears episode! She challenges me to lighten up my all-business mode and let myself be more curious.

(Fun Fact: I saw the Welcome Back Kotter lunch box from this episode while visiting the National Museum of American History this summer!)

The Writer Files
I love the structure of this podcast. Each week the host asks his writer/author guest the same set of questions about their habits, writing style, and source of inspirations. Even if I don’t know the guest, I learn something new about a great tool, or trick to overcome roadblocks, or insight into the source of creativity. And because of the formulated interview structure, there’s very little frivolous chit chat.

I have other shows I listen to, but these are my current top picks. What are you listening to right now? Leave a comment!

Screw This Game of Thrones

I am a mother.

And I’m a small business owner.

There are days when I manage my creative projects like a U.N. Ambassador while making sack lunches and folding laundry — as if I had six arms and spoke five languages.

And then there are days when the kids are late to school, I work in my pajamas, and I wonder if I will ever write anything that makes sense ever again.

At my core, I wish I was more like Daenerys Targaryen.

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She remains calm at all times, even when her dragons are kidnapped. She is confident and knows what her purpose is and doesn’t seem to doubt she can fulfill that purpose.

And she always looks amazing.

But deep down I wonder if I’m more like Cersei Lannister.

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Do I play my children like they’re puppets of power? Do I love what my heart wants to love, no matter the consequences? Do I destroy anything and anyone that won’t let me have my way?

I’ve read many articles about how you can have it all, or you can’t have it all; that running a business is like raising a family, or maybe having kids will drive the nail into the coffin of your career. There are tips to succeed as a woman in business and tips on what every woman can learn from men.

Well guess what. I don’t want to be successful like a man. I don’t even want to be successful as a woman. I want to be successful in the purpose that is given to me, which can’t be compared to anyone else, man or woman.

One of the most poisonous habits I’ve carried over from mothering into business leadership is that of comparing myself — successes, failures, opportunities, whathaveyou — to other people in our industry.

Why can’t we do what they’re doing? is the same poisonous discontentment as Why can’t my kid behave like her kid? and will kill the creative momentum of my team as much as motherhood jealousies stole my joy as a mom for a season.

In the recent weeks leading up to Mother’s Day, I woke up to the reality of my own strengths, and instead of lamenting All The Things I’m not good at, I started to make a plan for how to fill those gaps.

I’m learning how to be me.

Jen Idea

Finally resting in my purpose and not taking on someone else’s purpose was the best gift I gave myself and my team this Mother’s Day.

I encourage you, whether you’re a man, woman, mother, father, employee, business owner, student or [fill in the blank], know your gifting, your calling, your purpose — and follow that.

2014 Annual Client Gift (or How To Avoid Workplace Communication Disasters)

Our clients trust us to tell their stories, and we’re grateful for the opportunity. So this year we sent a very special thank you card.

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We know it can be difficult, sometimes, to express to co-workers what kind of day you’re having… particularly if you’re hungry or stressed or asleep during your morning staff meeting.

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The key to averting relational work place disaster before it strikes is a pre-emptive warning regarding your state of mind.

For this reason, we created a custom 11×17 What Now? Exactly! mood poster inside our thank you card, featuring the many faces of our creative team.

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A strategically placed mood poster — in your cubicle, on your office door, or perhaps even taped to the back of your chair — can help your co-workers prepare for how to approach you —

  • exhausted? bring coffee;
  • stressed? back away slowly;
  • drunk? take an Instagram photo.

If you’d like to download your own mood poster, we converted this to an 8.5 x 11 you can print yourself. Just click here for the download!

Animated Explainer Videos by What Now? Exactly!

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If you have a product, service, or idea, we’ll explain how it works.

I know we’re not the only ones who do this, nor are we the cheapest, but we deliver a custom video that reflects your voice and branding, not ours, and certainly not something that looks like everything else out there.

And because we don’t think your super power is information, features, or facts — (these are shopping comparison lists, not mind-changers) — we’re also going to poke you a little to find your true super power.

People find relief in knowledge, convenience, and understanding.

Do you make people feel smarter? More empowered? More in control? Do you make their job/life/whathaveyou easier?

Whatever it is that you do — your product, service, or idea — you’re a problem solver, and you’re passionate about it because you believe in what you do.

This is your super power. This is what converts the curious into customers.

So you keep solving their problems, and let our team solve yours.

(See what I did there?)

For a free consultation, fill out this form or call: 206-588-6121.

Also, check out the video below about what we do, or watch it here.

Why Animated Video? Puget Sound Energy Explains.

If you’re a fan of using animated video to tell your story but have a hard time convincing others on your team that “cartoons” can be taken seriously, we can help.

We actually run into this issue quite a bit, so after wrapping up a recent project for Puget Sound Energy, we asked Ray Lane, Media Engagement Lead, a few questions about PSE’s choice to use animated video for their Energize Eastside project.

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Animation is a departure from how PSE typically uses video. Why did you decide to step outside the box, so to speak?

We needed a creative, different way to explain and visualize a complicated topic: The upgrade to one of our transmission lines. The project is essential because of the high growth on the Eastside and to increase electricity reliability in the area. Just to show pictures of power lines wouldn’t do the trick. We wanted a good narrative and solid imagery to help our customers understand why the plan needs to move forward.

How did you pitch the idea to your internal stakeholders? What were 1 or 2 selling points for those who were skeptical?

We had to lay out the challenges of this video. We were talking about a project that wouldn’t be constructed for a few years, so there’s not much ‘live action’ video to shoot. And we needed help conveying concepts, dates, maps. Animation easily became a frontrunner for the storytelling. Some were skeptical about a “cartoon” being used for something so important — but seeing became believing. The animated art brought things to life. Some who were very resistant going in were thrilled with the final product.

Now that the project is finished, what were you able to do or communicate with animation that you couldn’t with shot video?

We were able to communicate “understandability.” In the first viewing, people understood what we were talking about. That was key. The reason for the project was clear in the 1:40 runtime. You sat up and paid attention because the creative was so engaging. ‘Wallpaper’ video of blah shots of this and that would not have registered.

Anything else you want to share about the experience?

We turned a corner by using animation. It now gets asked about. People in other departments want to know if it might be a good option for other projects.

Watch the animated video below, or click here to view it on our site.

How’s This For a Short Case Study on the Power of Video?

We’ve had fun publishing short animated videos via Instagram lately, but did you know Instagram video can be fun and useful for business?

(No need to be mutually exclusive, I say.)

Check out the video we made below using a case study from ShoreTel Sky that we discovered through Adria Saracino at Distilled (or click here to view it on Instagram):

As we’ve said before, Instagram videos like this one can be easily shared across all social networks and viewed on any device, which makes it a great way to get your story in front of more people.

Get in touch to find out how we can use Instagram video to tell your story.

Why Instagram Video Is Important

Two weeks ago Instagram announced the option to upload videos from your phone’s media library. This is a big change from editing your video in realtime while in the app, and it means big benefits for you.

Here are three reasons why Instagram video is important:

1. Short, simple, visual storytelling.

Break your story down into smaller, “slice of life” vignettes, animate an interesting fact or statistic, or tackle frequently asked questions. 15 seconds is easily digested by short attention spans and adapts well to online ad formats (like the Facebook video ads that are rumored to be coming soon).

2. Share it easily across social networks.

A social sharing element is built right in to Instagram, so your story can go where it needs to go without you even knowing the destination. Video without distribution is like one hand clapping, and it certainly doesn’t make you any money.

Instagram videos can be tweeted, emailed, posted to Facebook, and now embedded in a blog post (see ours below). Throw in a few hashtags for good measure and it’s super easy for you and your fans to share your content.

3. Can be consumed in any context, especially on mobile.

People are watching more videos on their mobile devices than ever before. According to a 2013 report, 10% of viewers watch online videos via smart phones and tablets, and just a year ago, it was reported that people who watch videos on their tablets stay tuned in 30% longer than those who watch on their desktop.

Below is our latest Instagram video, which we call an Exactagram – an animated slice from the popular Netflix original series, Orange Is the New Black.

Get in touch to find out how we can use Instagram video to tell your story.