All posts in Explain This

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.

Puget Sound Energy image

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.

3 Ways to Improve Your Story

I like to ask our new clients what challenges they run into when explaining what they do; it gives me an idea of what they’ve tried and how they tell their own story.

These are three very common responses:

  • Want to *show* people what we do so they get it
  • Need to describe what we do more efficiently
  • Appeal to a short attention span

If you can relate to any of these three challenges, keep reading.

Showing is better than telling

John Medina, author of Brain Rules, says that when you tell a story visually, people remember it because human beings are creatures driven by sight. We talk more about the brain science behind visual storytelling here.

The folks at Sparq found themselves explaining their service over and over again, but it wasn’t until people saw it in action that they had an Ah-ha! moment.

This is why they sought us out to make a video.

A video on their site with a clear call to action – “Drive Mobile App Installs and Usage” – is a very effective way for them to increase sign-ups.

Explain what you do more efficiently

We believe small words are mightier. Explaining your product or service in a way everyone will understand can be challenging, especially if it’s technical or involves a complicated process.

We worked with Sparq to distill their story down into a narrative people can identify with and respond to.

Appeal to a short attention span

Busy websites full of text can overwhelm people, tempting them to scan headlines or click away without really understanding what you’re all about.

But a simple web design that focuses your full attention on a short video results in more people learning how you solve their problem.

Check out Sparq’s simple home page:


For a free consultation on how we can help you tell a better story, get in touch.

Watch the video we created for Sparq below, or click here to view on our site.

Use Video to Increase Email Open Rates

Do you use email as a tool to promote your product, service, or idea?

Here’s some helpful statistics we found about including video in your email marketing:

  • According to a recent study from Experian Marketing Services, using the word “video” in your subject line increases open rates 7% – 13%, and increases conversion by 21%.
  • And Internet Retailer reported in 2010 that product videos increase the likelihood of a purchase by 85%.
  • RetailUniverse-email

    There are two ways to use video in your emails:

    1. Embed the video directly into the body of your email (but not all embedded formats work in all email clients).
    2. Use a static image that links to a video on your site or YouTube page (like the example above).

    These days video is everywhere, like ants at a picnic, so don’t overlook its effectiveness in your email send-outs.

Small Words Are Mightier

The other day I was talking to a Very Technical Person about things that were way over my head. I was trying to understand the relationship between a “class” and an “instance” as they relate to an “object” and he kept saying things like, “there can be many instantiations of a class.”

Finally I had to ask, “Do coders really sit around and use the word ‘instantiate’ in every day conversation?”

Surprisingly, the answer was yes.

Explaining concepts that are second nature to us is tricky because we can’t un-know what we already know. So how can you be sure you’re explaining your Big Idea in a way everyone will understand?

Ignite Seattle speaker, Sally James, says, “The most complicated big things are best explained using ordinary words.”

She goes on to suggest that it gets us out of a jargon rut to “stretch our brain” and figure out new, simpler ways to communicate the most important part of what we want to tell other people.

You might think big words are mightier, but using common, everyday words may be the best way to get your message across.

If you can’t see the video above, click here to watch it on YouTube.

Lead Like the Mother of Dragons

I recently watched my last DVR’d episode of Game of Thrones (or as I’ve heard it called: Boobs with a Chance of Dragons) and was mesmerized by Daenerys Targaryen’s plot line during season three.


Image: Daenerys Targaryen

The Mother of Dragons needed an army to take back the seven kingdoms. At Astapor, a slaver offered to sell hundreds of thousands of “unsullied” eunuch slaves, providing a demonstration of their “loyalty,” which was nothing more than broken men submitting to their cruel captors.

Daenerys followed along with the deal, negotiating a fair price. Once the army came under her ownership, she gave the order for them to “Slay the masters! Slay the solders! Slay every man who holds a whip! But harm no child. Strike the chains of any slaves.”

And then her dragon set fire to the city.

Daenerys believed all men should be free, that they should choose their own leader and even their own name. So she set the slaves free, no strings attached.

When it was all over, she said to the army, “Today you are free. Will you fight for me as free men?”

This scene is repeated in a similar way in a different city, and this is how The Mother of Dragons built her army.

“People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.”

Simon Sinek says that in this video.

We like to ask our clients why they do what they do, why they solve Problem X for Customer Y, what drives them to create their product or service. It’s a tough question for some people to answer, though, without mentioning sales, profits, or conversions.

But if we can get to the heart of why it matters, we’ll have a great story to tell.

How To Make Your Video Timeless Versus Timely

This question comes up often when folks contact us about producing an explainer video:

“We are definitely interested in the explainer, the only challenge is the site keeps changing and by the time we create the video, it will be outdated. Your thoughts?”

It’s a legitimate question, considering the time and expense involved with creating an effective video.

We like to reassure our clients that their video will be timeless.

Here’s how:

Timely videos focus on features, facts, and data. These things may build a good case for your product or service in the short term, but things like feature updates and new case studies can change how you do what you do and make the content of your video obsolete.

But here are three things that typically don’t change:

  • your audience
  • the problem you’re solving
  • why you’re solving it

The story of an underdog overcoming the bad guy is timeless. The story of conflict and resolution is timeless. The story of what motivates you to keep telling your story is timeless.

By focusing the content of your video on these timeless elements, your story will have longevity.

How To Make Your Customers Feel Like Iron Man

Have you seen Iron Man 3 yet? I didn’t make it to opening weekend, but I hear Pepper Potts kicked some ass. Can’t wait to see it.

We feel a special fondness toward Iron Man because he helps us answer this very common client question: Why can’t our brand be the hero of the story?

Here’s the dealio: When you brag about yourself, you sound like a rich white guy with a bunch of missiles to sell, and people will ignore you.

But by using story to explain how you solve someone’s problem, your brand is the special suit that gives people a certain — how shall I say? — confidence about handling that problem….

im-iron-manSource: The Internet

When the story you tell builds on someone else as the bad ass hero, it’s like you’ve given them a super suit to change the world around them.

That’s not something people quickly forget, and it’s much more likely that they’ll brag about your product or service as a result.

We had fun creating this video for Atlassian On Demand, and it’s a great example of letting “Dave” be the hero (with a nod to the great Voltron). Watch it below, or click here to view on our site.

Story Wins the Day

Yesterday I watched the live stream of the Startup Battlefield Finals at Disrupt NY, which included a six minute presentation by each team followed by a Q & A from the panel of judges.

During one startup’s Q & A, Michael Arrington asked a question (starting at 8:14) about how they’re differentiated from other food delivery services.

The presenter started saying, “This is really a full experience where we’re giving people a — ”

“Yeah yeah yeah…” Arrington interrupted.

In that moment, Arrington demonstrated how we all feel about a pitchy tone: we don’t want to hear it! We don’t want to hear the generalities and vague-eries or the “full experience” you’re providing. We see and hear that jargon all day long in a million different sales messages.

I just want to know how you can make me a superhero.

The power of story kills the pitchy tone of your content marketing.

Every great story has a setting, conflict, climax, and resolution. The setting is the world your target audience lives in, and the climax is the problem or inconvenience they’re facing. Sometimes people know this problem and are frustrated, and other times they don’t even know there’s a better way.

But through story, you can speak to people in a very human way and give them tools to conquer the conflict they’re facing.

And like we’ve said before, when the story you tell builds on someone else as the bad ass hero, it’s like you’ve given them super powers to change the world around them.

That’s not something people quickly forget, and it’s much more likely that they’ll brag about your product or service as a result.

Back to Arrington’s Q & A.

Through some questioning, the presenting team eventually took the focus off what they do and started focusing on their story.

Here’s the setting, conflict, climax, and resolution as I understand it: When health-conscious people want to eat out or order in, their service does all the work of presenting healthy options so you don’t have to think so hard about eating right.

A statement like that inspires people, don’t you think?

Story matters.

Recently this inquiry came to us from a potential client:

I’ve looked at about a hundred explainer videos and shortlisted you guys because I feel you’re not in the animated sales pitch business but craft stories that are genuine in tone.

That client turned out to be Enigma, who ended up winning the Startup Battlefield.

Many things contributed to their success, obviously, but from the beginning Enigma held a strong belief that story matters, and when you believe that story matters, you find your voice and win the day.

Congratulations, Team Enigma!

Watch their video below or click here to view it on our site. You can also read an article about them on TechCrunch.

Are You a Courageous Client?

Late last year, Metro Trains in Melbourne launched a public service campaign with this wildly successful and hilarious music video called Dumb Ways to Die:

Here are three elements that I suspect contributed to its viral success:

It has a distinct voice. People are drawn to stories with a distinct voice and unique perspective. Public praise for the video included comments like, “darkly cute,” “adorably morbid,” and “mixing cute with horrifying.” It catches your attention immediately with a head caught on fire, and it keeps your attention for three full minutes because you want to know all the other dumb ways they’ve thought of to die!

It’s very simple. The music is catchy in a can’t-get-it-out-of-your-head kinda way (my kids were singing this for days). The characters are simple, the setting is simple, and the visual details are kept to only what drives the story forward. The animation style shows a brilliant restraint in this respect.

The big payoff is at the end. I love how they confidently massage this story for three full minutes, trusting me to stick around for the Big Idea they communicate at the very end: be safe around trains. They trust this simple little story to communicate their message with very little hand-holding, and early results indicate success: Metro claims the campaign contributed to a 30% reduction in “near-miss” accidents during the first three months of the campaign.


It takes a courageous client to produce content like this, one who is willing to hold their story with an open hand and let it go where it needs to go.

Are you a courageous client?

Who Should Be the Hero of Your Story?

When I was a kid, all the neighborhood boys wanted me to play the helpless princess trapped in a tower so they could rescue me. I would sit in the neighbor’s weeping willow tree forever, waiting for those stupid boys to slay the dog dragon and free me from my captors.

Meanwhile I really wanted to be Princess Leia, who I thought was badass for leading a rebellion despite making a poor hairstyle choice.

When our clients come to us, sometimes they act like those stupid boys who fall over themselves to be the hero (no offense to boys or clients), but it’s our job to woo them into making their audience the hero.

Here’s why:

When you rescue someone, they become your fan. But when you make them the hero, they become your champion.

When the story you tell builds on someone else as the bad ass hero, it’s like you’ve given them super powers to change the world around them.

That’s not something people quickly forget, and it’s much more likely that they’ll brag about your product or service as a result.