[Peer Review is a regular feature of OnlineVideo.net in which Jan Ozer takes a look at a company’s use of online video, highlighting what they’re doing right and offering constructive criticism on what they could improve. The goal? To provide you with insights and tips that you can use to improve your own video initiatives. See the end of this article for a video version of the review—Ed.]
Welcome to my peer review of WatchGuard Technologies case study of the Burlington Public Library. By way of background, I chose this case study after Googling “Video Case Study” and reviewing about fifteen of the first videos that appeared, considering the clarity and focus on the marketing message, the quality of the audio and video, and the features and placement of the player. Of all the videos that I reviewed, the Burlington Public Library was clearly the most focused and among the most visually striking. It offers a lot of great lessons for those seeking to boost the quality of their case study videos.
In addition to analyzing the video itself, I also spoke with Margaret Liddiard, WatchGuard’s Director of Marketing Communication, and David Sly, president of Ideba Marketing, who oversees production. I’ll mix snippets of what I learned in that conversation into this review.
Let’s start with content. WatchGuard followed the time-tested case study organizational technique of stating the problem, identifying alternative solutions, detailing why the library chose WatchGuard, and then describing why the WatchGuard solution was so effective. Interestingly, WatchGuard interviewed a business person to detail the problems the library was facing, and a technical person to detail the buying decision and critical technical features. This is a great approach with many benefits, including crafting a case study that appeals to both business and technical viewers, and using the best source to describe the problem and solution.
In addition, WatchGuard gets to the point quickly. The first 20 seconds consist of six PowerPoint-like slides, the middle four detailing the materials covered in the 3:22 (min:sec) case study. Many other case studies were just getting past the expensive, self-aggrandizing, animated logo that nobody cares about except the folks that created or paid for it. The video component is about 2:40 long, with twenty seconds of more PowerPoint slides summarizing the case study, like the one shown in Figure 1. Yup, you got it; tell them what you’re going to tell them, tell them, then tell them what you told them.
WatchGuard was able to meet the viewer-friendly 2:40 video duration because each case study focuses on three or four major points or features, which is key for viewer retention. When speaking to Liddiard and Sly, I learned that this is the result of their refined focus on case study selection and production.
Specifically, most case studies that I watched seem to be spawned when a sales rep or marketing person hears about a happy, high profile customer who’s willing to chat on the record. In contrast, WatchGuard chooses their agenda and finds a happy client consistent with that agenda who’s willing to participate. For example, they choose Burlington Public Library because schools and libraries were a key target market, and because filtering incoming web site content for children and young adults was a showcase feature for their product.
In addition, Liddiard and Sly explained that WatchGuard looks at all of their case studies, taken together, as “weaving a tapestry that defines our products. That way, we don’t have to cover all the product features in each case study, just those that support the agenda for that particular case study. This approach lets us keep each case study short—usually around 2:00 minutes of actual video—and highly focused. It also helps us ensure that all of our case studies are unique and cover different subjects.”
I also like that WatchGuard isn’t afraid to address the competition, and at one point, their technical interviewee states “The Cisco solution was about twice as expensive for what this firewall is doing.” True, most viewers know this is a marketing video, and would approach any comments with at least some skepticism. That said, a comment from a credible user would certainly make you double check that particular issue, especially when cost is involved.
I asked Liddiard about her thoughts on addressing the competition in WatchGuard’s case studies, and she responded “In a technical marketplace like ours, potential customers know that there are other alternatives out there, and they want to know why our customers chose our products over competitors. So we always ask about that during the interview.
In short, the video was short, highly focused, well organized got to the point quickly, and addressed the relevant competition, all characteristics that budding case study producers should emulate. Otherwise, interesting factoids include that the case study was 47% A-roll, 53% B-roll, had 24 scenes in 202 seconds for an average duration of 8.4 seconds, and used background music throughout.
Not to gush, but it was also clear from the first glimpse of real-world video that this case study was produced by someone very famillar with advanced camera and lighting techniques, and with a quality camcorder. You see what I mean in Figure 2, which has absolutely exquisite lighting, wonderful depth of field and appropriate rule of thirds positioning, plus that startlingly crisp video that signals expensive glass.
It turns out that Sly has produced case studies for years, first with a large agency working for customers like Dell and Microsoft, then for his own production company serving WatchGuard and other clients. He explained that for this shot, he leveraged natural lighting available in the library, positioning Ms. Rogers to create the soft shadows that model her face. He also noted that WatchGuard always shoots with the same camcorder, a $26,000 Panasonic AJ-HDX900 HD Camcorder, for consistent appearance and quality.
I should point out that you no longer need to spend $26K to get this kind of depth of field; $1,700 should do it for a Canon EOS 7D, or $2,000 for a 35 mm adapter for your current video camera. Budget an equal amount in both cases for lenses, mounts and similar gear. The point is, just because you’re not shooting an indie film production doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t attempt to match the quality of the shots.
According to Sly, though, you’d better budget lots of time for each shot. He estimates that it takes between 30-80 minutes to setup for each shot, a figure that sounds high unless you’ve actually tried it yourself. This includes audio, of course, and Sly captures two streams to separate MP3 recorders, one via a lavaliere microphone, the other via a boom. This is in addition to the reference audio captured by the camcorder which Sly uses solely for synchronization.
Make sure to put B-roll capture on your agenda as well. For a typical two-person case study, Sly assumes that he’ll speak to each subject for between 45 – 60 minutes, and capture an equal amount of B-roll (secondary footage that you can occasionally cut away to from the interview subject), walking out with between 2-3 hours of footage to condense down to his two minute target. Again, sounds high, but the typical Hollywood production uses between 1-2% of the actual footage shot.
I’ll interrupt this gush-fest to point out that audio levels could have been a bit higher, as you can see in Figure 3, where the waveform comes nowhere near the 0 Db level. It’s tough to tell if the video was produced with low levels, or if this was the result from re-encoding in YouTube, which WatchGuard uses to distribute their videos. As a rule, it’s better to be too low with levels than too high, but you should always normalize your audio to a value close to 0 dB before final encoding.
Player and Placement
In this category, I considered the features of the player and placement of the video on WatchGuard’s website and saw room for improvement in both regards. On the player side, I had no issue with the fact that WatchGuard used YouTube as their online video platform, though obviously this limited the analytics the company gleaned from their video usage. When I asked about this, Liddiard responded that WatchGuard’s policy was to “engage and educate as many people as possible, and distributing our videos via YouTube supports that.” She also felt that “tech consumers aren’t willing to interact with sites where they think their every move is being tracked and recorded.”
Still, the presentation on the website was left lots to be desired. For example, the landing page for the Video Case Studies simply presented them en masse (Figure 4), with no explanation other than organizational name as to why you’d actually want to watch any particular video (“WatchGuard gets an A+ from Andover”).
In contrast, the Case Study page, which presents both video and PDF case studies, contains a blog-like first paragraph description enticing you to read the PDF or watch the case study. Click a link to a video case study, however, and you were directed to the Video Case Study page, with no easy way to discern which case study you wanted to watch unless you remembered the name of the organization.
Play the video on the Video Case Study page and you watch within a 320×240 window which letterboxed the 16:9 video top and bottom. This is like presenting a Monet in a frame nailed together by your teenager in wood shop. Basically, the presentation was vastly better in YouTube, which offered up to 720p viewing. This makes little sense, since the rest of the product information the customer needs to make a buying decision isn’t there; it’s on the WatchGuard web site.
It’s not like WatchGuard didn’t know how to create high quality custom video presentations—their product pages are full of them, but they’re product demos and comparisons, not the case studies, which aren’t even mentioned. If the case studies are so effective, how ’bout presenting them with the rest of your product related information?
In a perfect world, you’d present the case study in situ with the rest of the product information. If you want to use YouTube as your OVP, that’s fine, but open in a separate player with a bigger viewing area, or go straight to YouTube.
YouTube, of course, supplies all the links to social media sites, and the ability to email or embed the video. If you roll your own player, you’ll lose points for not including these. YouTube also encodes the video for you, and WatchGuard did all the right things necessary for YouTube to encode in 720p, which usually entails uploading the video in 720p format. While there are certainly very valid reasons to use an OVP, you should almost always present your videos on YouTube, as well.
If you do present on YouTube, remember to include a “call to action” on your video, since prospects wont’ be watching on your website. WatchGuard concludes all videos with their logo and website, which is probably enough for their technical audience.
Overall, there’s a lot of positive lessons to learn from this stunning video, though WatchGuard could definitely improve how they deploy it on their web site.