Scripting Pitfalls: Less is More
It pains me to say this, being a writer and all, but we all use way more words than we need to. This is especially true in digital video marketing, where scripts frequently get bloated and confusing.
This might happen because you bought 90 seconds of video and want to make damn sure you use every last one of them. You might feel insecure about holding your viewer’s attention. So, you try to make your entire sales pitch in a single video because you can’t count on them moving further down the funnel. There are lots of easy to understand reasons why scripts get out of hand, but they’re all misguided.
The more content you cram into your video, the more dense and alienating it becomes. You might be trying to cater to too many audiences. This leads to viewers not having a clear understanding of who your product is for. You might be mixing your minor selling points in with major ones. This dilutes your message and creates a very hazy picture of what your value actually is.
Script Tips and Tricks
So when you’re working on a script for your digital marketing video — or giving feedback to someone who’s writing it for you — there are some script tricks you can use to accomplish more with fewer words. This doesn’t just make for stronger videos, it also lets you avoid uncomfortable conversations with a producer who might have to charge you more for going over time.
In no particular order, here are those best practices to make your scripts shine.
1. YOUR FIRST DRAFT OF YOUR SCRIPT SHOULD BE 10-20% SHORTER THAN YOUR CONTRACTED VIDEO LENGTH.
The reason to do this is simple: videos in production get longer, not shorter. You might bring new stakeholders into the review process. You might realize you forgot an important point, and you’ll need room to fit it in. Leave that room for yourself ahead of time, and trust me, you’ll thank yourself later.
2. IF YOU CAN ACCOMPLISH SOMETHING WITH VISUALS ALONE, DO IT.
When you’re working on a script before you have a storyboard or animatic, it’s easy to forget that you’re not writing a speech or a piece of web copy. Your words don’t have to do all of the heavy lifting. You have a whole world of visual possibilities that can probably communicate your message in less time and with more clarity. So don’t be afraid to show and not tell.
3. IF GIVEN A CHOICE, PICK ONE, NOT BOTH.
This is very difficult to do, because of a toxic impulse to want to please and cater to everyone. If someone asks you “Is this video for managers or for the sales team”, the answer can’t be to split the difference between them. Why? Because different audiences have different needs that might be in conflict with each other. So make choices, not Frankenstein’s monsters, because hemming and hawing costs you valuable time.
4. AVOID SENTENCES THAT ARE LISTS IN DISGUISE.
The part of the video that loses people the most frequently is the “features and benefits” block. You’ve already told your story, but there’s still some aspect of your project that’s not represented in the video. So in a fit of panic, figuring that leaving out a bullet point will lose you a sale, you start dumping bullet points into your script, and disguising them as prose. This might seem more economical than including the information in a more natural way. But, here’s the thing: once you start using lists, it’s hard to know when to stop. If you’re not making conscious choices about what should be left out, you’ll overload your script with features and benefits that make your video long and boring.
5. AVOID “AND THEN, AND THEN, AND THEN” STORYTELLING.
Trey Parker and Matt Stone (the creators of South Park) gave a very insightful tip at an NYU writing seminar in 2014. Their advice was to make sure that every event in a story logically flows from a previous event. “This happened, and this happened, and this happened” is just another list, it’s not a story. “This happened, therefore this happened, which caused this to happen” is a story. Every point you want to make about your product or service should exist in service of some other point you also want to make. Sales is persuasion, and persuasion is all about building a rhetorical case. The peril of not doing this isn’t just a disjointed video, it’s a video that doesn’t know when or how to end. It’s a video where inessential points have lots of places to hide, taking up room which could otherwise be used for powerful points.
In my time working as a script writer and creative director on digital marketing videos, I’ve been asked to do a lot of very suspect things to make a too-long script fit the contract length. I’ve had to ask VO artists to read more quickly. I’ve been asked to speed up the audio of the narration, or cut out all pauses. Imagine being willing to sacrifice the quality of your video because you couldn’t make the tough decision to kill your darlings.
Avoid that compromise. Make every decision along the way serve the purpose of giving you a lean, mean, focused, and powerful digital marketing video. It takes discipline, but it’s worth it.