A while back, I told the story behind Sandvine’s most popular corporate video. The goal of that video was to show prospective customers – who already know what Sandvine does – why they should choose Sandvine as their solution vendor.
This time around, I figured I’d go behind-the-scenes of an entirely different kind of video: one that seeks to highlight and explain a technical differentiator.
The Importance of Technical Differentiation
For many tech companies, especially in highly technical fields, establishing your technical differentiators is of critical importance.
Sure, folks like to say that “our people make us different” or “our commitment to our customers is what sets us apart”, which…sure…but those customers generally care more about your technology and what it can do to solve their problems than they do about your corporate culture.
Customers generally care more about your technology and what it can do to solve their problems than they do about your corporate culture.
Every vendor has people, every vendor is (presumably) committed to keeping customers happy enough to hand over money. Your technology is usually what solves their problems and makes you different from the available alternatives.
But how do you tell the story?
Sandvine’s business is characterized by very long, very complex sales cycles: we’re talking dozens of meetings across a year or two, between a bunch of people on the customer side and a bunch of people on our side, each spanning multiple departments, many levels of the organizations’ hierarchies, and a range of persona roles.
While I would’ve loved to just sit the customer in a room for a day and describe our technology in-depth, that approach wasn’t feasible.
Instead, to execute on our marketing strategy of establishing and showcasing our technology differentiation, we had to adopt a range of tactics.
Technical Content Library
Over time (maybe I’ll tell this story in a future post), under my direction, as part of our thought leadership strategy we’d created our market’s largest library of technical marketing content, primarily consisting of whitepapers and ‘technology showcase’ documents.
These were terrific: the whitepapers explained a problem, objectively and comprehensively, so that our prospects understood the details and nuances; the technology showcases explained our wonderfully engineered solutions, relating back to the specific issues identified in the whitepaper.
These documents packed a powerful punch, and made life quite difficult for our competitors. Our salespeople could pass them along, proactively, to influence accounts, and by publishing most of them out in the open on our website, we got organic rankings that our competitors could only dream of – we routinely beat Ericsson, Huawei, Cisco, Nokia, and our peer competitors across-the-board, which meant that when people searched for information on these telecom-specific topics, they found Sandvine.
I experienced personal satisfaction whenever we beat Wikipedia in the search rankings.
I experienced personal satisfaction whenever we beat Wikipedia in the search rankings, which really did happen on a few occasions.
Video’s a Thing
Video became a bigger part of the learning experience for people. And it turns out that our customers are people.
Over time, though, as I’m sure you’re aware, video became a bigger part of the learning experience for people. And it turns out that our customers are people. In practice, they search for information the same way for professional purposes (e.g., telecom billing standards, Internet encryption technologies) as they do for personal purposes (e.g., BBQs, cars, vacation destinations).
For us as a B2B marketing team, this trend meant that we needed to expand our video library, particularly with more technical content. We’d made some technical pieces in the past, but they were ad-hoc, inconsistent, and of varying quality; what we wanted to do this time around was to build a library of high-quality technically oriented videos with a consistent look-and-feel.
Video + Whitepaper
The video just had to state some facts, and could then rely on the whitepaper to do the heavy lifting of backing up those facts with explanations and research.
Working with Josh Cronk, who was leading our video initiatives (among many other things…Josh rocks!), we came up with a plan: for each whitepaper, we would create a short video – just a few minutes in length – with a subject matter expert highlighting the main points.
We’d call this series “Talking Telecom”.
The main call-to-action for the video would be to convince people to download the whitepaper. Note that the video wasn’t meant to explain the supporting technologies in detail; the video just had to state some facts, and could then rely on the whitepaper to do the heavy lifting of backing up those facts with explanations and research.
We wanted the video to emulate somewhat the feeling of just asking an SME for a quick explanation…for instance, you ask a question (“Hey, how does online charging work?”), and the SME takes you into a meeting room and quickly whiteboards the answer.
To get around the hassle of drawing in real-time, we’d leverage the artistic skills of Matt Trushinski, one of Sandvine’s Product Marketing Managers. Matt would pre-draw the visual aids, and then the SME could just refer to them throughout the video.
Part of our plan was to do a test run, just to see how feasible this concept was. We’d pick a topic, and carefully record how much time we invested from start to finish in producing the final video. From there, we’d pick a second topic and look to optimize our method and technique, until converging on a predictable investment for a predictable return.
For the first topic, we chose the telecommunications online charging standards. We saw this one as a low-hanging fruit: our feature implementation was a real technical differentiator that had won us many deals already, the topic was of crucial importance to network operators around the world, it’s relatively straightforward to explain, and we had a solid whitepaper and technology showcase.
I’d written the whitepaper and technology showcase, so I was the lucky presenter. To figure out what to draw, Matt and I chatted for a few minutes to identify the important concepts that I’d mention in my whirlwind tour of online charging. Matt sketched things out, we refined a bit, and then had a good design.
Matt stayed after work one day to draw a scaled-up version on one of our whiteboard-walls; then, a few days later, Rob Carey (as Creative Director, he does the in-house video development, as well as many other things) joined Josh, Matt, and myself after hours to shoot the video.
It’s perhaps worth noting that I didn’t have a script; instead, I had my working knowledge of the technology standards and a sheet of paper (taped just below the camera) that listed the four or five main topics I’d cover.
It wasn’t quite ‘winging it’, but it sure as hell wasn’t scripted, either.
I don’t mention that for my own glory – I’ve advised against scripted presentations in the past, and the same applies here. To sound like a genuine, unrehearsed explanation, it really should be as off-the-cuff as possible (while still being high quality).
To sound like a genuine, unrehearsed explanation, it really should be as off-the-cuff as possible.
We’d shoot a take, jointly critique, then shoot another, until we got the one that’s at the top of this post (which wasn’t originally intended to be posted).
A couple of times I stopped myself early on after messing something up, until the guys all told me to just keep going and do the whole thing. That was a tremendously useful piece of advice, as it meant I got to run through the whole thing each time (really only ~4 minutes), which really paid dividends in working out a few kinks – from arm movements to word choice.
We probably only went through the whole thing five or six times, if I’m remembering correctly…it was really pretty simple, and I think we were only there for two hours (and a bunch of that two hours was us just goofing around: me being deliberately and ridiculously cheesy, Rob making faces at me as I presented, etc.). We really did have a blast.
We played with having two camera angles, but figured that doing so was over-producing what was meant to be an accessible, straightforward video. That’s also why we stopped when we had something ‘good enough’: even if this hadn’t been a pilot, we weren’t going for perfect – we really just wanted to capture that “Here, let me explain it to you using a whiteboard” feeling. Honest, genuine, with the “ums” and “ahs” and the titch of awkwardness that comes with real conversation.
Reality is a Jerk
Ultimately, for something like 12 person-hours of work, we’d made a pretty decent video. We figured with a few process refinements, we could get the whole thing down to half of that.
Six hours of in-house effort for a useful video? Even the gig economy can’t beat that.
Six hours of in-house effort for a useful video? Even the gig economy can’t beat that.
If I’m recalling correctly, we recorded the video in October or November of 2016, but you’ll note that the video wasn’t posted until May 2017. Also, I mentioned that the video was meant as the pilot of an overall program, and wasn’t meant to be posted.
So what happened?
Well, reality is sometimes a jerk.
Our intention wasn’t to post the footage from that first shoot – that was just a test run, and we intended to come back and redo it.
Additionally, Josh had identified the next half-dozen or so topics that we’d cover. Our plan was to record the next few videos over the coming months and then post the first collection of videos all at once in January.
But here’s what happened:
- Due to unexpected travel and other circumstances, the next few recording sessions got pushed out
- Then it was all-hands-on-deck to get ready for our Global Sales Rally in December
- …and then we had to get ready for Mobile World Congress in February
- And then Matt left the company in March to take a great position at Miovision (not an insurmountable problem – Josh and Rob are both fine illustrators – but still a bit of a wrench in the gears)
By the time April and May came around, it was clear that we weren’t suddenly going to have the rest of our planned low-hanging fruit plucked; Josh decided rightly that our original footage was good enough to post, so he uploaded it to our YouTube channel…no point just having it sitting on a hard drive not generating any leads.
For whatever it’s worth, since May 2017 it’s been Sandvine’s most popular video. Go team!
We still planned on recording the remainder of the videos, but then at the end of May everything went to shit.
So a high-potential program ended up dying unexpectedly, but lessons were learned along the way and good times were had.