How to Create Compelling Demo Videos: 7 Key Principles

Photo:  DrabikPany  License:  Creative Commons

Show, don’t tell.

It has been repeated in writing courses to the point of becoming a cliché. There’s a good reason for it: it helps readers experience the story through their thoughts and senses instead of the author’s. Masters of literature do this all the time to connect with audiences on a deeper level.

You can use video to do this online and get more customers. We’ve already discussed the power of commercial video and the unique advantages it offers over written content .

If you harness that power to create compelling demo videos, you can engage more visitors and turn them into customers.

Keep reading to see how.

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A Challenge Every Online Business Faces

One of the toughest challenges to doing business online is the inability to connect with people on an individual level.

You love your product or service. People can see it on your face when you sit down with them and explain what it does and how it can help them. The enthusiasm and personal connection make for a compelling pitch.

That’s hard to replicate online. Even if you’re a great copywriter, it’s challenging to make every visitor feel special and resonate with them as unique individuals. The Internet gives you unbelievable reach – access to billions of people across the globe – but you can’t take advantage of it if your connections with users are sterile and impersonal.

One of the most effective ways of overcoming this roadblock is to create a demo video. Great demo videos recreate the experience of sitting down with the viewer for coffee and sharing information about your product or service in a compelling way. They can help you create the personal connection users are looking for and drive more sales.

Demo Videos Can Give You the Engagement You're Looking for

A lot of businesses don’t use demo videos, and it costs them. They force visitors to wade through written copy and figure out how products work and whether they could help, instead of letting them sit back while they deliver the information in a compelling way.

Other businesses use demo videos, but they struggle with execution. If they applied the principles others are using successfully in their videos, they could increase engagement and turn more visitors into customers.

7 Key Principles to Compelling Demo Videos

What are those principles that make demo videos effective? Here are a few things to keep in mind to make your demo video as engaging as possible:

1. Start with a script

A lot of businesses get wrapped up in video production tools and cool animation effects, but they gloss over the most important piece to any successful demo video: the script. Here, just like with selling with video , the quality of the script can make or break you.

You don’t need a script when you sit down with someone face to face and explain how your product works. But you can judge their reactions in real-time and adjust your message to keep them engaged. You don’t have that luxury online; a script will help you cut out all the filler and ensure the content you do include is compelling to as many viewers as possible.

If you don’t know where to get started, check out the script order and best practices section Megan Marrs put together for an article at the WordStream blog .

2. Focus on the opening

You have only about 8 to 12 seconds to get a viewer’s attention. If you don’t get them interested within that timeframe, most will stop watching your demo video.

Your window to get attention is tight, but there’s some good news. According to Bryan Eisenberg, 80% of the viewers who watch the first 12 seconds of your video will continue to watch it until the 70 seconds mark. Getting people on board early buys you extra time to make your case.

Take a look how Mint does this in their demo video. Their opening question don’t waste a second before piquing the viewers’ interest and identifying the major problem their product is designed to solve:

What’s the first image or thought you want to convey? A solid opener increases the chances of viewers watching your demo video to the end and taking action afterwards.

3. Keep it short

Even if you have an interesting product or service, no one will stick around to watch a 10-minute demo. Users just don’t have that kind of patience online.

The ideal length for a demo video is around 2 minutes or less . Limiting yourself to that length can make your video more effective because it forces you to focus on the most important features and benefits and eliminate the filler.

After watching your video, viewers should have a basic idea of what your product or service does and whether it could benefit them. That’s all it takes for a demo video to do its job. Try to do more than that, and you’ll dilute your message and lose viewers’ attention.

4. Don't try to make it "go viral"

Some businesses put unnecessary pressure on themselves to make their demo videos “go viral” like the Volkswagen videos or Oreo’s Super Bowl social media campaign .

Creating a viral video takes a lot of time, money, and luck. Even when businesses go out of their way to write a funny script and break the bank on high production value, viral success is never guaranteed. Stressing about it too much can pull attention away from the video’s purpose and make it less compelling.

Focus on how the product works and fits into the viewer’s life instead of shareability. It’s great if your demo video is funny and entertaining, but that shouldn’t come at the expense of conveying the information you need to convey.

5. Watch out for high information density

It can be tempting for creators of “complicated” products or services to pack in as many details as they can. When they do this within the confines of a short demo video, it can make viewers’ eyes glaze over.

High information density can make your demo video lose steam and viewer attention. It’s tempting to tell the whole story and overwhelm the viewer with value, but resist! Getting someone to watch a demo video is just another step to them becoming a buyer. They can learn all the nuances later.

Stick to the 2 or 3 most important features and common use cases, and you’ll strike a good balance of providing valuable information and a compelling delivery.

Zen Desk does a nice job explaining several valuable features in their demo video, but they use visuals and transitions to keep the pace from becoming overwhelming.

6. Create a broader context

A lot of businesses hear “demo video,” and their first thought is to shoot a screen cast of them using their software, navigating menus, and so on. They show the product or service in action, but they don’t frame it in a broader context.

This works great for product walkthrough or customer support videos (where the viewer has already bought the product), but it doesn’t create a compelling demo video experience. The best demo videos show how the product works and lets viewers know why they should care. They aren’t as aggressive as sales videos, but they do give the viewer context from which to assess the features.

Trulia does a great job of this in their video for their iPhone app. From 33 seconds on, they break down each feature and tie it to a potential viewer benefit:

It only takes a sentence or two to connect the dots for viewers and show them how each feature could help them. But skipping that step puts you at risk of churning out boring videos that do little to turn viewers into buyers.

7. Include a call to action

Say someone watches your demo video.

What should they do next?

Demo videos educate viewers and inspire them to act. They aren’t for entertainment only. Good demo videos show viewers how your product works and stirs up their interest. Great demo videos capitalize on that interest by directing it to action.

Before you create a demo video, take a moment to think about the next logical step in the progression to them becoming a customer. This could be anything from buying the featured product, activating a free trial, or calling the business for a consultation. Whatever it is, ask for that action at the end of your demo video.

Notice how this video for Amazon S3 includes clear instructions on what viewers should do next:

The end of your video is just as important as the beginning. Figure out what action you want people to take, and give them the proper encouragement to continue the process.

The Path to Engaging, Personal Connections

Your visitors are tired of sorting through written content. Seeing your product in action – instead of reading about it and trying to figure out how it works – lets them engage with you in a more personal way.

Use demo videos to give them a multimedia experience that resonates. Follow the principles above, and you’ll show viewers how your product works and can help them. You’ll make it easy for them to become buyers.

It all goes back to writing class.

“Show, don’t tell.”