Skip to main content

Telling Your Story with Explainer Videos

Explainer Videos

No matter their size, organizations require marketing strategies that give them the greatest reach possible. Print has long been eclipsed by video, which engages more of the senses, appeals to wider audiences and, when well done, communicates more effectively. "Explainer videos", with their laser-focus on a single problem and its solution, can be highly effective in helping introduce brands, products and services to new audiences.

Explainer videos are quick video explanations, often cartoon-style, of what you do, how you can solve your customer's problem, how your product or service works, why your company is better than the competition, etc. Done well, explainer videos elegantly and effectively communicate your unique selling proposition (USP). A quick web search will reveal a number of producers of animated explainer videos, but there is no requirement that they be animated. In fact, some messages are better told by other means.

Because explainer videos are short (typically 1-3 minutes), with a single clear message, it's tempting to assume they should be easy to produce. Their apparent simplicity masks a number of important decisions and considerations.

Choose the Topic Carefully

This short video may be your only chance to peak your visitor's interest enough for them to continue down your sales funnel. Many describe them as "teasers", "elevator pitches" or "CliffsNotes" for your business. Your explainer video should focus on a single topic or pain point that can be illustrated simply in a way that will be extremely persuasive to your target audience. It's also important that you establish your goals for the video and how you will measure its success.

Craft the Story You Want to Tell

Many believe that explainer videos are most effective when created using a basic template. Begin with the problem. Describe your solution in a single sentence. Explain in a simplified fashion how your solution works, focusing on benefits, not features. End with a call to action.

Once you are happy with the basic message, rewrite it as a story, which will engage your audience and make your video memorable. Creativity and use of humor can help take it to the next level. The person experiencing the problem in the story should represent your target audience, and the story should reflect the personality of your brand.

The completed script should be simple, very easy to understand, and free of jargon. Since the recommended speaking speed for videos is 150 words per minute, the script for your story should be 150 to 300 words — less if possible.

Decide on the Communication Style

The problem and solution will influence this decision. Animation is often better for more abstract concepts, processes and procedures, and for presenting facts and figures. In contrast, a product that simplifies a DIY project begs for a real person doing an on-camera demonstration.

Next, consider your story. Is it mostly narration or demonstration? Does it require a live person that the viewer can connect with? Or would it be better communicated graphically so the audience doesn't get distracted by irrelevant details? Is it information-intensive, requiring heavy use of charts and illustrations?

Finally, look at the preferences of your target audience. Millennials tend to be animation junkies, whereas baby boomers may prefer an authoritative spokesperson, such as the owner or knowledgable employee. If you know many audience members are video gamers, you might choose to reflect this preference in your video. Music is often used in these videos and must be chosen carefully with the audience in mind.

Read our article, "Animation versus Actors" to learn more 
about when to use animated videos in your marketing strategy.

Major Style Options

2D animation is the most common type of explainer video and probably what first comes to mind when one hears the term. They are excellent for simplifying abstract concepts and processes. These videos are popular because they can be less expensive, have few constraints, and remind audiences of cartoons. The animated characters, infographics, backgrounds, and products are colorful, artistic and limited only by one's imagination. These videos typically include narration, music and sound effects.

Whiteboard animation shows a series of images being drawn on a white surface, accompanied by narration. Often the "camera" moves around on the board as the story grows and expands. Whiteboard animations are especially effective for messages that can be simplified into a series of hand-drawn images, especially those that lay out a process or procedure. Because the on-screen composition is unveiled as the viewers watch, it keeps them interested, entertained and engaged.

3D animation (think "Disney movie") is much more expensive and therefore not used as frequently as 2D or "flat" characters. For situations where architectural or engineering drawings are available and can be imported into animation software, 3D animation can be an effective way to demonstrate how the equipment will work or allow a visitor to “walk through” proposed spaces.

Other types of explainer videos which don’t use live actors include:

  • Stop motion, in which objects are moved in small increments between photographed frames to create the illusion of movement. “Clay-mation” and flip books are similar.
  • Motion graphics, kinetic typography and infographics videos tell your story using animated graphics and/or text, and
  • Screencast videos, such as those on, are excellent for demonstrating on-screen and web processes.

Live action explainer videos can be high-end artfully scripted, directed and acted — and expensive. But they don’t have to be. They can be as simple as the business owner explaining her vision for the company, a skilled employee demonstrating how a product works, or customer testimonials of how the company solves their problems. Unless they are well-done, however, live action explainer videos can seem more like a commercial and turn off viewers. Viewers can also become distracted by unimportant details, like an actor’s hair, and miss the message of the video.

As you can imagine, a well-crafted explainer video can be instrumental in converting leads to customers. Because of its portability and engaging format, an explainer video can be a very good use of your marketing dollars and pay dividends when it comes to increasing your client portfolio. Of course, you need to get the word out and encourage people to watch it, but that’s a subject for a different article.

Jacquie Greff, author