Build efficiency into your e-commerce video production process

By John Weaver,

Creating video content is a time consuming process, and time is money.  I imagine that when the idea was first floated at your company, someone asked about the ROI of incorporating video into your strategy.  Obviously, the longer it takes to produce content, the lower your ROI gets.  Sooooooo…

“How do you efficiently create video content for your website?”

It Starts With a Plan
As with any large project, planning is the most crucial step.  My philosophy with video production is to do all the real work before getting to the shoot so that, once the production has begun, it flows smoothly.  That means mentally going through each step of the process, from conception to delivery, identifying the challenges and creating the solutions, and always making sure that what I’m planning meets the stated goals.

When a video project has been ordered, usually by my Director of Marketing, the first thing I do is write a short synopsis (a.k.a. Treatment) that states the following:

  1. The goals and/or objectives of the project
  2. The methodology by which I will meet those goals/objectives, including any stylistic concepts
  3. A semi-detailed timeline which includes steps involving other people or departments (graphic designer, site developer, warehouse, etc.).
  4. I then give this document back to the DM for approval.  This gives him and any other involved parties the chance to verify that I understand the assignment as well as a chance to modify or add any last-minute thoughts.

It is while writing the treatment that I begin considering efficiency.  Some things I ask myself are:

  • “How many videos need to be made?”
  • “How similar can the videos be?”
  • “What is the simplest way to convey the message?”
  • “What assets will I need (graphics, music, talent, product, etc.) and can they be used in all the videos?”

My goals are to make the most out of the least, set up a workflow with as few variations as possible, and keep the content compelling.

Writing a treatment is the obvious place to start, but you’d be surprised at how many people overlook it.  It’s not the only step in pre-production; depending on the project, there may be scripts, storyboards, shooting schedules, budgets, location scouts, casting, and fittings.  While outlining and managing these things may sound daunting, it’s actually a fluid process if you’ve thought it through in advance.

Sample Scenario
There’s no single solution for keeping your video production efficient.  You will have your own unique challenges to meet and you and your team will have to do some critical thinking to solve those challenges.  So, having given you some general advice, let’s now walk through a sample project and identify some ways to keep it efficient.

Product Videos for Product Detail Pages:
Scope: Create videos to represent apparel product groups.  Each video must highlight the main features of the group and provide a good idea of how the item fits.

  1. Identify just how many videos will have to be created
  2. Determine how many are your priority/best seller items (you want to concentrate your time on those items that you know are generating the most revenue to get the best ROI).
  3. Decide how do you want to display these items.  Will they be on a mannequin?  A live model?  Table top?  The last method doesn’t show ‘how the item fits’.  Shooting on a mannequin is a little better – and you don’t have to pay a mannequin – but it takes longer to dress the dummy and rotate it for different shots than it does to have a live person in front of the camera.  Hiring a model will cost you a lot or a little (depending on experience and whether or not you go through an agency) and will take up more of your pre-production time as you research and audition, but working with her should be much faster on the day of the shoot than working with the dummy AND you’re showing your customers how the item really fits.
  4. Decide is how to balance your time and budget with the quantity and quality of the videos.

Let’s assume you have 50 videos to create and you want to use a model.  How long is this going to take?  To answer that, consider these factors:

  • The proximity of the changing room to the set
  • The level of detail in the video – just a single wide shot? close-up shots of details?;
  • The style of apparel to be modeled – t shirt or button up shirt?  formal or relaxed?;
  • Hair and makeup on the model – is this a glamour shoot?  Might need a lot of touch-ups if it is.

Don’t forget to factor in post-production time.  Multiple shots/angles take longer to edit together than just isolating a single rotation of the model.  Are you going to add music? Graphics? Voice over?  Special effects?  Decide in advance and determine if you can use the same assets over and over or if they are unique to each video.

Prior to shooting, make sure all the items are collected and prepped – unpackaged, steamed/ironed, labeled, and organized in the order they are to be shot.  Have the shooting space set up with everything in place to do the final tweaking once the talent is on set.  On the day, sparing another staff member to act as Wardrobe Assistant will make a huge difference in keeping things organized and moving smoothly.  And – I can’t stress this enough – KEEP A SHOT LOG. The label on the item gets logged with the timecode from the camera when the item is shot.  If there are any problems or confusions after the shoot, going through the log will be the first step in sorting things out.  Consider what may happen if you lose the hard drive with all the footage on it – you’ll need to recapture from the tape and that log will save your life – if not your job.

So what do you guys think?  Do you have any tips to offer or experiences to share?  Like I said, it’s impossible to cover all the variations that exist in video production.  So, please, take a few moments and leave a comment below.  And, finally, tune in next time when I ponder different production styles, from the HSN approach to new experimental styles.