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7 Steps To Making A Great ‘How It Works’ Explainer Video

Sep 18, 2017

So you want to make a ‘how it works’ explainer video? Nice - they’re flexible, engaging and cost-effective... if you do it right.

Explainer videos can be powerful tools for:

  • Illustrating the benefits of a new service
  • Communicating the finer details of a product
  • Creating visual breakdowns of products to reveal internal components and features
  • Increasing brand awareness
  • Any number of other communication goals.


Animation and motion graphics for a ‘how it works’ explainer video

Animation and motion graphics are perfect tools for making explainer videos as they provide full creative control.

They also enable you to visually recreate scenes that are either too dangerous to shoot live, or impossible to physically capture (e.g. pistons firing in an engine).

This is why animation makes it easy to communicate complex, dry or lengthy material in short and entertaining packages.

So, what exactly do you need to create a brilliant explainer video?

1. A strong script

A well-orchestrated script is the foundation of your animation.

It’s safe to assume you should write tons of copy and try to squeeze in as much detail as possible, right?

Wrong. The best scripts keep things simple.

Here are some rules of thumb to follow when developing your script:

  • Use simple language and break ideas into bite-sized chunks.
  • Adopt a tone of voice that matches the personality of your brand.
  • Include a maximum of two key messages per 30 seconds.
  • Budget around 30 seconds of animation per 75 words of script.

2. Develop a logical structure

One of the keys to creating a brilliant script is by following a well-worn (but effective) structure.

Think of it in terms of a story arc, which looks a little like this:

  • Introduction / problem – The audience is presented with a common problem
  • Solution – The audience is presented with a possible solution (that your brand provides!)
  • Explanation – The audience is told how your product or service can help them
  • Action – The audience is told how to take action and become a customer or lead

The below explainer video was created for HotDoc and wastes no time highlighting the problems a modern GP faces

It presents some unrealistic and impossible alternatives before unveiling the answer – HotDoc’s patient engagement platform.

After describing the advantages HotDoc can provide and how it works, this explainer video ends with a strong value proposition. Check it out…

3. KISS (keep it simple … and short)

Research shows the longer a video is; the less people will pay attention to it. Popular social media networks like Snapchat, Instagram, and Facebook are testament to this, with the highest-performing content generally lasting between 30 seconds and two minutes.

So a lot can be said for keeping your explainer video short and sweet, especially when describing a complex product or service and how it works. You’ll avoid overloading your audience with information and ensure your content is optimised for social sharing.

Another option is having the same explainer content chopped up into durations of 15, 30, and 90 seconds for distribution across multiple online platforms.

4. Focus on benefits, not features

The purpose of an explainer video is to prove your product or service can solve a common customer problem, so you’ll want to focus on how the viewer can realise positive change rather than detailing specific features.

A car manufacturer probably wouldn’t say its new SUV has 450 litres of boot space in an explainer video; rather, it would emphasise the room for all your luggage and the family dog.

It’s much easier to visualise how that would feel as a buyer than it would by presenting the cold number ‘450 litres’.

A good example of an animated explainer video that focuses on benefits is the below piece we produced for Fernwood Fitness.

Fernwood doesn’t go into detail about opening times, weight machines or class schedules. Instead, we’ve portrayed Fernwood as a place to relax, socialise, and improve in all aspects of life.

What we’re not doing is regurgitating a list of features.

5. Professional voiceover

Audio can make or break a production, and it’s easy to mess up.

What’s the difference between a professional voiceover and a script read from a member of your staff? Well, a lot actually...

The pacing, intonation and articulation of a voiceover all impact the way your brand is presented and perceived. So make sure the ‘personality’ of the voice talent matches your brand, and try to listen to as many as voiceover artists you can before making a decision.

What can go wrong?

  • If the gain is too high during recording, the voice will clip and distort.
  • If it’s recorded in a large office space, background noise and echoes are potential issues.
  • If you’re using a cheap mic, you could be introducing static, hissing and poor voice replication.
  • If your voiceover talent is inexperienced (or just lacking talent) it will divert attention from your message to their performance.

Any of these things can ruin your production and reflect badly on your brand. Nailing all of them is difficult, so tread carefully.

6. A suitable soundscape

An explainer video’s soundscape, which includes music and effects, can add an extra layer of appeal, realism and interest.

Music has the power to evoke all kinds of emotions, to set the tone of your explainer video, and to help with timing.

Sound effects might seem arbitrary or unnecessary, but they can contribute greater depth and dynamism to a piece.

With the below explainer video we produced for Yarra Trams, listen out for the different sound effects.

They may go straight to the subconscious of many viewers, but each one has a specific purpose, such as setting the scene, adding familiarity, and underlining the video’s key messages.


7. A visual experience

Last but not least, your explainer video needs to give the viewer a visual experience they won’t forget. This is where animation and motion graphics comes into their own.

The power you have over the style, theme and overall ‘feel’ of an animated explainer video cannot be replicated in live action, especially when the audience’s key takeaway for your product or service is how it works.

The secret is finding other animated explainers you like and communicating your favourite elements to the producer. Even if you can’t find any samples, simply communicating your vision can produce some amazing results as the animation studio brings them to life.

If you’ve still got questions about the creative process for explainer videos, we can tell you how it works. Get in touch and a senior producer will reply within one working day.

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