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Lessons in Customer Testimonial Videos

November 15, 2011

I recently worked on a team producing four individual Microsoft business software user conferences. One of the areas I oversaw was the acquisition and production of short play video testimonials for use in content-based marketing campaigns. I personally conducted 60 on-camera interviews over the course of several days. On the plane ride home, as I sorted and reviewed my new content, a couple of things jumped out at me. Since at least one point defied conventional wisdom, I thought I’d share my thoughts.

1. Don’t expect people to have more to talk about toward the end of the event.

Fortunately, I started my subject-on-the-street interviews ahead of the conferences official kick-off. Now, I can see significant shifts in the energy of the respondents over the course of four days. Since I was looking for customer articulation on specific knowledge gained (key takeaways), it was generally expected that I’d get the best content later into the event. People will have learned more toward the end of the conference, right?

Hopefully. But guess what? Their newfound knowledge does not make for better on-camera interviews. People on Day One were bursting with energy. Everyone I asked for an interview said “yes” on the spot. By catching people on their way out of conference sessions, I was able to tap fresh ideas that had their brains churning.

By contrast, the interviews on the last two days were less, on all counts. Fewer people agreed to be interviewed. (Most people – and all women – declined when asked before 10 am later into the conference.) Those who did go along frequently cited that they were overwhelmed with information, and were less likely to name specific things they would take away and implement back at the office. Lesson learned: shoot video interviews early in your event to capture specifics with excitement and enthusiasm.

2. Impromptu video interviews yield better responses than planned, staged interviews.

I had the benefit of working with a trade publication reporter on some of her planned interviews. The methodology was typical of what’s been done at trade shows and conferences forever. Find a willing subject. Get a commitment. Set a time. Meet. Conduct the interview. (Expect to dedicate at least 30 minutes to conducting one interview.) Write a story.

But when you insert a video camera into that traditional interview, the subject’s demeanor totally changes. Generally speaking, people have a harder time putting words together, most likely due to the presence of the camera. And the fact that they had time to think about the interview in advance made responses seem more practiced and less spontaneous. The resulting content will contribute quotes to a printed story, but forget using the video as compelling content.

Fortunately, most of my interviews were impromptu. I used a handheld HD camcorder with a shotgun microphone, which I kept turned on as I scouted subjects in busy hallways. My take rate for on-camera interviews was exceptionally high mid-day when I simply approached someone (calling them by name), introduced myself, and said: “Can I ask you a few questions?” Many said yes before they saw the camera. So I had to clarify my request: “Do you mind if I get this on video?” Almost everyone went along. I then played the role of camera operator and interviewer and my content was golden. The tone was conversational; the interviews ran 2 – 3 minutes. I knocked off 4 or 5 interviews during scheduled 30-minute coffee breaks. And rarely did people stumble on words.

I found it incredibly important to maintain eye contact in order to minimize the presence of the camcorder. That meant I had to be really sure and steady with the camera. I held it off to one side and decided I would accept imperfection on the framing in return for honest opinion and good audio quality.


There are numerous technical and legal issues that you need to figure out before you try this at your next live event. That said, the lessons discussed here are fundamental in acquiring believable video testimonials for use in content-based marketing campaigns.

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