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We needed some fresh video content. The video we had (don’t watch that) worked early, but we needed a more public display of who we are as a company. Plus, we had changed our domain extension, website UX, and tagline, so a lot of pieces in the video were no longer accurate. It was a long process—over seven months—and it taught us some things.

*Fair Warning.* You know all of this already. The point here is not to restate the obvious, but to fortify that many adages are still true today, no matter how much seems to have changed.

1. Understand your audience. I get it. You probably just broke your own spine from rolling your eyes so hard. But when we looked back at how we made the decision to hire our spokeswoman, the direction of the script, even choices on wardrobe, these were pure audience decisions.  

While our audience has some commonalities, they are a diverse group of people who don’t all think or act the same nor do they only respond to particular types of context or social cues. It’s more that if we didn’t know our audience as well as we do, we wouldn’t have had any guard rails. We wouldn’t’ve had a beacon. And our audience is not derived from guesswork. We have been tracking and studying who they are from a dozen different angles, until we were certain we understood who is using our service and why. Then the script, the actors, the location, the wardrobe…a piece of cake walk in the park.

Maybe we didn’t get it all exactly right, but we had a high degree of confidence that it wasn’t wrong.

2. Space & Certainty. We have a new business concept in an industry that has been conditioned to think of self-storage in a very particular way: call or fill out a form; haul your stuff to a bad part of town; put everything in your unit; and go get it when you need it. To explain that we pick up everything and return it when you are ready is like explaining Twitter to your mother back when it first came out. “Don’t worry, mom. It’ll be all over the place soon. I’ll let time explain it to you.”

We barely have any space in Adwords 25 characters (with spaces) to describe what we do. So we mainly say, “No Hassle Pickup” and move on. In our articles, we have plenty of space to articulate how we get down.

Videos need to be short, succinct, clear, and entertaining. Tall order. Especially with storage. Moreover, unlike our blogs or ads, we can’t change them in an instant if something is wrong. We had to be absolutely certain that this is how we wanted to talk about ourselves and that it wouldn’t change for a long time. So we had to know the core of our business—exactly—and be certain of its staying power. Imagine if we started charging for pickups? All of the videos would need to be redone. Not too much work, but when you put thousands of dollars behind a bet, there is pressure to get it right and pressure not to spend more keeping it right over time.

3. Content Isn’t King. It’s Requisite. I’ve been creating content my whole career, and when I first got to HomeAdvisor, then ServiceMagic, I was told Content is King. That was 2005. That ideal hasn’t changed. As Slim Charles said on The Wire: “The game the same. Just got more fierce.” I’ll say. Now tons of people know how to produce great content, and the whole game has leveled up. You can’t just have great content and then kick up your feet. That’s just the entry fee. Then you have to figure out distribution.

Most of the distribution we attempted was through Facebook ads. Some YouTube ads. And then seeing how far we could extend the influence of our own network.

On Facebook, in two weeks, we were able to drive over 1 million impressions, and 330k views of the video for just under $10k. We launched this the day after Christmas, pushing this only to our best markets and not all (60 markets at that time). We focused on our audiences and split them out so that we could see which of our segments performed the best.

On YouTube, we were just aiming for 1000 views/day for under $3000/month in our markets on videos that are a bullseye for our segments. We’ve been able to sustain that so far at $.09/view, but it’s early.

You always want more or for things to go viral, but that’s not a likely path for storage videos. We are pleased, not ecstatic, with the results.

Had we not created targeted ads and audiences, and just concentrated on Facebook organic, we would have only had the 11k views and 88 shares that we were able to generate from everyone’s friends, our contractors, our wives (thanks, babe), etc. And we spent way too much money just to show this to people we already know.

4. Videos Cost Money. We knew what we could get for $400 (please don’t watch that), and we knew we wanted to pay more than that, but how much? It’s not proper of me to say here, but it was a lot. Not more than $200k. It was a tough number to sell to The Boss and The Board, and we won’t be spending that much again for a while. But before we started, none of us really had any idea what things do or should cost. And we predicted both way too much and way too little, if that makes any sense. Getting deep into the process reveals where the money goes.

5. We Haven’t Learned Anything. What do they tell you about any story? Hook them quick. Our big video starts with our spokeswoman explaining the context. She is smart, but her life is complicated. Within 7 seconds, we see her daughter come out of the garage, frustrated. The video does a fine job of explaining what we do in 82 seconds. If you hit our site and need some visual help, you would sit through this, I’m certain of it. But in your Facebook feed, 7 seconds of someone talking to camera isn’t a grabber. That’s okay. This video has other applications, mainly for those more interested in our service. But the shorter ones—made up of the various scenes that we shot—are quicker (all under 30 seconds) and better-suited for video ads and views.

We set loose all of our videos on YouTube ads and let YT optimize for views. Far and away, the people have spoken that Don’t Chainsaw Nana’s Couch-y is their prime cut. Highest CTR. 90% of all views. Yes, it’s shorter, at 21 seconds, but we also have Take Good Care of Pop-Pop at 23 seconds. We believe that the way this starts, with a couch in a place it shouldn’t be, has a bit of mystery to it. People stick around to find out how that couch got there. Doy.

(We even split the videos into different ad groups, just to make sure YT didn’t have its thumb on the scale for reasons invisible to us. The results were repeated.)

So here we are, knowing ahead of time that we should start fast, and still we film our gal talking to the camera as an intro. The good thing is that YT re-taught us the same thing again: Get everything going more quickly to get people to stay to the end. Maybe someday we will learn.

6. Defined Who We Are. We talk about our brand and who we want to be, how we want to be perceived in the marketplace, but it’s fairly intangible. Once we had a series of videos, a direction to connect to, we better understood who we were because we could see it. We could point others to it. Just having the content shaped us.

If you have other things that you learned from making videos, please share. We are thinking about creating more and would like to be even less stupid next round. Which is a low bar.