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Your B2B videos are potatoes (and how to fix them)

Ah, a plain potato. Full of nutrients and yet so boring. In his book Alchemy, Rory Sutherland uses the potato as an analogy for hiring practices: It’s better to hire several people with complementary skills instead of one jack of all trades. 

While reading the book, Guy was struck by how the same analogy applied to B2B marketing videos. Too many B2B brands are still making one video and hoping it will do everything. And they’re about as satisfying as a plain baked potato.

In this episode of “Death to the Corporate Video,” Guy and Hope break down:

  • The problem with potato videos
  • How to tell if your B2B marketing videos are potatoes
  • How to fix them if they are, and how to make sure you don’t make potatoes moving forward

Listen to the episode with the embedded player, or read the transcript below.

Episode transcript

Hope Morley: You don't need to make a piece of marketing material that does everything and closes the sale in one, two minute video. It's just not how it works. 

Hope: Hello, and welcome to Death to the Corporate Video, a podcast with tools and advice for how to make B2B videos your prospects actually want to watch. I'm Hope Morley. 

Guy Bauer: I'm Guy Bauer.

Hope: Today's episode was inspired by something, Guy you actually read in a book by Rory Sutherland, I believe. If you want to share the metaphor that really struck you from that. And then we can talk about how it applies to B2B marketing videos. 

Guy: The book is Alchemy by Rory Sutherland. It was recommended to me by Hope. Said going to love this and you were absolutely right.

Hope: I know a thing or two. 

Guy: I highly recommend if you're in the creative business or just in the business business and creativity to you is like this thing that you think is all froofy and whatever. I highly recommend you pick up Alchemy by Rory Sutherland. I believe he's like the chief strategist of –

Hope: Ogilvy, I believe. 

Guy: Ogilvy. The book is just filled with amazing stuff, but one of the things he wrote about which is actually, it was actually meant to discuss hiring practices, but his, his story about the potato.

So if you were on a desert island. And you could only pick one food. I mean, if you asked me when I was a teenager, it would, it would be pizza. But, 

Hope: Does pizza count as one food. Like how many, how many ingredients though? Like pizza is tomato and cheese.

Guy: Oh, okay. Yeah. Yeah. Pizza isn’t right. Yeah. If you had to pick, if you had to make an adult decision about the one food to sustain life that is like naturally occurring. So it's not like a Clif bar or whatever. But like a natural food or I guess animal or whatever. What would you pick? And the proper answer is, or the best answer is a potato.

If you could only eat one thing for the rest of your life, a potato is great. A potato has the amino acids, the protein, 

Hope: carbs. 

Guy: Whatever complex carbohydrates. It's got fats. It's got like everything you need, but it's a potato, but you know, you'll live the rest of your life if you just eat a potato.

Hope: For the record. I think I could live the rest of my life on potatoes. Like this whole metaphor is based around the fact that you don't want to just eat a potato, but I'm like, there's so many options with the potato. It's a very versatile vegetable. Just for the record. 

Guy: Yeah, but you need to combine a potato with 

Hope: True. 

Guy: stuff to make it, whatever. Okay. For the record you got it, but you're messing up my metaphor here. All right. Let's just strike that from the record. No, I'm just kidding. Pretend Hope didn't say that. Earmuffs. Okay. All right, so it's a potato and potatoes are good, but after year five of eating just potatoes, you would, yeah.

Okay. Now imagine someone gives you 10 foods. You could pick 10, any 10 natural occurring foods, or I guess animals, right? Fruits, vegetables, or animals. Well, the odds of a potato being one of those 10, maybe you would pick a potato, but you now because you have 10 options. I don't need a one size fits all thing.

You can pick 10 different foods that don't have everything, but compliment each other better. Right? So this fruit here may have sugars and stuff. And what it lacks in protein, this vegetable over here makes up for that and it's better. And all of it is more variety then one potato, both of them will sustain you, potato or 10 different foods, but the 10 different foods are, you know, a little bit more interesting.

His whole thing is don't hire potatoes. Most companies, when they hire someone, they look for one person that can do everything right. And they hire the human equivalent of a potato. And his whole thing is when you hire five people, now you, you don't need each one of them to be a potato. You can actually hire for complimentary skills. You can actually build a more well-rounded company. 

Hope: It's kind of a Jack of all trades thing, you know, like Jack of all trades, master of none. If you're a potato, you're good, but you're not going to be great at everything. 

Guy: Correct. So, you know, I'm reading this and I'm thinking of creative work and I'm thinking of B2B brands. Okay. You know, we call the mullet videos that's from another episode, but I thought the potato was a great metaphor for this. Just another way of saying like most B2B brands, when they make video content, they try to make potatoes and they make the video say everything.

So, yes, if you only made this one thing, technically everything is in here, but you've made it the video equivalent of a potato. Kind of boring. And assuming that people are only going to consume potatoes. And so instead of taking a one size fits all potato approach to your video content, you should do the same thing he does with the foods or hiring people is make a suite.

Make a suite of video content 5, 10, 15, and now none of them need to be a potato. They can all stand on their own and compliment each other rather than, you know, having to be a potato. 

Hope: I wonder how much of this potato video attitude comes from B2B brands who are still in a very outdated world of video content. So if you think about 10 years ago, when suddenly everybody needed to have a brand film and everybody wanted a video for the homepage of their website, and this was the end all be all of marketing videos was that you got a brand film for your website homepage and how many brands are still in that mindset that they think we just need one video.

We need one piece of content. It's going to live on our homepage. This is all we need to work for us. And they haven't extended beyond that. And the rest of the world has really moved past that. And especially if you look at outside of B2B, there's not this one size fits all attitude in most video content. 

Guy: I think you're a thousand percent correct. Another way I can put it is when I started making videos in the seventh grade, I made terrible videos, but I was the only one in my town making videos. So, because I was the only one, everyone was praising me. Oh my gosh. That's amazing. Like it was all terrible, but I was the only one. Same thing.

If you cut to like 2008. You as a B2B brand or just any company in general, if you had a video on your website, people were like, whoa, a video on a website. Hello. That was a huge deal. You were like the me in seventh grade just by having it, you were special, but now it's beyond, I was going to say it, but that's table stakes now.

It's way beyond table stakes. Now it's like, that is like enough because now everybody has it. And yeah, like you said, the world has moved on now. It's not about just telling your story. It's about telling the story of a million different things. You know, like that was the key word. When I was starting out in 2010, It was tell your story.

That was the hottest thing. And we got so many customers by having that tagline. And if you look at a lot of video ad agencies, they still say, tell your story, but it's not that simple anymore. And you're exactly right. 

Hope: Let's take a step back. How do you know if you have a potato video? 

Guy: You have a potato video if your video goes something like this.

It starts out with the world earth and the sun rising over earth. And it says something like in today's world, people want, and then insert the category of what you do. And then show like people climbing a mountain. 

Hope: Traffic. 

Guy: Yeah, yeah. Traffic of an interstate. And as today's complex business environment changes and just keep showing like pictures of the city and stuff, but then halfway through.

So you have all that like high level, like the problem that we solve in the middle, then if you are then showing screen capture of your software working in the middle, that's how you know, that you are trying to do way too much. We like to say that sales is a two-step process. Step one, inspire step two…

Hope: Reassure. 

Guy: Reassure. 

Hope: What do we like to say? 

Guy: I forgot for a second. Yeah. And so the inspirational stuff is the earth and inspiring the problem. Like you need to change because in today's environment. Okay. So that's the inspirational stuff. In theory. I don't see that as inspirational. I see that as but I'm sick right now. So like all we're going for here.

All right. Inspirational in theory. And then the reassuring stuff is the screenshot of your software working and stuff like with 24/7 support, that's all the reassure stuff. Okay. And yet you could tell that's a potato because people aren't in the inspirational and reassure step at any given point, especially in B2B, these are huge transactions.

You know how long your sales cycle is. It could take weeks, months, years, so no one is ever in the inspiration and reassure and no one video is ever going to sell somebody on something. You have to have micro steps. So, you know, you're, you have potato videos.

If in the video it seeks to inspire with high level imagery and then reassure about your support, how big your team is, the screenshots and all that stuff. That's a potato.

Hope: So for any listeners who have a potato video, you've just made someone feel very guilty about what they have. And as part of their existing video content, how do they fix it? Or what should they be doing instead? 

Guy: Well think about breaking it up. What's interesting is when you make potato videos, they're very hard to make. Actually they're the hardest to make. And they leave no one happy like your internal stakeholders and the viewers themselves, because everything is always at odds with each other.

Cause like you can never go full into the inspirational stuff because, well, then we got to leave time for the software demos and you can never go all into the software demos. Well, we got to leave room for this mountain climbing footage. Nothing ever fits. I don't know if you've ever noticed that, but it like, everything is always at odds with each other.

You know why? Because it is at odds with each other because they're two different phases. So think about taking your one video and just like write out the script, look at the script. And, and I guarantee you you'll see, like at least two distinct parts of your video, but most likely five distinct parts.

There's the problem. There's the solution. There's the reassurance. There's the demo. There's like all these kind of chapters that you're shoving into this one potato. The easy way to do is break it out and make five distinct things. And keep in mind that come on, you're selling a huge implementation or you're selling whatever you're selling.

Like you really think a two and a half minute video is actually selling anything. No. Break it down, break it down into little breadcrumbs. Instead of making people eat a full meal.

Hope: There's still a mindset too, of longer is better with these videos. That there's some sort of goal at the end that you get an award, as long as your video is at least two minutes long, like you need to have two minutes to consider, check it off your to-do list, right?

Of like it's not done until it's two minutes long, but if you have a two and a half minute spot like this and you break it into four 30 second videos, it might be way more effective for you than one two minute thing. You're probably going to see that your view durations go way up. More people are watching to the end and it in general just becomes more effective if you're getting people to actually absorb the content. 

Guy: Yeah, that's exactly right. There is no prize for longest thing. And I think people, I don't know what causes this. I think it's very intuitive to assume that. Well, we can make this thing 30 seconds or we could, and it says a couple of things, or we can make it two and a half minutes and it says everything well, why would we not make it two and a half minutes and make it say everything that seems very logical, but keep in mind, your audience is not with pen and paper.

Writing down everything that's happening in your two and a half minute video. In fact, the more information you throw at them, the more they can't sift through it, parse it and remember anything because you've just bombarded them with a ton of stuff. 

Hope: And two and a half minutes is never going to say anything anyway. If you're trying to shove everything in, you're never going to get there. You're still going to get product people or salespeople who are pointing out what's left out. You can make a 10 minute video before you say everything about your product or your service. This goal to say everything in one video is a fool's errand. 

Guy: I think maybe it's due to our industry overselling what video can do. Or maybe it's, you know, the propensity for companies to try to scale and, you know, take human friction away from the process. Right. In B2B it doesn't work like that. What the best outcome you can hope for is that there's brand affinity.

By the time your salespeople are talking to the client, they've weighted. You like they've weighted you in their decision. You come in pre weighted higher than everyone else, but your salespeople are going to need to talk. The best outcome is that, you know, there are more leads in the funnel and there's brand affinity and all that stuff, but you still need to. 

Hope: Close the deal. 

Guy: Yeah. The video won't do that. And I think that somehow there's some illusion that it will, and it won't. Absolutely not. It's never done it for us. But what I can say is when, when prospects get on the phone with us, they come pre- Blair Enns calls it flipped. They're in our camp. Like they're our client, as long as we don't screw it up. You know what I mean? Like there's a weight towards us.

Hope: Yeah, what I would recommend brands do. If you're thinking about revamping your video content, and you want to get started either replacing potato videos that you already have, or if you're looking to expand your video marketing, and you want to think about how to get started and how to fight this impulse, to put everything in one video, I would recommend brands start 

with. Okay. We always say we recommend starting with the strategy, but when you're making this strategy for your video marketing, I find it really helpful to think in sort of a customer journey framework. A lot of people have other frameworks, but think about what touch points you want a prospect to go through before they talk to your salespeople, or before you get to that contact, like what information do you need to share to get them to that conversation?

And how can video support that? So you don't necessarily need video to replace the salesperson as Guy is saying, you know, there's still going to be for many of our clients, they're still going to be that sales call. There still needs to be that pitch piece of it. But what content can you provide through video that can support people to get to that contact us link or schedule a demo button?

I think it's thinking through that process of how you can lead someone through that, through your website, through your social, and then making content tailored to those specific touch points. It's a good way to start and make sure that you're not trying to put everything in one touch point in one video on your homepage. 

Guy: Yeah. Break it down. Little digestible breadcrumbs, rather than a big heavy meal. That's going to put people to sleep. And come on. I mean, that's just how we consume content now. If there's a TikTok video, that's two and a half minutes, it better be really good. You know, TikTok is increasing their limit to 10 minutes because if something is really good, you want to see more of it.

We are pre-wired to leave the second this doesn't apply to us. And when you try to make a potato video that seeks to inspire and reassure and talk about mountain climbing metaphors, but then also you know, software demos, you've like made that for no one because no single person is in all those steps at the same time. Someone who's looking to be inspired, doesn't want reassuring content and someone who wants to be reassured right now, if you start showing mountain climbers, like they're like, no, no, no, no. I'm beyond that phase now. Now I'm concerned if it's going to work or if I'm going to waste my money or lose my job. So you're talking to no one by making potato videos.

Hope: Yeah. I mean, this is a different scale completely, but I complain all the time that movies have gotten too long recently, which is probably just because I'm getting old and I want to go to bed early, but so many people complain too about movies getting too long. And I see the same thing in the same trends in marketing videos too.

It's have a good editor and be willing to cut things that aren't working for you or do it in smaller chunks. Like. I will watch four episodes of a TV show, which is two hours before I watch it two hour movie, which makes no sense in a logical timeframe, but I do it right. And it's the same thing with people consuming video online, they are so much more likely to watch four 30 second things than they are likely to watch one, two minute spot. 

Guy: If you want to see the ultimate 30 second spot, if you think 30 seconds isn't long enough to explain what you do. Go to lemonade insurance, go to their YouTube channel and watch any of their 30 second spots. And it's amazing what great copy can do because in 30 seconds and Lemonade is a pretty complicated product.

And in 30 seconds they're able to clearly explain it. It's brilliant. You also, you have to be efficient and keep in mind that not everyone is listening to everything and I'm not going to sing on this episode, but I have a little The Weeknd metaphor.

I've heard Blinding Lights a million times. And all I can remember is the chorus. I can't remember the verse. Your targets are not remembering all the little things that you cram in.

So you can say it in 30 seconds. Cause guess what? Even if your product is the most complicated product on the planet, you can say it in 30 seconds, you just have to strip out all the stuff that is not critical, that's not significant. You haven't forced yourself to simplify it yet, and you need to do that.

It shouldn't take a white paper to understand what you do. And, and that's the thing is like, well, we don't need to get people to understand everything we do. We just need to give them a heuristic, just like a simple word picture. I know I'm digressing here, but that's one of the functions of what causes potato videos is the belief that what you do is very complicated and just cannot be explained in 30 seconds.

And you need 14 page white papers and stuff like that. And that's just not true. That's not true. Yes. A 30 second thing will never clearly give every nuance, but people don't need that. They're not making decisions to evaluate you based on a 14 page white paper video, they just need a quick heuristic. 

Hope: Well, and if your product is that complicated, that's why you have salespeople who are part of this process too. If your product is that complicated, I am going to assume that you don't have people making buying decisions based purely on your marketing videos. None of this is an impulse buy for people.

This is something that they're thinking hard about and there's multiple touch points and it might take a long time. So you don't need to make a piece of marketing material that does everything and closes the sale in one, two minute video. It's just not how it works. 

Hope: Do you have any closing thoughts? 

Guy: The closing thought is that it's not more efficient to make a two and a half minute video. It's not more efficient. It is to you maybe because you only had to do one thing, but it's actually more friction for your client. So break it out. The other thing is regarding production expense and all that stuff of making more videos.

You can actually leverage efficiencies of scale. And we found, you know, we have this thing called day of spots. I think we did six spots in two days. They were made very efficiently and now we have six. And the thing is, not one of those spots says everything about us, but the six of them combined give you a really good picture of what we do.And so break it out, break it out instead of making one thing. 

Hope: Yes. I was going to add the budget note too, that it's, it's not necessarily more expensive to make multiple spots. Trying to do too much in one can end up just becoming a bloated budget wise piece. And it might actually take you longer because you're trying to force them into one thing. Whatever you have in mind for a budget for what you paid for a potato brand film, you might be able to have a similar budget to that to make multiple short spots. 

Guy: A campaign, you know, it's a mosaic of stuff instead of just one potato. No offense to potatoes and the potato growers of America. 

Hope: Like I said, we love potatoes, big fan. Mashed potatoes, French fries, potato 

Guy: I’m going to eat a potato tonight. 

Hope: We are pro potato.

Guy: I mean, there's so many things. Potatoes au gratin. 

Hope: Hash Browns. You know that every meal of the day, you can get breakfast, lunch, dinner. 

Guy: Home fries, twice baked potatoes. Gnocchi!

Hope: Oh, yeah. 

Guy: I used to be a huge fan of gnocchi. I, for some reason I don't see it on menus anymore.

Hope: I love gnocchi. 

Guy: Potato dumplings. 

Hope: Pierogies. 

Guy: Latkes, pierogies. You could also make crafts with a potato. You cut it in half and like carve a thing and make a stamp of a potato. 

Hope: You can make a battery out of a potato. 

Guy: Lots of potato things. Did we talk about, yeah, we talked about mashed potatoes, but there's also garlic mashed potatoes. Oh, new potatoes. I love those little ones.

Hope: Fingerlings too, like nice little ones.

Guy: Roasted potatoes. 

Hope: Yeah. We didn't even do the basics!

Guy: Roasted. Just cut it up. Put some olive oil on it and roast it.

Hope: In short, We are pro-potato. We don't want anyone to come away from this episode thinking that the Umault team does not like potatoes.

Guy: We don't like potato videos in the B2B space. 

Hope: We love to eat a good potato, but hey to you, dear listeners, maybe you hate potatoes. Maybe you love potatoes. Maybe you love potato videos. Let us know. Hit us up where you can find us across all the social media channels. Mostly Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram at Umault that's U M a U L T. You can also email the show at hello@umault.com or visit our website for more information.

Thanks for listening today. 

Guy: I think we've made our point. Right.

Hope: Oh, I think we made a lot of points. 





Picture of Guy bauer, founder of umault

Guy has been making commercial videos for over 20 years and is the author of “Death to the Corporate Video: A Modern Approach that Works.” He started the agency in 2010 after a decade of working in TV, film and radio. He’s been losing hair and gaining weight ever since.

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