July 21, 2004
Case Study

How to Create Online Demos That Technical Prospects Love

SUMMARY: If you've viewed many online demos, you know they are generally pretty awful. So when we heard Agilent Technologies won a silver Business Marketing Association of Colorado Award for best online demo last month, we immediately phoned Agilent's marketer to learn how he did it. This Case Study includes useful dos and don'ts on creating online demos. Plus there's interesting info on what to do if your prospects are global:

"You don't go buy a car without a test drive. Our type of automated test equipment is anywhere from $150,000 up. Ultimately our prospects want to take the product for a test drive before committing, " explains Brian Bowden, eMarketing Program Manager Agilent Technologies.

The problem was that a physical test drive for Agilent's optical inspection equipment took a lot more time and effort on both sides -- the prospect and Agilent's sales department -- than zipping around the block in an auto would.

"In order to sell most of our products, it requires a lot of hands on time. We weren't sure if we were tying up sales resources in trials for prospects who raised their hands, but weren't really the most interested."

In fact, this was a big enough problem for the sales team that guerilla-style they came up with their own solution. "A couple of Agilent account engineers created a home video. They would get a bunch of customers and prospects together in a room and show the video and at the same time do a presentation."

For some reason the video seemed to do the trick. Why a home video would work better than detailed spec sheets, great PowerPoints, photos, diagrams, Web pages, and other professional marketing materials, no one knew.

But the prospects, mainly test engineers and VPs of operations and tech in the semiconductor and electronic manufacturing industry, connected at a gut level with video as a media.

Of course, the last thing any marketing department wants floating out there are materials that haven't been vetted, branded, and professionally produced. They needed to yank that home video from distribution -- and replace it with something even better. And it needed to be a format they could post on their Web site.


Figuring out a budget for the new demo format was the toughest part. "It was really painful. The first one was a leap of faith. We had no idea what this would be worth to us in comparison with other marcom material."

In the end they chose a budget "in the mid-five figures" to include all aspects of the production such as scripting, video shoot, narration, Flash file development, Web viewing-format development, and file transfer to CD ROM format.

Step #1. Pick a tight focus and avoid "how to use" training info

"The demos that haven't started with a clear purpose -- that were multifunctional delivering tech plus marketing info -- seemed to miss the mark. They didn't work. We ended up taking them down from our Web site."

Focus can be tough politically. "Inevitably at some point someone says, 'Oh my gosh, we're paying so much for this. Let's pack as much in as we can.' That works to your disadvantage," warns Bowden.

Critical -- don't make the most typical mistake of confusing a demo with "how to use this product" training materials.

Training is not only boring and painful for most people, it's also not the reason they're viewing the demo. They want to see how your product will solve their problem and how it works, not how to work it themselves. (We can't underscore this point enough.)

Step #2. Script your demo in pieces with a stop-watch

For voice-over narration, figure 120-words per minute in English. Remember to include time for pauses when your Flash demo is running animation you'd like prospects to focus on.

If you're planning to use the same visual for voice-over in other languages, you may need some visual padding. Agilent Technologies needed a demo translated to Mandarin (Chinese), which is "verbose." German and Eastern European languages tend to be wordier as well. The key is -- you need to plan for other languages up front instead of translating to too-short demo footage on the back-end.

Copywriting a demo is a lot like writing for your Web site because you can't completely control navigation path. Assume your prospect may listen to bits and pieces, probably out of "order." So it's not a flowing presentation, but rather a series of bits, complete in and of themselves, that don't require someone to attend from beginning to end.

Isolate your marketing copy into one particular section, and then name that section so prospects know what to expect. Demos are more like white papers or technical specs. Prospects are not expecting a sales pitch. For example, Bowden isolates his into a "Why Agilent" section on the demo.

Step #3. Make boring products look exciting with video tricks

Let's face it, whether you're talking equipment or software, most b-to-b products are fairly dull to look at. Agilent Technologies has its video producer use every trick in the book to add visual interest... without going overboard:

- Instead of using a screenshot or Flash-built demo of your software, shoot actual video of the screen. For some reason that tiny difference can make your software program come alive.

- Instead of showing a complete computer screen, have the camera pan in on a corner of the screen, and then move slowly about, just as it might pan about when viewing something that's not square and flat. (A landscape, a rock concert, etc.)

- In the edit, cut between several visuals such as screens, product shots, the camera moving about the product, the product in use, etc. Each shot might be stunningly dull if viewed alone, but when cut into pieces and woven with the other shots' pieces, the shots become actively more entertaining and alive.

- Add a human element. You may not want a talking head which can be perceived as salesy, but you can certainly show people's hands, using the product, touching a keyboard, etc. Human beings relate more intensely to what's on the screen when a human hand is shown in conjunction with it.

- Don't rely on Powerpoint slide-style words showing up on the screen in concert with the narration. (Can you say "worst practice"?) Prospects who choose to view a demo are audio-visual loving people, not big readers. (That's why trade show attendees are often different from trade journal readers.)

- Surround your video box online with a warm color -- Agilent Technologies uses sunny yellow -- to add a joyful, happy feeling without distracting from the main shot. Most technology products are in fairly dull colors, grey, black, blue, so you may need a framing color.

Step #4. Just like a Web site, your demo navigation must rock

While you may give your demo to sales reps to use in the field, or have it playing on a repeat loop at your trade show booth, assume that the majority of viewers will be sitting at their computers.

The Web has raised demo-viewers' expectations about the kind of navigation and usability they should expect. People want power and control. Your Flash demo and/or video can't hijack the power of their mouse.

Although they are excited by the word "video" (and in fact are more likely to click on a link advertising a "video" than a "Flash demo" or "online demo"), they don't want to be passive viewers. That's why Agilent provides loads of navigation options within the demo. "You need multiple ways to maneuver, not just back and forward," advises Bowden.

Most Case Studies we've done on similar topics have pronounced the longest time you can run a promo video online is about two minutes. However, if you provide useful content, lots of useful navigational buttons, and clearly labeled section hotlinks, you can get away with a much longer demo. Agilent Technologies' are now averaging 10-15 minutes.

Also, just like your site, all navigation must be consistent. If several departments produce their own demos to post online, you'll need someone high-up in marcom insisting these appear to the prospect as though they all came from the exact same production department. Politics, again. RESULTS

"Demos are consistently among the most downloaded items from our site and they're also the one thing customers ask for more of every time we do a site usability study," says Bowden.

In fact Agilent Technologies' prospects and customers download the demos in a ratio of 30:5 compared to Case Studies. (Note, we're not saying their Case Studies stink. It's just that folks love these demos.)

In June the Business Marketing Association of Colorado awarded one of Bowden's latest demos a Silver Key Award. He gave us some stats on the winner:

- From scripting, shooting, and production took about 10 weeks. It would have taken longer if the team wasn't already experienced at producing these.

- Since launch date mid-April 2003, the demo has been downloaded more than 10,000 times.

- 15% of downloads have been for the Mandarin version, although about 10% of traffic from China chooses the English-language version. These may be mainly foreign nationals working in China.

- The entire prospect universe for the product is about 15,000, but Bowden isn't sure exactly what percent he's reached because many of the downloads are non-unique. "We see a lot of repeat downloads. We've also seen the demo sitting on many people's desktops in the same client location."

One last result: Bowden's tested email campaigns to key prospects offering a link to a demo. He's found that invariably if the copy describes the demo as a "video" he'll get a five-point rise in the click through rate. "'Online demo' just doesn't have the wow-factor."

Useful links related to this article:

Sample English-language demo: http://www.ate.agilent.com/pcb_test/ent_all/aoi/demo_pres/index.html#

Sample of same demo in Mandarin: http://www.ate.agilent.com/PCB_Test/ENT_ALL/AOI/demo_pres_asia/index.html

LEOPARD - the marketing communications agency that created Agilent Technologies' award-winning demo http://www.leopard.com

Agilent Technologies http://www.agilent.com

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