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image: a drawing. one man saying to another, "I couldn't choose between comic sans or papyrus, so I used both" The listener flinches.

Cheap, Boilerplate, DIY

By | Design, Marketing | No Comments

There are plenty of ways to get cheap, easy content, but when you actually want and need quality, maybe avoid the sausage factory.

I was sent a link to a site where animations are pre-built. The user can log in, click some buttons, and get an animation element for their videos. I was asked what I think.

The thing about these automated animation engines – which are prevalent now – is they really focus on sausage factory graphics. They are designed to allow someone rapidity over originality and unique brand voice. They also, to be frank, undervalue the efforts of creatives. Exhibit A from the site:

I laughed out loud when I read that, because $80 for an animation is an absolute steal, and if someone thinks that animator is making out like a bandit, then they are a cold, cruel capitalist indeed.

What these sorts of ventures, and sites like Freelancer and Fiverr do, is strengthen the need for production companies like The X Gene to differentiate themselves on quality. My team’s work is custom designed, built on the brand voice and audience needs of the client, ensuring the outputs they create with us perfectly match the rest of their comms. We also create stuff way more advanced than the cheap stuff – it’s almost impossible to get that level at those low price points, not to mention that our processes are smoother than the far more difficult processes and translations of quick and dirty operators.

Fact is, there’ll always be people who are happy with business cards in Microsoft Word and boilerplate animations for $80 – but those aren’t our client. Our client knows and needs the skill-set, tool-set a experience a professional brings, because their level of communication, marketing and voice is at that level, too.

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A blue worm hole

Your Market Is What It Is, Not What You Want It To Be

By | Marketing | No Comments

I was just thinking about an old client story. We were trying to determine a voiceover choice. Our target audience was female (more depth to that, obviously), the brief style included ‘feminine’ and so we were looking at female voiceover artists. Three women who neatly represented the audience were listening in and passing comment. They ultimately wanted a male voice, because he was “less threatening”. When pushed for detail on that, they explained that, even though they knew they shouldn’t, they found themselves harshly judging the women VOs, picturing who they were and not liking them. Whereas the guy: no problem.

This cut against my little feminist instincts, because I know it’s often discussed that women could benefit from collaboration, not competition. Same for all of us! It reminded me, though, that the market, the audience, is what it is, not I want it to be. I’d rather those women didn’t cut each other down, and that they didn’t see another woman as a threat – but I’m creating a communication tool aimed at the now, at the reality, not the wishful thinking or even the progressive desire.

When you’re looking at your market, product, item, film, whatever, remember that: you can’t force desires or opinions on an audience. You have to accept who they are and how they think, generally, and create for that. It sucks sometimes, but an imaginary market won’t suddenly appear from a time-warping wormhole. You gotta work with what’s here, now. Or find a different market.

Agree? Disagree? Found ways around it? Tweet us your thoughts.

Kelsey Schwenk from Studio Thick agency talking virtual reality

Virtual Reality: how we’ll use it, Kelsey from Studio Thick

By | Advertising, Innovation, Marketing, Technology | No Comments

Kelsey Schwenk is Engagement Director at Studio Thick. Thick partner with progressive businesses and organisations to reimagine their strategies, products and services for a brighter future. Kelsey leads client partnerships, guides innovation, and ensures we’re having a diverse impact on the world. We got excited with Kelsey recently talking about our experiments in virtual reality, so we spoke over Hangouts about how the world will use VR, why agencies like Thick will utilise it, and how creatives like The X Gene will execute it.

Simon J Green: Thanks for joining me Kels! So first, tell me about the exposure you and Thick have had to VR so far, even if it’s only a little. It is an emerging comms channel, after all!
Kelsey Schwenk: In our office we have an Oculus that we’ve been playing around with, but we keep up to date on what’s going on in the world with it, mostly. At the V21 Conference this year, it’s all anyone was talking about. It’s interesting – most people were looking for ways to use the tech to do something cool, not the other way around. I’m thinking it should be, “Here, I have this problem, I wish I had a way to solve it” and have VR be the solution.
S: So at the moment VR is an answer to a question no one’s yet asking? That’s why I think relationships with agencies like Thick are important. You are finding the problems businesses have. Being aware of VR’s limitations and opportunities means you can see if those problems might be solved by VR.
K: One group wanted to simulate off-roading in a truck, so they created this elaborate experience… when it probably would have cost less to just drive the truck off road in real life. It is like creating a really elaborate kids ride, and gaming was the big push, obviously.
S: Seems like the easiest way to get people aware and inside the experience. I’ve seen a VR rally driving experience. You sit next to the driver as he goes nuts in the dirt. Virtual Reality Ventures, our VR partner, always use the rollercoaster demo to quickly give people an idea of the tech.
K: One of the best examples I’ve heard of is actually not “customer” facing though. It was an agency using VR to show their clients what their designs would look like in a concept store that didn’t exist yet, so they could ‘feel’ what the space looked like before committing to the design.

Meeting Robert Redford

S: Ivy League universities have been moving those globe-style live-action cameras through their campuses, to give newly admitted students the chance to walk through before they actually get there. Tours of places and sites seems like the most obvious application – do you think it’s crucial for increasing the public’s awareness of the tech?
K: Awareness isn’t the issue… it’s access. And finding the right application that is going to make everyone out there download the app or get Google Cardboard. Tourism is an easy application for the tech, particularly for experiences where photos and videos don’t sell the experience enough. I think it has a ways to go before it becomes mainstream though – it’s almost a novelty at the moment. I could actually see it being more beneficial to having remote meetings where interpersonal exchanges are key. It’s just not the same on a web-cam.
S: What does the virtual reality space give: or more, what do you want from remote meetings, that you don’t get with today’s experience?
K: It allows you to be/move naturally, as you would in real space – you don’t have to alter your natural behaviours (other than wearing a headset). So conversations would flow more naturally, I think. And seeing reactions and emotions. When you’re giving a presentation to a blank screen, it’s impossible to know if you’re doing a good job.
S: So you could turn to someone and speak, and that would be a cue to everyone else, a cue that’s missing from today’s remote meetings?
K: Exactly! But I see entertainment as the driver – that’s where the innovation will come from.
S: True! In movies, meetings are always held with VR figures, but really it’s for the exact same reason we’re discussing: so the viewer (and the fake people in the SHIELD Security Council) can see who’s talking to whom, and convey meaning beyond a face and words.

Stories That Explode in Virtual Reality

S: Facebook is bringing in the live action, globe camera video style. What do you think that will do?
K: So is YouTube. I think it’s going to change the types of videos we see… just like GoPro did a few years ago. Hopefully, by democratising the technology, we can allow the innovative creators in the world a new vehicle/medium to show their stuff.
S: When we’ve been playing with VR, we’ve been pushing the live action(moving cameras through a space, and letting the user move through that, instead of 3D models, environments and animations). Experimenting with how the  viewer will experience the content, how we get them to look where we need them to look to tell story. But when we think as producers or for business development, we’re acutely aware that the browser-based, flattened version of interaction is most likely.
K: It’s a whole new level of cinematography. I think that’s the difference between a GIF and a movie. Both are valid forms of entertainment, but for entirely different purposes… (and budgets).
S: Almost like arthouse cinema and blockbusters – a smaller selection of dedicated audience will take up the full virtual reality experience. But when we want lots of people to see it, Facebook and YouTube will be our besties.
K: Yup. As long as they can make it easy to access and understand and create.
S: Telling stories through this VR medium: we’ve been pointed to some excellent white papers by the video game industry on how to direct stories in a sandbox world.
K: They’ve been playing with it the longest, I think. I remember seeing demos of it at PAX years ago

The Creative Struggle

S: So for those creators you’re talking about – agencies like Thick will be the ones making use of us to find solutions to client problems. What do the creators need to know, and what do the clients need to know, to make that work best?
K: The biggest thing is to find the problem to solve. Not invent a problem just because you want to use the tech. Finding an experience or a story that you want to tell that you just can’t do any other way. Otherwise it’s just playing to a fad. In the work we do at Thick, it’s finding the right channel to communicate your insights, or testing something out that would be too expensive to build otherwise! That’s probably how I see us using it in the future: using it as a tool, not the end experience.
S: Testing in a Virtual Reality sandbox. With VR audiences.
K: …and then translating that into ‘real life’, yes. Like a prototype.
S: You’d get the global audiences of the internet in a more ‘real’ appearance.
K: Well, you can test context. So you know what it’s like to be searching on a mobile phone on a busy tram. Or how you walk through a concept store, or at a construction site. It all depends on the context of your solution.
S: We could test movies in a virtual cinema, and build into the program the ability of the audience that logs in to still play with their phone – and see how bored people get of the movie. How much time is spent actually watching the screen.
K: The context in which we use our screens is very important (and often overlooked) in design and testing.

Wrap It Up Kids

S: Well thank you very much Kelsey. This is all excellent, juicy stuff. Anything you want to add in summary?
K: Just that I’m excited to see what the masses do with this tech – I have a feeling we won’t know the real potential until we make it super accessible to everyone.
S: We need the VR version of what the iPhone did for smart phones.
K: Or GoPro for video, yes.
Image: video strategy is a part of content marketing by The X Gene a video production agency in Melbourne

What’s Content Marketing?

By | Marketing | No Comments

You’re going to see a huge amount of chatter on business and marketing sites about video and content marketing in 2015!

What’s that? Essentially, content is all the stuff that’s getting made for your organisation’s existence online: blogs, images, articles, photos, infographics, landing sites, VIDEO. Taking all of that and having an actual plan behind how you’ll use it to get people interested in your organisation, be attracted to what you do, and then visit in some way is content marketing.

The beauty of this for The X Gene is that the most popular type of content to market with has become video. Internet speeds and device acceptance has meant videos are everywhere. YouTube is now the world’s number two search engine. You’ll have noticed people saying they prefer to watch a quick 60 second video rather than read a block of text.

The X Gene has long called itself a video agency (rather than a production company) because we’ve long seen that video is an asset that needs to be fully supported by a strategy and marketing tactics. Our service, Video Strategy, is all about that! We want to make it easy for you to take advantage of video in 2015, and then make sure those videos do something for you – be that drive sales, create sign ups or spark conversations.

Having a Video Strategy is Part of Your Content Marketing

Video strategy is content marketing with video at its core. We find out what your organisation is about, who you’re speaking to, and what you want them to do. We then work out what videos we can make for you over 6 to 12 months – that’s the fun, creative, amazing bit we’ve always done so well – but on top of that, we create a strategy using online, paid and organic tactics to get that content seen, and turn passive viewers into active users.

It’s an exciting time to be digital and making videos. Please contact us to learn more about how you can be a killer video executive producer yourself!

Video seeding blog post feature

Video Seeding: Getting Video Views

By | Marketing, Research, Viral Video | No Comments

Nothing hurts our feelings more than a low view count on a piece of content we made for a client. We’re human creatures, if you cut us we bleed, and if people don’t watch your videos, we roll into a ball on the floor and cry and cry and cry. A low view count is mostly because the owners of the content didn’t push it. A fantastic piece of video does not guarantee eyeballs without a solid strategy to push it. You can’t just throw it up on YouTube and rub your hands together.

Crying because no one watched your video

Crying because no one watched your video

Putting the video itself on multiple sources can help you get a good aggregate view count – chuck it on YouTube, obvs, but also upload it to your Facebook page, your LinkedIn business page and your Vimeo account. All of this should be covered with strong descriptions and tags and titles that feature keywords, but don’t go over the top. Google is looking for relevancy, and if they see a bunch of videos about your service, with your name near it, they’ll boost you up in their estimates.

But wanna know how stuff goes viral? Video seeding. We spoke with Lava Communications about how video seeding works, and now we’re excited to offer their services along side our own. Essentially, you give the video a boost in views, so that the organic views can pick up from there. It’s like boosting a Facebook post. You pay per view, less than 50c (as of Nov 2014), and away you go. Know how many views you want? Then we know your budget. Know your budget? Then we know how many views you can get. There’s a minimum guarantee on views, and away you go.

A fantastic short piece that divides the detail of this can be found here, by Loren Rochelle.

Next time you see a campaign that went viral, think about the behind the scenes work that went into getting those videos out there. It wasn’t just set and forget: video is part of an active marketing strategy, just like any other communications channel. Ours just happens to be the best!

A lion asking you for bravery designed by www.freepik.com

Fear and Bravery in Agency Land

By | Advertising, Innovation, Inspiration, Marketing | No Comments

I’ve been thinking about creative bravery. I’m on my way to an event to launch a fun fashion initiative by Porter Novelli. Hosting the night is Mandy Griffiths (who, incidentally, is one of the speakers at This Digital Life). At the event, a collection of communications and agency folk will be there. These are the people that create and execute the marketing, advertising and general communications strategies big brands need to make you know them and choose them.

These people are the key to groundbreaking, clever, brave, innovative, creatively thrilling content. We need those strategies and influencers to tell their clients to be BRAVE, try new things. Another fantastic woman, Richenda Vermeulen, said a very similar thing in her company’s birthday blog post.

Richenda is right: brands in Australia need to take risks, try different things, seek to be different. Digital is excellent for that because it can shift and change. Best of all, you can measure the success of a brave digital campaign with real numbers and clear pathways from the creative to the BUY NOW button.

I implore our strategy aunts and uncles – please keep pushing your clients to embrace the exciting world of digital. Work with specialists in their fields, find channel suppliers who can give you bold new ideas, then sell them with vigour up the chain. That’s what I’ll be asking the people I meet tonight – how are you guys pushing your clients to be BETTER. Different. Brave.

Zack G and Barack Obama on Between Two Ferns

Why Obama Making Fat Jokes Worked

By | Marketing, Video, Viral Video | No Comments

We finally got around to watching Prezi Barry Obams on Between Two Ferns, and from the first time The President makes fun of Galifianakis’ weight we were giggling our heads off. He calls the President a nerd! The thing we really like, though, is this video that is exactly like all the other Between Two Ferns – awkward, brash, stilted, deliciously mean spirited and funny – was used by the White House to boost sign ups at HealthCare.gov. They wanted to reach out and plug the site so more people signed up to their reformed healthcare system and ensure they have coverage after the imposed cutoff date. According to White House  communications advisor Tara McGuiness, it worked.

 

Funny or Die is Will Ferrel and Adam McKay’s comedy video site, and it hosts Between Two Ferns. It worked. Here’s what you can learn from all this to get your own stuff moving via video:

THIS VIDEO WAS EMBEDDED EVERYWHERE

The video was hosted on FunnyorDie.com, but there were comms advisors from the White House and media and PR people from Funny or Die speaking with and making aware every website that could possibly place the video into their own articles or blogs. I saw it on The Verge, but you could also find it on (as a smattering):

  • Huffington Post
  • E! Online
  • YouTube
  • Variety
  • Forbes
  • NY Daily News
  • Popwatch
  • The Wrap
  • Gawker
  • Mamamia

That’s a broad collection of audiences.

THERE WAS A BUNCH OF METADATA

Wherever the video appeared, there was at least a link to HealthCare.gov and you need that, you need the call to action and then a quick way for someone to execute that action. The best way for this all to work is when the form matches the function. This is a digital video, posted online, to drive traffic to another website. All someone has to do is click a link. Secondary follow up: make a phone call. But a link in an online video is the best way to take advantage of it all.

DON’T BE AFRAID

Before you worry about using comedy or something different to promote your stuff, think really hard about this: the President (stakes!) went on a show that is famous for being cruel to its guests, and makes fat jokes. Do you really think making light of white goods, or being silly with a corporate message is that scary?

Feature for blog about directors and one stop shoppers

Interviewing: When a One Stop Shop Solo Operator Isn’t Good Enough

By | Marketing, Video | No Comments

The CEO is nervous. Her job, as she sees it, is to organise the company, work behind the scenes to keep stakeholders co-operative, talk in boardrooms. She doesn’t consider part of her job to be talking in front of a camera, about herself, telling stories and seeming at ease while feeling rigid inside.

Sitting in front of a camera requires a rare type of confidence that comes from experience (or brash youthfulness!). Being a powerful person in the boardroom does not always translate to being confident, warm and flowing on camera. Of course not. Think about the qualities a good CEO has. Toughness, straightforward attitudes, an ability to cut through crap and get stuff done. Good governance. The Board’s representative in carrying out the greater strategic goals. Being liked isn’t high on the priorities list.

Do you know what someone needs to look good in front of a camera? A smile. Warmth. Confidence, but not so much that you come off as threatening. Languidness. Ease. Balance. Deferment. A great deal of these qualities are not naturally promoted by a CEO role. Think below the surface. A CEO is constantly facing problems, threats and challenges. A personal fortitude often means a withholding nature, not giving away too much to avoid exposing weakness. The camera loves someone exposing their weakness then laughing about it with the audience.

So it can be very hard for a CEO to sit in front of a camera and feel natural. That’s what a director is on set for. A great director works almost entirely with the talent – our CEO – making her feel comfortable, talking with her, asking her questions to make her feel relaxed, explaining how everything works or completely ignoring the technology, depending on how the director intuits the CEO is best worked with. While the camera operator and soundie and lighting guy are moving around, setting up, talking, working out angles, the director keeps the CEO centred, focussed and prepared. They keep a quiet island for two amid the chaos.

Do you know who can’t do that? The one man operator. The guy who brings the camera, the lights and the sound, and sets it all up himself. He runs around, doing the work that takes a full crew an hour. He rushes, he sweats, he looks hassled. The CEO is nervous. She feels exposed, unsure, and when she asks questions to try and find security, she’s given short, offhand replies. She isn’t given eye contact. The solo operator throws replies over his shoulder, because he’s busy pushing the light up higher and balancing the shot bag on his foot.

The CEO hasn’t been looked after, given the time she deserves and needs for a good result. After the solo operator is finished set up, he asks the CEO if she’s ready. She says yes, because there’s no way she’ll look unprepared. He’ll press record and she’ll come off stiff, awkward, reserved, wooden. Of course she will! She wasn’t directed! Even talented, A-list stars need direction to get good work out of them.

That’s why you should hire a proper production crew. We know that a technician isn’t the best at working with people. That’s what directors are for, and we know some of the best directors going.

Feature for blog about how much web video costs

How Much Does A Web Video Cost?

By | Marketing, Video | No Comments


Lots of people are curious about the price of video. It’s dependent on what you’re after, but here’s a handy guide to get you started.

The average web video is 1 to 3 minutes long. There’s juicy research from video hosting platforms that says a viewer will drop off at about 90 seconds in, so get your key messages in early.

Most of our clients use a web video to introduce a brand, service or product. They’ll deploy those videos on their site and throughout their social media network.

A commercial might be expensive, but web video is the entry point for small business. The Interactive Advertising Bureau releases reports about the digital space, and they say the stickiest sites are always those with video. That means people not only stay on the site longer, but are more likely to come back.

A ‘web video’ is a very broad category. They’re very different from video to video. To find out what’s right for someone, we start with a simple chat. We ask questions to know the brand, then understand the message. Finally, we go back and brainstorm three or four fun ideas, with budgets attached. Those concepts might be live action or animation.

Once confirmed, we take care of pre-production (concepts, scripts, storyboards, shotlists, schedules), production (cameras, lighting, cast, crew and locations) and post-production (editing, motion graphics, effects, colour grading, exporting, sound). Once it’s done, we help implement and deploy the video. This means we might work with a client’s web developer, or create different versions for different uses like online, trade shows or DVD.

The question on everybody’s lips: how much does it cost. You’re looking at $3,000 to $8,000 depending on how fancy you want to get. AU$5,000 is the average.

Honestly, the business that can afford The X Gene’s work in this area is a medium businesses with 10+ employees or an operating budget that can justify a more sophisticated marketing approach. We find that’s professional firms like financial managers, insurance brokers, and the technology sector. Animated videos tend to be the realm of government, not-for-profit and education institutions, often with dry or complex messages that need to be made more visually interesting.

So that’s a quick overview of web video. Wanna make one? It’s the next step in being rad.

A golden Mercedes Benz

Why Go Pro Video: The Reason it Costs What it Costs

By | Marketing, Technology, Video | No Comments

Here’s the thing about video – anyone can do it…but only professionals can do it well.

I’d be a moron to dismiss or ignore that as digital swept through and technology got cheaper, making videos became more accessible. A smart phone today will shoot some pretty nice footage (I like how the iPhones oversaturate). This all means businesses promoting themselves can have the same sort of fun with video that we have every day.

My job as a producer at a Melbourne video agency is to make content that promotes businesses, not-for-profits, individuals – anyone with a message. The challenge is finding a place for ourselves now that anyone can afford the basic tech.

Some companies have decided to go for bulk. Buy or build a studio (because that’s something harder to get) and pump out a huge volume of video content at a cut-throat rate. It works for these companies, but they’ll freely admit they are missing one thing: quality.

The X Gene has gone a different route. We’ve moved away from cheap. We come in when our client wants a premium product. A potentially lucrative contract with a big international firm? A line of clientele that take part in the finer things in life? A large audience, a large investment, high stakes? These are the types of things a little clip in a poorly green screened studio won’t help.

If you want big returns, you need high quality. That’s The X Gene. High-end cameras, complex lighting and audio setups, multiple edit suites and specialised post-production software – yes, we have all of that, but we also have something far superior: the years of experience and proven talent to utilise all this creatively. We create the best videos we can, and then push ourselves to do better.

That’s what you’re paying for when you get a video made with us. That’s why it costs more than the quick and dirty alternatives, or the overseas options from sites like freelancer.com. I’ve heard business owners in seminars talk about getting a video done overseas and not being happy with the result. They end up making three or four mediocre videos that probably cost them more than they budgeted for anyway. I’ve also been proud to see other owners and our clients show off a premium video and say it was a bit more expensive, but the results speak for themselves.

The old cliche is true; you get what you pay for. With all this talk in the news of Australia needing to accept it can’t compete on price when working against nations four to ten times cheaper, I hear a constant refrain, “IP and value added skills and expertise are the way forward.” That’s us. Quality in a service industry, making excellent content to make you cut through and stand out. That’s why you go pro video – to be better than your competitors. We strive to be better than our competitors, so who better to team up with to take over the world?