Video is a powerful tool for connecting you to your ideal prospects and customers. But what type of video should you be using, and how can you be leveraging video to best tell your story? Alex Steed from Knack Factory shares how you can create engaging, powerful videos to reach new audiences and grow your business.
Rich: Our guest today is a cofounder in digital producer at Knack Factory, a video and marketing content company with offices in Portland, Maine and Nashville, Tennessee. He’s been helping businesses tell their story through video and content since 2011. He loves critiquing montages and poker, not critiquing poker. I think he just loves poker. We’re exciting to be talking video storytelling with Alex Steed. Alex, welcome to the podcast.
Alex: Hello. Thanks for having me.
Yury: I’m so excited that Alex Steed is in the house for this show, so I really appreciate your coming. I’ve been a long fan of your work and now you are here.
Alex: Oh, thanks for that.
Yury: All right, well you know, because I’m so excited I’m going to treat myself to the very first question. Alex, what is the origin story of Knack Factory and how’d you come up with the name?
Alex: So my business partner and I were on a train. We were working for a family to document their grandfather’s life story, and he was working for a sports media company and he wanted to do sort of additional work. And I knew these people who needed this thing done and they wanted us to make a documentary on an old Jewish communist from Brooklyn. So we were onboard, we’re there.
And we were doing that and then it came sort of naturally, our partnership came just sort of naturally and we really enjoyed that process. And I was like, well, maybe we could just keep doing this. So we made a web series after that about people eating food in Maine. And then one of the people we captured there liked that so much and asked us to meet her, make a commercial and then it was official.
And the origin of the name Knack Factory came from working with a local to Portland, Maine brand specialist named Beth Taylor. She had a company, she has a company still, I believe, called Longstocking Design. And we went through the month long process of looking at what would work and what wouldn’t. Originally I had pitched, I think like Pizazz Studios and fortunately she steered us in a way better direction.
Yury: Yeah. Awesome. Well you know, your co-founder, the group of people that you started working with, from ESPN to LL Bean and then with your experiences and Groupon and stuff, do you feel it helped to kind of have this magic mix of talents and the visions that like you said, you focused your work on? I mean at least the first work was on this kind of civic movement type of thing and I think it was your work in the years after. How did that mix help you to get where you were?
Alex: Yeah, that’s a great question. Really we started with those clients because each of us came to the, there were three business partners at first, and then now there are two. One has, our former business partner, Zach, has gone on to start a photo studio here in town. And when we came together and I should say my present business partners, Kurt Graser. And when we came together we brought our collective portfolios, which, you know, I think if we all started the company at 21 and said, let’s start from scratch and make a video production company, we wouldn’t have been successful as when we came together at like 28 and 30 – or however old we were – and had a group of portfolios to bring together. A portfolio of work and just existing clients.
And so it’s not like we started and then we had ESPN or we had whoever, whichever one of our clients, we were working for MasterCard, all of these other people. It came from our preexisting work. And that was really beneficial for us.
Yury: That’s awesome. Thank you.
Rich: You guys do video and content marketing. What role do you think that content marketing plays in a company’s overall marketing or branding?
Alex: That’s a great question too. I think it depends on what the company is and that’s the, we often get clients that come in and our first relationship with clients usually starts with us saying ‘no’ to their original idea because they went to maybe a conference or they saw something on TV and they were like, “I absolutely need this for my company”. Like I need a web series for my, whatever, my cleaning company. And it’s like, you don’t, you actually don’t need that. What value do you have to offer to people and what knowledge can you potentially share with people, and then how people can see you being a potential leader in your industry? I think that that’s usually how we start with our clients.
Sometimes content, it’s a matter of putting video or podcast or whatever it may be out into the world so that it can help clients find you or potential customers find you. Sometimes I don’t think you need a public facing content strategy at all. Sometimes people ultimately, if they have a limited budget and they need some video, and I’m like, can you cut costs through travel by getting in touch with your close network of prospective clients or customers by making video. Let’s start there and then figure out if you have any additional resources. Let’s figure out how to put that into a public facing content.
Rich: So it’s not necessarily that every business should be involved in creating their own media?
Alex: I don’t think so. I don’t think so. I think I will say though, you know, and I think you do this particularly well, Rich, I think that there are ways that if you’re going to do it, you can certainly do it quite affordably and it doesn’t have to be a substantial production. But I think everybody does not need to be public facing. In fact, some businesses benefit from creating content, don’t get on TV.
Yury: Speaking about Rich’s set up, after listening to your Agents of Change podcast when I actually showed up at your office and saw your “studio”, it’s like the earbuds and the $100 Yeti mic. I’m like, dude, you’re putting out so much valuable content and this is all you need. I’m like, where’s the magic, how do you do that?
So a lot of people, they’ll lose themselves in this notion of it has to be professional, it has to be expensive, $3,000 lens or audio isolated booth and stuff like that. It’s just like a whirl at the end of the day. It’s not really what you need, you know, there is value to it, it will reciprocate it regardless of the channel or the tools that you use for it.
Rich: I think it also depends – and Alex, I’d like your opinion on this – but it depends on where you’re going to put this. So like I make some videos that I literally stand in front of a window with my iPhone and that’s fine for putting up video on LinkedIn, but you’re playing at a different level in your client’s, ESPN – although I have seen them do Skype interviews – but in general when they’re doing these storytelling things, it’s like Hollywood level production, which is the kind of stuff you’re doing at Knack. Correct?
Alex: Yeah. That and so we work for a lot of universities, and that bring in students who are looking at other universities and they don’t want to see an iPhone video in a dimly lit room or whatever the case may be. If they’re looking at another university and that university is doing a great job projecting the professionality of its brand through its content. And so I think that’s often what it starts with. Like anything you’re going to spend money on is saying like, what is your objective? Who is this for? What are their expectations and how are you going to match the style of what you’re making, with what image you want to present? And then what are your options within price ranges. And then on the other side of that, you know, Knack Factory is the sole sponsor.
So I have an office in Nashville, Tennessee and we have an office in Portland. Maine. And Knack Factory is the sole sponsor of a podcast called Nashville Demystified, which has nothing to do with video production. It’s just that at the front end of every episode we say that this podcast is brought to you by Knack Factory. And that was really meant to introduce us to a whole other community. We have all this social capital in Portland, Maine, and social capital with all of our customers and clients, but we don’t have that in this new place. So we used content in order to establish a sense of community. And sometimes that’s our objective.
Yury: That is interesting.
Rich: Like with Fast Forward Maine right here. It’s a good partnership between flyte and Machias Savings Bank. And you know, we do talk a little bit about marketing and alternative financial ways to grow your business. But at the end of the day, it’s about growing Maine’s business community, bringing the experts together regardless of who we’re interviewing, whether it’s Alex or the president of the bank.
Alex: Very similar people.
Yury: Right. Maybe different people, but similar beliefs.
Alex: Sure, sure.
Yury: Right. So can we talk a little bit about video and I’m curious, why do you focus so much on video and what benefits does video offer a company?
Alex: So by trade and training, I guess as much as one can have, one simple discipline. My background is in journalism and my “academic background” is in philosophy. And so I am kind of an editor by nature. I really enjoy hearing people’s stories and everyone usually wants to say something in 10 minutes. And for some reason there’s something in my head that does a really good job of hearing that story in one minute and figuring out how to make that conveyable to other people.
I think video is one of the, obviously – I say obviously, maybe it’s not – but video is one of the most evidence in resonant ways to convey story because it involves a lot of different senses. And I think if you’re trying to get a message to someone immediately and you want to hold their attention captive, video is the best way to do it.
Rich: So I’m sure a lot of people are listening and they’re saying, okay, so this works for ESPN, this works for these high end universities, but my business is boring. What do you say to those people?
Alex: Yeah. I think that there are cases where that’s potentially true. I think if you look at your business and your objective as one to one, I do this and the only possible thing I could ever make in order to get people’s attention is some replication of exactly this. It’s maybe it’s a lost cause if you’re only looking at it that way.
However, sometimes we’ll work for an advocacy group and that group internally, and yes, their day to day is extraordinarily boring. But they are related to or benefiting some community of people that they can invest some of their marketing resources that this, that the advocacy organization can invest some of its resources into covering. And then rather than looking internally at themselves, they were looking at a community that they’re related to, use that as an opportunity to talk about them and their business or at least brand their business a little bit.
I think if we look at our stories that we potentially have to share so myopically that they think it can only be exclusively about us. Yes, we’re, we’re kind of in a, we’re, we’re, we’re in a corner, but there’s absolutely one or two degrees away from us that are very, very interesting and worth coverage. And then potentially using as an opportunity to brand ourselves.
Rich: So it sounds like making the customer the hero could be one potential type of story that you’re telling for your clients.
Alex: That’s a much better way to put it. And I mean, I think that this is a thing, this is kind of what you both are doing right now, right? Is that this is about you in a way, but this is not about you. It’s about looking at sort of the people in your community and using that as an opportunity. I don’t mean this to be cynical, but using that as an opportunity to create authority, share knowledge, be a go to place where folks know that they can come to connect with you, et cetera. And it serves a public service at the same time. And so it’s more than a triple win.
Rich: Yeah. And we certainly, I mean there’s a lot of benefits to doing a podcast including all the ones you mentioned and more, including you just get to learn a lot because I wish I knew this stuff when I first started a business.
When you’re working with these clients, you mentioned that sometimes they’ll come to you with one idea and you’re like, now and then you take them in another direction. Can you kind of talk to us about either what that process is like or an example of when you do that? I’m hoping that people at home understand what kind of content they might be able to create for their own business or get some ideas about what that process looks like.
Alex: Sure. So one example that sticks out, because it’s kind of the most dramatic example of this, is we had a client come to us and say – we do a little bit of production and VR 360 video sort of integrated realities with time, et cetera, it’s a smaller piece of our business – but someone came to us and said, we want to do a project along those lines that when we budgeted it, it would have been like $150,000.
And I was like, this is a great idea. But there are much lower, less expensive fruits of lower hanging and less expensive fruits in front of you. Maybe we can talk about a project that’ll cost you for right now, $6,000 and see where you want to go with that. And that’s that. These prices are sort of irrelevant to the process, but it really begins with saying, as I said earlier, what are you trying to do and what are you trying to say. What do you want people’s impression to be? And then what are the avenues in which we’re able to do that.
And I think often when people start with the solution they, you know, they find themselves getting in trouble with paying for the wrong solution. They find themselves paying too much money. They find themselves doing something that’s ineffective. And often, I’m sure you both are aware of this, people’s idea of how video can work for them or any kind of content is often always about mass market, right? They want to go viral and sometimes that’s not at all what you want. Sometimes you want the captive attention of a thousand interested invested people. Like sometimes that’s ultimately what you want. And usually the budget solution for that is much less than $150,000.
Rich: Right. Unless it’s like the top CEOs in the country, then you may have a little bit more budget.
Alex: Absolutely. And there are absolutely projects at that price level that I guarantee are worth it. But they’re guaranteed usually to accomplish a lot more. Because there’s a lot of other avenues for absorption and distribution than just like, let’s make a big thing and hope people like it.
Rich: You’ve talked a lot about, or at least the sense I’m getting is that you’ve created a lot of really powerful videos that they give people the feels. It’s just kind of the way it sounds. And you know, lifestyle or talking about making the customer the hero. Do you also either do or recommend ones that maybe are a little bit – I don’t want to be cynical – but have a strong call to action at the end? Is there a place for that and videos, too? Because I know when I’m making videos for my company, there’s almost always a call to action; download this, subscribe to this, go to our conference, whatever it is. So do you build that in, and if so, do you have any tactics around how to build in a call to action?
Alex: So again, this is the thing, I love having this conversation. Because I really do think of people who do that well, you were the person in my immediate world that does that the best. And so sometimes I look to you and I’m like, “Oh, we’ve got to be actually doing this more.”
Our direct, like the most kind of direct calls to action that we have are usually still in feelsy videos. But at the end there is a call to action that sort of incorporates into the overall feel. For example, a couple of years ago working with a client who was in baby products, like car seats and that sort of thing. They had a Mother’s Day related project, they wanted to thank moms for what they do. They found a mom to do this little documentary piece about, they had an artist draw pictures of moms and superheroes. It was really cool. There were feels and stuff, but then the call to action at the end was sign up to find out more about this campaign.
And there were campaigns about sort of either it was the details of the campaign are sort of irrelevant, but it was used as an opportunity in order to get in touch with moms who that ad resonated with. And I think we do much less by way of saying like, you know, a 30 to 60 second video in which the call to action is immediate. But there’s obviously more and more a need for that right now.
Yury: So I was listening to what you were saying and it made me feel that sometimes a call to action actually may diminish the whole story that was previously introduced. You know, how can we spot that, maybe instead of putting the call to action, maybe we should have the next step in the story and develop the story instead of developing the pitch.
Alex: Sure. If you think about the video as the entirety of the message, yes, a call to action can sully the some good feels. But if you think about the video as a standalone piece, there is no call to action, but in the places where it’s embedded in the places where people are going to receive the video, there is an evident next step. You sort of click a link or you sign up for a newsletter, I think that that is a way to get around what you’re saying.
But I think especially in lower budget video, not meaning lower quality video, but in video that you’re not necessarily using $20,000 cameras for, there are absolutely opportunities to make those call to actions. And there’s an assumption as part of those videos that that will probably be a piece of it. Like Travis Mills. So Staff Sergeant Travis Mills was a client of ours for a really long time and they make the feels videos to get people to invest in their retreat for wounded warriors. But Travis himself just uses his camera looking at his face to make pleasing calls to action all the time. And there’s places for those both because you, again, you need the slick video for corporate sponsors and to move people to think that this thing is worth supporting. And then sometimes you just need the person you trust looking at you and sometimes that low five feel actually creates more trust and that person can say directly that you’re paying attention because I think you like me, trust me in this call to action.
Rich: Yeah, there’s definitely more intimacy on those selfie videos for sure. Especially when it comes from somebody like Travis.
Alex: I think it shows a vulnerability.
Rich: Yeah, I agree. And this is a perfect transition, so thank you for that. But when you were developing this content, how much are you thinking about channels? What channels should people be using to get their story and videos out there in front of their ideal clients?
Alex: I mean, sometimes the best channel is still, and I’m not saying that this is across the board, but it’s still email. A I know that you’re even a proponent of this, but sometimes our clients aren’t necessarily making a public facing video, they’re just trying to eliminate travel costs in sharing case studies with people and eliminate their time on the phone. And so they want us to go to a client of theirs and get a great story that can be shared or three clients of theirs that they can, when they have a quick conversation with someone on the phone, email them a follow-up video. And over time that’s going to eliminate staff time, travel time, et cetera. People forget that that’s a channel. You know this, you’ve been saying this for years.
I think it depends on where your audience is. If you’re trying to get in touch with influencer moms, Instagram is your place. Like that’s a place where you have to sort of put together, not just a video but like a content plan over time so that people are seeing your brand come up here and there. I can’t imagine anyone dismissing, Tik-Tok at this point. Tik-Tok is a real thing. But it starts with, it’s not necessarily making something nice for your brand in general, it’s often a situation where you partner with people who were making good organic content there. There’s a lot, I mean, every channel has an audience. It’s a matter of knowing who your audience is and which one will resonate with them immediately.
Yury: Do you think videos that the outcome of the video may be a positive versus a negative thing? You know, what evokes stronger emotions? Do you know how sometimes like at the end of the video the hero of the story is victorious and everything is great and we’re celebrating the victory, versus something goes wrong at the end of it and now we have to comprehend the complexity of the situation that we find ourselves in.
Alex: Yeah, this comes up a lot. Let me tell you what I really faced a lot in what we’re doing with our clients with on a regular basis. A client’s like, “I want a resonant good feel video, move people to action, or our project is good. I want to see people using that and they’re spending a good deal of their money and so they want, they want to make sure that it’s great.
We always suggest that your video tells one story from start to finish, and ideally only has one character. Because you can only feel so much emotional resonance in a short amount of time by watching one person over time. Or, you can have other people in it, but we want the story of one person or the story of a community.
And then our clients, they have to fight every impulse and we have to work with them to fight every impulse to want to throw every single possible thing in the video. We have this guy who works in HR and he’s got a really compelling story. We want him on there. We’ve got two customers who have stories there and we have this worth. And by that point and like whatever, two minutes, even one minute, you’ve seen eight people for seven seconds a piece and there’s no form of emotional resonance and they wanted to get the best bang for their bucks. So they wanted to sort of capture every story by way of that. There’s no resonance.
Rich: That’s really interesting. I was just having this conversation the other day because people were talking about a similar idea. And at Catholic charities, this is the reason why they show one person. They don’t show you that there’s a million people suffering from this. They point out one child and you’re like, “Oh my God, I want to help that one child.” Then it turns out, well, you’re not going to help this one child. You can help this other child, but she or he still needs your help. Right? If they showed a hundred thousand kids with cleft lips or that needed charitable donations, they know from science people are less likely to respond. So the whole idea of telling one person’s story makes a whole lot of sense in this case.
Alex: Yeah, it’s overwhelming on every front. Especially with that situation. It’s overwhelming. Well what is my $5 a month going to do for a million kids with this issue?
Rich: And it’s just like, I think we can win when we see one thing, we can really associate it. We can understand what that one person from HR or that customer story, what they went through. And that means a lot more to us than trying to have our brain balance seven different messages in a one to two minute video. It’s just not going to get done.
Yury: I think it’s just also about the ability to execute. Like you said, I can’t help 1 million people with my $5, but I know that the $5 may make a difference in the life of one person. Absolutely. You know, Alex, a couple of questions, you’re a video expert for our listeners who say, “All right, I’m ready. Video is my thing.” I know that I need to have one person, well maybe my one message, one idea, and positive outlook. What are the other things they should consider when they formulate their idea before they have the conversation with the agency or decide to do it themselves?
Alex: Sure. I think really these seem like they’re so evident but that we realize that they’re not every time. It’s like, do you have an existing marketing plan? What is the goal after you have this video? Where is this video going to go? Have you made sure that video is your best solution? Do you have a business plan? Does your marketing plan work with your business plan? You know, those pieces just sort of on the larger front.
And then the other thing, and I’m sure all of us who are commissioned to do some service for some company know that this is the case across the board, but especially the case here. If you’re a company with more than one person in it, decide who the one person is who’s going to handle this video project. Often if we work with a nonprofit or a foundation, there is in theory one person who’s managing the process and then there’s an unforeseen committee that has never agreed with each other on any issue ever and definitely decides to not agree with each other when putting the video together. And they waste a whole lot of time and a lot of expense and energy. So find the one person who you trust to manage the process at your organization and do it. Obviously larger companies have that person, but if you don’t have that, because you may think that you’re creating a quality product and maybe you are, but usually you’re creating a very banal product, and then usually you’re spending insane amount of staff time just navigating that process.
Yury: And on the flip side, you talked about mitigating the internal risk. But when we engage with the agency, what are the things that we need to consider before we sign on the dotted line?
Alex: That’s a great question. Wow. Yeah. Find out who you are working with, I’d find out who within the company you are working with and find out sort of what your relationship is going to be with them. Nail down an actual deliverable timeline that you can commit to and the agency can actually commit to. Those are two big things.
Find out if they’re insured. I’m shocked at how many people will give us a lot of money and never ask if we are insured or look for a COI and they’ll just let us show up. If an uninsured company comes to your business and a $20,000 camera is broken on premises and one thing was signed to agree who would be responsible, but there is an insurance, you then have a two or three way legal fight to figure out who’s going to be responsible for that. Find out if your company is bonded correctly to do the work.
Rich: Definitely hadn’t thought about that one.
Alex: That happened to a contractor friend of ours. For a big client they went to the shoot, brought a camera that actually cost more than $20,000. It was a very specific kind of camera. And one of the crew that showed up stole the camera. Who’s responsible?
Rich: Yikes. Yeah, that’s a tough one for sure. Alex, I don’t know if your company gets into this, but let’s say that we’ve come up with our content, all this sort of stuff. And we’ve talked about the fact that sometimes you don’t need it to be in front of a million different people. But do you have tips for extending the reach of your video or ways of repurposing a video that was created in a couple of different ways to just get more people engaged?
Alex: That’s such an important and incredible question. You already have this content that maybe you shot for a video last year, and 80% of that is still relevant for this year but maybe for a different message. How can you cut that into a new message? What are your messages this year?
Often again, clients will come to us and they’ll want something new and we’ve worked with them and we said, do you have anything that we can work with right now in order to put together sort of a shorter term, less impact financially project? Or you know, the other things to consider, like how can you use existing content that you have and use maybe like minor animations and titles in order to sort of give a different feel or a different call to action.
The other thing I’d suggest is just, as we all know here in one way or another, minor boosts and pays for advertisements online, between Facebook, Google, and Instagram. I’ve had great luck with Instagram targeting. And once you can navigate how LinkedIn advertising works, maybe talk to someone to help you out with that one. That goes very, very far. That goes very far and it’s worth the very minor investment to get those eyes on it.
Yury: You know, you guys recently had a training – well, maybe not necessarily recently – but I believe a couple of months ago your team put on the Instagram video story creative.
Alex: Yeah, it was an iPhone workshop. Yes.
Yury: Any particular recommendations for our listeners on how they can use their mobile devices?
Alex: I don’t have specific recommendations. I do want to say that we sponsored a workshop by a local photographer named Kari Herer whose iPhone photography has been featured on iPhone billboards, it’s so good. And first of all looking to Kari, if this is a thing that you want to find out more about, the one thing I’ll say without any professional background on it, is I have the iPhone 11. I don’t suggest everyone get a new iPhone. It seems not necessary all the time. But I also have like a Sony A series camera and sometimes the pictures I take with my new iPhone are better.
Rich: That’s so crazy, right?
Alex: Like, I took a picture of the other night of some stain glass on forest somewhere in the dark and with the clouds and stuff. And I was truly impressed with what I was able to do there. And then a lot of people will just take pictures and they’ll do nothing with their just regular phone edit suite. So tinker around with your editing software just that comes base level on your phone. Get good at that. It’ll take you maybe an hour, and then maybe look at some other free apps online and you can do really great things with those photos for not a lot of money.
Rich: So here’s the point in the show, and Yury, I’m going to steal it from you this time. But here’s the point in the show, we like to ask all of our experts the same question. Alex, if you could change one thing to improve the business ecosystem here in the state of Maine, what would it be?
Alex: Okay. I don’t mean this to be grim, but we are entering this Corona time, this current virus time. A lot of small businesses are going to need to get bailed out and we are seeing New York City do it. New York started to do it three days ago and they realized they were in a state of emergency. Maine doesn’t have the money that New York City does, but a lot of small businesses are going to need to get bailed out with very simple things to keep people employed. And this, I just felt this room get quiet. We’re lessening, but that is absolutely a thing that’s going to need to happen across the board because there’s very little confident leadership at the federal level, so states are going to have to take care of small businesses to keep them alive.
Rich: All right. This has been great. Alex, why don’t you share, I’d love to know where we can find you online, but also is there one video that Knack has done that we could embed or link to in the show notes that you’re especially proud of so we can show the quality of your work.
Alex: Yeah. We made a video for Chewonki’s summer camp. And it’s gorgeous. I love it. And I had nothing to do with producing outside of hiring people who produce a great video. But our internal crew is just remarkable. So Lindsey Hill at our company oversaw this. It was gorgeous. So I hope that you will look at it. Even if you’re not going to summer camp, I just think it’s beautiful and moving. And it shows the benefits of focusing on a story while also showing other faces throughout.
For social, just look for Knack Factory anywhere you reasonably use social media and reasonably, I don’t know what that means. And, the podcast that we sponsor is called Nashville Demystified, where we talk about the history of Nashville, Tennessee.
Rich: Awesome. Thanks so much Alex. Appreciate you coming by.
Alex: It’s an honor. Thank you guys.
Yury: Appreciate it.