Types Of Explainer Videos And When To Use Them

Explainer videos are a great way to explain a product or service – they’re a great teaching tool, too. But there are many types of explainer videos – so which one is best for you?

Video is the perfect medium for explaining or teaching an audience – especially online. Plus, using video means that countless audiences can be taught something a countless number of times. Unlike teaching ‘in the flesh’, when an explanation is committed to video it only needs to be done once. Think of the time and money that explainer videos could save you!

With explainer videos, different subjects require different approaches. Think of format as tone of voice; you wouldn’t use a sad voice to launch a product, nor would you tell a patient they would make a full recovery in a sarcastic manner. What you’re communicating often needs more than enthusiasm and knowhow – it needs the visual delivery to match.

We recommend any business considers explainer videos – we talk here about why they’re so effective in marketing – and in this blog post we’re going to take you through perhaps the four most widely-adopted formats for explainer videos. Plus, recommendations for when you’d do it this way.


Live-action explainer video

Best used for: Selling a physical product or service; making a mark; building a brand; establishing a personality.

What you need: Likeable, talented people on-screen; a very strong message; a direct script.

Remember when I talked about Dollar Shave Club? Michael Dubin, the company’s CEO, was fortunately charismatic enough to pull his own explainer video off himself. His example is exactly what you want from a live-action explainer: funny or not, it needs to describe the product or service in question, and in straightforward terms. DSC, for example, is incredibly simple: $1, get razor blades. Dubin could’ve done it in ten seconds, but it was about connecting with the audience while delivering the message.

While people often believe this more direct format for an explainer means you have no room to be creative or different, they’re absolutely wrong. If anything, being more inventive in the realms of reality only stands to gain more traction, if you do it well. You’re not going to be OK Go, perhaps, but you can set the bar pretty high with some clever camera shots and the right people on board.


Animated explainer video

Best used for: Communicating ideas and thought processes; converting metaphors into visual

What you need: A talented animator (I’m not being sarcastic, I’m being deadly serious); a product you’re sure that couldn’t be sold better live; time; money.

Firstly, “animated” doesn’t just mean “cartoon”.

The best way to decide if you need animation is to ask yourself a simple question: can you demonstrate what you do in a physical way? By which I don’t mean communicating, say, pay-per-click advertising through interpretive dance. But if there’s no physical product, then standing and talking about it in front of a camera is probably pretty worthless.

Services – for example, workflow tools, financial transaction services or instant messaging products – need to be shown to work in a way that may be too boring to show on screen, or may have what you believe to be an emotional or social benefit that you can’t attribute in a simple showcase.

It’s not about explaining things simply with the occasional cartoon lightbulb, cloud or a daft-looking bird for punctuation. It’s bringing something less tangible to life. Animated explainer videos allow for more personality when what you’re selling simply doesn’t have it. Nobody sees PayPal as cheeky, or Google Hangouts as down with the kids. They just do things simply and effectively, but in a different manner to competitors – which is why both companies have gone the animated route (with, admittedly, live-action parts too).

What’s more, if you offer something that evolves with the times – software being a particularly excellent example – or you tend to rebrand every now and then, you can go back and edit the bits that don’t comply with your new look, product or service. Think of it as an investment for the future.

We explain the benefits of animated explainers in this blog post.


Slide-based explainer video

Best used for: Demonstrations, usually of software; how-to videos; addressing more in-depth functions of a product or service.

What you need: A clear storyboard; a start and a finish; the steps in between.

I love slide-based explainers. Of all the types of explainer videos, they’re my absolute favourite. They don’t need to be static; for example, you can flip between screenshots with active mouse cursors, or display a few diagrams. Chuck in the occasional zoom shot when you need to differentiate between two items in a list and bosh – that explanation you wanted just explained what you needed. 

If you’re doing a simple demonstration or explaining the minutiae of a specific service function, just stick to this. People will leave feeling happy, because you’ve given them the answer they’re looking for.



Text-based ‘whiteboard’-style explainer video

Best used for: Nothing.

What you need: No self-respect.

It’s been done. It’s been done a million times. Sure, you have no budget, but please, don’t go down the route of look-I-have-a-whiteboard-and-a-marker-and-ideas-and-a-camera-stuck-on-fast-forward-oh-no-watch-out-guys-there’s-another-guy-helping-me-out-with-a-DIFFERENT-COLOURED-PEN-isn’t-this-wacky?-please-love-us-we’re-inventive.

Even if you go the more high-tech whiteboard and animation combination route, the only thing this format will communicate is a lack of originality. You can stand in front of a board and draw as you talk, maybe – if you’re drawing stuff and you have enough in the way of words to cover what you’re saying. But this one’s been done to death. 0/10 would not do, even if my job was to sell actual whiteboards.


Need something explaining to your customers – but you’re bamboozled by the different types of explainer videos? Speak to Stada Media. We’ll create you the perfect explainer videos… With added WOW!

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