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How We Made an Explainer Video For our SaaS Product at Almost No Cost

By Rachel Appel

in Marketing, Startup Life

Posted October 18, 2017
Here's how we made our company video in 9 steps, saving our marketing department thousands of dollars. 

The team at Reelio is an amalgamation of highly varied backgrounds, educations, and skill sets. We decided to put our skills to the test and push ourselves to make an animated explainer video entirely in-house, from developing the initial strategy all the way through to the background music. Read on to find out how we did it!

1. Developing the SaaS Explainer Video Strategy

To kick off the project, we got the team together. Although we ended up working with over 8 different people on this project, the core group was composed of Paul, Customer Expert and Marketing Manager, Julio, Motion Graphic Wizard and Head Designer, and me, Concept Sketcher and Director of Marketing (as featured in the photo above). Early on, this resource from WordStream was super helpful in getting an idea of the scope of the project.

With the gang identified, the first meeting established the scope of the project and our initial steps. But before we get into that, I can't overemphasize how great it was to keep all our notes in one document from the very beginning. It's probably the only reason I can even write this post now.

We started a Google Doc in the first meeting and just kept adding new notes, scripts, edits, links to recordings, etc, to the same document. It made it super easy to reference previous ideas and collaborate.

So, in the kickoff meeting to develop the strategy for our new explainer video, we discussed and wrote down a few key things:

The Goal

We didn't get too hung up on the details of our goal, for us, it was quite simple:

"Tell the story of why influencer marketing, and why Reelio, quickly and easily for people who want to know."

The Audience

Defining our audience was an important step for us, as Reelio works with creators, brands directly of varying sizes, agencies and publishers. For this project, we wanted to focus more and speak directly to the core audience the marketing team is currently targeting, which are platform-interested brand marketing managers. So, for the audience we wrote down, "Prospective brands considering an influencer marketing solution who want to quickly know who we are and what we have to offer. Platform first, managed as a quick note."

The Voice

Defining this voice is a super fun step. We ended up thinking about the voice we wanted for the video in terms of actually employees, which helped us to know we were all on the same page. Our notes for the voice we wanted ended up being: "Intellectual but inspire trust. Show that the people behind this product are intelligent and personable. Voice that Mark (smart & fun), Vivian (reliable), Paul (get it done, trustworthy) and Gabe (fun!) have. Forward thinking, in every way."

Very Rough Ideas / Outline

This was just a quick draft of the areas we thought we wanted to cover:

  • Why influencer marketing
  • Not tied to the platform reasons
    • Our people
    • Our experience
    • Regardless of which route you take, these are the people behind the tech
  • Finding influencers
  • Managing everything in one place
  • Tracking results
  • Drive ROI

We actually didn't end up sticking to about half of this, and decided instead to structure the video a bit differently but, roughly outlining these ideas early on helped to get us moving in the right direction.

2. Do Research On Other Explainer Videos

This step was critical in communicating as a team the overall direction for the video. It was also super helpful to take a look at what other companies did and identify as a team what we thought was working, and not working about them. We each did some research separately, and then came together to review a few we thought were good to take a closer look at.

Here are some of the best explainer videos we could find and some notes we took. 

Slack, Sandwich Video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B6zVzWU95Sw

Slack Overview https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9RJZMSsH7-g

Intercom Overview https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gbnGEq0PQDs

Klipfolio https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YmcGOYCK_fU

Salesforce, Sandwich Video https://sandwichvideo.com/projects/desk-info-overload/

Zenefits, https://sandwichvideo.com/projects/zenefits/

Crazy Egg, https://vimeo.com/38858205

Dollar Shave Club, https://youtu.be/ZUG9qYTJMsI

Mint, https://youtu.be/rK6WLHNYjwM

Spotify, https://vimeo.com/26427650

Invision, https://vimeo.com/73625505

Kaleio Marketplace, https://vimeo.com/44529263

One Paper Lane, https://vimeo.com/195732660

Print Box, https://vimeo.com/75941864

Unroll Me, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QL26FS5daGY

PandaDoc, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ixpg0Kq_bEU

Izea, https://izea.com/#Welcome

Asana, https://vimeo.com/142414607

Sfridoo, https://vimeo.com/217479545

SendCheckIt, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3w58vfSjFQs

Here are some of the notes that we got after watching the videos listed above:

  • On Length: Keep it short and sweet, 30 seconds to 1min max. 
  • On Complexity: Keep it simple! The less complicated the more we will actually get across. 
  • On Simplifying the UI:
    • It's easier to understand the platforms where the UI is striped down. Focus on one element at time. Try and find a balance of abstract and real.
    • When the UI is too abstracted, the viewer doesn't have a good enough idea of what the experience will be like when they actually interact. Not sure what to expect.
  • On Voiceover: Voiceovers can help engage the viewer more.
  • On Design: Simple, single line copy can be used to emphasize key messages.
  • On Script/Content: Needs to be thought out and clear, but if it's too high level, it won't feel  differentiated. Don't make it too feature focused, doesn't translate well, starts to feel overwhelming. 
  • On Tone: Try and strike a lighthearted, fun tone, it feels good.
  • On Music: Can't feel stock / too repetative, really important.

3. Write the Script

There are a million different ways to explain what a SaaS startup does. Fortunately, there are a few people our team who have already honed the craft of telling that story.

Before starting on the script, we met up with a few OGs on the Reelio sales team and recorded their pitches. This only took about 5 minutes each but was invaluable in helping to shape the language and story. You can take a listen to the recordings we made here:

Pete Borum, CEO

Mark Borum, VP Sales & Marketing

Colin O'Rourke, Reelio's first employee and all around badass seller. 

We ended up pulling phrasing and some structure from these recordings which was really helpful in kicking off writing the script. We also took notes from some of example videos linked above that we really liked to figure out how we wanted to organize the story. To keep it simple and focused, we started with this structure:

  • The problem with ads
  • Vision of the future of ads
  • The problem with influencer marketing
  • Vision of the future of influencer marketing
  • The Reelio value prop
  • The big picture

After a few rounds of revisions, here's the first draft of the script:

The way people find out about new products isn’t working. Ads are annoying, and often, flat out ignored.

What if people could learn about new products from a trusted voice? In fact, 74% of people trust word of mouth over other forms of advertising, second only to friends and family.

But, partnering brands with influential voices, the right voices, different voices, consistently, is hard. Really hard.

Picture a platform where brands and influencers can find each other and collaborate on content easily.


Find the right influencers with search and featured creators.

Manage every step of the process with contracts and messaging.

And track your results with reporting and analytics.

All in one place with Reelio.

Whether you need a technology solution, or you want us to run your campaign for you.

People should learn about products in a way they appreciate and value.

Let’s make great content together.

Download the free eBook Advanced Guide to Cross-Platform Influencer Marketing

4. Sketch the Storyboards

With the script pretty close to finalized, we started working on storyboarding it. We broke the script up into sections and through discussion and simply drawing things out, we worked through various ways to visually compliment the script.

saas explainer video storyboard sketches 

5. Design High-res Mockups

With the storyboards in hand, Julio took it away mocking up the sketches into high-res layouts. We went through a few rounds of reviewing these while saying the script out loud to get a sense for how the final video would feel in terms of pacing.

Julio started by choosing a few key frames and designing "style frames" that established the look and feel of the overall video. After that, he moved on to storyboarding the rest of the script. For specific sections that were visually more involved, or more complex, we had sketching and brainstorming sessions to work through them the various options.

To expedite the process, we chose a flat and graphic aesthetic, which enabled Julio to essentially storyboard and make the high-res mock ups all in one step in Illustrator. After working through a few variations on the same idea, the best one was refined to make the overall look cohesive with the other frames. 

explainer video high-res mock ups.png

6. Simplify the UI of the Platform

The Reelio marketing squad is super fortunate that our graphic designer is also a powerhouse motion graphics animator too. With the storyboards fleshed out, Julio continued the process and kicked off the animation.

A big part of the challenge was how to simplify the UI of the platform. (Learn more about our platform). The process involved taking actual screenshots from the platform, and carefully removing extraneous elements that weren't the main functionality of the page. At a high-level this looked like:

  • Keeping it to a maximum of 4-5 discreet sections
  • Increasing the size of the elements overall
  • Turning smaller text elements into bars
  • Refining the spacing, stroke weights and colors to create visual balance

A great way to figure out if you're on the right track is the Squint Test. If you put the image of the platform and the simplified version side by side and squint, you'll get a better sense of whether or not both elements have the same visual weight in terms of size, lightness or darkness.  For example, the text is black, but if we made a thick bar that represents the text the same color and height to replace it, it would feel much heavier on the page than it should. So, by squinting you can see the level it should be at, and adjust to better match.

Reelio platform.png

If you don't happen to have an amazing motion graphics editor on your team, I'd recommend using CanvaPrezi, Powerpoint, Keynote, or Google Slides, to make a really strong presentation with animated transitions and then screen recording that.

7. Record the SaaSy Voiceover

Via email and slack, we put out a call to the entire company to see if anyone was interested in recording the voiceover. We got some incredible, and totally surprising, responses. If you'd like a good giggle, here are just a few of the highlights, as titled by the speaker, Dan Pozmanter, Accent Extraordinaire and Senior Backend Developer: Bad British Accent, Worse British Accent, Elderly Folksy, and my personal fav, Creepy Voice.

Although there were other contenders, Dan's outstanding range of voices and enthusiasm won him the part. And, while the original recordings were all incredibly entertaining, we wanted to stick to a less outlandish tone that wouldn't take away from the message. He recorded three new versions, each with varying levels of enthusiasm and seriousness Take OneTake Two, and Take Three.

We decided use a bit more of a serious tone in the first half of the script, where we are talking about the problems that advertisers and consumers face, and then brighten up the tone at the words "Welcome to Reelio" where we highlight our value prop and show the simplified UI of the platform.

Additionally, we let Dan be a bit flexible with the script to read the lines in a way that was most comfortable for him, which helped to make it feel more approachable and natural overall.

8. Make the Bed-Track

At first, we planned to use Audioblocks for the bed-track of the explainer video and started browsing a wide variety of music, listening for tracks that matched the simple, upbeat tone we were looking for. Magically, after an hour or so of unsuccessful searching, Paul, the aforementioned marketing manager, surprised the team by playing some tracks he had worked up over the past few months. With a little direction, he came back the next day with a fully custom track to match the video and make the project entirely in-house.

It might be that our team is lucky in having these unusual talents outside of the skills that got us our jobs, but one thing we learned from this process is that if you put the opportunity out there, you'll be surprised by who has something to add. 

9. Publish it!

With the motion graphics, voiceover, and bed-track complete, Julio brought it all together and BAM we had an animated explainer video in just a few weeks! Take a look and let us know what you think!

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