How to make a better customer testimonial video

Matthew Klassen,

Content Marketing Manager

6 January 20220 min read

What's the best customer testimonial video you've ever seen? Can't think of any? We don't blame you. Most customer testimonial videos are forgettable, but we wanted to change that. Here's how we set out to make it so the next time someone asks you about your favorite one, you'll have an answer.

Did you know that last year, 2021, there were 41 Hallmark Christmas movies?

I’ll let that sink in.

These full-length feature films started coming out in late October, and they came out basically every day through the end of the year. Are there really 41 different ways for a successful-yet-lonely person to reluctantly return to their quirky families/hometowns for the holidays just in time to rediscover their childhood crush/misplaced yuletide spirit, fall in love, and sing/dance/DJ at the annual jamboree?

I don’t mean to pick on Hallmark — people love Hallmark! I love Spider-Man, but I can’t say I’m over the moon to see Spidey on the big screen for the 12th time in my life. (And in a crazy twist — it’s the spideriest Spider-Man yet!)

If something works, people tend to keep doing it. Stick to the formula. It’s safer than trying something new — at least until it isn’t.

Take customer testimonial videos for example. They’re at least as rote as Hallmark flicks. I’m sure you’ve caught onto the formula by now:

  1. Put a customer in a chair in an office

  2. Focus one camera on them from the waist up

  3. Get another camera a bit more to the side and a little closer up

  4. Ask the customer to list off the value and benefits of the product

  5. Intercut that footage with smiling folks pointing at whiteboards or laughing in a boardroom (you can even use stock footage here!)

  6. Put some upbeat stock music underneath (you know what I’m talking about)

  7. Rinse and repeat

It’s just so… boring. We wanted to do something different. Take a look:

Chris Schwass, Culture Amp

Play button

Mairtini Ni Dhomnhnaill, Countsy

Play button

Grant Crawford, Priority1

Play button

While prepping for this project, we watched a ton of customer testimonials and case study videos, and alongside our excellent agency, Booklight, we spotted three specific ways we thought we could improve on the formula:

  1. Authenticity

  2. Engagement

  3. Creativity

Let’s dig in.

Making customer testimonials more authentic

One of the biggest problems I have with those formulaic testimonials is that they often feel fake or forced. When you optimize a process for being simple and easy, what often becomes simplest and easiest is to phone it in.

Did the camera crew really want to pick the most basic setup? Or was it the path of least resistance? Did the customer really want to give up 15-20 minutes of their day to talk about your product’s ROI? Or did they do it for a discount? Does the music complement the emotion in the picture? Or does it compensate for a lack thereof?

With our videos, we wanted every line, every frame, and every note to come across as true — both to the customer and to ourselves. But how?

We picked out a couple concrete things we could do to preserve that authenticity, to let real emotions shine.

Show the set

I mentioned that most of these videos take place in an office. A lot of the time, these aren’t actual offices — they’re sets. Maybe it’s a rented office or a shared space. We thought about using Front’s offices. But our customers don’t work at Front or at these other places. And we knew the logistics of shooting at their actual office wouldn’t work.

If we were going to shoot on a set, we decided we’d show the set. Lights, c-stands, cameras, tripods, sandbags — all of it. It lets the audience in. They know we know it’s a fake office. It subtly nods to the office convention, and then (hopefully) subverts it in an authentic way.

VHS tape

When I think about what’s “real” or “authentic” when it comes to videos, there’s nothing that beats old home videos. I remember as a kid shooting on my uncle’s old camera, making dumb movies with my brother and our toys. No CGI, no camera tricks. Just real life.

That’s the emotion VHS — the tracking lines, the washed out colors, the glitches — instills in me, and we hope in our audience as well. And yeah, we know, you can add a filter in After Effects, but we used a real, vintage camera on set.

Emotional storytelling

The core of any testimonial video is the story. For a lot of them, though, it’s more about just trying to get a couple “money” quotes about ROI. We tried to get a few of those too, but even without them the hearts of our videos would still be there.

That’s because our stories are built around emotions. What did the customer feel before Front? How do they feel in their day-to-day jobs? They’re the stars, the protagonists. What are their character arcs? Without an emotional before and after, we didn’t have a story. So a lot of work went into sourcing customers that had those stories and finding our way to them in the interviews.

Creating a more engaging testimonial video

This is the big one, and there’s not much to say. I think too many corporate videos are just boring. Cliché. Done. Take your pick! If people lose interest watching, then it’s not engaging enough.

So how do you take the formula and inject some life into it?

Better camera angles

I mentioned the classic camera angles — 10 degrees off center, belly button up, 25 degrees off center, collarbone up. Rule of thirds. Simple. They work because they’re easy. Easy to set up, easy to light, and they work. You can see the subject (that’s just the person in the frame) and you can see them a little bit closer up. It looks good, or at least inoffensive to the eyes.

With shots like that, the whole point is that they don’t stand out or distract. But that also means they don’t engage the brain — they just slip right off like eggs on a non-stick pan. We wanted to keep people’s attention without drawing it away from what each person was saying. So we picked a few more interesting camera setups.

This is called short-siding. If you’ve seen Mr. Robot or any David Fincher movies, you’ve seen this type of shot. Technically it’s breaking a rule of cinematography, but it’s for a purpose. In those movies it can evoke a feeling of claustrophobia or crowdedness, but it can also draw attention to the subject’s eye line or conversely draw attention to the space itself. That’s what we were going for here.

We also broke a rule by showing the back of the subject’s head, like in this shot.

Again, it draws attention to the space and the set like we talked about earlier, and it also gives you a 360 degree view of the person. You can see all sides of them, it drives that sense of authenticity, and it also engages the eyes.

B-roll and stock footage

Most customer testimonials use either b-roll or stock footage. If you can afford to shoot your own b-roll and you have access to the places and people you need, you go for that. If you can’t, you use stock footage.

Early on in the process, we talked a lot about whether we even wanted b-roll (okay, just so you know, a-roll is the main course, the talking head shots. B-roll is the extra stuff that plays overtop when you need to cut away or show something else) or stock footage at all. Booklight came back with a visual language that makes use of both to accomplish different things. The b-roll would deliver impactful illustrations to accentuate the story being told, and the stock footage would offer a fun, retro break for the eyes that also calls back to the history of ad filmmaking.

Bring out our customers’ personalities

The full-length cut of each video clocks in around 2.5 minutes, but we interviewed each one for more like 2.5 hours. A lot of that time was spent just chatting. We talked about ultimate frisbee, the Cleveland Browns, Korean martial arts — whatever they were interested in. And we took care to keep the interview light and focused on what they cared about.

Too often, these types of videos get too focused on explaining org structures or ROI at the expense of the humans at the center of them. The best way to keep an audience engaged is to keep the star of the show engaged, and let them show their natural personality. We think it really comes across in the final product!

Infusing creativity into every frame

I love working on videos like this. When I went to film school, I dreamed of working on weird art films or sci-fi epics. Anything but corporate testimonial films. But when you have the freedom to be creative with the work, it’s actually pretty fun!

And that was the number one thing we were looking for in an agency — a willingness to take creative risks to make something people haven’t seen before. Booklight came up with some ideas that fit the bill.

B-roll like you’ve never seen

I mentioned people drawing on whiteboards, smiling. Milling around laptops or conference tables. Shaking hands, somehow seeming wildly “successful.” It’s cliché, and it doesn’t do anything for me!

We went back to the drawing board. How can we make b-roll creative? What about ducks? It’s in the film. Gumballs? We’re doing it. A brazen callback to How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying? Let’s go!

Rear projection

As long as we’ve got the mid-century vibes established, why not go all in? One of the coolest filmmaking methods from back in the day is rear projection. You used to see it all the time in every Bond or Hitchcock movie that had a car scene in it. Now you see it all the time, you just don’t know you’re seeing it. (That incredible LED volume they use to make The Mandalorian? Basically just high-tech rear projection!) We leaned in hard to rear projection and infused a lot of character into our videos without having to spend a ton of time and money on set construction!

A chef’s kiss at the end

Ever hear about peak-end theory? It’s this idea that positive and negative experiences are largely defined by the emotions felt at the peak and the end of the experience. In other words, if you have a bad experience that ends on a high note, you’ll probably remember the experience as being positive on the whole. With that in mind, why not end each video with something purely delightful — for no other reason than it makes you happy. We called these scenes “chef’s kisses.” A tiny bit of joy to end our experience.

Roll credits

I’ve mentioned our partners at Booklight, but I also wanted to name drop our team behind-the-scenes at Front — Joe Sylvester and Mariahlyn Okuna — who spearheaded this project from a customer marketing and design perspective, respectively.

Also, the majority of the credit should go to our customers, who gave up a significant chunk of time to star in these videos. They’re doing some impressive things at their companies every day, and I’m proud to give them some well-deserved time in the spotlight. If you’re a Front customer and you’re interested in telling your story in a fresh, new way, reach out to your CSM! I’d love to work on the next video with you.

Written by Matthew Klassen

Originally Published: 6 January 2022

Stories to strengthen the heart of business