Text vs voice on your next video… which should I choose?

So, you’ve decided on a theme for your marketing or your educational video and now you’re trying to figure out whether to use text typography or voice over to support your message.  Well, we’ve been mulling this one over in the office for the last little while and we thought it was worth investigating a little further.

It’s interesting that when you explore the research on memory, the evidence overwhelmingly supports visual medium.  It appears we store auditory memory in one part of the brain, associated with the short-term memory.  This makes sense, right? My missus tells me what I need to get from Sainsbury’s (other supermarkets are available) and I repeat it back, “yup, got it” and by the time I’ve got to the car… BAM, it’s gone!  It seems we are not as good at integrating the senses as we think, according to Amy Poremba, Associate Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience at the University of Iowa.  Their research showed strongly that tactile and visual memory trumps auditory.  Ever wondered why that is?  Well there are a wealth of studies that have explored this and they seem to come down to the link between memory and emotion.  The most vivid memories tend to be around emotional events which are likely to be much more vividly recalled than a neutral event.  Again, makes sense right?  You see an image that’s striking and you have a visceral reaction to it.  You see the sun, shining brightly on a field, the wheat gently moving in a gentle breeze and suddenly I’m whisked away to my childhood playing on the local farm scrumping for apples.  I can literally smell summer!

But what about the support for that visceral image that you’ve taken the time to develop.  The suggestion in terms of your audience would be to go with text, right?  But, many argue that we don’t want to read a video, we want to watch it.  And I think they might have a point.  So which do we choose?

Well the reality is there are compelling arguments for both and either could achieve your goal depending on what you want to achieve.  For example, if you are creating a short video then text might be appropriate.  The other place where purely text works really well is if you’ve created a video to be shown at a trade fair or a conference where the volume of traffic is going to be pretty heavy and loud and you don’t want your audience to miss a trick. Text also works really well where the topic is particularly technical.   

Of course, voice over can be pretty powerful.  You hear that voice – I don’t know who does it for you; it could be Robin Williams, Hank Azaria, James Earl Jones, or Morgan Freeman (You can check out the top ten voice over artists here) – and you’re immediate drawn in and you could just listen for hours.  Ok, I get it, they might be a bit out of your price range, but a good voice over artist is worth their weight in gold!

Of course, many videos now use both and that can work really well.  I have observed a number of videos recently that have used voice over and text to support the message really well and very creatively.  It might just be a key word or sentence that appears on the screen but it really supports the drive home message that you want to display, ticking all those marketing boxes; drawing your audience in, linking that voice over and visual to the emotion and getting it in to the longer term memory with supportive text.

So when you are thinking about which to use, here’s a couple of points to consider:

  • What is your key message?

Make sure you understand your audience.  Be clear what the key message is that you want your audience to take away with them.  Everything you do, whether it’s through voice over or text should support that key message and drive the viewer towards understanding that message.

  • Who is it aimed at?

Of course this sounds obvious… and it is in many ways.  But it’s also one of the most significant, and often missed steps, in developing a successful media presentation.  You could have the best idea in the world for your video but if it isn’t going to speak to your audience, it’s not going to be successful.   You need to understand your audience.  If you manage this early on in the process, it’s going to help you in figuring out which approach you might want to adopt in terms of VO, text or a multi-faceted approach to drive your message home.  If you’re target audience is a load of tech bods, employing an emotion driven look with a soothing voice over it’s probably not going to hit home and an animation with text, graphics and key moments of VO may be your best way forward.

  • What’s your call to action?

A call to action is key in the success of this and, whether it’s through VO or text, this is a key element.  If you think about many of the adverts you watch for charities, they get you emotionally with a VO from an artist with a soft but authoritative voice and there will often be text with statistics that support the message but it always ends with a call to action; here’s what you can do about it.  Donate, give your time, whatever it is.  Think about what your call to action is and make sure that’s a key part of your message and then you can consider which tool is the best way to get that message across.   

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