All videos, across all mediums, struggle against the same enemy: irrelevance. Your greatest fear shouldn’t be that your video is bad, but that nobody cares.
Unfortunately, this is an all-too-common fate for corporate videos.
The actual manifestation of irrelevance can take many forms. It could look like single digit YouTube views for your new commercial. Or perhaps it’s low engagement rates on the videos for your new training module. Either way, it’s not a good look.
The knee jerk reaction is to assume the standards are too high. The internet is littered with superb videos, and it’s simply not possible to compete with their production value and screenwriting.
That’s where you’re wrong, my friend.
Plenty of marketers have made great videos on relatively modest budgets. Furthermore, the visuals aesthetic of your videos is only part of what makes them engaging.
Sound design, i.e., the use of music and sound effects, is a vital area of video production that directly contributes to higher engagement rates among viewers.
In this article, I’ll look at how sound effects enhance how people consume video content and three ways to use SFX in your next project.
Why Sound Effects Matter
To create successful story-driven movies, filmmakers strive to suspend the audiences disbelief. That means they must convince the audience to willfully set aside their hesitations about the truthfulness of the film in order to invest in the viewing experience.
Obviously, product launch videos, advertisements, and explainer videos of any style typically don’t carry the same gravitas as feature films. But they still benefit from having the audience let their guard down and invest their attention to what’s happening on screen.
Sound effects are a key factor in drawing viewers into the world you create — however fleeting the glimpse you offer them may be.
If two people are talking on a busy street, the sound of traffic in the background gives the entire scene more depth and believability.
If there’s a conversation between two coworkers in an office, it should probably be accompanied by a low drone of keystrokes.
If someone bursts through a wall, then that mighty force should be accompanied by appropriately aggressive sounds.
As Jesse Schell, CEO of Schell Games, said, “Sound is what truly convinces the mind it is in a place; in other words, ‘hearing is believing.’”
Beyond meeting some aesthetic standard for your videos, using quality SFX can produce significant boosts to your videos’ engagement numbers.
Since neuromarketing has emerged as a legitimate source of data, marketers have gotten a clearer view than ever before into the brains of our audiences.
A striking example comes from the research of Neuro-Insights. In the course of analyzing audience responses to over 200 TV ads, the firm found when the music effectively corresponded to the visuals the brain generates a “14% higher memory-encoded response.”
(In this context, we can understand music as an umbrella for any sounds in the commercial.)
“Our brains love it when what we see and hear are aligned. Conversely, our brains find it upsetting and distracting when it’s out of sync,” said Heather Andrew, chief executive of Neuro-Insights.
When visuals correspond to sounds that we expect to hear our minds are happier and more engaged.
3 Ways to Apply SFX
Alright, enough about theory. Let’s talk about when and where to apply SFX to make your videos more engaging, and more successful.
- To add realism and depth
Who says that business to business marketing has to be boring? One of the standout ads from Superbowl LIV was Dashlane’s “Password Paradise.”
There’s a lot to admire about this video, but the sound effects take center stage.
From the sound of the boat breaking the water to the owl hooting in the background, the SFX immediately create a more believable world for the video to take place.
Of course, this scene is inherently unbelievable, but the sound design helps the audience brush that aside and focus on what’s happening in the story.
Since there’s no background music until the end of the video, the sound effects also do a lot of work for the plot progression.
The squeaky marker scrawl of the boatman underlines what’s happening offscreen when the camera is on our protagonist, while also piling on the tension as he fails again and again to get his password right.
The production value of this video is sky high, but isn’t overly complicated. It’s about what you choose to emphasize that leads to successful sound design.
- To make smoother transitions
Moving between scenes is always awkward. That’s why a plethora of techniques have cropped up to reduce the jarring effect of rapidly moving from one scenario to another.
This is a particularly useful role for sound effects. Watch how it works in Slack’s “You’ve Probably Heard of Slack.”
This video takes us from a soccer field to an office to a train and then back to the soccer field.
In between each of those major transitions are minor ones, where the Slack interface takes over part of the screen or the whole thing.
To make all of that movement less awkward, Slack uses a simple whoosh sound to denote whenever the location changes or the Slack UI jumps on the screen for a demonstration.
It’s a subtle technique, but it makes a world of difference. If each of those transitions were blanketed in silence the entire video would feel stale, and the audience would be less engaged.
This is the beauty of sound design. Sometimes sounds are the focus, and other times they play smaller roles in the background.
- To develop the story
Finally, you can use sound effects to develop the story of your video. Like background music, SFX can have a tremendous impact on how the audience feels about a video.
Just watch how the sounds change throughout the course of Constant Contact’s “Approachable Snowman.”
In the beginning, people are terrified of our enterprising snowman, and the SFX makes that apparent.A man screams and flees in terror. The snowman cries into his hands as his business racks up bad reviews.
But after the snowman adopts Constant Contact, the sounds start to change.
A crowd of people laugh at the snowman’s dad jokes. The cha-ching sound of coins accompanies increasing sales numbers on his marketing dashboard.
And his neighbor finally high fives him.
The entire mood of the story is changed by the sounds that accompany the actions on screen. Of course, the music helps a great deal, but the sound effects play a major part too.
And that’s the truth about SFX.
Regardless of how outlandish the premise of your video is, like a password grim reaper or a marketer snowman or how boring your concept may be Slack’s video wasn’t riveting — sound effects have a major role to play in drawing your audience in and communicating your message.
Ignore SFX at your own peril. Or apply the straightforward lessons we’ve covered in this post, and revel in how much more engaging your videos become.