April 5, 2016

Web Psychology and Video: An Interview with Nathalie Nahai

Meryl Ayres


Nathalie Nahai is a web psychologist, author, and host of the Guardian’s Tech Weekly podcast. She has helped teams within many large corporations (Google, eBay, Harvard Business Review) better understand the science behind their website design and overall marketing. A well-regarded speaker, Nathalie also teaches global audiences about the link between behavioral sciences and the digital space.

We are thrilled that she will be gracing the stage at WistiaFest, and we couldn’t wait to hear her answers to our questions about business video!


I learned from one of your presentations that appealing to a human need is one way to cut through the noise and hold your audience’s attention. Do you think video is an effective tool for this?


Yes, when it comes to communication video is one of the richest media we have, as it allows us to express ourselves through all manner of cues, verbal and non-verbal.

“This means that we can communicate in a much more nuanced and perhaps direct way than we can elsewhere.”

Since we are instinctively attracted to stimuli such as motion, sound, and human faces, using video can be the most rapid way to communicate information, evoke emotion, and establish rapport with our audiences. In the absence of holograms, video is the closest approximation we have to real life, and it’s set to get a whole lot more real with the launch of various VR platforms due out this year.


Can you think of a recent example of a marketing video that have held your attention? Why was it successful?


While I was searching for recent ads, I stumbled across this one, and it moved me to tears.

It’s a beautiful video that is both intimate, expansive and mysterious, that builds a slow, steady tension and anticipation, and provokes our curiosity to watch until the very end. It’s a moving and wonderful video, and one which seeks to make the world a kinder, more understanding and empowering place.


Let’s say someone is going to be the talent in a front page explainer video, and the shoot is tomorrow. What advice would you give them?


Research shows that we rate messages from homophilous sources as more trustworthy, so if you can comfortably mirror your audience’s linguistic traits, clothes, and gestures, they’ll be more likely to believe you. This may sound like a simple hack, but if you’re going against your natural instincts just to fake it, chances are it will show.

Getting this right is less about acting, and more about understanding the social and cultural context of your viewer so that you can choose the right person for the job. If your target audience is smart, ambitious, twenty-something females, then choose a talent who is also a smart, ambitious, twenty-something female. The more homophilous the person is with their audience, the more congruent (and believable) their message will be.

In terms of other general tips, maintaining good eye contact with the viewer (in this case, looking down the lens) will help, as well as open hand gestures (palms up, torso facing towards the viewer) and using your eye-gaze to direct the viewer’s attention where you need it (towards the product).


We read in one of your presentations that you advise companies not to hire actors for conversion videos. Can you tell us a bit more about that?


Yes, sure. If your company is responsible for the service or product you’re selling, then it will also have the greatest insight into what it can do, and why it’s exciting.

In the last couple of years, the word ’authentic’ has become so overused that it’s easy to forget what it actually means: true, genuine, real.

Yet it is precisely this quality that people respond to when deciding whom to trust, and which businesses to buy from. So if you have warm, smart, and enthusiastic people within your organization, train them up in video-friendly communication skills and get them in front of a camera. Their knowledge and passion will shine through, and that kind of authenticity is more persuasive than the best that money can buy.

“So if you have warm, smart, and enthusiastic people within your organization, train them up in video-friendly communication skills and get them in front of a camera.”


What are some of the biggest mistakes that businesses make with video?


I think one of the easiest and biggest mistakes you can make with video is to follow a traditional ad agency approach to the design process, in which creativity is considered sacred, beyond the scope of testing, data, and analysis. Creativity is an extraordinarily valuable skill, but the difference between a brilliantly creative video and one that drives engagement and click through rates, is consumer research.

The most crucial ingredient of a successful video is understanding what will grab, hold, and convert your customers’ attention, which means studying their needs, context, and motivations. This research stage is often the most useful and yet the most overlooked, so I would say that whatever your budget, if you can do some guerilla research and split-test some ideas early on, you’ll be much more likely to design something people will actually want to watch and act on.

"The most crucial ingredient of a successful video is understanding what will grab, hold, and convert your customers’ attention."


If you had to guess, what do you think will be some of the largest trends in the future of video marketing?


At SXSW this year there was a lot of talk around VR, AR (augmented reality), and encryption, so if I were to put my money on future trends, I’d say that the biggest trends will be around videos becoming more personalized, user-led, interactive, and immersive.

Want to learn more from Nathalie Nahai and other business video experts? Join us at WistiaFest!

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