If you want people to be immediately drawn to your video, if you want people to feel the exact emotion you’re eliciting, if you want this to work for pretty much every single human being on earth, there is one simple thing you have to do:
Put a face in it.
Your brain is hardwired to respond to faces. From the moment you are born, you are seeking out faces, desperate to look at them, reading them for social cues. They are the evolutionary equivalent of gifs.
But they’re conspicuously absent from business video. Instead, many companies choose to focus on the product rather than the people, missing this vital human connection.
This post will explain why your brain loves faces so much, and how you can use this fact to your advantage in all your videos.
Back in 2005, Jennifer Aniston was the subject of a seminal piece of research conducted by neuroscientists at UCLA and Caltech.
They showed pictures of Jennifer to patients with epilepsy while they were undergoing surgery. During this surgery (which is done while the patient is awake) neurosurgeons implanted electrodes to measure electrical activity associated with seizures. The neuroscientists also used this opportunity to measure electrical activity in a part of the brain not typically associated with seizures—an area called the medial temporal lobe.
This part of the brain does a ton of things, but it’s mostly involved in associating visual information with memory—recognizing stuff. As they showed the patients pictures of Jennifer, some brain cells in this area went crazy. These cells were coined "Jennifer Aniston cells," as they responded to her face, and only her face. Pictures of random objects: nothing. Pictures of other people: nothing. Pictures of Jen’s whole body: nothing. These cells were only interested in Jennifer’s face.
“These cells were coined ’Jennifer Aniston cells,’ as they respond to her face, andonly her face.”
This is just one of a wealth of pieces of research that have shown that faces are special for our brain. In fact, we have specialized neural circuits in an area of the brain called the fusiform gyrus (also called the fusiform face area) that respond only to faces.
Source: Journal of Neurophysiology
This is a brain scan of someone being shown images of faces. The bright spots are oxygenated blood rushing to the fusiform gyrus, a sign that it is being strongly activated.
And the following is more evidence that our brains love faces:
- Infants start looking at faces within just 30 minutes of being born. Even before they can focus, they start gazing at the dark shapes in the middle of our faces—our eyes, noses, and mouths.
- We think we see faces everywhere. Mars. Outlets. Buildings.
We’re not the only animals for which faces are special. Monkeys, chimps, and even sheep have been shown to recognize their family and friends through their faces. Sheep may all look the same to you, but to them, they are all unique.
So we as a species are highly attuned to faces. You can use this to your advantage, whether it’s to promote the hippest new chat app, or to explain a complicated HR tool, in 3 important ways.
Find the face in this image:
It probably took only a few hundred milliseconds for your eyes to be drawn through all that visual clutter to Bob Marley. This is the power of having an explicit circuit in the brain devoted to faces. It means that as soon as a face is found in a scene, your FFA lights up and thrusts your attention towards it.
In video, it’s the same. As soon as a face arrives on screen, you are compelled by your FFA to look. If you are making a product video, something as simple as switching from a product shot to a short clip of people using it will be enough to keep the viewer’s attention, especially if you include different people using the product each time.
Novel faces work well to keep attention in a product video, but if you want to build rapport with your audience, then you can use that "Aniston cell" recognition factor instead. This takes advantage of the familiarity principle. We develop a preference for objects, people, faces that we’ve been exposed to repeatedly.
This can help you build a personal connection with your customers over time. Have the same person present marketing or tutorial videos so that your audience can start to develop positive familiarity with that individual. Pretty soon, your viewers will start to feel like they know that person (and your brand).
“This can help you build a personal connection with your customers over time.”
All your Jennifer Aniston cells have now been converted to Chris Lavigne cells.
We are constantly reading each others’ faces for emotional cues, trying to work out whether the bad joke we made landed or miserably failed. We naturally want to empathize with people, and we do that by reading these facial emotions and mimicking them.
This emotional contagion can easily be put to use in video (and it is, in almost every movie you’ve ever watched). In business video, unless you have some very strange sullen SaaS product, you’ll want to continually elicit positive feelings from your customers.
Smiling is contagious. If you’re happy and smiling in video, your audience will be too. That happiness is then associated with you and your brand. All because you put a face in your video.
So why isn’t every single video on Wistia flush with faces? If it’s so easy and everyone has one, why isn’t everyone doing it?
- People don’t like being on camera—Jumping in front of a camera can be uncomfortable and scary. The worst part is, when you’re done acting, your brain tricks you into thinking you look awkward, even when it’s simply not true.
- You want to promote your product—This is probably the most common pitfall. You want to sell your product in your videos, and showing off all your great features is your best bet. Or is it?
- It’s hard to get right—If you don’t have cameras, lights, and fancy editing software, making quality videos seems like a stretch.
These are all legitimate concerns. But there are ways to overcome them.
Your brain is tricking you into thinking you don’t look good on camera, so tell that brain to quiet down. The story of your product is how people use it—it’s hard to build a meaningful connection to an object. And you can shoot a video on your iPhone, and build a lighting rig for less than $100.
There are some videos that are no-brainers when it comes to featuring faces. If you’re introducing your team in a recruiting video, for example, it would be weird if you didn’t actually include them in it. But for other videos—support, product, sales, marketing—it’s easy to forget about that human element.
The following are a few creative ways people are using faces in videos from our Video Inspiration Gallery.
Marketing videos tend to be full of cute animations and dry voiceovers, but oftentimes, your best tool is a face. Moz’s Whiteboard Friday video series is a perfect example of simple, human marketing.
In these weekly, educational videos, Rand Fishkin and other Mozzers explain complicated SEO-related concepts in front of a whiteboard. They offer valuable content and personality for free, and over time, their audience has developed a positive association with them.
Receiving a matter-of-fact email in response to a frustrating situation isn’t a great experience.
When customers are the most upset, a video with a human face can be an ideal antidote. Because we mimic the emotions of others, a custom video featuring a sincere support rep will likely pacify the customer... and maybe even delight them.
The team at Active Collab, a project management tool, often use video for support, because they find it’s an easy way to explain complex support issues. But they add a further element: personality.
The added touch of humor in this video helps lighten the mood and entertain customers as they learn about online payments.
It’s easy to say no to an anonymous, disembodied voice. It’s harder once there is a real face attached to that voice. That is what educational travel tour company ACIS are now doing with their video voicemails.
If you receive an email with a video thumbnail, you are more likely to click and watch. If that video that you land on is a person that knows your name, who you are, and what you do, chances are, it’ll capture your attention.
In this internal video, BambooHR goes meta in a tutorial video about being in a video. The focus is almost entirely on the humans, as there are no distractions beyond their faces. This way, new teammates get a feel for the video team and what it might be like to act in a video for BambooHR before ever setting foot in the office’s studio.
Many businesses think product videos should focus on the product—your potential customers want to see how it works, after all. But the how part of that equation includes a human. Adding in that personal touch of people interacting with your product can bring it to life.
We’re face-friendly here at Wistia, so even our product videos start out with a face.
When you set out to shoot your next video for your business, think about how to weave in a friendly face from your company. If you’re already using faces to your advantage, share your videos with us in the comments. We’d love to see them.