School of Motion

The Rise of Viewer Experience: A Chat with Yann Lhomme

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Yann Lhomme is here to give insight into how a studio can help their clients navigate the confusing world of motion design.

The phrase explainer video may make you a little squeamish. However, Thinkmojo's co-founder, Yann Lhomme, believes explainer videos are a powerful and relevant way to boost a brands value through video.
Video isn't just a way for customers to get information about product, it's a way for people to experience a brand. Yann believes you need to put as much attention to detail about a video as you do your product. You can't have information without experience.
Let's dig in and wrap our brains around the almost infinite new way companies are using motion to tell their brand's story.

Yann Lhomme Show Notes

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Yann Lhomme Transcript

Joey Korenman:
When you are in the trenches, buried deep under a mountain of pre-comps and adjustment layers, it's really easy to forget that what we're doing as motion designers is not just about making pretty stuff. The clients that pay our bills have real business challenges that we are helping them solve and keeping that in mind can make you stand out in a competitive industry.
Joey Korenman:
My guest today has built a studio that does an incredible job of positioning itself as a problem-solver that uses the power of video to help brands stand out. Yann LHomee, which, by the way, translates to "the man" in French, is co-founder of Thinkmojo, an agency out near San Francisco that produces killer content for lots of huge brands like Google, Slack, InVision, and more. He also recently launched a brand-new site called Spectacle, which is sort of like Motionographer for product and marketing videos.
Joey Korenman:
In this conversation, Yann drops a ton of insight into the changing landscape of marketing that studios now operate in. When every brand in the world is a media company, according to Gary Vaynerchuck, how can studios and agencies help their clients navigate the world of video and motion design? Well, Yann has a some pretty revolutionary ideas about this, including a new framework that he calls VX, or "viewer experience," which can help anyone working in this field wrap their brains around the new way companies are using motion.
Joey Korenman:
This episode was a blast for me, and I know you're going to learn a ton and get really fired up about the almost infinite opportunities that are opening up in our field, so sit back and meet Yann.
Joey Korenman:
Yann, it is so awesome to have you on the podcast. We chatted once a few years back and now you are on the main School of Motion Podcast. It's an honor to have you, man, thanks for coming.
Yann Lhomme:
Thank you, Joey, I'm excited about this.
Joey Korenman:
There's going to be some listeners who have taken our explainer camp class, and you were one of the interviewees for that because your studio Thinkmojo, at the time, you've shifted since then, but you really were known, at least in my eyes, for really high-end explainer videos, among other things. I know that there's a lot of people listening that have not heard of Thinkmojo, so I'm wondering if you could just talk a little bit about your studio/agency. How did you start it and how has it grown over the years?
Yann Lhomme:
Yeah, for sure. Thinkmojo is an agency that specialized in creating brand experiences through the use of video. Most people know us for the work we've been doing in the tech industry, and some of that used to be explainer type productions, not as much anymore. Essentially, what we do is we come alongside some of those big tech brands and we help them implement video or speak through video within their organization so that they can better communicate to their users. That might take many different shapes and forms, but maybe we help them launch a new product or a big marketing initiative or maybe some kind of an in-app type of experience that requires video.
Yann Lhomme:
The kind of teams that we do that with, think about Google, Twitter, Square, those kind of big guys, a lot of the tech unicorns like Slack and Zendesk and InVision. Those are the teams that we typically work with. Sometimes there's smaller teams as well that typically you probably haven't heard of them yet, but if we do our job well then hopefully you'll hear about them. That's what they hired us for.
Yann Lhomme:
In a nutshell, that's what we do and we've been doing it for, it's been a little while now, probably we've been around for 6-7 years, probably. It was started by myself and my brother, and it's gotten to basically a full-grown 10-20 people studio now, so that's who we are and what we do.
Joey Korenman:
That's amazing, man. Well, congratulations. I have a lot of questions about this, actually. The kind of work that originally got Thinkmojo on my radar were those, I almost hate to use the term "explainer video" and we're going to get into this later in this conversation, "explainer video" carries a lot of baggage with it. Really, you were doing either product videos, product launch videos, or product walk-through videos, or just straight up marketing videos.
Joey Korenman:
I'm always curious, when you talk about a company like Slack or InVision, companies you've worked with, you've worked with Google now, don't these companies have gigantic internal marketing departments that at this point in 2019 should understand video pretty well? What's the unique skill set that you and your team bring that makes them want to work with you?
Yann Lhomme:
Yeah, that's a great question, and you're absolutely right, by the way. A lot of the teams that we work with, they've gotten to be really savvy about video. For example, we work a lot with Zendesk, and Zendesk is a great example of how a company has implemented video within their team. They have a team of 7-8 people working full-time on just video inside of their brand team.
Joey Korenman:
That's crazy.
Yann Lhomme:
That's still not enough to do everything in-house. They still rely on agencies like us and others to do some of the work. There's a couple reasons for that. One of them is that having somebody from the outside is always good, because when you work on something you have blind spots, and having somebody come from the outside can shed the light on some of those blind spots and inject some freshness or some fresh blood that otherwise would be hard to achieve.
Yann Lhomme:
The other thing is, especially nowadays, the need for content is so big in marketing that whoever you are and how savvy you are, it's never going to be enough to create all of the content that you want to do. In order to scale, most likely you're going to need to rely on agencies like us.
Joey Korenman:
Yeah, that makes perfect sense. Another piece of that, this is something that I think people who work in video and work in animation, it's really intuitive the power that video has to communicate. I'm curious if maybe also part of the reason that companies come to Thinkmojo and other studios like that is that it's not intuitive to them. Do you you also help with strategy and coming up with ideas? "Here's how you could use video to solve this business problem you're having."
Yann Lhomme:
Oh, yeah, yeah, big time. In fact, it's interesting because it reflects the evolution of Thinkmojo along the years. Back when we started, it used to be much simpler as you said. We did a lot of explainer type videos, a lot of product videos, and that was it, one-off projects. Over the years, the clients just kept on throwing challenges at us and problems to solve, and so now it's evolved into going what's beyond that one video.
Yann Lhomme:
If you think about the content creation process a little bit more strategically, you realize that thinking about creating one great video is just not cutting it anymore. When you think about the brand and your customers and all that stuff, you realize that you're going to need to go beyond that and plan out a whole series of content that needs to be planned ahead and super cohesive with who your brand is and what it stands for and all that stuff. That's when you need to be a lot more strategic and, I guess, design-oriented to achieve some of that content.
Joey Korenman:
Sure, that's one of the things that I love about Thinkmojo is that the way that you think and even, really, the way you position yourselves on your website and in your marketing efforts, it's very different than what I see most studios doing. I want to talk about that in a little bit, but this might be a good segue to talk about a cool article that I read. I don't know, actually, Yann, if you wrote it or someone on your team wrote it, but you basically were putting forth this idea of a new kind of user experience you were calling "VX."
Joey Korenman:
Now, if you go to thinkmojo.com and we'll link to it in the show notes, everything that Yann and I are talking about will be in the show notes for anyone listening, you actually call yourselves a "VX agency," and I've never heard of that before. I don't know of any other companies calling themselves that, so maybe you could just talk about that and explain what that means.
Yann Lhomme:
Oh, yeah, I could talk about that stuff for hours, so I'm going to try to make it concise and really clear. First, let me give you some context around VX. "VX" stands for "viewer experience," and so I'm going to make a really big, bold statement here. What VX is doing, it's basically doing to video what UX, "user experience," did to design. I know we have a lot of motion designers listening, so I want to specify that when I say "design" I mean it as a product design, not "design" like illustration.
Joey Korenman:
Right.
Yann Lhomme:
Joey, you probably remember life before the Internet, I'm sure.
Joey Korenman:
I do.
Yann Lhomme:
Good. I remember, too. I was a kid, but I still remember how life was before the Internet came about. When you look at the evolution of the Internet and its impact on how brands have been doing marketing, you can start seeing patterns, and those patterns you can start seeing them emerging into our space, the video industry. Let me unpack that a little bit more so it gets more concrete here.
Yann Lhomme:
Back when the Internet started, you had a lot of traditional brick and mortar type companies, and people didn't really know what to do with the Internet until somebody said, "Okay, well, maybe we should have some kind of presence on the web," so you start having websites with information about your business and all that stuff. It always was an afterthought. First you had your retail store and everything happened in the real physical world and you had some kind of a presence on the web but it was just a second thought.
Yann Lhomme:
Then someday somebody realized, "Hey, wait a minute. What if the Internet wasn't just a way to get information across from a brand to a customer but this was actually a way for people to experience your brand?" That would mean that you would need to spend as much effort and attention to that online presence as you did to the actual product, and then that's the idea of user experience. That's how it came about, and that changed everything in marketing and in product design, because all of a sudden you were designing experiences. You would put the users first and you'd go about creating a product thinking about that first and building that experience.
Yann Lhomme:
To illustrate even more concretely, if you take an example, let's take Apple, for example, because everybody knows Apple, everybody loves Apple.
Joey Korenman:
Well, not everybody.
Yann Lhomme:
Not everybody, you're right. There's a lot of haters, too.
Joey Korenman:
I do, I certainly do.
Yann Lhomme:
Right, right, right. At least, they're the most valuable brand in the world now, so you can't argue that.
Joey Korenman:
Yes, correct.
Yann Lhomme:
Apple is a super design-driven company, they're marketing geniuses, and they've mastered this whole idea of experience. In fact, "UX" actually comes from Apple. They had a team that came up with the term first, so that's an Apple thing.
Joey Korenman:
Ah.
Yann Lhomme:
Yeah, not a lot of people know that. Anyway, when you buy something from Apple, let's say I buy an iPhone, the box that the iPhone comes with, it's not any box. It's not just a piece of cardboard with some information slapped on it. When you hold the box of the iPhone, it feels good. When you open it, it sounds good, the texture is awesome, it's super delightful. Same thing, when you buy that box, you buy it from the Apple Store, whether it's in the real world or in the website, everything about it feels delightful.
Yann Lhomme:
It doesn't happen by accident, it's very intentional, and that's because Apple believes that it's a way for you to experience their brand, to experience the brand Apple. It goes beyond the product. They put a lot of attention to what's around it, the packaging, the way you buy it, all that stuff, and that's almost as important as the product.
Yann Lhomme:
What I believe is that we're seeing the same thing happening with video, where video isn't just a way to get information across from a brand to somebody or a customer. It's actually a way for people to experience your brand, and therefore you should put as much effort and attention to that piece of content, that video, than you would to the actual product, because it's one and the same. It's that same overall experience and how people experience your brand, and that's the whole idea behind VX and the viewer experience.
Yann Lhomme:
When you understand that, you make this mind shift and everything changes. The way you go about creating content is going to completely change, because the only way to create those experiences, those viewer experiences, is if you have some kind of process in place or a framework that enables you to do that, and then basically you go about creating content the same way you would go about designing a product.
Yann Lhomme:
Going back to what I said earlier, what's interesting is that we've seen this happening in the product design, I guess, in the product world. Now any web design agency and their mother are a UX design company, right?
Joey Korenman:
Right.
Yann Lhomme:
You have armies, teams of UX designers in companies, at Uber and Airbnb, everywhere. They've got dozens and dozens of people working just on UX.
Yann Lhomme:
Well, what I'm saying is that the same thing is happening, if you look at those patterns and the way it's evolved in that space, the same exact thing is happening to video. In the future, I bet that you're going to have teams of 20 people just focused on video and VX working on creating those experiences that are mainly driven through video. When you consume any kind of content on the web, on your phone, anything, it's usually video based. Video is such a big thing in marketing now that it only makes sense that there's going to be teams specialized in crafting those experiences.
Yann Lhomme:
Anyway, all of this to say, this is VX. This is something that's coming at you that brands have started to embrace and we're going to see a lot more of it, and that's why we position ourselves as a VX agency just like you have UX agencies. I hope that's clear. I know it's a lot of abstract and on paper it's almost like a theory, but there's very concrete implications coming from that.
Joey Korenman:
Wow, all right, let me see if I understand this, because I get what you're saying and I just want to make sure that I know where to draw the line between the old way that video has been used traditionally and this new paradigm that we're in. Before the Internet, if you made a video for your brand, you called that a "commercial" and there was one place to see that and that was on television, right? Now with the Internet, and not just the Internet the way we think of it like on a computer or in your phone but also Netflix and all of these streaming services, those are using the Internet to distribute content.
Joey Korenman:
Is it really just a matter of the amount of video and how many touch points customers now have with a brand? For example, if you've seen a picture of me, it won't surprise you to know that I belong to Dollar Shave Club. I go through a lot of razors, and they were one of the companies I remember that started using video in a really unique way. They would do these long-form sketch comedy bits, essentially, that would in the end get you interested in them, but they were selling razors. It's like, there's not much of a difference between them and what Gillette's doing.
Joey Korenman:
I guess, what I'm trying to understand and maybe you can help me clarify this, Yann, is what's the difference between a company that's really embracing this idea of VX and using video, I think the way you put it was to interact with the brand or to experience the brand, versus an older company that just thinks of video as, "This is a way to make a commercial," or, "This is a way to have an instructional video on how to use the product." What's the difference there?
Yann Lhomme:
Yeah, you're right. Maybe an old-fashioned type company that doesn't really get it, they're going to be thinking, okay, we need to go TV and make a commercial. That's one way of thinking about it, but nowadays video is embedded basically everywhere and it's so fragmented. You're going to have, of course, TV, which is the old thing, but you've got the same thing on the web and on your apps and on your mobile and even on your Apple Watch.
Yann Lhomme:
Everywhere there's little bits and pieces of video. It could be long-form, but it could be very short form. On your Apple Watch, for example, you're going to have 2-3 second micro-interactions that you could argue are video. It's motion-based and cool animation on your app, and that's where also "video" is almost becoming an obsolete term, because on the Apple Watch it's not something you can press play and it plays for two seconds. It autoplays, there's movement like a moving media, there's motion to it, but it's not really a video, either. In fact, it might be coded in HTML or some kind of a language that makes it not video even though it looks like video.
Joey Korenman:
Right, it's movement, it's motion.
Yann Lhomme:
It's motion, so thinking about VX is like, okay, taking all of those little fragmented moments and bits and pieces and crafting them in a way that is hitting the right person at the right time and the right channel, but in a way that's super cohesive so that it always feels like you're experiencing the brand the same way whether you watch it on your phone or within the app or on TV.
Yann Lhomme:
The only way to do this is if you think about it very strategically and you have a design process in place, because there's a lot of moving pieces. You have to think about it with the big picture in mind and think about the viewer first and say, "Okay, well, my viewer or my user is going to see this piece of content on that particular channel, so therefore I need to format that piece of content exactly like this because that's how it works on that channel on Instagram or Facebook or whatever."
Yann Lhomme:
You have to think about all those different avenues to reach and communicate with your users, but very strategically if you want this to be cohesive and feel like one brand experience coming from one voice. You could argue that video is the body language of the brand, but because of that fragmentation you have to be really strategic about it. VX helps you put that framework in place so that you do it more successfully at scale and then more consistently.
Joey Korenman:
I love the way you just said "body language." "Video is the body language of the brand." That should be on a poster somewhere or a coffee mug or a tattoo.
Joey Korenman:
Yeah, as you're talking, I think it's really solidifying in my head what you're talking about. For some reason, Google popped into my head, because I think they do a really good job of this. There's a Google Home product that has these lights on the top of it that actually animate, and they animate in the same way that when you're waiting for Gmail to load the dots move and animate. There is a cohesive system, like a movement system across everything Google does, and that takes an enormous amount of effort and a huge team.
Joey Korenman:
Is that an example of what you're calling "VX," this cohesive style that translates across all the channels that you find Google on?
Yann Lhomme:
Yeah, very much so. I think Google is a great example, because they also came up with this idea of the material design, and they have design systems in place for that, and so you'll see more and more brands using guidelines like this. Obviously, it's been there forever in terms of print and website, but more and more you're going to see that translated into video.
Yann Lhomme:
When we work with our partners and clients like Google or others, we create motion design systems for them so that we try to establish or identify what it means for that brand to move. How does it move? What's the motion behind it? You document that in that design system, and that's something, a tool, you can use internally when you go about your next video projects. You've got these guidelines that help you stay consistent and you can share it with your partners and other agencies and it's this one single source of truth that everybody can rely on and that codifies or identifies what the identity of the brand is in terms of motion. Material design, the motion part of it is kind of that.
Yann Lhomme:
Not a lot of companies do this, but I'm telling you, 5-10 years from now it's going to be a given. Just like most brands have branding guidelines, most brands will have motion design systems in place for them to work faster, so Google is a great example.
Joey Korenman:
I was just thinking that, yeah. What you were saying, it reminded me completely of the brand guidelines that I used to get when I was still doing client work. You'd get this 80-page PDF or a book sometimes, but it would never include, "... and this is how things should move." You're saying that now that's required.
Yann Lhomme:
It is, it is, because it's part of that brand experience. When you consume, when you buy something, when you watch something, a video, from a particular brand, you might, let's say, taking the example of Patagonia, the clothes brand. Yeah, maybe you want to buy a jacket from them, but you might watch one or two videos about that jacket or about the brand before, so watching that video should feel like you're experiencing the brand the same way that you're actually using the product.
Yann Lhomme:
All that asks or calls for a lot of motion, and the more thought you put into this, the more intentional you are, the better the experience is going to be for the users and the viewers. Having those tools in place helps you keep your eye on the ball and makes sure you do things very consistently and stay super cohesive with how you present yourself.
Joey Korenman:
This conversation, I think, illustrates perfectly why I always just notice that Thinkmojo seems to operate different than a lot of other studios and different in ways that have clearly worked really well for you. I remember, I don't think it works this way anymore, but you used to have on your website, one of the menu options was pricing. You had a page laying out the pricing in ballpark terms, which I had never seen any studio do, and I'm sure that there's probably people out there thinking that you're insane for doing something like that.
Joey Korenman:
Even now on your contact form on your website, you right off the bat ask for a budget range from clients. That's just different than most traditional motion design shops operate, and I'm wondering if that approach is intentional. Have you always wanted to differentiate, in a way? I guess the way I see it is, you're speaking the same language as these businesses as opposed to speaking the language of creativity and art, which maybe their art directors understand or maybe a high level marketing person might get, but you can talk to a product manager and they'll get what it is you're saying right now.
Yann Lhomme:
Yeah, I think part of it is very intentional and part of it just happened almost by accident. Just to give you some background, my co-founder and I did not come from an advertising or animation industry, and we didn't have a formal training in that space. We came from the tech, product, business world, but we've always done creative work on the side, so a lot of web development, graphic design, all that stuff, so it's always been a passion.
Yann Lhomme:
I think, in a way, that's been a curse and a blessing. It's been a curse because we had to learn a lot the hard way. For example, mastering what it means, producing, for example, having producers, understanding the role of a producer in an agency took us the longest time to figure that out. There's a few things that I'm sure people who came from the agency background or animation background just were way faster than us at this.
Yann Lhomme:
In a way, I think being newbies and really naïve about the industry enabled us to see things that maybe others couldn't see or more established agencies maybe couldn't notice. I think that's why we jumped on online video at the right time. We were in the right place to do it, but it's probably because we came with this blank slate and we didn't know any better, in a way.
Joey Korenman:
Yeah, I agree with you. I came up through the video editing world and then got into After Effects and then into design and animation, and along the way you pick up these vague feelings of, "Well, I don't want to be too corporate. I don't want to talk about money right off the bat," things like that, and they can be very self-limiting beliefs. When I look at Thinkmojo, the way you position the company, I don't see any of that, and it clearly is a huge advantage if you're doing the kind of work you're doing, so I think it's really cool.
Joey Korenman:
It brings me to another question, which is, the work that your studio does is awesome. That was actually the reason that I reached out to you to interview you for our explainer camp class was because there are probably thousands of companies out there doing, broadly, the type of videos that Thinkmojo does, but yours are really, really beautiful. The motion design pieces, the fully animated pieces, you're working with the same artists that go and freelance at Buck and you're getting these beautiful results out of it, but you don't have that background.
Joey Korenman:
I'm curious how you and your brother managed to build a studio that produces A-level work without coming from that world, because I'm not sure I've seen much of that in the industry.
Yann Lhomme:
Yeah, it's interesting, because I think that's where Thinkmojo differs from a lot of companies out there. We don't have that background necessarily, but I think what we try to remind ourselves of is that we try to fall in love with the problem we're trying to solve first. That's a big difference because a lot of big random studios, they're maybe a little less problem driven and more art driven. You to Buck and Oddfellows and a few others, and they craft awesome shit. It's the top of the top of what you could do in animation and we love that, of course, super respect it.
Yann Lhomme:
I think when you come to Thinkmojo it's a little bit different, because we're going to be focusing on solving a problem first. Think about this first, and the art almost comes second. We try to be really agnostic about how to tackle and solve that problem for the client, and that's what's going to dictate, okay, what style are we going to do? Is this going to be animation or live action and what style, and all that stuff.
Yann Lhomme:
That's where our specialty and expertise is. Of course, because we love design, we want the execution to be as top-notch as possible and our aim is to be just as good as Buck is in the motion world. I think that's what makes us a little bit different is that we go at it with the problem first and then we work backwards from there, which I know not a lot of agencies think of it that way.
Joey Korenman:
Yeah, when you said "fall in love with the problem first," I had to bite my hand because I almost shrieked, because I thought that was so brilliant. I think I've said this many times on this podcast that one of the things that a lot of motion designers do is they forget that what they're producing is designed to solve a business problem. You're not being paid to make a pretty thing. That's a side effect, hopefully, of being good at your craft, but really the client wants to sell more toilet paper or they want more people to try out Slack because they think it's a good app.
Joey Korenman:
Approaching it from that angle is counter-intuitive to a lot of artists because no one gets into motion design to sell more toilet paper, but when you're running a business that's a very smart thing to do is to put yourself in the clients' shoes. Where did that come from? Have you and your brother always had this, I guess, business instincts?
Yann Lhomme:
That's a great question. I think it's funny, because it feels counter-intuitive. Obviously, we love art and we have a passion for design and we love anything that's beautiful just like anybody else, but surprisingly when you get to work on problems that are really challenging it could get just as exhilarating, at least for me.
Yann Lhomme:
When you have a product like Slack, for example, which is a really cool product, and I remember when they reached out and started involving us into helping them, nobody knew Slack but we had to actually use it for a few months at a time and we thought that was really cool and it might change the way people work. All of a sudden you're like, "Oh, my God, this is so cool. I want to share this with my friends and that might help such and such business," and you start thinking, "Wow, think about the impact we could have on people's lives and all the things we could help them solve."
Yann Lhomme:
Really, now, that gets almost as exciting if not more exciting than the actual art. When you put the two together, that's when things really blow. It's like, I think the studios that really crush it is when they're as good at storytelling as they are as the craft of the art, really. Yeah, to me, I think it can be as exciting thinking through the problem and trying to figure out ways to crack that code and solve that problem and how you're going to apply art to do that.
Yann Lhomme:
By the way, again, that's another thing that I think people, motion designers and artists, have to keep in mind. There's a big difference between art and design. Art is here to serve, to basically create emotions. That's the sole purpose of art. Design is here to solve a problem, it has a purpose. I think sometimes designers forget about this, it's all about the art and making things look cool, but that's not design. Design is about solving a problem first and, yeah, you're going to do that through some artistry or some craft, but there's a big difference between the two.
Yann Lhomme:
If you're in the business of being an agency and helping clients, you're in a design business. You're solving problems first, and that's how we look at it.
Joey Korenman:
I agree 100%. I want to call out, too, that we've been talking a lot about animation and design, but Thinkmojo actually does a lot more than just that. If you check out their portfolio, you'll see live action and editorial driven stuff. Obviously, your company's been growing and your capabilities have been expanding. You've been in business for six or seven years, but actually that's a long time in the world of studios. I'm curious how you've seen the market for this type of video change over the lifetime of Thinkmojo.
Joey Korenman:
We've talked about this a little bit already, but I can remember when there was this insatiable desire for "explainer" videos. "I have a new product, I need to explain it," and now it seems like brands are getting more subtle. I'm curious if you can talk about the shift and the evolution that you've seen of this market.
Yann Lhomme:
Yeah, it's really interesting to see how quickly things can change over the span of 5-10 years. Back when we started, it was the rise of online videos for marketing, and so "explainer" was this new, shiny thing. Back then, having an explainer video on your homepage was a really big deal.
Yann Lhomme:
When Dropbox and Twitter came out with their first explainer videos on their homepage, that was super new and it blew people's minds away. Fast-forward to now, and now basically any business online has a video on their homepage and on their page, and every possible page and app there's video content on it. It shows you how much things have changed in the last 5-10 years.
Yann Lhomme:
Even on a bigger scale, I think if you look at what the whole media industry has evolved, you look at TV and broadcast used to be the mainstream. That used to be the one single way to advertise your product and talk about your stuff. There's TV and you would reach the whole country and that was the one way to do it. With the rise of the Internet, now you could argue that Internet is the mainstream. Kids these days, they don't really watch TV, they just watch stuff online on YouTube and everywhere.
Yann Lhomme:
If you look at YouTube, for example, how many vloggers and channels on YouTube have dozens of millions of subscribers if not hundreds of millions? Way bigger than any channel could have on TV. There's been this big shift in terms of mainstream, and think that has reflected on how marketing is done and how brands behave. That's been the biggest impact for studios like us and agencies is that now you have to deal with that fragmented marketplace where you have to reach customers online but through so many different channels, Instagram and Snapchat, stories. Just that is a new format and Apple Watch and within the apps and all that stuff.
Yann Lhomme:
That's completely changed the way you have to think about marketing and you have to adapt how you create all of that content. All of this happened in the span of, what, 5-10 years, it's kind of crazy.
Joey Korenman:
Yeah, it's almost like the explainer video was the Trojan Horse that then snuck motion into every aspect of the company. Now you see every single new company that pops up on the Internet, like essentially the equivalent of an Etsy store wants to have video on their site. If you're on YouTube for any length of time, you're eventually going to get served a pre-roll ad telling you about this new whiteboard animation tool you can buy and stuff like that, so that brings up a question.
Joey Korenman:
When I was doing research for this interview, I searched for Thinkmojo in Google, and actually some of your competitors popped up which means they're probably buying ads against your name, which is really interesting, but the quality of the work they're doing is horrible. It's the kind of stuff that motion designers just cringe at. It's literally whiteboard videos and plug-and-play stock clips and stuff like that.
Joey Korenman:
There's a lot of that work out there, too. If you're just starting out, you can do that work and someone may have $500 or $1,000 to pay you to make a whiteboard video, but obviously at your level that's not going to cut it. How do you ensure that your bringing in the caliber of client that you want, too? Because there is this infinite demand for video now, and I'm assuming you could waste a lot of time talking to brands that really aren't ready for the full Thinkmojo experience.
Yann Lhomme:
You're right, and that can be a big distraction when you try to focus on the growth of your studio and then you get bombarded by these requests of, "Hey, can you make a video for $500?" The time you spend talking to those people is a big waste. That goes back to you asked earlier about the website and that we ask about a budget range on our contact page, for example. Well, that's very intentional. It's also to help in that regard is that we want to make sure we can filter and not waste time too much at the beginning when we start a conversation.
Yann Lhomme:
This question has everything to do with marketing and positioning. For anybody who's listening out there, you have to understand that being successful as a company, a business, a studio, it goes beyond just the work and creating great work. It has to do also with the way you present yourself and you position yourself. For us, we want to make sure that we make it clear to people that the kind of team that we work with are super innovative companies, the Googles of the world, and that typically requires a certain standard in terms of budget.
Yann Lhomme:
We have to impose that on ourselves if we want to be able to achieve the work that we're looking to do, because if we don't have the budget or the means to do it, we're not going to be able to solve those problems and we're not going to be able to reach the quality that we want to. You have to be extremely disciplined with the kind of budget that you accept and the kind of organization that you choose to work with and the kind of projects that you take on.
Yann Lhomme:
It's hard, because it sounds counter-intuitive, because at first you're like, there's always this fear of what's the next project and I need to make payroll, so you want to take everything at first but it's there's a counter-effect to it. The more disciplined and focused you are, you'll see that the better of an impact you can make to your clients. You owe it to yourself and your partners to stay focused on what you do best and make sure that you're able to keep your budget levels where you want them to be, and it's not easy to do.
Joey Korenman:
That's amazing advice, and I agree wholeheartedly. I actually have a poster in my office that I put up recently and it says, "If it's not a 'hell yes,' it's a 'no.'" The reason I put this up is because when you start a business and you have really any amount of success, and really this goes, I think, for anything in life, once you have a certain degree of success, you have more people coming to you with opportunities than there are hours in the day, and you need a way to screen through that or you're going to waste a lot of time.
Joey Korenman:
I love that on your contact form it's like, "What's your budget range?" I can't remember what the lowest number you even let them choose is, but you're prescreening. You're probably saving hours and hours a week of clients coming and thinking they're going to work with you and realizing, "Oh, we're not there yet. We don't have the budget to do that yet." I think that's really brilliant.
Yann Lhomme:
It's funny, because it sounds really blunt said like this, but actually, if you think about it, you're doing everybody a favor because you're not wasting anybody's time. At the end of the day, everybody needs that.
Joey Korenman:
Yup, I want to talk now about a brand new initiative that you have taken on, and we're going to link to it on the show notes. Everyone should go check it out. It is a very, very cool site called spectacle.is. It just recently launched and it was featured on Product Hunt, and it's already getting a lot of eyeballs and buzz. Can you talk about the site, just explain for everyone what is the site and why did you build it?
Yann Lhomme:
Yeah, Spectacle is a brand new product, and basically it's a source of inspiration for the best product and marketing videos from around the web. The idea started, I guess it was kind of organic. When we work with our clients, it was always the same kind of questions coming at us. We know we need to use video and make a video, but we're not sure where to start or we're not sure what to do. Sometimes we actually had part of those answers, but sometimes we just didn't.
Yann Lhomme:
What we started doing is bookmarking the cool video campaigns that we thought were super cool or innovative or really well done, well crafted, and so we kept on bookmarking, bookmarking, until someday we realized that we had a lot of data and a lot of videos that we could use. We use those for doing our pitch to clients or when we were looking at solving problems.
Yann Lhomme:
Then as we started organizing it through our databases, we realized, you know what? This actually has a ton of value to us as a studio, and chances are it's going to help our clients a ton and it's probably going to help a lot of other studios as well. A little light bulb went on and we decided to actually turn this into a product and release it into the world, make it available to people just beyond us and see where it takes us. That's the idea and how it got started.
Joey Korenman:
Got you. You were scratching your own itch and said, "We need this product internally because it's a good source of reference."
Joey Korenman:
Were clients of yours asking for this, or were other studios that you know of asking for this, or did you just think ... The reason I ask this is because this is one of those ideas that as soon as you showed me, I was like, "Well, of course, you need this." It's almost obvious once you see it, so I'm curious if you got feedback from people or people were asking for this.
Yann Lhomme:
It was kind of indirect. Nobody asked us for this product specifically, but the questions, sometimes the clients would just send us a list of examples of videos that they liked and we would bookmark them. Indirectly, we would get at it, I think it took a little bit, I think maybe from our product design background that's what it took to formalize the idea and thought, "Wait a minute, what if we organized this in a way that's a little bit more user-friendly and can actually be used on the web and for any situation?" That's how we thought about it.
Joey Korenman:
Looking through Spectacle and, everyone, we'll link to it in the show notes, definitely go check it out and click through. It's essentially, I guess, a good way of thinking about it is it's sort of like Motionographer. It's a curated collection of work, and it's tagged and it's really easy, searchable and there's some great categories. School of Motion actually helped curate one of the categories, so thank you, Yann, for including us. It was a lot of fun to do that.
Joey Korenman:
It's a really useful reference tool for anyone, not just in the animation side but just in the video side in general. As you look through this, it made me realize just how crazy it's gotten with brands making infinite amounts of video and not just in ways that are obvious. It's obvious that a company like Mailchimp needs to have a video explaining why you should sign up for Mailchimp, but then they have this documentary series that's about small business.
Joey Korenman:
Why are companies now, and I think you actually said this in an email to me that every company is a media company now. Why is that? Why is InVision creating documentaries? Why is this trend happening now?
Yann Lhomme:
Yeah, by the way, I wish I had coined that phrase, but I think it's from Gary Vaynerchuk. He's the one that said any company now, whether you want it or not, is turning into a media company, and if you're not producing content you basically don't exist. It's definitely true in some regards. As I explained earlier, you had the old-fashioned way of looking at it and it used to be broadcast TV was the one mainstream, and now the Internet became the mainstream. With that, the tools to make video has gotten a lot easier and cheaper, so a ton of content is being produced.
Yann Lhomme:
One way to stand out for those brands is to create really good content and to act and think as a media company in that you have to start building an audience first. Instill that sense of trust. Creating content is what gets you there, and then eventually you'll be able to sell some of your products. That's the whole idea behind that. Spectacle was a reflection of that in why we built this.
Yann Lhomme:
When you think about it, that transition between the TV mainstream to the Internet mainstream, the big brands in the world, the Coca-Colas of the world, Proctor & Gamble, all those kinds of brands that have millions of dollars to traditionally put in producing a Super Bowl commercial, for example, I like to call those brands the 1%. They're the ones that have enough money to produce commercials on TV and Super Bowl commercials. What about the 99% brands that are not there yet? They don't have the money for that, or maybe they figure that there's a better way to go about it. That better way is to use the web, the digital, and that goes along with this idea of turning into a media company online.
Yann Lhomme:
Well, we found that for the 1% brands that do the traditional stuff, there's a lot of resources out there. You can go to Ad Week, and you can go to so many outlets on the web that informs you about the campaign and the creativity that went behind it and all that stuff. For the rest, for the 99% that use the web and the new mainstream, there isn't as much, even though a lot of brands are really crushing it out there. They only use video on Facebook and Instagram and they're becoming so big, bigger than those traditional brands.
Yann Lhomme:
We thought, you know what, there needs to be a place that exists where you can actually have resources and inspiration for that kind of marketing, that kind of brand, which is the new way, the new better way of doing things, but it doesn't exist, so we took it upon ourselves to build it and that's given birth to Spectacle.
Joey Korenman:
Yeah, it's a really amazing research tool. There's this trend that, I definitely see it. I don't honestly know how it feels to newer motion designers on the ground in the trenches animating, but I feel like it's a really good career move at this point for motion designers, even if really what you're focused on is producing good motion design, to understand the landscape in which you're producing that and understanding things like what you just said, Yann, that the work you're producing is going to be consumed likely in 10 different places and it's all part of this greater strategy to get more brand engagement.
Joey Korenman:
Yeah, I'm really glad you brought up Gary V., because I think if you asked him what he thinks about all this, I think I've heard him actually say that he believes traditional advertising is dead, and he would probably drop an F-bomb before the word "dead." I think I've heard him speak about the fact that TV commercials are basically a waste of money at this time, you're just throwing money away, because you can do much more targeted advertising on the Internet.
Joey Korenman:
Let's take a company like, I don't know, InVision. Well, here's the problem. There's certain companies where it's easy to draw a straight line between the content they're producing and their product, and you could use School of Motion as an example. Our content is articles and we do lots of videos and things like this podcast where we teach our audience about stuff, but then that's also our product. We're a teaching company.
Joey Korenman:
There's a little less of a straight line when you have a company like Mailchimp, where their product is an email marketing tool. I know they've expanded it a little bit, it does more than that. It's a marketing tool, but they're creating long-form video documentaries that, I haven't watched them, so I don't know if they actually mention Mailchimp or not, but it wouldn't surprise me if they didn't.
Joey Korenman:
There's a lot of companies just making interesting stuff, and I'm curious how does that help them? It's obvious that it does. It makes you like the brand, because they've added some value to your day, but how do you think about that? How would you convince a brand that what they really need, instead of making a commercial for their product or doing direct marketing, is to make a cool piece of content that is very indirectly related to what they're actually selling?
Yann Lhomme:
Yeah, it has everything to do with marketing and branding, but you've probably heard before this idea of, what's his face, Simon Sinek, I think, that has this idea of start with the "why."
Joey Korenman:
Yeah, Simon Sinek.
Yann Lhomme:
It's kind of going to that a little bit in that nowadays a brand that's really successful, they almost have to stand for something, and you realize that when you stand for something as a brand, when you have values and you stand by them, you're going to generate some kind of a fandom or people are going start looking at you and buy your products not just for your products but because of what you believe in, and that's a shared belief between your customers and yourself as a brand and video is a great way to communicate that.
Yann Lhomme:
If you start with this, start with the "why," start with your values and customers will come that way, you create a stronger relationship between you and your customers than if you didn't do that. Obviously, video is probably the best way to achieve this, because you can talk about who you are, what you stand for as a brand, without talking about your product, without hard-selling anything. It's just about you and what you stand for and what you believe in, and then you're going to convert people that have the same belief and they might be more loyal and be more inclined to buy your products because they stand for the same thing that you stand for. Again, video is probably the best way you could probably achieve this, and Mailchimp and a few others they've really figured that out.
Yann Lhomme:
It's funny, because you think that for a lot of brands that are studying video and looking at this, they say, "Okay, well, yeah, of course, Mailchimp they're already successful. When I'm successful like that, I'm going to invest in video and do the same." That's thinking about it backwards. You have to realize that they got to where they are because they've invested in video, because they've invested in branding, and that's what got them there and not the other way around. That's when you realize those guys are really good at marketing.
Joey Korenman:
Yeah, I love comparing brands that sell the exact same thing and seeing how the brand actually makes a big difference. This gap has closed a lot recently, but I used to use as an example for this kind of thing Wistia versus Vimeo. Vimeo, they've started having a little bit more personality to their brand, but it's really hard to say what Vimeo stands for, whereas Wistia, if you've ever used them or interacted with them, they have a pretty incredible brand. It basically feels like just your buddy, and they do that very intentionally.
Joey Korenman:
I don't know the size of their company, but they're pretty big at this point, and the stuff they're doing really makes you like them. It reminds me, I listen to a lot of Seth Godin podcasts and he always says that the way to think about marketing is, "People like us do things like this," and so video and this strategy of producing content that doesn't directly point to your product, it's basically showing that.
Joey Korenman:
I think you're exactly right. A modern brand has to build a tribe. It's not enough to just have the best widget out there, because that's not actually why most people buy stuff. They buy from brands and people they like.
Yann Lhomme:
Yeah, I couldn't agree more. Wistia is a great example of that. Of course, they're biased in a way that they sell video hosting so they've made the effort of investing in video because it directly impacts their business, but nonetheless they've shown the way to a lot of other brands and proved that by investing into video for your branding and your marketing, you can get huge returns and build this huge brand equity for yourself, so a great reference for sure.
Joey Korenman:
I want to talk a little bit more about the curation aspect of Spectacle, because this is really interesting to me. I've lurked on Motionographer for, probably, at this point more than a decade. Motionographer, the sword that the editors over there would die on is artistic quality. To get featured on there, it always seemed to be less about the effect that that video had on the business that it was made for and more about the artistry behind it.
Joey Korenman:
Now, the work that's on Spectacle is all very well produced and very high-end, but obviously there's also a much larger component of how effective was this at helping this brand achieve whatever goal it was that they set out to achieve. I'm curious how you view the balance of what makes a product and a marketing video actually good versus just okay.
Yann Lhomme:
Yeah, that's another reason why we thought Spectacle, there was a place for this, because the art only answers, it's only one part of the equation. When you hang on Motionographer, it's all awesome stuff. Obviously, it's beautiful, but it doesn't answer the big question, did this actually move the needle for the business on the other end? There was no place to figure that out. Yeah, you can have the most cool-looking video, but did it actually help the business? There's no way to find out. The hope is that with Spectacle we can show a little bit more of that and lean towards that so that you can see concrete examples of campaigns that have worked and it's not just about the art.
Yann Lhomme:
I think, to me, to answer your question, well, again, because we're in a design business, we're trying to solve problems, we have a purpose, the first question should be, does this actually help? Does this help move the needle? Did it have return on investment whether it's financial, or did it help elevate our brand or improve the image, the perception of our brand, the value of our brand, to the mind of customers?
Yann Lhomme:
It's hard, because sometimes you can't put a number on it. If it's a direct-to-consumer kind of thing and you want a direct response and you can put figures on that and say, "Okay, well, it helped generate X amount of revenue additional to what we usually do," sometimes you can't. Sometimes it has to do with branding and it's about the image of the brand and how people perceive you and then the values attached to what you're doing. It's a little bit harder to measure, but in any case whatever marketing you do there should be some kind of return to it and that's the question it should answer.
Joey Korenman:
This is kind of a tough question, I think. It's something that I've struggled with in the past, to be honest. One of the things that I learned as we were building School of Motion and I had to learn about things with really icky words like "sales funnels" and "email marketing," things like that, is that as a motion designer I am drawn to and I am in the business of trying to make things that really look sexy and feel good in motion and things like that, but I've also learned that sometimes the plainer and just simpler and not as cool things, they actually convert better.
Joey Korenman:
From a business perspective, having a landing page with, it's literally a white page with black type and one green button it that says "click me," that might convert better than something that you hired Pentagram to design that is the most beautiful website you've ever seen but it has five things on it instead of two.
Joey Korenman:
When you're thinking about that ROI equation, a client comes to us and says, "We have a problem. That problem is we're not getting enough conversions from free users into paid users," and you've got this gigantic pallette of, you could do live action, you could do editorial, you could do animation, you could do design, or you could send a postcard. It's like, there's something that's less satisfying about doing these simpler less sexy things, but they may actually work better.
Joey Korenman:
I'm curious how, on the Thinkmojo side especially, how you balance the need to do work that keeps your artists happy, makes the client feel like they got their money's worth, and is cool and you wake up and are excited to do it, but at the same time you're there to solve a business problem for them in the most effective way possible.
Yann Lhomme:
Yeah, I think that goes back to this idea of falling in love the with the problem as opposed to falling in love with the solution. If you think back to that one super simple page with the big button on it, what you're trying to solve is what really matters. The solution you come up with, you should be agnostic about what that solution is as long as it solves that problem.
Yann Lhomme:
Now, you still want things to feel good and look good and that's why we're designers as well and it matters. It's just like when I look at Pixar, for example, the animation company. I think why Pixar is so good, it's because they completely mastered the art of storytelling and the art of animation. You could be a company that does super good storytelling but suck at art, or you could be a company that's super good at art but suck at storytelling, but when you have both is really when things start happening.
Yann Lhomme:
It's the same way I think about what we do at Thinkmojo where, okay, of course, problem comes first, but it's not enough. You also need the art and make sure that you do things really well, because that's part of that brand experience and you need both. We have certain standards that we've got to hit to get there. If we feel like we're asked or maybe part of the answer to their problem is something that doesn't require some high-end or something that we feel looks good, well, we might just say, "Here's what you should do and here's maybe a few other studios that can help with that, or maybe that's something you might want to do in-house internally at your brand."
Yann Lhomme:
Again, we try to be really selective about the projects we take on and who we work with and the initiative we're going to be involved in, because that's how we can bring the most value to the table. I think if you do that, you should not be afraid of saying, "That kind of work or the production value is not what we do and we encourage you to maybe seek a different team for that or maybe do it internally and we'll focus on something else."
Joey Korenman:
Yeah, that's a tough thing to say, I'm sure, because, like you said, when's that next job coming in? Yeah, that's probably the responsible thing to do. I really love the way you keep saying about fall in love with the problem. I think I'm going to have another poster on my wall. That's a really good one, man. I'll send you a nickel every time I look at it.
Yann Lhomme:
Nice.
Joey Korenman:
I want to talk about the value of design, which is obvious to people who are designers and especially motion designers. It seems like there's something happening in the world of marketing and, frankly, just in the world of product companies in general where design has been elevated lately. The two examples that I'll use are Google's material design and IBM just released this design language manifesto video.
Joey Korenman:
It's like, those are things that I'm sure always existed. Big, successful companies probably have always had some sort of design standards, but now it's like a feature that they talk about. Google Material Design is written about in blogs and stuff like that. It's not just assumed that, yes, Google has design standards. Do you have any ideas on why design is all of a sudden bubbling up and it's now being recognized by everyone and not just designers?
Yann Lhomme:
Yeah, I think it's because it works. In the last 30 years and especially with the new rise of Apple which, again, is super design driven, there's proof that when you're a design-driven company it works. When you look at Airbnb, which was funded by a team of designers and Uber and a few others that put design first, that put user experience first, they've been crushing it. They've been outperforming any other company that hasn't applied design the same way in their space.
Yann Lhomme:
It basically shows the world, if you put design at the center of everything, if you put user experience at the center of everything, you're going to out-perform your competition. That's why there's so much emphasis on design right now everywhere, and that's why brands started communicating around it because, first of all, to attract designers but also to show the world, "We're committed to this. We're committed to providing the best experience we can for our users."
Yann Lhomme:
Again, that ties back to the rise of VX that I was talking about earlier. We've come all this way in design now. Yeah, we have design systems in place. We've reached a point where brands actually talk about their design standards and all that stuff. That's something, there's no way you could imagine that 15 years ago, in the same way that 15 years from now we'll probably talk about video the same way, so that's what's been really interesting to observe with design and how big of a place it's gotten in the last 4-5 years.
Joey Korenman:
Yeah, I love looking at it. I'm on Spectacle right now and I'm clicking through things. It's really fun for me especially, because I've always appreciated not just the artistry but also the strategy behind advertising and marketing. I think Spectacle's probably the first site I've seen come up that that's really what it's focused on is that intersection of good art with good design and good intentionality behind it.
Joey Korenman:
I'm thinking about, a lot of our listeners they're solo freelancers or they're thinking of freelancing. Does this idea of using video, and I should stop using the word "video" because it's not just video but using moving things and this idea of VX and UX, does this scale downwards? Is there a version of this for the freelancer where they can stand out and they can attract the kind of clients they want by using some of these same techniques? Obviously not doing what Wistia did in spending over $100,000 on this crazy marketing campaign, but do you think that this works at a smaller scale?
Yann Lhomme:
I think it does. I think, to me, if I had any advice to give to a motion designer or a freelance artist is that maybe start thinking a little bit more strategically about design. Look at the big picture. If you have a little bit of design thinking process that goes through your head, you understand that what you're working on is just only a piece of the overall experience for the users and for the customers and all that stuff.
Yann Lhomme:
Whatever you do, it has to be cohesive with the brand voice. What you can do at your scale is to help foster that, is to maybe help scale things up in terms of design. When you create your files in After Effects and all that stuff, maybe it might be a good idea to start putting some documentation, doing a mini design system guideline so that you can use it for your next project with that brand, and maybe the brand can start using it with you and then there are other callers. All of a sudden, the speed of creating things just goes faster, it gets better, and basically you help the brand that way. That's something you can do at your level with just one person.
Yann Lhomme:
I think it's just a mind shift to do, and it can go a long way. I bet that in a few years from now it's going to be required of any designer.
Joey Korenman:
Yeah, this has been a really fascinating conversation for me, Yann. I think everyone listening is going to get a lot out of this, because we talk a lot on this podcast about where this industry seems to be going, and I keep harping on it that everywhere I look there's just more and more opportunities in motion design. I love this "VX" term, because it captures all of it in one big group. You still have traditional advertising, you have advertising on the Internet, which is just enormous, and you also have things like UX and UI and app animation, and VX encapsulates all of it.
Joey Korenman:
I guess, to wrap this up, I'd love to know, where do you see opportunities for motion designers right now that are getting into the game that if you were starting over, if you were in your 20s and you were getting into this industry, where would you be focusing your attention right now?
Yann Lhomme:
That's a good one. I would probably think in terms of that idea of those brands turning into media companies and how building content, creating content, should be approached the same way that you build products. That would be a good frame of mind to go about, and then I would start working on my craft so that my craft is top-notch, but also so that I have a little bit more of a strategic thinking behind it so that I understand where my piece is going to fit into the overall big picture for the brand.
Yann Lhomme:
Again, it's going beyond that one video. For example, if you're coming at it starting with explainer videos, you have to understand that a one-off explainer video is just one way to get started. If really you want to last and be successful in the field, you're going to need to think beyond that. When you talk to your clients, then you need to think about, okay, well, how is this explainer video going to relate to the other content that you're planning on doing and how does this fit with your product and your brand and your voice and all that stuff?
Yann Lhomme:
If you start using that language, if you start having those conversations with brands and clients, chances are those clients will get back to you and ask you, "Hey, I love the way you're thinking. Can you help me? It sounds like you're giving a lot of thought to this. Can you help me through that problem, or can you help me through that launch that's coming up. We want to do more than an explainer and it sounds like you know what you're talking about." That's how you have to think about it, I think, if you want to move your career forward.
Joey Korenman:
Definitely, go check out both Thinkmojo and Spectacle, and all of the brands and resources that we talked about in this episode will be in the show notes at schoolofmotion.com. I want to thank Yann so much for coming on.
Joey Korenman:
If this conversation got you fired up, you might want to check out our explainer camp course, which teaches you how to approach and execute these types of marketing videos from start to finish. The legendary Jake Bartlett from episode 30 of this podcast is the instructor, and he goes through every single step, from storyboard to final render. It's an amazing class, and I will now leave you with the camp theme song. Thanks for listening.