Vermeer-webA minute of video is worth 1.8 million words. Or is it?

Anyone working in the world of corporate video knows its power is on the rise. Savvy marketeers understand that they can communcate more effectively using video. Get it right and it can become an internet phenomenon, or at least shared much more widely than those carefully crafted and subtly nuanced paragraphs on a web page.

Many corporate video production companies websites use words that excite, enthuse and suggest that investing in a video will have your target audience salivating and your conversion rates heading through the roof. Things like: “using video improves B2B sales by 63%” 1.

One of the most prevalent ‘statistics’ is this phrase: “A minute of video is worth 1.8 million words” by Dr James McQuivey of Forrester Research. Go on, do a quick Google search on it and you’ll find it everywhere. Here is an example of its use in context: “According to Forrester Research’s Dr. James McQuivey, “a minute of video is worth 1.8 million words.” Video affiliate Platform Company Modulates.com heralds Forrester’s finding as the dawn of a new era for video affiliate marketing online.”

Whoa! But that’s mindblowing (you may or may not be thinking), this proves beyond any shred of doubt that video is the way to go. The only trouble is that it doesn’t. This number, statistic, fact, whatever you want to call it is completely, utterly 99.74% spurious 2. The trouble is that is sounds so damn real. It was said by a man, apparently holding a postgraduate qualification, who blogs for a research company. So it must have been researched and therefore it must be true, no?

So here’s the actual truth.

Dr. McQuivey did say this thing. As recently as January 2015, he Tweeted to confirm his authorship: “Yes, if a “picture is worth 1000 words”, then a min of video = 1 frame x 30 fps [frames per second] x 60 sec/min x 1000 words = 1.8 million words.”

Can you see what he did there? This whole thing is based on a poetic and oft quoted, yet unscientific phrase describing the power of the image. (My own ‘research’ (Wikipedia) has yielded that’s is origin is somewhat clouded). So this is quite clearly nonsense. It’s not a ‘finding’, it isn’t scholarship, it has not been examined by men (or women) with beards and glasses and white coats. And what if you live in Europe where the frame rate is 25 frames per second? Are we going to miss 300,000 words worth of impact? Of course not. And to be fair to Dr McQuivey he points out that his calculation was illustrative and not science.

OwlSo what is it worth then?

Compare the two pictures in this article. One is a Vermeer 3, worth a large number of words and a whole lot of money. The other is more personal and worth a lot to me, but most likely nothing to you. This is the same with video. Make a great video that resonates with your audience, use it effectively, get it out there, get people to share it, and it’ll have an impact incomparable (but maybe quantifiable) to a page of text. Make a dull or irrelevant one, or don’t get it seen, and… well, you know where I’m going with this. Apparently twenty per cent of your viewers will click away in less than 10 seconds if their attention isn’t captured 4.

Just to be clear, I do not suggest for a moment that video shouldn’t be at the forefront of your online thinking. It absolutely should be. People love it, they like getting their information that way. But it will only be valuable to you if you invest time and thought into its execution.

Oh, and just so you know, War and Peace wades in at around 560,000 words.

Notes:

  1. Source: my imagination.
  2. Still making it up.
  3. Johannes Vermeer: Woman Holding a Balance c. 1664. Courtesy National Gallery of Art, Washington. 
  4. Source: Visible Measures via http://www.videobrewery.com/blog/18-video-marketing-statistics (an article in which “1.8 million…” is quoted. So it must be true, right?