B-roll, B roll, B-reel or B reel – in the world of film making, you’ll hear these being thrown around without any real explanation of what they actually mean. What professional film makers are referring to though is pretty simple really; they are the names that videographers and film makers use to refer to additional, supplemental or alternative footage that is shot to be cut into the main video. We can’t talk about why B-roll video footage is so important without talking about the bigger picture – why video is so important to marketers, and why video marketing is so successful, so we’ll start there.
The first TV commercial is widely acknowledged as for Bulova – a New York-based watch company in 1941. It aired just before a baseball game started, and since in 1941 there had only been about 4000 TV sets installed in the city, it probably only reached a few thousand viewers. Video marketing has come a long way since then, and although there are lots of factors that contribute to the success of it, B-roll is undoubtedly the unsung hero of the method.
Video marketing stats
Just because we love a good statistic, let’s kick off with some of the reasons that video marketing is so impressive:
The first TV commercial for Bulova cost just $9 – equivalent to just $150 today
YouTube.com is the second most accessed website on the internet, with only Google getting more hits
Each day, more than 5 billion hours of video are viewed on YouTube
Over 500 hours of video get uploaded to YouTube each minute of every day
Social media posts with videos increase the number of views by 48%
We could keep going with these sort of statistics for ages, but we’d be in danger of turning this into a completely different type of post! Let’s move on and have a look at video marketing and why it is so successful, so we can get to the point – why B-roll is so important.
What is video marketing?
Video marketing is pretty much exactly as it sounds – it is using videos for marketing whether that is to promote products or services, to increase engagement and reach customers on social media channels, or to educate consumers. Video Advertising is also rising in popularity – see ClearCode’s guide here. Using video marketing can be an important strand of a content marketing strategy for businesses that want to do any of these things in order to increase their profits.
But creating great video can be resource intensive – from finding suitable conditions to shoot video, to editing and optimising your clip for whichever platform you’ve decided to publish it on. Spare time and money are things that many businesses – especially smaller businesses – don’t have an awful lot of!
If you’re lucky enough to have a full time videographer on your staff, then you probably don’t need to worry about reading on further – you’ll be able to trust them to do their job and create the B-roll for your business without any hassle. But if you’re working with a small team (or you’re a team of one!) it isn’t as simple. You might not have time to film on a weekly basis (and in your busy periods you might not even manage monthly!), but you still want to create video for your content marketing endeavours. That’s where B-roll footage can play an important part, since it allows you to reuse footage while giving it a completely different look and feel.
Why is video marketing so valuable?
The fact that there are more than a billion hours of video watched on YouTube each day, combined with the fact that the fact that the video sharing platform generates more than $15 billion a year should tell you why video should be so important to a business. Let’s take a quick look at a few reasons to use video marketing.
Video helps to increase engagement and conversions
We’ve already mentioned just how successful video is on YouTube, but there are plenty of other reasons to be using video in your marketing efforts. Simply adding the word ‘video’ to your email subject lines has been observed to significantly increase the click through rate, and when consumers are able to watch a video demonstration, or see a how-to guide, almost ¾ of people actually bought the product. It depends on the sector that you’re in, but if you’re in any doubt as to whether you should start adding video to your strategy, look to competitors and similar businesses internationally – we doubt you’ll see many that aren’t benefiting from creating video content.
Return on investment is high with video
Although you’ll need to make some investment with your video marketing – whether it is in the form of buying a camera, employing a videographer or it is simply your own time you invest – you will see a pretty decent return on your investment. Once you’ve completed a video for YouTube you can embed them in your website or email marketing, which means customers will spend more time on the page, or you can cut and edit sections for your social media channels – which means you’ll get even more value from the content.
Increase your customer trust
The more information you can give potential customers about your business, the more likely it will be that they will convert to paying customers. Different types of videos can help your business achieve different things – for example:
- Vlogs (video blogs) and video interviews show a human element to your business which can help customers decide whether they want to work with you
- Tutorials and product demonstrations illustrate your expertise in your industry, increasing trust
- Story videos can help your customer understand where your brand came from and encourage buy-in
- Reviews and testimonial videos – if they are done authentically, and from your long-term customers – can help to prove that your business is trustworthy and reliable
- Expert interviews can help educate your audience and provide additional value, which can help them return to your website and convert to long-term customers
Expand your SEO efforts
If you’re thinking of a creating video marketing strategy, it is a pretty safe bet that you are aware of the role of SEO in the success of your business. If you’re also aware of Google’s EAT (Expertise, Authority and Trust) ranking and how that can impact your business, then it is pretty clear how video can improve things. Your video content, when embedded or linked to, will help to prove that you’re an expert in your field and that your business is one that can be trusted.
Video is accessed regularly by mobile users
More than 70% of video views are from mobile devices, and people are more than 1.5 times more likely to watch video daily on their smartphone than they are their PC. That means your customers are watching on their phones too, and may be looking at your educational content as they are between tasks, or on a commute journey – or anywhere they have a phone signal!
Extend the understanding of your customers
If your product or service is one that isn’t always easy to understand for anyone outside of the industry, then creating video is a great way to help. A three minute video that provides images, demonstrations and voiceover is often far easier to understand than trying to write a blog post or how-to guide – although it is valuable to provide information in this way too. Don’t forget, customers may need information in accessible formats (such as customers with visual impairments who use screen-reading software) and video is just another format that can help you provide a more well-rounded service.
Social video gets shared 1200% more than text and images combined. And although YouTube is huge for video marketing, it isn’t the only place you can get your content shared. Videos that are posted on Facebook natively get 478% more shares than videos posted from elsewhere, and videos in tweets are six times more likely to be retweeted than photos – so there is a huge amount of scope to extend the reach of your business with video.
You might be thinking that this is all very interesting, but what about that B-roll? Where does that come in? Well, we’re getting to that now!
What is B-roll?
B-roll is pretty much any video clips that don’t make it into your completed video content. It might be from where you started filming a bit too early, and so you edited a few minutes out, or it might be where someone made a noise in the background that you don’t want in your finished video. Maybe you went to an industry event and so you took some random footage of the venue before you filmed the main event, but you didn’t include it on your video for your social media – this is all B-roll footage.
The name is historical, since before everything was digital (and we could easily edit sections out) videographers would shoot two separate rolls of film – which were the A-roll and the B-roll. A-roll was typically the main footage that was shot, with B-roll simply supplemental, extra footage that was used for supporting the A-roll. While the name A-roll has faded out and isn’t routinely used anymore, the term B-roll is regularly referred to.
Why is B-roll footage important?
Many amateurs and film makers who are new to the game focus on getting their completed piece done, and just shoot what they think they need. But there are lots of reasons to capture B-roll footage too – as we’ll show you next. Some of the main reasons that B-roll is used include:
Keeping viewers engaged
Let’s say you’re shooting a piece to camera video. Unless you’re wanting your customers to concentrate solely on your face for some reason (such as if you’re demonstrating the application of a new makeup product) then you probably want to make it a bit more interesting by mixing it up a bit. Although some influencers are creating video that is purely them talking to the camera, in general they will want to deflect the focus to a clip of whatever they are talking about.
In corporate videos, your audience will get bored pretty quickly if they’re just watching you talk – even if what you’re talking about is actually interesting and relevant! You can think of this as the video equivalent of ‘death by PowerPoint – a phenomenon most of us have encountered from time to time!) By using B-roll footage in your finished clip, you can bring some interest to the video and help your viewers remain engaged with the content for a lot longer.
Why do you need to keep your viewers engaged? Well, if your video is on YouTube and you want the algorithm to present your video as a suggestion to people searching for related terms, you will need your statistics to look good – including your Watch Time, likes, subscriber numbers and if viewers watch more than one of your videos. While algorithms differ on other social media channels, having your followers watch your videos in their entirety is no bad thing, and neither is having them liking or sharing them.
Covering up problems in the A-roll footage
Getting a perfect take is pretty much impossible – even if you’re recording in a studio with a professional set-up! Most businesses won’t have this sort of setup available, and so there are infinite chances of having an issue that needs covering.
Let’s say you’re shooting your film in the middle of summer and someone has hay fever. They’re bound to sneeze halfway through a take, or you might encounter a bug that decides to mistake your camera for a flower as you’re recording. These are just two examples of things that you might want to cover up or otherwise edit out.
These sort of annoyances are unavoidable and annoying, but with your B-roll footage, you can easily cover these problems up with no need to start again from the top each time something goes wrong.
Adding more value to the video
You’ve heard the old adage that a picture speaks a thousand words – well, in the case of you creating a video about a product or service that you’re selling, you can speak several thousand words with a bit of B-roll footage showing the product in use or the service under way.
Since (in an ideal world!) your stock of B-roll will have plenty of clips that illustrate your business on a good day, you won’t need to worry about shooting that type of content each time you create a video. That means you won’t need to worry about your workshop staff being in tatty old work gear, having a good hair day or having the right weather on the day you’re shooting your new content.
Catching unscripted moments
B-roll footage isn’t meant to be polished or even anywhere close to perfect, and so with it you can catch funny moments, random comments that could end up being the next company catchphrase and mishaps going on. It’s behind the scenes, and because it is more real, and raw than your scripted footage, people relate to it on a different level. It can provide a much more human aspect to your completed video, which is why many people love out-takes at the end of Hollywood movies.
Your unscripted footage can also give you the opportunity to create a completely different type of video to promote your business with – and give you a whole new category of videos that you can add to. You might notice that one of your employees always has a funny turn of phrase when you’re filming, so you might capture that and post it on your social media with a title like ‘John says…‘. Maybe there is an unexpected prop like a coffee cup that shouldn’t be there (looking at you, Game of Thrones season eight) or you have a mascot or toy that lives in the office that you can capture in your B-roll footage to create interest with. The possibilities that your B-roll footage offers you are endless!
Adding to your A-roll footage
Where you didn’t end up with quite enough footage to create the video you wanted, your B-roll is there ready to make up the time. This means that your piece to camera that wasn’t quite long enough can be easily extended by adding some B-roll. If your video featuring a new product isn’t quite as riveting as you anticipated when you storyboarded it, you can transform it into something a lot more engaging by adding in some B-roll content.
Providing better return on investment for your video content
If you’re going to be shooting film anyway, then it just makes sense to get as much value for money as possible from the work that you’re putting in. Shooting extra footage that can be used elsewhere is nearly always a good plan. If your team is all together in the warehouse, or working at a trade show – this type of footage can be liberally added to your future promotional videos, to social media clips and so on, so it makes sense to have more than you think you need.
You don’t have to just use video from your B-roll either – you can take shots from your footage and use them as still images, and most cameras today record in resolutions high enough to support 1920 x 1080 pixels (and even higher than that in a lot of cases). That means you can use some of these shots for your website or social media marketing, or add a still image as a photograph to your video where it is appropriate.
How should you shoot B-roll footage?
There are so many film makers – both amateur and professional – that set to creating their film without even thinking about having additional footage. So before you start filming your main footage, decide what sort of B-roll content that you’re likely to want for your current project. Once you know what you need for this project, think about what B-roll you could potentially capture in order to complement other B-roll (that could become another video with a bit of work) or just to have on hand for future projects.
Let’s go back to our earlier example about shooting video at an industry event that you and your team are attending. You might know that you want to create a fast paced video with plenty of different shots spliced together. You might even have a soundtrack in mind to overlay it and have no intention of having any conversation whatsoever in it. However, with events and videos like these, it is better to be flexible – since you never know what might spark a completely different video, or give you an option to create a second (or even third, or fourth) video about the event.
Many of these type of industry events are full of amazing conversations that sometimes are just begging to be included in a video, especially if they are praising your business, product or service. Not only that, if your team are exhibiting your goods or services at the event, they’re pretty likely to be exhausted by the end of the day – so if you can catch a few shots of your staff members catching a quick snooze on their way home (or indeed, having shots in the hotel bar afterwards!) then do so. This is all the sort of footage you can really capitalise on – even if the video of shots in the hotel bar are never seen by your customers, they can be useful for team videos!
Having a second videographer is a luxury that many small businesses simply don’t have the budget for. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t plenty of ways that you can get fantastic B-roll footage.
- Ask your team to capture up to five minutes on their mobile phones and uploading it to the shared drive – this will help to spread the load of capturing B-roll and will ensure you get a range of styles and content.
- Invite a student who is studying videography, media studies or similar to come along and record on your behalf – they can use it as work experience, and add it to their professional portfolio (note that if you can pay them, do so, especially if they are using their own equipment – even a small amount can make a big difference to a student on a budget!)
- Bring family members who are interested and ask them to record video clips of what interests them about the event. Even older children given a smartphone to record video with can come up with some amazing insights!
- If you have industry partners or other businesses that you work closely with, suggest trading clips – you never know what might have been captured that you could take a still shot from.
Since each person you have shooting will have a different perspective and consider different things about the event interesting, they will point their camera or phone at items or scenes that you hadn’t even thought about filming.
While we’re talking about keeping things flexible, consider shooting your B-roll at higher frame rates. Slowing your film down when you’re editing can give you a completely different look.
How much B-roll footage do you need?
This question is near impossible to answer, since every business has different needs. But if you’re investing in video content anyway, then more is definitely more. Remember, whatever you don’t use for the project you’re currently shooting can be used for future video marketing activity, so it is always better to shoot more B-roll than you think you will actually need.
Once you’ve got a decent amount of B-roll footage, you should keep it all labelled appropriately, and have it accessible for your team to use when they need it. You might want to keep notes using keywords about the sort of content and which team members are on each video file, so that when you’re looking for that shot of a team member giving a thumbs up to the camera, or a shot of your exhibition stand surrounded by people you can find it quickly and easily. You’ve gone to the effort of getting that content on camera, so make sure you get the most from it, both now and in the future.
What are the alternatives to B-roll footage?
When you don’t have enough content in your B-roll but you don’t have time to get your camera out to shoot more footage, there might be the temptation to abandon the project or to simply cut your video shorter than you’d like it to be. But that doesn’t have to be the case – you have plenty of options to find extra footage.
Stock video is the name for short video clips that can be inserted into your project in much the same way that your B-roll footage is. Many videographers make their out-takes and extra footage available for others to use on stock video websites, and they’re often free to download and use (although you will need to pay careful attention to the licensing requirements). There is a huge range available, and you can search for keywords – so, if you’re selling summer products on a promotional video but you’re making the video in the winter, searching a stock video for ‘summer’, ‘sunshine’ or ‘beach holiday’ might give you just the clip you need to complete your project.
Although stock video can be really useful, it isn’t always as simple as searching and downloading. Finding the right sort of video you’re looking for can be difficult, especially if you have something really specific in mind. Quality of stock video can be hit and miss, and you may need to accredit the original videographer (as per the licensing requirements). Another issue you might run into when your video is complete is that other businesses have used the clip – which depending on your requirements, might not be a huge problem right now, but you may not want to use unoriginal material in the future.
There are a number of stock video websites that you can access stock video footage on. Many of these are free, while some will have premium, paid-for options that allow you to use the footage exactly as you want. Here are some of our favourite stock video websites:
Pixabay (a community of video & image creators)
Videvo (HD & 4K stock video, also music and sounds)
Pexels (a community of video & image creators)
Videezy (a video community with mostly free files)
Life of Vids (limited to 10 video downloads)
Distill (10 free HD videos every 10 days)
Splitshire (a private collection of stock images & videos)
Clipstill (free cinemagraphs)
Dareful (completely free 4K stock video)
Vidsplay (new videos added weekly)
Storyblocks (premium from £8.25 per month)
Shutterstock (premium, from £12.98 per clip)
If you’re using stock footage from free websites, be sure to check the license requirements before you get started. You don’t want to find that you have accidentally used a clip incorrectly and end up needing to pay compensation or face costly legal action, either now or further down the line.
Royalty free footage can usually be used wherever and whenever you like – but check the website for any requirements that you need to adhere to before you download the clip.
Rights managed content is restricted and is generally more expensive – but it could mean you’re the only person using the clip, which is desirable if you’re creating a clip that you hope to go viral.
Creative Commons licenses are a specific type of copyright, and there are different types of Creative Commons licenses that cover work online. Just because a clip has Creative Commons next to it, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the content is free to use, and you may not be allowed to edit the video in any way, so you should always check the specifics of the license before using it.
You can find out more about the different types of Creative Commons licenses here.
While we’re talking about different types of stock video, we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention that you can create your own stock video library of original content you have created. If your business is just starting your video marketing efforts then you’ll need an alternative – which is where stock video websites can come in.
You don’t have to use video to add interest to your video. Adding stills from other videos, images that you’ve created such as photos, infographics and other designs can be edited in, if you don’t have the exact type of B-roll footage that you want to work with.
Add audio content
As we have already said, your video marketing doesn’t have to be made up of purely video. Adding audio content over images, A-roll or B-roll footage can create something completely unique and provide more value for your customers. If you’re creating podcast content, this can be a great way to eke a bit more return on your investment from your podcast activities, and potentially encourage followers on social media platforms to start listening to your podcast too.
How can you edit B-roll into your video?
When you’re starting out with video marketing, there is the temptation to go big or go home, but that can get expensive pretty quickly. The cost of hiring a professional videographer might be outside of your budget, and a video camera can be hundreds, if not thousands of pounds, and professional video editing software packages aren’t cheap either. Adobe Premiere Pro CC is $239 for a yearly subscription, while Final Cut Pro is $299 for a one-time fee – but there are a number of options that make starting your video marketing a lot more accessible if your budget is minimal.
Many businesses that are succeeding with video marketing start out with a smartphone or a regular digital camera that they had already. With that, they can edit any content that they shoot, and splice in B-roll and photos as required to create pretty decent video for their social media, their website and so on. For businesses starting out with a budget of near zero for their video marketing, free video editing software is a way to get started doing these edits.
Open source (and therefore free forever) video editing options include Blender, Shotcut, Avidemux and OpenShot. Many of these programmes have additional extras that you can buy, but they’re optional – so you really can get started editing video at no cost. What is more, there are enough users worldwide that you’re almost guaranteed to be able to find tutorials on how to use the software on YouTube, which means you can learn as you go, quickly and easily.
Some businesses now solely run their video editing from tablets and smartphones, and apps such as Splice, Quik, Adobe Premiere Rush and Horizon allow for video editing on the go, at no cost. Some of these apps and software packages even allow you to share your completed videos (with your B-roll added, of course) directly to YouTube, Instagram, Facebook and other social media platforms.
What else can you use to enhance your video marketing?
Optimising your titles and descriptions are an important part of your video marketing. If you don’t add the keywords you want your videos to be found for, the search engine algorithms (including YouTube themselves) won’t know what your content is about. Avoid keyword stuffing though – that practice should be avoided completely these days. Aim for a clear title that explains exactly what your video is about within the characters, and make sensible use of your description.
Use tags correctly – on different platforms you’ll have different numbers of characters and tags you can use, but on YouTube you have up to 500 characters to make use of.
Make sure you have backlinks in the right places. Search engines make use of the number of websites linking to your video, but it isn’t the quantity that counts here. You need the right kind of websites, with good rankings themselves linking to your clip.
Encourage your customers to share. There are a number of ways that you can do this – mentioning it in your video and the descriptions are just the first step. The type of video you’re promoting will depend on how you encourage sharing too though – demonstration or tutorial clips might not need to be shared as much as you think. However, sharing the video (or the link) on each of your social media channels, with different messages on each will help to encourage your followers to share. Don’t forget to make use of LinkedIn for any B2B customers, and on Pinterest video pins, since your content on Pinterest is pretty much discoverable forever.
Keep mobile viewers in mind. Your customers are likely to be watching your video on their phones, and while you’re making video content, this is something you need to consider. Although YouTube will resize videos for the screen it is being played on, testing your video on a small screen before you hit publish and start sharing is important. If you’re adding any text to your video, it needs to be big enough to be legible and if you’re focusing on small details, you may need to look at how clear it is on a mobile device.
While it is no longer necessary to shoot B-roll for the same reasons film makers used to, B-roll is still an important asset for your business, especially when you’re creating video for different platforms. Being able to edit the same video to feel completely different means that your customers who follow you on different social media channels won’t get bored, and they will continue to engage with you and share your content.
By itself, B-roll isn’t the answer to successful video marketing, but having enough of the right kind of B-roll content goes a long way to helping your strategy do well. In 2020 and beyond, you don’t have to be a professional videographer to create a great video strategy, nor do you need expensive kit or software – you just need plenty of extra B-roll footage so you can cut, splice and create content your customers will love.
Last Updated on October 6, 2022
Aires Loutsaris is a content marketing specialist working with some of the world’s biggest VC funded startups and eCommerce companies. He has 15 years of experience in organic search optimisation and content writing with over 2500 students enrolled in his Udemy SEO course. An ex-head of two award-winning agencies, he has lectured at the University of the Arts, London College of Fashion on content marketing and has consulted for all three of the Universities he studied at: The Open University, The University of Hull and Kings College University of London. Feel free to connect with Aires on LinkedIn or Facebook.