Our Hyper-Analytical Process In Creating a Video to Address the Question “What is the Meaning of Life?”
Did you know that in the United States alone the phrase “what is the meaning of life” is googled over 49,000 times a month? It turns out, there are a lot of people who are turning to google to try and answer some of the most existential questions there are. What is the meaning of life? Why am I here on earth? What is my purpose? In the time that we’ve spent optimizing and running the Adwords Grant accounts for CV Outreach partner churches, we’ve noticed that these types of keyword searches are always near the top of the results in our campaigns.
For CV Outreach, we are consistently diving in to keyword data in order to optimize our partner church's Adwords Campaigns, and for many months these "meaning of life" searches have stuck out to us, and we knew that we needed to create a solid piece of content to specifically address those searches.
This post is a detailed account of how we created a video to address the question of "what is the meaning of life?". For this video creation process we chose to take a hyper-analytical approach to strategically make the most engaging video possible for the broadest and most diverse cross section of society that we possibly could.
The final video will be used on church landing pages all over North America, as well as in social media campaigns. We pray that it will be able to start meaningful conversations with the people who are googling those existential questions.
But first, who are these people googling "what is the meaning of life"?
Who Are Seekers?
We call the people who are googling these types of phrases “Seekers”. If you're new here, it’s the mission of CV Outreach to connect Seekers with the church, as we believe the church is uniquely positioned to lead people towards the Gospel. Seekers are googling all sorts of other questions as well, to be sure. There are many of other Seeker keyword searches that are applicable to a strategic outreach strategy, but "meaning" searches are always trending at the top.
Based on this data, we know that Seekers are consistently looking for answers to questions around existential meaning and purpose, and so if we want to reach Seekers with the Gospel, we know that it's important for us to be able to provide a meaningful response to those questions.
Why Go Through All This Trouble?
If you are wondering why we would we care to go through the trouble of embarking on this hyper-analytical process to make a two-minute video, the reason is simple. We really, really, REALLY care about reaching Seekers. We are so serious about reaching Seekers that we are committed to using the tools and technologies available to us to reach them. For this process, there are various tools and platforms that we hoped would allow us to ensure that we were making the most engaging video we possibly could to address this very important question.
The split testing and analysis we are sharing with you here was designed to take as much of our personal subjectivity out of the creation process as possible. CV North America is tasked with reaching every type of person with the Gospel, and there are a lot of different types of people in North America. If we were to only rely on our own subjective tastes and opinions while we created our video, then we felt that we would inherently be more vulnerable to inadvertently only reaching people who are like us. Split testing gives us data that shows us in an objective way how well the video would play among various types of demographics.
Our Creation Process
At CV, we have hundreds of videos being used in various strategies all over the internet. We are constantly analyzing and optimizing our use of video to stay on the cutting edge of internet best practices. So, based on our history and strategic analysis, we had a few components in mind for this “meaning of life” video.
Keeping It Short
Our most effective and engaging videos tend to be short. The underlying reason for this is the downward slope of typical audience retention graph. People are incredibly distracted online, and it’s important to get to the point quickly. We tend to think that if you can effectively tell a story in a shorter amount of time, then we should. For this “meaning of life” video keeping it short was a tall order, as the subject of the video was very complex. Could we succinctly address an existential question like "what is the meaning of life"? Our goal was to keep it under two minutes.
A Universal Visual Style - Animation
There were a few reasons that we chose to make this video animated. The first is that we wanted it to be as universally applicable as possible. If we were to have made a live action video by casting a person to appear on camera, we risked making a video that might alienate Seekers who were markedly different than the presenter and might be from various regions, ethnicities, or who speak different languages. Animation would free us from the trickiness of casting, and allow us to focus on the story. (One secondary benefit of animated videos is that they are easy to localize or translate into another language. In the future, we expect to allow CV Content teams in other regions to localize this video into their own language by adding their own voice over track and changing the text on the screen to be in their own language.)
Another reason to use animation is that animation styles tend to be much more evergreen or timeless than live action. In live action film, clothing styles, haircuts, and even delivery styles change through the years, and videos from even just a few years ago can feel dated. Animated films are not typically subject to that same aging effect. When people watch The Lion King, no one thinks, “man, that’s so 90s…” in the same way they do when they watch episodes from the first season of “Friends” (both released in 1994).
The last reason that we knew we wanted this video to be animated is that we had data from previous animated projects to support this style as being one that viewers consistently engaged with. When we compare our animated videos and our live action videos, animated videos almost always have a higher viewability rate and usually a higher engagement rate.
Choosing a Production Partner
It was an easy call for us in choosing a partner to make this video for us. When we thought about who can take complicated subjects and tell them in succinct ways using animation, we naturally thought of our friends at The Bible Project.
If you haven’t heard of them, The Bible Project is a Portland-based non-profit that utilizes short-form, fully animated videos to make the biblical story accessible to everyone, everywhere. Go check out their videos. Seriously. You’ll be glad you did.
Jon Collins and Tim Mackie, the founders and Creative Directors at The Bible Project, agreed that there is a need for a video addressing this subject, and were happy to come on board to tell this story.
Before we dive into the nerdy details of the split testing process, here is the final product made in collaboration with The Bible Project and the wonderful animators at Rosenow Design Co.
For anyone who is new to the internet marketing world, split testing is the ability to test variables against each other in a statistically relevant way in order to find which variable performs the best according to the metrics you are interested in.
The variables in our split test were first the script choice, and then the visual direction. We tested the variables in each round among more than 20 different demographics, as well as a few control groups. In total, more than 120k people from all across the United States viewed our split tests.
The main metrics that we were interested in monitoring during these tests were a viewability rank and an engagement rank from the demographics, and then aggregate totals for viewability and engagement. The viewability rank was a weighted score combining the average percentage of the video viewed and the number of people who watched 75% of the video. The engagement rank was a weighted score combining the number of shares of the ad and the number of engaged people (any click on the ad).
Script Split Test
Jon and Tim are natural storytellers, and very quickly were brimming with ideas on how to address the question of “what is the meaning of life?”. Remember our goal was to make a video specifically for Seekers, not necessarily for Christians. So, we agreed that the starting point for the video needed to be something that was universal. The goal of the script was to gently lead viewers through a storyline that would introduce them to the broad concepts of the Christian worldview. The goal of this video was to hopefully start conversations, not necessarily answer every single question that someone might have. Even though Jon and Tim are certainly capable of creating videos around complex theological issues, we agreed that this video wasn't the place for that. We wanted the video to be a starting point for a journey of exploration.
Jon and Tim wrote three distinctly different scripts that addressed the question of "what is the meaning of life" from three different angles. In order to split test these scripts, Jon and Tim recorded themselves delivering each script in a simple live action video.
You can watch each video below.
"Story" "Adventure" "Relationship"
Each script definitely has it’s own merits, and subjectively our staff had different opinions on which video resonated with them the most. But remember, the purpose of the split test was to take as much subjectivity out of our decision making process as possible.
To run the split test we used the Facebook Ads platform. The "advertisement" was essentially just a way for us to show our video to a wide net of people in a very quick way. The ad appeared in Facebook user's mobile or desktop newsfeed. After the ad campaign had finished we were able to analyze the engagement that each demographic had with our ads as well as see the aggregate totals from across all of the demographics.
Script Split Test - Results and Analysis
The questions we were asking ourselves when looking at the campaign data had to do with diversity, engagement, and viewability. Across all of the demographics, how engaged were people with each of these different videos? Regarding diversity, which demographics were engaging and watching the video most? Thus, for the demographics, we came up with a weighted rank for each metric. For us, we wanted those ranks to show diverse demographics side by side. The reason is that we wanted this video to resonate with everyone, regardless of who they are and what demographic they come from.
Here are the script results:
After looking at these results, it was clear to us that the "Relationship" script performed the best. The Aggregate Totals for that script were higher than each of the other scripts, and the demographic ranks were certainly diverse. We had found the script that performed the best across the board, and also appealed to a very diverse cross section of demographics. Success. We moved forward with the Relationships script into the animation stage.
Animation Split Test
This split test involved testing the visual style of the video. Rosenow Design Co. came up with three unique visual ways to tell this story and delivered them to us in three different animatics. An animatic is basically the skeleton of a fully animated video. The three animatics created were referred to as “Frames”, “Galaxy”, and “Currents”. Watch each one below.
Animation Split Test - Results and Analysis
Before we dig into which animation style won, notice how the views and engagement went up overall in these animated videos when compared with the non animated video of the same script. People on Facebook clearly engage and watch more animated videos then they do straightforward live action talking-head type videos.
Based on these results the favorite from this split test was the “Currents” style. It had the highest aggregate totals, most noticeably the highest number of total shares. The metric, particularly, shows that people advocate for this piece of content enough to show their friends. We informed Rosenow Design Co. of the winning animatic, and they continued in that style to create the final video that we have above.
Summary and Conclusion
You may be wondering, is it necessary to go through this type of process to reach Seekers? Of course not. God can work through many different types of video content to reach people with the Gospel, and we'll be the first to say that we trust the Holy Spirit more than our data. However, we believe that we are living in a historically unprecedented age where we have incredibly powerful strategic tools at our disposal.
At CV Outreach, we are motivated to be the best stewards of the resources and opportunities that we have in order to help churches connect with Seekers. This type of process is our faithful effort to create content that will actively engage with as many Seekers as possible so that we can help connect them with churches who can point them towards the Truth that is found in the Gospel.