Idea Blog

Should Your Explainer Video Start by Selling the Problem or the Solution?

Shawn 09.18.2014

There’s more than one way to skin a cat—though I imagine they’re all pretty messy. Likewise, there are plenty of ways to kick off an awesome explainer video. Make no mistake, though: your first 15 seconds are undoubtedly the most important.

You only get one chance to make a first impression, and if it’s anything less than riveting, your audience won’t stick around. Your opening had better be good. (Starting with feline-flaying imagery, for instance, may not be wise.)

Your First Steps

“In the beginning…”

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”

“Call me Ishmael.”

All pretty great openers. Yours needs to be better. (Do you realize how short the modern attention span is?)

Ah, but how to begin? Virtually every animation video should contain certain elements of a good story, namely a character, a conflict, a quest, and a resolution, but how to unfurl that narrative tapestry isn’t always obvious.

First of all, you want to open with a hook—blast down the doors, guns a-blazin’, shouting earth-shattering arias to the mountaintops.

But the shape of that hook will likely depend on the scene your solution is busting into. Is your solution completely novel, with no competitors in sight? Or are you entering a marketplace that’s crammed like sardines?

Novel Solution? Feel the Pain

Speaking of beginnings, IdeaRocket got its start producing hand-drawn animation videos for tech companies. Many of these startups were trailblazing pioneers, offering a radically new solution that only recently became feasible.

Everyone loves to think their product or service is one of a kind: a special snowflake in the midst of boilerplate solutions. Sadly, most face a broad barrage of comparable competitors. In the rare occasion that you’re offering a truly novel solution, the best tactic is a counterintuitive approach: don’t start by selling your solution—sell the problem.

What are your consumers’ pain points? What challenge are you helping them overcome? If no one else has a fix, the consumers may not even know that they have a problem—you need to help them find it. 

That’s the seemingly simple formula that should dictate your opening moments. If you have a novel solution, focus on the problem; if you’re in a competitive market, focus on how your solution is different.

That sounds good and well, but it’s awfully abstract, isn’t it? Let’s look to a real-world example.

StreetCred is a breakthrough product for law enforcement—there’s nothing else like it. As such, when we were condensing their value into a bite-sized explainer video, we first needed to spell out everything wrong with the status quo.

So we did just that: our whiteboard animation video starts with two characters, David and Freddy, before jumping straight into all the problems Freddy has on a daily basis: disparate deskwork, inefficient organization, outdated filing systems, etc. At each turn, we see how David uses StreetCred to seamlessly solve these issues.

StreetCred Software from IdeaRocket on Vimeo.

Or consider LeadID, a novel certification system for the lead generation industry. With no comparable competitors already in the industry, their video had to educate the audience about the existing problems as much as the actual solution.

The first 30 seconds showcase the current state of lead gen—and why it doesn’t work. The target audience had become complacent. That’s always the way the lead gen business has been, so it wasn’t natural to itch for a fix.

After the first third of the video, we’ve fleshed out their pain points: now they’re fed up and perfectly primed for the novel solution.

LeadID from IdeaRocket on Vimeo.

Maybe the idea of rubbing salt in the consumer’s wound doesn’t appeal to you? No worries, it’s not all doom and gloom. We prefer to take a lighthearted approach by injecting humor wherever possible: the clever fugitive names (J. Walker, Rob U. Blind), the unscrupulous seller’s vaudevillian evil mustache. It’s a wink and a nudge to the viewer. Just because you’re starting off negative doesn’t mean you need to be a Debbie Downer.

The final leg of the video revisits all the pain points, demonstrating how your solution removes obstacles, lifts burdens, and makes life better.

Crowded Marketplace? Stand Out

On the other hand, what if your offerings face stiff competition? In a mature, saturated market, you’ll want to lead in with your strongest differentiators. That means actually focusing on the specifics of your solution.

What do you do better than anyone else? What’s the competition doing wrong?

Let’s look at Alcatel-Lucent, a global telecom company. There are plenty of competitors to choose from, and their strongest differentiator at the time was the ability to unify wired and wireless networks for large businesses.

That’s exactly what we dove into first. There’s no reason to explain what the network solution is, so we immediately zero in on what makes their solution unique (also known as the unique selling proposition, or USP).

Alcatel-Lucent from IdeaRocket on Vimeo.

Scandis is a furniture company that faces a similar competitive landscape. Instead of talking up the furniture itself, their video instantly differentiates them by explaining its unique business model and the many benefits that arise from it.

Scandis from IdeaRocket on Vimeo.

A Fuzzy Line

You’ll note that both of these videos still start by going a little negative—hitting pain points of competing solutions before standing out from the crowd. The formula we propose isn’t a hard and fast rule—it’s a slightly fuzzy spectrum, a guideline to help steer your opener in the right direction.

Your solution may well fall somewhere in the middle, and that’s fine. Just remember to always consider the audience’s perspective: will they be more interested in learning about the purpose of your offerings, or what makes yours different from all others? Once you know, you’re ready to be


Born in Southern California, Shawn grew up surfing, eating In-N-Out, and growing his hair long. After graduating with a Liberal Arts degree from CSU Long Beach in 2005 he left the crowded freeways behind and spent the better part of a decade traveling the world living for stretches in Rome, Hawaii, Australia, New Zealand, and Brooklyn. He writes novels as well as copy, loves learning keyboard shortcuts, and plays his grandpa’s old lap steel guitar. You can hear his band at

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