Custom video thumbnails help you connect with your audience

Custom thumbnail for animated explainer video

Creating custom thumbnails for your explainer and demo videos is one of the best ways to make sure your content stands out from the competition. In fact, a recent study found that custom thumbnails result in a 37 percent increase in click-throughs to the corresponding video. That’s an enormous payoff for investing a little thought and creative energy into the images that give viewers their first impression of your video content.

Custom video thumbnails have two goals:

  • Grab potential viewers’ attention
  • Give them a good idea of what they will learn when they click through and watch

Balancing these two objectives is the key to creating successful custom thumbnails. You want to entice viewers, but you don’t want just anyone to click on a cute cat picture and then quickly abandon your video content.

A custom thumbnail should appeal to your target audience. So you’ll often find you need to create multiple thumbnails for your videos, each optimized for the customer groups you want to reach.

There’s a lot of advice out there about how to create custom thumbnails. But ultimately it all boils down to initiating an emotional connection with the viewer, and letting them know how watching your video will make their lives better.

You DEFINITELY need to make custom thumbnails

Before I move on to a few creative tips, let me stress again how important this step is in maximizing your investment in explainer, demo and other marketing videos.

YouTube, by far the world’s largest video platform, says that 90 percent of its high-performing videos use custom thumbnails. The study I cited earlier is based on data from LinkedIn, which is home to about 40 percent of the demographic most likely to be making B2B decisions. Similar positive results are seen on Twitter, Pinterest – anywhere you use video to reach customers.

Custom thumbnails not only help your video stand out among the competition – they can expand the reach of your video content by helping it rank higher in promotional algorithms. A columnist at Forbes suggests that video hosting platforms are likely analyzing which thumbnails will likely do well before moving new video content into their viewer recommendation sections.

So, clearly, you need to build custom thumbnails into the creative and production process for every video you publish.

Creative tips on creating custom video thumbnails

The right approach to creating custom video thumbnails depends on a lot of variables, most notably your visual brand and your target audience.

Most of the advice you’ll find on the Internet is targeted at consumer or entertainment videos, typically ones hosted at YouTube. That makes sense, given that YouTube is the world’s dominant video platform, and most videos are created with consumers in mind.

But, as I said earlier, the best thumbnail for your video depends on the audience you want to reach and the message you want to deliver. You’ll find some useful insights in each of the following tips, but the exact approach for your brand is up to you.

Now, on to the tips.

Custom video thumbnail with happy person

Be happy

The most common, and perhaps best, advice about thumbnails is to make a “happy” emotional connection with the viewer.

A recent study by Columbia University found that there was a 14 percent increase in overall attention when a “happy-peak” frame was used as the thumbnail or video face cover. The study also found that when viewers see the same or very similar frame in the video itself, their attentiveness jumped by 16 percent.

Of course, what makes a potential customer “happy” depends on the customer. For consumers, it often just means showing a really excited person enjoying your product. You can see an example of this above, in a thumbnail we created for our customer First Citizens Bank for a demo video to promote its mobile banking application.

The emotional triggers for business purchasers can be far more complex, based on the role they play in the buy decision. An IT security professional may be most “happy” if you simply reassure them that your solution will mitigate their risk. (There’s a ton of research about this topic; I’d suggest this research from Harvard Business Review as further reading.)

Long story short – get to know what your happy customers look like, and focus on replicating that feeling in your custom video thumbnails.

Human element in Unisys custom video thumbnails

Add a human touch

Adding a headshot is one of the most common pieces of advice for creating an effective custom thumbnail. For entertainment YouTubers, this is more or less standard procedure. Many experts also suggest making sure that the happy person in the headshot is positioned to make eye contact with the viewer, to immediately create a human connection.

This approach may work for your brand, but as always it depends on your audience and market. A headshot of a joyous end user may seem out of place for, let’s say, an network security software solution. And many demo and explainer videos rely on animations and screen captures, so using a photo of a person may create a disconnect with viewers when they click through to view the full video content.

The image at the top of this post is the thumbnail we made here at Autodemo for our own creative reel. It uses a still of an animated human figure, and we think it conveys the “happiness” that invites further interest and click-through.

But our customers at Unisys, a leading global IT solutions provider, took a somewhat different approach in the thumbnails you see above. These images depict humans using their solutions, but the focus remains on the solution itself.

Again, there’s no one-size-fits all answer here. Just remember that adding a human element will greatly improve the odds of your thumbnail being clicked.

BluJay Custom Video Thumbnail

Include some compelling text in your custom video thumbnail

Including display text that stresses the key message of your demo or explainer video is usually a good idea. This text should compliment, not overwhelm, the main image you select. For example, the above thumbnail for our customer BluJay Solutions stresses the fact that they produce custom supply chain software.

To BluJay’s highly targeted audience, that’s a core value proposition. And since BluJay’s videos tend to be promoted primarily to prospects who understand and are interested in supply chain software, they don’t need to provide too much info in the thumbnail image. “Purpose-built” pretty much says it all.

Along these lines, be sure that the embedded text you use is not redundant to the title or description that displays with your video. These elements vary depending on the video platform, so that’s another good reason to consider custom video thumbnails for each platform on which you publish.

Use warm colors and bold text

Here are Autodemo, we are all about maintaining consistent visual branding. So, the image and text you choose for your custom thumbnail should conform to your brand guidelines, just as your demo and explainer videos do.

That said, general wisdom suggests that you choose the warm colors in your corporate brand palette, along with the boldest text treatment in your font list. You only get one chance to make that first impression, so speak up!

Use your corporate logo – most of the time

Depending on where your custom thumbnail is being viewed, you probably want to include your company’s logo. Most experts agree that placement in the lower-right corner, accounting for no more than about 20 percent of the thumbnail’s pixel area, is a good visual treatment.

If your brand is well-known, your logo can add authority and draw more attention to your video – particularly if you are targeting customers who have an affinity for your company. If you are a new player to your market, the decision to include your logo is a tougher call.

A caveat: We typically advise our customers to not include logos in custom thumbnails that will appear on their own sites and landing pages (the Unisys screenshot I showed you earlier is a good example). Too many logos on a page look sloppy and dilute your brand.

Again, successful custom thumbnails are all about context.

Stay on message with your targeted audience

My last piece of advice is really just a reminder that your custom video thumbnails should never make a promise that the resulting video doesn’t keep. Posting “click-bait” thumbnails will hurt your engagement and viewability metrics, as well as your brand.

Low click-throughs but high watch times may indicate that your thumbnail is poor-quality, causing potential customers to skip over your content. Conversely, a high level of click-throughs with poor play lengths and engagement may indicate that your thumbnail is a little misleading (or that the video needs improving). Many video distribution platforms will devalue videos and channels that consistently post this kind of performance.

Remember, nobody likes spam.

Custom thumbnails are an essential part of video production

Including custom thumbnails as part of your video production process is one of the best ways to encourage views and maximize your investment in video content. There’s no one-size-fits-all model for creating custom video thumbnails. But with cooperation between your video production and marketing teams, you can develop a creative strategy for thumbnails that will engage customers and help win new business.

Custom thumbnails will help you connect with customers. We’d love to connect with you about your next project. Get in touch or take a look at our recent work.