Ben Crawford is one of the founders of Epipheo Studios. I first saw Epipheo's early video work in 2009 and immediately became a fan. They have a knack for making ideas easy to understand in a very informal, disarming way. Since that time I've become friends with Ben and watched Epipheo transform into an innovative company that's looking beyond animation and creating their own way to make a difference in communication.
I asked Ben to answer a few questions about himself and what's happening at Epipheo:
1. Tell me about Epipheo. What's your role there and how did the company get started?
I was one of four founding friends and partners. It's hard to describe the role of the founders because while we've each tried wearing various hats or using business card titles we've found that it's more restricting to narrow ourselves down to a department or title. We work and function more as a very dynamic partnership and while we each have our unique strengths our superpower is really in our weekly board meeting which is a deep discussion about the state and direction of our company.
Our company got it's start by believing that communication is important and that the best way you could love a person is to take the time to translate a message that is for them. It's funny that only one of the partners had video experience and none of us had any formal training in communication or advertising or anything like that but I think that's actually worked out to our advantage. We were able to look at an industry with completely fresh eyes and approach the tools and mediums with our own goals instead of starting with the methods and midsets that already exist.
2. What does an effective epipheo look like to you? What qualities do you feel are essential in a successful video?
It's funny because Epipheo has become so much more than just videos. Overall an Epipheo needs to communicate Truth, Story, and Love. I'm not always sure what that looks like but we want every product that epipheo creates to resonate in the deepest way possible with the human soul. We want it to make people think bigger. Bigger than the latest internet technology or great feature. We want people to ask "Why?" Why should they care? Why does it matter?
3. What advice do you have for professionals who have a hard time communicating their ideas?
People can teach you how to communicate better but I think good communication is a byproduct. Try to understand people and yourself. And then start caring and loving people (more). I remember hearing a guy say to a group of married guys: "You don't need to understand women, you just need to understand one woman." It's really freeing to know it's not always a science or psychological feat. You just have to care. When you really care about people you start to develop a passion on how to reach them and what works and doesn't work. Also, if a passion for people is what's driving you, you're not as restrained by the "how" and "what". You just do whatever works best.
4. Where is Epipheo headed? What will we see in coming years?
This question is exciting because no one knows. The only thing I can guarantee is that it will probably not look like what it looks like now. With a vision statement like "Truth, Story, Love." it can take you a lot of places if you're dedicated to following it with integrity.
Below I'm using a single scene from this video to highlight an important element of explanation: building and sustaining confidence.
NOTE: If you're interested in learning in-depth about the skill of explanation and how to make Common Craft Style videos, check out our online courses at the Explainer Academy.
A quick point about intent. This video is not entitled “Private Equity Explained” or “Private Equity Made Easy”. Further, the target audience for the video is not stated, so I acknowledge that the intent may not be explanation or for a general audience.
First, I think it’s nicely presented. The illustrations work well with the voice-over and it has a friendly, approachable feel. And I think it does a reasonable job of explaining the basic ideas behind private equity from the perspective of the industry.
However, when I watch the video I see language that represents a risk. I’m a big believer in the idea that explanations should build and sustain confidence for the audience. Anything that takes away confidence erodes the power of the explanation.
The first big and potentially powerful point in the video is this:
Private Equity firms partner with investors like public and private pension funds, university endowments and charitable foundations to buy companies...
If you work in finance, this may make perfect sense to you and seem simple. But I doubt that the average person, whom I believe is the target for this video, will get it. Understanding what each of these investors are and do can be intimidating. Like so many explanations, it depends on assumptions. Let’s take a look:
The question is “What is Private Equity” and the first point they make is about “private equity firms partner with...”. Assumption(1): People know that private equity is something that a “firm” does. Assumption (2) People know what it means to “partner” with an investor.
The firms “partner with investors like public and private pension funds, university endowments and charitable foundations.” Assumption (1): People know what those things are. Assumption (2): People know that pension funds, endowments and foundations can be investors.
These assumptions don’t necessarily compromise the video, but they offer the audience a good reason to lose confidence.
Further, the point on investment partners is a distraction that was likely included to promote a message of positivity (private equity helps things that do good). Aren’t the investment partners a detail that can be covered later?
If I had to rethink the beginning of the video, I’d zoom-out, talk about the big picture and discuss the various needs at work, without all the details:
On one side, there are investors that have money and need a way to make more. On the other, there are companies that need money and have the potential to grow. In the middle are private equity firms, which use the money from investors to buy companies, turn them around and sell them to at a profit.
It’s a very simplified view but one that focuses on the big, high level concept. Of course it’s not bulletproof, but it builds a foundation that may help the audience feel more confident in understanding the big ideas *first* and the smaller ones later - and that’s what matters.
I’m sure you’ve heard the superstition that it’s bad luck to walk under a ladder. Like many superstitions, it’s rooted in a real-world consequence. The truth is, walking under ladders has nothing to do with luck - it’s just a bad idea. It could fall, paint could splatter on you, or you could cause someone to fall off of it.
But those points are almost worthless. You could promote the risk of walking under ladders until you are blue in the face, but no one will care. But, add a story, a fable, some emotional connection and people often respond in a different way. No one wants a lifetime of bad luck - that’s a curse!
Here’s the lesson... If you’re trying to change someone’s behavior, don’t be so direct about your points. Repeating the risks of walking under ladders won’t help. Use a story that connects to some universal truth about the subject-at-hand. Give people a way to see the high-level consequences of their behavior, good or bad, and they may identify with your words in a whole new way.
We're big fans of Ira Glass and the This American Life radio show/podcast. We listen to every show on the podcast and there are few broadcast storytellers that I respect more. Via an older post on the Explainist blog, I found these videos of him describing the process of researching and crafting stories from back in 2006. He names two building blocks of storytelling and how they work together. Really great perspectives that you can hear in every story he tells.
The video above is actually part of a 4 part series and the other parts are less applicable to our work, but still worth the time to watch, especially if you're interested in broadcast work like his show. View Part 2, Part 3, Part 4.