Which Type of Voice Actor Should You Use for Your Explainer Video? [Original Research]

Which Type of Voice Actor Should You Use for Your Explainer Video? [Original Research]

When designing the landing page for CXL Institute, we conducted an experiment regarding our explainer video.

We wanted to find out how “trustworthy” and “attractive” different voices were perceived. In this CXL Institute study, we tested four different voices, which differed by gender and whether they were professional voice actors or not.

Question is, did it make a different in how people perceived our video content? Yes, and the results were somewhat surprising.

Results summary

  • Viewers trusted the videos with female narration significantly more than the videos with male narration.
  • Viewers generally found the video less attractive when presented by a male, but the professional male voice significantly decreased perceptions of attractiveness.
  • Viewers overwhelmingly preferred the professional female voice-over.
  • Preferences were influenced by which voice they originally heard, which led to an increased likelihood that the viewer would prefer the original voice heard.

How do I apply this research?

The big takeaway here is that the choice of video narrator or voice-over matters. It seems that the choice of gender can affect the trustworthiness of the product and that the choice of voice in general can affect users’ perceptions of product attractiveness. So the take home here is to test different voice-over professionals for your videos…and try a female voice first.

Background

The argument for hiring a professional voice actor is that they are experts at setting the tone for the video, inform viewers of what’s important and why they’re watching, and generally spark interest in the video content.

But most of these arguments come from companies who sell voice-overs. There’s not much objective information out there.

On the other hand, letting Alex or Susie from CXL do the voice over is cheap and fast. And perhaps just as effective.

As we started crafting our own explainer video, we questioned how compelling paid voice-overs really are. Is there even a difference between a paid, professional voice-over and an amateur one (someone who’s never done a voice-over, someone like Susie, the CXL videographer)?

Moreover, what kind of voice do people want to hear? A woman’s voice or a man’s? How old should they be? Should they have an accent?

One research study later, here’s what we found.

Full Study Report: Effects of Gender and Professionalism in Voice-Overs

Study Setup

Participants

We recruited 202 participants from the United States using an online panel provider. Participants completed a survey based on the CXL promotional video with one of four possible voice-overs:

A screenshot of the promotional video.

Voice 1: Professional female voice-over (top-rated seller with >2000 ratings on Fiverr).

Voice 2: “Amateur” female voice-over (Susie Cansler from CXL; has never done voice-over work before).

Voice 3: “Amateur” male voice-over (Alex Birkett from CXL; has never done voice-over work before).

Voice 4: Professional male voice-over (top-rated seller with >2000 ratings on Fiverr).

Participants were randomly assigned to a voice.

Sample Distribution:
voices 3

Videos

Professional female voice-over.

“Amateur” female voice-over.


“Amateur” male voice-over.

Professional male voice-over.

After viewing the video, we asked them two questions:

1. “How trustworthy would you rate this video?” (On a scale of one to seven.)

2. “How would you rate the visual appeal of this video?” (On a scale of one to seven.)

For both survey questions, respondents answered based on this scale (trustworthiness and attractiveness are combined in this graphic, but were two separate questions).
For both survey questions, respondents answered based on this scale (trustworthiness and attractiveness are combined in this graphic, but they were two separate questions).

Participants had the option to share additional feedback on the trustworthiness and visual appeal in the video. This provided us with some qualitative feedback data to improve the video.

3. A preference question in which they selected which voice (from 10-second clips) they liked most.

The same snippet was used for each voice, producing a total of four clips (one for each voice-over).

Here are the sound clips (note a 2 second delay to start):

Male Amateur (Alex):

Male Professional:

Female Amateur (Susie):

Female Professional:

Findings

1. People trusted female voices more. Professionalism didn’t matter.

Analysis of variance indicates that there were differences among the voice treatments [F(3, 194) = 6.71, p = 0.00025] in how users viewed the trustworthiness of the video message. Tukey’s post hoc tests revealed that female voices are significantly more trustworthy than male voices, while ‘professionalism’ didn’t influence viewers’ trust perception.

2. The professional male voice-over was rated as the least attractive.

Analysis of variance indicates that there were differences among the voice treatments [F(3, 194) = 6.21, p = 0.00048] in how users viewed the attractiveness of the video message. Tukey’s post hoc tests revealed that the primary cause of this is the professional male’s voice, which caused a significant decrease in viewers’ attractiveness perception compared to the professional female (p-value < 0.01) and the amateur female (p-value < 0.01). The decrease was nearly significant compared to the amateur male (p-value = 0.074) as well.

Picture2

3. People generally preferred the professional female voice-over, however, they preferred voices differently depending on which voice they originally heard.

People overwhelmingly preferred the pro female voice-over. Professional female voice-over aside, participants were more likely to pick the voice from the original video they watched (e.g. if a participant heard the amateur male voice-over in the original video, they were more likely to prefer that voice when comparing it to the others).

Even with this pattern, the professional female was the clear favorite. A Chi-square goodness of fit test indicates a significant difference in mean preference among users who watched the different original videos [X2 (9, N  = 195) = 48.139, p < 0.001].

Number of people who preferred voiceovers according to which video they initially watched
Number of people who preferred voice-overs according to which video they initially watched. The large red box indicates the voice with the overall highest preference, and individual small red boxes indicate the preference counts for the voice that people originally heard.

4. Qualitative insights are useful for product improvement.

For your enjoyment, here is a sampling of some of the feedback we got on the video… which will help us improve it for the next version.

Nothing at all was bad. Liked the experiment graphics best.

Everything flowed very smoothly. It is a great informative video.

I didn’t like how it was so fast, and plain colored. It didn’t draw my attention at all.

I like the graphics showing what the website looked like and the tools available on the website, as well as the colors showing heat maps where users were looking.

It was too vague

The best part was showing an actual person for a second or so in the video. Maybe if it actually showed the narrator every now and then it would liven up the video. Looked sort of amateurish in much of the vide, just copying a webpage.

It seemed to move much too fast to be able to fully comprehend all of the information.

I liked that it was clean, focused, gave details and examples, the speaker was easy to understand, I don’t know what A/B is so it might need to be dumbed down a pit or taken into consideration that I am not the target audience

Limitations

  • We tested four different voices, but there are billions out there. Further research should test more than two variations of each female and male. We should also investigate preference patterns for voices among specific demographics. Zanbaka et. al. (2006) found that there is a cross-preference for voices between genders. In other words, males prefer female voices and females prefer male voices. We should have asked about the respondents’ gender!
  • Another interesting tangent might be exploring the effect of foreign accents. Perhaps some accents convey particular messages, moods, or tones (with the British accent being most attractive, of course).
  • It could be insightful to test this study on a web optimization demographic instead of the general public. Branching off Zanbaka’s work, there’s a possibility that this predominately male demographic prefers a female voice.

Conclusion

Alex Birkett’s voice was rated as the least trustworthy, so don’t hire him to do a voice-over for your promotional videos.

Other than that, we found that people overwhelmingly preferred the professional female voice-over actress, and that, in general, people rated female voices as more trustworthy than males’ voices.

Of course, our study may have been highly contextual – and we only tested four voices – but there were significant differences in how people perceived the video and those results are surprising.

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Join the Conversation Add Your Comment

  1. Putting the final touches on our online fitness product. The videos are already narrated by a professional male voice-over, but the ad/promo video is still in the works. Now I know who will narrate that one. Thanks :)

    Reply
    1. Ben Labay

      Hey Slavko, glad you found this useful. More than anything it should show you how to do a quick and inexpensive test of different voices on your own product if you can. Cheers, Ben

  2. Full disclosure: I am a pro voice talent, and also involved in issues involving our industry. Unfortunately you made a crucial basic error that skewed your entire study in the wrong direction. You used voice talent from Fiverr to represent ‘professional’ voiceovers. People selling voiceover services on sites like Fiverr, Voice Bunny, etc. are not, repeat NOT, professional voice actors. Regardless of how many ‘likes’ they may have and how many ‘gigs’ they may have done, they represent the equivalent of “Sharon from Accounting” or “Susie from ConversionXL” in terms of quality. If you had used actual pro talent, rather than those who tout themselves as pros on Twitter etc., your findings would have been drastically different. These are people who purchased a USB microphone and a laptop, put up some blankets in a closet, paid an entry subscription fee to some online casting site or set up a Fiverr profile and instantly proclaimed themselves Professional Talent. They’ve done none of the years of skill building and learning and prep and practice it takes to become a true professional. After all, it’s about acting…how much acting have these people done? It’s not just talking into a microphone, that is Myth Number One when talking about voiceovers.

    Listen to your supposed ‘pro’s then listen to any of the talent listed on VoiceOver.biz – which is populated only with talent who’ve been working for pro rates on pro projects. Not even on the 800-lb gorilla in the room Voices dot com will you find all professionals. If you really want to represent your company and clients in the best light possible, you are best budgeting for and using pro talent. I can come up with much anecdotal info where colleagues have replaced cheap voice talent because firms who thought they were getting a bargain ended up horrified at what they received – and ended up paying a pro on top of the amateur. Some folks even use the tagline “We fix cheap voiceovers”….This article points up the benefits of using pro talent – and while not unbiased, it is written by people who are doing that kind of work, who know what works and what doesn’t, dare I say, Professionals. https://elearningindustry.com/use-professional-voice-actors-in-elearning

    Believe me, we have the quality of your work in mind when doing our work. We’re in it for the career, not the transitory ‘gig’. And finally, the business caveat really applies here…”Think it’s expensive to hire a professional? Wait til you hire an amateur.”

    Reply
    1. Ben Labay

      Hey Chris, thanks for sharing, this is good context info to know for marketer’s outside of the voiceover world. I think your point is likely valid that there are many on Fiverr that aren’t great, but I know there are also professionals there using the platform for lead gen, that said, if we’re talking in stereotypes and generalities, you’re certainly correct.

      This study certainly isn’t trying to nail down anything, rather we’re sharing some data and testing methods to illustrate ways in which hypothesis testing can be carried out, it also provides a better testing hypothesis for our product in this case, but in similar products otherwise. Thanks again for the comment, cheers!

    2. I was trying to figure out why only people who used the website voiceover.biz were professionals, as opposed to people who post on freelancing sites.

      Then, when I typed in the link world-voices.org (there is no working link) and figured out that this was an offshoot of their union website, it made sense. You instantly become a “real pro” once you’re in the union.

    3. Chris Mezzolesta, if you believe that every voice on Fiverr is in their closet with blankets and a usb mic, then you havent been on Fiverr in a long time. I’ve worked on an ongoing basis with a dozen or more vo people on there and I know for a fact that they are in isolation booths with hardware that is top tier, TLM103, 416, Audient interfaces, etc. Yes, there are definitely some scrubs on there. The question isnt, “is the talent on voiceover.biz better…” The question is. “does it matter if they are better?”. Totally depends on what you are using them for. For an explainer video, 99 times out of 100, I’ll get exactly what I need from a good Fiverr talent for waaaaaaaaaaaaay less than a guy like you expects/requires. The extra few hundred dollars that I pay you, wont move the needle on the success of a basic explainer video. It just wont. I produce a ton of them. I’ve used high dollar talent and low dollar talent and honestly, with all sincerity, the only difference is the price. There are plenty of great talent that just havent found their way into the high dollar market. And I didnt just do this as a matter of being cheap/budget minded. I do some work with large companies that have budgets. The first 4 times I sourced Fiverr talent, I also used auditions from some agency talent. I sent a handful of voices to my clients with no info about who they were or how much they cost. Three out of four jobs were won by the Fiverr talent and the 4th one was almost a toss up. Also, one other thing to mention. Just because a job is bought on Fiverr doesnt mean that it costs $5. I know, sounds silly, right? But those guys are masters at “starting at $5….” and then adding on extras to keep the $5’s coming in. I typically pay about $25-$35 for a 1.5-2 minute explainer voice. Which for somebody working on the side equates to about $180 per hour. I know, i know, the old guard HATES Fiverr….everything about it is bad and everything about you is great. Only problem with that Hypothesis is that, as a producer, i’ve tested it……and its WRONG.

    4. oh yeah, also, I personally know probably 18 or more WoVo members. There are definitely people that are members of WoVo that are NOT very good talent. Not even close to as good as any of the talent I use from Fiverr. And….here is another fun fact…there are…at this moment….wait for it…..WoVo members on the top page or two of the Fiverr voiceover search…..DUN DUN DUUUUUUHHHNNNNN! **collective gasp**

  3. I like this experiment you did. I think it’s great insight for improving online marketing. Nobody should take this as a be-all end-all guide. But it’s definitely an extremely useful tool.

    I’m a voiceover professional (voice actor….whichever title you want to use). I can honestly say there are quality VO people on sites like Fiverr, UpWork, etc. (I’m one of them). I look for work on multiple freelance sites to build my portfolio, build my client list and help out people who may be on a tight budget.

    If you should happen to run this experiment again, consider the pitch of the voices (particularly the males). A deeper pitch versus higher pitch component is likely to play a factor in people’s perception of the video.

    I’d love to be a part of the next experiment (hint hint). Keep up the good work.

    Reply
    1. Ben Labay

      Hey Eric, thanks for the comment! We did actually think about pitch in the original setup, but things got complicated so we decided to keep it simpler. If we do a follow up we’ll certainly think about pitch! Cheers! Ben

  4. Great information. I’m just looking into creating some videos and this input is a big help

    Reply
    1. Ben Labay

      Hi Nicholas, glad you liked it and thanks for the comment. Cheers, Ben

  5. A clarification for “Makes Sense”, who chose not to use a real name, which is rather telling.

    You might have looked a little further before coming to your incorrect conclusions. The union for voice actors is SAG-AFTRA, http://www.sagaftra.org. World-Voices Organization is an industry association, not unlike the Speakers Bureau, the Advertising Agency Association of America, even the American Medial Association. We have nothing to do with finding work for voice talent, but are an education & advocacy group. There are both union members and non-union members among our membership and indeed our Executive Board. Your assertion that someone is an instant pro once joined is 100% incorrect. A good percentage of our members are those getting started or interested in developing a quality VO career but aren’t there yet, those members are not offered a place on the voiceover.biz roster until they submit proof of sufficient professional-rate work history (which in turn proves they have the skills since they’ve been hired & paid a pro rate), then and only then are they offered an upgrade to Pro status and a place on the roster, which is offered as a perk of Pro membership at no cost to the member, unlike the ‘pay-to-play’ casting sites where anyone with a dream and a credit card is suddenly a ‘Voice Actor’.

    The term ‘professional’ has been severely muddied by this current Internet/The Voice/reality celebrity culture of “everyone has talent, anyone can do it, everyone gets to play and gets a trophy”. We simply aim to make sure that voiceover remains a respected skill and resource, and do not offer the professional member designation lightly. Being a professional is not just being good at what you do, it is being aware of your worth and the worth of what you do, and not offering that skill below accepted market rates. I’m sure the ConversionXL folks and other production houses aren’t working for $10-15 a day, and I’m sure that their utilities and office rent and whatever other costs they have aren’t accepting payment rates of 90-95% below standard cost, so why should a crucial component of a firm’s output and service be marginalized on cost? If my connection to World-Voices bugs you, just substitute any other non-pay voiceover talent roster for VoiceOver.biz, and you’ll get the same result. There may well be good-quality people on these lowball sites, however the quality of their voice does not automatically make them a ‘professional’, for the reasons above – if through their business model, by their acceptance of well-below standard rates, they are ultimately hurting the market for others whose rates are now threatened (“but I got a great VO on Fiverr for $10, why aren’t you that cheap?”), they are paid amateurs, paid hobbyists, but NOT professional. Would you think a plumber who charged only $5 was any good? An auto mechanic? A dentist?

    Thanks to Ben & ConversionXL for the opportunity to clear the air here, I hope that makes more sense than “Makes Sense”, the assertions were completely offbase. Whether part of WoVO or not, we really do want to ensure your product is the best it can be, which is why we invest thousands and years into making ourselves and OUR product the best WE can be. All the best.

    Reply
    1. Ben Labay

      Hey Chris, thanks for the in-depth comment, exactly the kind of conversation we hoped would be spurred by our studies. It helps to improve our thinking on future studies and others in their testing as well. Cheers, Ben

  6. This is an interesting experiment which has attracted interesting comments. Thanks.

    What gives me pause is that, although “visual appeal” is mentioned, in the end it seems not to figure very much in the conclusions about “trustworthiness.”

    We’ve been making technology “explainer” videos for more than a dozen years (we trademarked “2-Minute Explainer” in 2004). The question of male versus female narrator has come up frequently. If there are any definitive studies, I haven’t been able to find them.

    In our videos, the subject is usually a process or concept that is most efficiently explained visually. The narration exists to help the viewer understand the visuals. It should be conversational, not sales-y.

    In the opening 30 seconds of your test video, the visuals are a title, a photo of a desktop monitor, and some PowerPoint-y text. Not a lot there for the narrator to be trustworthy about :-) The visuals pick up in the “features tour” segment. But here, I agree with the commenters above that the Fiverr level of professionalism is not very high.

    On the other hand, some of our clients admit (sheepishly) that they think male voices are more credible for tech subjects. My own feeling is that men like hearing women’s voices — worth considering in the male-dominated tech industry. So it’s nice to have a some research to cite.

    Cheers,
    Bruce
    http://www.2MinuteExplainer.com

    Reply
    1. Ben Labay

      Hey Bruce, thanks for sharing your thoughts, good stuff. To be definitive there’d need to be some good numbers for each gender. That would be a fun study…and if figured out correctly, kept within a single product/video, and kept short, it wouldn’t be too expensive. The question of male/female is likely product or industry specific…that’s an angle that would take crazy numbers to get to the bottom of. Thanks for the comment! Ben

  7. Hey there! Very interesting DATA. Most articles are written without any of that! I work with two of the top voice over coaches (and talents – Bill DeWees and Dave Fennoy) in the field. As the person who markets their training programs and seminars this has opened my eyes as to where I need to target my advertising. I’m convinced that a new crop of female Voice Over Artists are on the way!

    Reply
  8. Its interesting article about video voice over study. I am an voice over artist. But I just started my job in this way. Its very useful and helpful for me. Because I really need these type of help. Thanks for sharing this interesting article with us.

    Reply
    1. Ben Labay

      Hi Andrew, glad you like the piece, thanks for the comment and good luck in your new job!

  9. You’re applying algebraic formulas to qualitative analysis?
    [X2 (9, N = 195) = 48.139, p < 0.001]

    I respect data very much… but before going there… couldn't someone with a good ear/taste and style get to the same result without pulling out a pocket ruler?

    Speaking as a director, Alex's performance could have been enhanced if you had someone directing him:
    He is not pushing enough air through his diaphragm so as a result, he is swallowing his words… which comes across as if he doesn't believe in what he says. It also lowered the pitch of his voice, making his voice come off "shady". A simple "take two" adjustment could have gotten him closer to a 20 score.

    The professional male sounds way too salesy… and again, a simple "take two" adjustment, I would have gotten him down to a conversational tone… which would bring up the trust level immensely.

    The winning woman had the highest pitch… so she came off sweet and innocent.

    Since she is the winning benchmark, I would focus on making all the other 3 sound personable and lighter in tone.. and see where the numbers go for them.

    Reply
  10. In explainer video production their are two main and important parts the script concept and its voice over.

    Reply
  11. These research points are useful selecting a right voice over talent for explainer videos

    Reply
  12. Wow, what a new concept its amazing Great Experiment!! This is exactly I was looking for, thanks a lot waiting for Your next post!

    Reply

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