The hottest form of branded content--be it on the web, in times square, at a conference, or in an exhibit hall--is video. Here's what the fuss is all about.
The unlimited cyber-acreage available on the internet, combined with the ubiquity of screens of all sizes, offers tremendous opportunities for content marketers that want to make more use of video, now the fastest growing segment of digital content. A recent study by the Content Marketing Institute showed a jump in video use among B2B companies alone from 41 percent to 52 percent in the past year. “I’ve done more video in the last 365 days than I have in the last 10 years,” notes Cameron Brown, president of King Fish Media, a Salem, Mass., shop with work that spans both B2B and B2C.
Americans are watching more video than ever. While most of that viewing still takes place in the living room in front of the television—viewing time now averages five hours each day—attention is migrating to other types of screens. And with the astronomic growth of sites such as YouTube and Vimeo, the trend is accelerating. On any given day, 89 million Americans will watch 1.2 billion videos. By 2015, predicts Cisco Systems, nearly 3 billion Internet users around the world will be watching 1 million Internet video minutes every second, or 3 trillion Internet video minutes per month.
Just how quickly marketers will shift their focus to video is anyone’s guess. But there’s plenty of room to maneuver: Companies spend an average of 29 percent of their overall marketing and communications budgets on content, according to ContentWise, while less than 10 percent of the content marketing industry’s annual spend of $40 billion goes to digital, of which video is a but a subset. (By comparison, $60 billion is still spent annually on TV ads.)
What is clear, however, is that savvy content marketers are actively exploring the opportunities presented by video in all its forms. “I just feel the energy and the excitement and the groundswell about this,” says Kevin Goddess, president of McMurry division Sparks Productions, which saw its video business double in the last year. “People are starting to put more money into this, migrating how they are communicating.” Sparks’ recent work includes a high-end production of a “vision statement” for a senior NCR executive, a series on Chinese cuisine for the restaurant chain P.F. Chang’s, and the videos that accompanied Samsung’s one-day takeover of Times Square to launch its 3D TVs.
Companies such as Texas Instruments, HP, Teradata, Puma, and GameStop are among the companies that have used D Custom’s digital services to produce “experiential videos,” which are aimed at inducing powerful experiences through very high production values combined with a strong sense of physicality when viewed in large, multiple-screen environments. Think of how Disney uses videos at its parks, or how Nike features videos at its corporate headquarters or in-store. The same can be done for videos used at trade shows, for interactive online training or at customer-experience centers. “That’s where digital is going,” says D Custom’s president Gordon Locke. “It’s the ability to capture the imagination of your customers when you have them in a much more experiential environment.”
Video is fun and engaging, unparalleled at soliciting emotion, and effective for conveying complicated information. It provides the immediacy of one-on-one, almost in-person communication, reaching audiences that are potentially unlimited. There may be no better medium for conveying the personality and energy of a company—whether it’s a hip youth-oriented brand or a gray-suited professional firm—to audiences both outside and inside the company.
VIDEO’S VISCERAL VERSATILITY
For Vermont’s Green Mountain Coffee Roasters, videos not only significantly streamlined the company’s hiring function, it became part of its overall branding. Green Mountain hired King Fish to produce videos for the careers section of its website that include employee testimonials and a presentation by each department head describing their ideal employee. The hiring outreach manifests the company’s image and lets the department play a role in the vetting process that would otherwise be far too cumbersome for Green Mountain, which—after nearly seven years of double-digit net sales growth—employs 1,400 people at a dozen sites.
“It’s an honest view of working at this company through the employees’ eyes. They weren’t scripted. They aren’t reading a teleprompter. They’re saying this is how it is. It’s a bunch of young vibrant people having fun together in a work environment,” says Brown, whose firm also produced a series of on-boarding videos in which executives “tell you why ‘I love this company and what we hope to give you as an employee in this company.’ It’s just a great, real experience that is not going to come across in a trifold brochure or a handbook.”
King Fish also found a critical role for video to ease employee relations after Sunbelt-focused Compass Bank was taken over by the Spanish banking group BBVA in 2007. With bank employees in the U.S. wondering, “What’s next?” King Fish rolled out a series of reassuring video messages from Bilbao, Spain-based management to its 716 U.S. branches. This continues today as embedded videos in regular emails.
Internal employee messaging accounts for about a third of the video work Pace Communications does at its headquarters in Greensboro, N.C. The videos for airlines and other firms contain training elements, run from two to four minutes, and are regularly updated, says Dan Dooley, Pace’s digital solutions vice president. “It isn’t just about training—‘Here’s what you need to know about what’s on the floor’—or the corporate messaging. It’s also a way to make sure the employee base understands the brand itself,” Dooley explains. “It is these frontline folks who typically get underexposed to that kind of messaging.”
The remarkable versatility of rapidly improving video technology allows for nimble repurposing that can target the diverse audiences that a company might find at a single trade show, such as suppliers, customers, and the general public. “Instead of doing a single film or video shoot, we produce the video in a way that it can be cross-purposed for maybe six or seven different buyer types through post-production work,” explains D Custom’s Locke. Repurposing can work in any channel, Locke adds: “Recognizing someone as they sign on to a website and displaying a video or digital asset that is tailored to who they are as a buyer persona is what makes content so powerful.”
Video-savvy marketers can now think big too, thanks to dramatic reductions in the cost of digital equipment and production and dramatic improvements in content management systems that allow a lone webmaster to quickly make changes that used to require a team. High-end productions are now within reach of smaller brands.
Austria-based Swarovski Gems underwrites an online reality series worthy of Lifetime’s “Project Runway,” which inspired the show. Produced by TMG Custom Media, “JCK Rock Star” features five up-and-coming jewelry designers competing to create the most beautiful piece of jewelry from Swarovski gemstones. A new installment of the 12-episode series is unveiled each month on the website of JCK Magazine, a leading jewelry-design industry publication.
An ad campaign promotes each new episode across JCK media platforms: the magazine, e-newsletters, and JCKonline.com. The final episode (announcing the winner) will coincide with the JCK Las Vegas 2012 trade show in June at the Mandalay Bay Hotel, which will broadcast the entire series through the hotel’s TV channels, says Kate Ottenberg, TMG’s video services and media relations director. TMG will also produce a daily 20-minute newscast for JCK TV during the shows, featuring the editor and publisher of JCK Magazine and other industry trendsetters and luminaries. These are broadcast on the show floor and throughout the hotels hosting show attendees.
AN ACTIVE MEDIUM
With video so hot, marketers are facing a dilemma, say experienced producers. Facing pressure to churn out video at the expense of a coherent content strategy—which considers goals, platforms, and distribution, often with the help of social media—their experimentation sometimes leads to disappointing results.
Video messaging needs to be tailored for the platform (e.g. shorter formats for mobile), and for context. With messaging increasingly tied to social media and locational services, it must be relevant for the particular time and place when and where the message is being received, says Angela Kyle, a principal with The Realtime Project, a trans-Atlantic strategy and innovation consulting firm. Distribution is also key. Brands today must seek out customers and can’t expect them to come to company websites, no matter how snazzy, adds veteran producer Cris Popenoe of Dawn Productions. “If Nike is trying to appeal to the skateboarding crowd, let’s say, or basketball, they’re not going to be expecting people to go to the various Nike.com sites,” Popenoe says. “They are doing things in association with where they think the audience is going to be, where they are hanging out.”
Far from being a passive medium, video should help to create customer engagement. This can be accomplished through “promotions, competitions, or simply by encouraging the sharing of opinions or submitting user-generated content,” says Geoff O’Connor, president of New York City-based production house Copious Productions. In the process, video has also become part of the strategy brands use to build (or to participate in) communities.
New motherhood often spurs women to search for community. Myfirstbaby.com is produced by Meredith Video Studios for Graco, the maker of car seats and strollers. Meredith coaches expectant or new moms on how to shoot home videos, which are then curated, lightly edited, and hosted by TV personality (and new mom) Jill Cordes, formerly host of HGTV’s My First Place. Cordes shares tips on how moms “can stay sleek and stylish while your belly bump continues to grow.”
For JR McCabe, who oversees Meredith Video Studios, the new video dimension is critical for Meredith’s magazines—which focus on home, family, health, wellness, and self-development—to remain relevant. “We’re trying to stay inside our core categories in delivering a sight, sound, and emotional experience,” McCabe says. Video is also central to a sister company, Meredith Xcelerated Marketing, which recently won two Best Video Pearl Awards for You Gotta LOL for Kraft and Pop Up Industrial Table for Lowe’s. The latter makes generous use of how-to videos for DIYers.
The simple beauty of this new era in video is that offerings need not be all that sophisticated—early viral videos on YouTube proved that. Instead, they just need to adhere to the dictum that marketers that offer good content will be rewarded with customers’ attention. That’s the model Dell and Cisco developed a long time ago, by hiring experienced trade journalists who write without a whiff of a sales pitch. Increasingly, they offer their insights on video, as do company executives. For example, before Cisco CEO John Chambers jetted to Davos recently, he offered his views on camera about how “innovation will drive GDP growth, job creation, and productivity” in the next decade. Similarly, Pace Communications produces a simple regular webcast for Verizon, hosted by former MTV VJ Adam Curry, highlighting the best new apps for mobile devices. More app usage, of course, will drive the data usage that powers Verizon’s profits.
The shape of video content will vary depending on whether the target is a new sales lead, an existing customer, or a lapsed one, says Gordon Plutsky, chief marketing offier at King Fish Media, but done right, video can work for any audience. “When you become a trusted source of information, the nature of that relationship changes. You build a permission-based relationship with your customers, and they will soon welcome communication from you rather than seeing it as just another sales pitch,” he says.
Done right, “video is a medium that works really hard, and once you produce it, it’s an asset you can reuse many times,” says Brown. “You can reuse it with simple edits. You can send out tweets about videos that are now being posted. You can send links to the video. You can Facebook post about it. You can blog about it. There are so many ways social media can drive usage of video. That’s what we instruct our clients on, and that’s what we manage for them. We schedule it so that it has as many legs as humanly possible.”