YouTube evolves into a primary marketing channel

"We've found the length of the video has become less important in terms of how long someone watches something. It's really about the content, and capturing your audience's attention in the first three seconds," says Heineken's Ron Amram.

YouTube’s place as a marketing tool has evolved.

Not long ago, a branded YouTube channel might have largely catalogued TV ads from recent campaigns, perhaps with extended versions of those ads. While TV ads are still a staple of YouTube channels, brands are more often mixing up their libraries, posting everything from tutorials to long-form entertainment to personality profiles created specifically for the channel.

New research from YouTube and video marketing firm Pixability shows leading brands are collectively uploading a video to YouTube every 18.5 minutes. They are also investing in longer-form content: 10% of videos posted to YouTube by these brands over the 12 months ending June 2015 are over 10 minutes long.

The report analyzed the top 100 brands, as determined by the Interbrand 2014 Best Global rankings, and their activity on YouTube to come up with the figures.

The research also found audiences are responding to the videos. Views of branded content of the top 100 marketers have nearly doubled in the last 12 months, and brand channel subscriptions are up 47% year over year.

The report also looked at activity among the top 100 video advertisers as defined by their media spend. It found spending on YouTube is up by 60% year over year, and the number of advertisers investing in video ads is up 40%.

"Brands are now adopting similar content strategies as some of our most successful creators on YouTube," said Cenk Bulbul, head of strategy and insights for YouTube Ads Marketing, in a blog post where he outlined some of the results. "They're actively managing their YouTube channels, and publishing new content on a regular basis to engage viewers and keep them coming back."

Chris Bigda, director of connections planning and investment for Coca-Cola North America, says his company is increasingly creating made-for-YouTube content because it performs better than repurposed material.

"We love the opportunity YouTube gives Coca-Cola to interact, build relationships, and share stories that are authentic and relevant to the brand," said Bigda, on the blog. "We are seeing continued success on the platform, uploading higher-quality content and achieving better results for it."

Ron Amram, senior media director of marketing for Heineken USA, one of the top 100 brands identified by the Interbrand 2014 ranking, declined to disclose its spending increase on YouTube. Yet he says the platform has been growing in importance for the company’s portfolio of brands.

"We really see YouTube as an amazing library for us to be able to go deep on the brand.  We’ve now started flirting with long-form content – anything between a minute to four minutes," he says. "And we’re seeing more and more brands doing this as well."

Amram cites the example of the online series Heineken USA has produced about musician James Murphy and his Subway Symphony project. The musician and DJ wants to replace the annoying beeping sound of turnstiles in New York City with melodic notes that would harmonize into music. The video series, which Heineken has integrated into its Make Cities Better comms campaign, takes viewers behind the scenes of the project.

The first episode posted on Heineken’s YouTube channel this month is almost three minutes long.

"We’ve found the length of the video has become less important in terms of how long someone watches something. It’s really about the content, and capturing your audience’s attention in the first three seconds," Amram explains.

Thirty- and 60-second digital spots supported the ad, but earned media was a critical component of driving traffic to the video since it lives only online, he adds.

Aliza Freud, founder and CEO of SheSpeaks, a content creation platform that partners with brands to create and amplify compelling content, says earned media has emerged as an important tool for a video strategy.

"The implication for brands is that they need to leverage earned media that drives traffic back to their owned channels [because] video viewing is fragmented," says Freud. "Going viral is not an approach to driving content."

However, she is clear that brand-led content does not do the trick. Instead, brands that are successful on the channel are tapping into human emotions.

"And when it comes to branded content, what isn’t working is brand-led content. Great content focuses on emotions that are inherent to the human experience. People want to feel emotion – they want to laugh, they want to feel related to and they want to be informed. It comes down to storytelling," she says. "Brands succeed when these stories resonate with the audience, and consumers choose to watch, recommend and share them."

Freud adds that her company’s analytics have found people cite familiarity and relatability as key connectors in video content, which is why the platform has launched SheSpeaksTV, a YouTube channel created for women by women.

PR agency executives who oversee video-production divisions report a spike in interest in online video from their clients.

"We have got more clients than ever before asking for our point of view on it and the YouTube platform specifically," says Kevin Lamb, SVP, social media, Coyne PR.

He is bullish about long-form content on YouTube in part because of demographics.

"There is a continued acceptance of streaming video and cutting of the cable cord, and it can’t be understated that the majority of Millennials and iGen coming up after them are also having an impact," says Lamb. "The demographic has been raised on YouTube as the primary content platform, just as Generation X was raised on cable."

"They are now aging into a primary consumer," he concludes.

Brad Mays, MD of US digital integration at Burson-Marsteller, agrees.

"People are now more used to different types and styles of video," he says, adding that clients should not just post video on YouTube because everyone else is doing it. "Longer-form content is growing especially on YouTube, but we’ve also seen resurgence in short form video because of platforms such as Snapchat and Vine. There are so many ways in which video can be channelled out."

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