Master Class: How can companies create online video to both engage and inspire consumers?

Online video has become an important part of many brands' marketing strategy. This month's panel looks at how to properly use this tactic to engage consumers.


Erin Byrne
Chief digital strategist, Burson-Marsteller

Wilson Cleveland
SVP and director of digital media, CJP

Michael Krebsbach
Brand manager, Kimberly-Clark Pull-Ups

Sara Matheu
Communications director, retail, fresh bakery and foodservice, Sara Lee North America

Douglas Simon
President and CEO, D S Simon Productions

Erin Byrne, chief digital strategist, Burson-Marsteller

Online video is a rapidly growing seg- ment of online engagement, as evidenced by an April 2009 Nielsen report. The study showed that the number of American users visiting online video sites has risen 339% since 2003, and time spent on video sites has shot up almost 2,000% in the same period.

The best way for corporations to create online video that will engage consumers is to focus on contributing to communities of interest. For example, a food company that wants to engage moms might create videos that show how to prepare new dishes, instead of only offering recipes featuring company products. A sporting goods company might provide "how-to" videos that show ways to improve performance, instead of simply marketing products. A pharma company might go beyond offering drug facts and provide tips for caregivers or a video Q&A with doctors.

While offering value-added content is one way of engaging consumers, provid- ing entertainment via humor is another. Company messages can often be integrated in cute and clever ways that provide an "edutainment" experience - educating consumers in an entertaining way.

Online video can also be used for corporate reputation and/or media relations. Videos that allow executives to show their personality and provide a viewpoint on company issues build support. Using external experts to sup-port company messages builds desirable third-party credibility. And online video of staff testimonials can humanize a company.

The question isn't whether or not to lever-age online video, but rather what type of video best suits your needs. By understanding the desired outcome, you can develop online videos that will help meet business goals.

Wilson Cleveland, SVP and director of digital media, CJP

Corporate marketers should use online video to punctuate or extend core messages beyond what traditional media relations can.

Don't just repurpose existing press materials in your videos; if your story isn't resonating, the delivery mechanism likely isn't the problem. Web-savvy consumers tend to gravitate toward video that is entertaining, utilitarian, or both, and devoid of intrusive PR messaging. Their opinion of your brand and acceptance of your messages will be made or broken by the degree to which you've either made their lives easier or entertained them. So before development or production, be clear on what you want to accomplish with the video. 

Companies can provide a utility to key audiences by producing videos specifically focused on demonstrating or explaining their products and services, or regularly sharing advice and information that will somehow improve the viewer's professional or personal life. The edict of the modern consumer is "prove it." Utilitarian videos will allow them to see what makes you the leader in your field. 

Some corporate communicators may be hard-pressed to glean the entertainment value their employer could provide the public and eschew alternatives like branded digital entertainment for exactly that reason. But if your current storytelling efforts are missing the mark, it may be time to tell it a different way. CJP develops and produces original online entertainment properties as communications vehicles for its clients across industries like recruiting, finance, publishing, and consumer products. Company messages go down a lot smoother with fickle audiences when they are strewn subtly throughout what amounts to be a short-form TV show on the Web. 

Examine your methods. Always assume some elements of your storyline are not be-ing properly communicated either by the press or your own materials. Provide alternative methods to reach the "message averse."  Boilerplates are the enemy of nuance. Online video is ideal because it fills the deeper gaps and brings your company story to life.

Michael Krebsbach, brand manager, Kimberly-Clark Pull-Ups

Videos offer companies a chance to show consumers they understand and can share in a unique facet of their daily lives. Providing a visual "lifeline" from the company to consumers, within the space they are most social, colors a brand by giving it a voice and, in many cases, a face not unlike the people they aim to reach. The goal is that recognition leads to mutually beneficial engagement.

At Kimberly-Clark, a lot is invested in finding the kinds of content already resonating with families, especially the videos being shared by parents. Knowing what makes them laugh, what gets their heads nodding, edu- cates our frame of reference pre-production.

Videos should be believable, relatable, and offer a view that immediately inspires a connection. We've found that the best way to do that is to partner with people who not only share our corporate vision, but share a brand of personal experience with the rest of the community we hope to reach. The best video content is believable because it's true.

For Pull-Ups, we developed a series of videos called "The Potty Project," featuring real toddlers and their parents at various stages of the potty-training process. These families were by no means "flawless" and we weren't trying to speak to parents in an idyllic way. We wanted to provide moms with something meaningful by highlighting a variety of relatable approaches to potty training. And, through this parent-to-parent format, we succeeded in engaging potty-training parents and generating a valuable online dialogue.

Moreover, engaged consumers can imme- diately interact online, so brands should keep product placements organic. Online videos can bridge gaps between brands and consumer experiences, but audiences are sensitive to what they deem to be contrived content in an authentic space. Engaged consumers will naturally seek out product information and resources available alongside the video.

The key to success lies in allowing videos to showcase the brand experience - real-life and relatable moments that inspire a connection and immediate reaction.

Sara Matheu, communications director, retail, fresh bakery and foodservice, Sara Lee North America

The best way for a company to engage and inspire consumers with online videos is to not think like a company. Many organizations struggle with letting go of the traditional ways of controlling and conveying brand messages. But if the video is created more for the company than the viewer, it won't work. 

Our Sara Lee Deli team recently partnered with O'Malley Hansen Communications and Second City Communications to develop a series of satirical Web-cam videos to engage our mom consumers. In one month, our three videos had been viewed nearly 1 million times and more than 23,000 Facebook fans signed up to our Sara Lee Deli page. 

To create strong online videos, you should:

1. Listen first. Go to where your target audience is online to understand their ex-pectations for viewership.

2. Surprise them. Transparency is vital for videos because viewers do not want to feel deceived. The goal is to develop content they like even though a company produced it.

3. Engage them. Online videos can be an interactive medium that raises questions and provokes viewer thoughts. Motivate viewers to share with friends, respond with comments, or create something on their own.

4. Experiment. There are no rules, so invent new ones. Our videos were not scripted prior to the shoot because we wanted to catch the authentic nature of videos in a YouTube era.

Online videos provide a great opportunity for savvy marketers to test their messages because consumers have the power to opt in or out throughout the process. Companies will know they have engaged and inspired consumers when they can see that they are watching and responding. Those willing to experiment - and remain open-minded enough to change course - will benefit.

Douglas Simon, president and CEO, D S Simon Productions  

The first step is determining what action you want viewers to take and what will motivate them. Once you have this, you can produce a video that speaks to both.

Start with the story you want to tell. To engage, fulfill an information need. This can be done with an expert talking to the camera, a how-to demonstration, or a more highly produced video using humor or offering entertainment. How-to videos are among the most popular online for business purposes. Go behind the scenes to show viewers what they normally can't see - to inspire, thrill, challenge, and move the audience. Go on location and identify characters that have powerful stories that touch emotions. Add suspense.

There is an unlimited supply of production choices, from a Flip camera to high definition. A Flip camera video can give the viewer a feeling they've gained access they wouldn't expect. Poor sound quality with the Flip is the biggest challenge. You can't inspire if your video doesn't sound great.

Don't skimp on sound gear and use music. Remember, the video quality is a subtle reminder of the quality of your brand. Produce the best quality you can afford and shoot in a 16 x 9 format or your piece will look dated immediately.

Your video has to be seen to engage or inspire, so plan on promotion. Use tools that will earn online media coverage for your video to ensure widespread distribution. And finally, be fully transparent. Make sure your online video complies with the new FTC Spokesperson Guidelines for disclosure.

The Takeaway

Effective online videos don't just tout products. They engage interested audiences by showing how to use those items in ways that will improve people's lives

Company videos are more impactful when they spotlight individuals who can share a personal experience with the target demographic

Before producing an online video, it is crucial to have a clear idea of what action you want viewers to take and what will inspire them to do so

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