Video Essentials

The Secrets Brands Need to Know to Succeed on YouTube

Marketers may want their videos to blossom into viral hits on YouTube videos, but it takes a bit of secret sauce and a dash of dark magic to woo fickle viewers. Winning over the audience depends largely on the target market and the personality of the brand, says Nathan Yerian, director of strategy with Adhere Creative, a web design and marketing agency in Houston, Texas.


Nathan Yerian

“For a corporate law firm, putting a fun face on their video profile might not be something the brand can tolerate,” Yerian says.

Big budget productions also do not guarantee a hit, he adds. Scrappy startup Dollar Shave Club, for example, seemed to come from nowhere in 2012 with a video campaign that blew up on YouTube and has since been viewed nearly 11 million times. Surprises such as Dollar Shave Club are hard to predict but there are steps marketers can take to improve their chances.

Figuring out how to gain brand traction on YouTube means understanding the way the platform evolves. Recent changes to YouTube’s homepage architecture, which presents videos curated for the user, can offer branding opportunities, says Rob Ciampa, vice president of marketing with Pixability, a video marketing and ad company in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Pixability recently released a study on how top brands use YouTube.

Companies miss out on opportunities to guide consumers’ discovery of their brands if they simply post videos on YouTube without leveraging metadata or annotations within the video, Ciampa says. “We’re dealing with the legacy mentality of producing a video, dumping it online and hoping something happens,” he notes. “The adage, ‘Hope is not a strategy,’ is especially true on YouTube.”

Rob Ciampa

One recurring mistake Ciampa sees brands continue to make is approaching YouTube with a cookie-cutter, television advertising mentality. “That just fails,” he says, “Treat it differently.” Successful television ads do not always guarantee the attention of the online audience. “People who watch Super Bowl commercials will fight us on this,” Ciampa says, “but we find that repurposed TV commercials just don’t do that well on YouTube.”

Companies should also be open to experimenting with TrueView ads, Ciampa says. These appear before the video the viewer wants to see. “The performance of these clickable YouTube ads has been outstanding and I think a lot of brand marketers don’t realize that,” he says.

YouTube’s TrueView ad format let the viewer choose to skip or keep watching the pitch. Brands might wrinkle their noses at running ads that viewers can avoid, but Ciampa says they can be useful.

“The analytics around that becomes quite important,” Ciampa says. “If someone clicks off after five seconds, you’re not paying for it. The people who watch, and the ad that you’ll pay for, is somebody that really has interest.”

YouTubeArrowHere are more ideas brands should consider to drive attention to their YouTube videos.

  • Sharing is caring: YouTube playlists allow for content curation, which Ciampa says lets brands compile videos on their channel from partner companies in addition to their own. Offering viewers more to watch when they visit a channel can keep them interested in the brand.
  • Work carefully with online personalities: “Haul videos,” which feature YouTube celebs such as Michelle Phan showing off their latest product finds, can be influential, says Ciampa , but they also present challenges for marketers. “Oftentimes their haul may consist of your brand and a competing brand,” he says. “To your traditional brand marketer, that’s a huge source of heartburn.” However these personalities might also share videos from brands as long as the content does not push too hard to make a sale.
  • Old YouTube channels can still have value: Brands might be eager to create new channels when they develop fresh video content, but that might not be what consumers discover first. “Some channels that had long been abandoned were actually doing better in search than the active channels,” Ciampa says. While most brands can do well with one or a few channels, for companies such as 3M that have highly disparate product lines it would be confusing to put all YouTube content in one place.


    Courtesy of Pixability

  • Sometimes consumers want a long show: If the audience is familiar with a product, Ciampa says, long-form content can perform well. “You’d be surprised how many people will watch a 30-minute how-to video,” he says. However, Yerian says brands should keep testimonial videos and the like under five minutes in length. “It’s unlikely someone will watch past the three- to five-minute mark unless there is something intriguing going on,” he says. If the product or service requires more than a cursory understanding, consider a narrative video, perhaps with animation, that explains what the brand offers.
  • WomanPhone

    Courtesy of Adhere Creative

    Plan for small screen viewing: Videos should be designed for playback on most devices, Ciampa says, with mobile users in mind. “You’ve got to make sure that you can see the branding elements on mobile,” he says. Even larger smartphones might not display all the visual details meant for bigger screens. “We tell people, you’ve got to get over this Avatar thing,” Ciampa says. “Everybody wants to create something like that movie with high-level visual impact.” Rather than put money into expensive production for one video, marketers should spread their budgets across multiple videos, he says.

  • Put the viewer in the director’s chair: Engage the audience through a video series with choose-your-own-adventure style interactions, Yerian says, letting them decide what happens next in the story. “YouTube lets you have clickable spaces within the video,” he says. “The viewer clicks on a link and it shoots you off to a second video.” That means creating multiple variations of video segments but Yerian says the increased interactivity can increase the possibility of the content being shared with more viewers.


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