Brands are tantalised by the runaway success of campaigns such as Red Bull’s Stratos but many are still struggling to understand how to engage fully with online video. Whether it is trying to garner audience levels that match that of offline TV ads or control output in the manner of paid advertorial, the new online paradigm is proving difficult to navigate.

Marketers are under no illusion as to the potential that online video has to increase their reach and engagement with consumers. Red Bull’s Stratos project, which saw professional daredevil Felix Baumgartner leap from a balloon on the edge of space, garnered 52m YouTube views and crucially, increased sales by 7% in the six months following.

While not every brand can hope to film - or afford - stunts on this scale, they are increasingly engaging with YouTube to build closer relationships with consumers. What is becoming clear, however, is that marketers aren’t completely sure how to go about it.

Speaking at Adweek 2015, Dan’l Hewitt, UK Managing Director for Maker Studios told the audience: “You need the right creative for YouTube. You wouldn’t take your bus content and put it in a magazine. If you’re making content for YouTube you have to approach it in a different way.”

Other panellists agreed that some typical brand messaging can hold its own on YouTube but this proves to be the exception rather than the rule. Hewitt pointed out that YouTube is all about freedom of expression. It is an outlet for people who are frustrated that their interests aren’t represented widely in other media. And the audiences for this content share this view. Rather than deciding what to push at consumers, brands have more success if they are willing to address what the audience wants.

Lisa Tookey, Commercial Director for Jamie Oliver Food Tube, revealed that the reason the food channel is the third largest food network in the world is because “We listen to the audience. Eighty per cent of content is what they want. We reserve 20 per cent to test and learn.”

Brands wishing to interact on YouTube need to take a leap of faith on a slightly more metaphorical level than Red Bull. The most authentic brand experiences occur when brands place themselves in the hands of the YouTube channel owners - whether professional organisations such as Jamie Oliver or recent sensations such as Pewdiepie, the gaming YouTube creator occupying the number one spot with nearly 35 and a half million subscribers.

Fashion and lifestyle YouTube creator, Jim Chapman has been courted by Mulberry and now features frequently in mainstream media such as GQ. However the rules of YouTube engagement still apply: "It's taken a long time to get right and brands have to understand that we need the right approach. We have to do it on our own terms." In Chapman's case it has meant turning down bad brand matches and restrictive conditions. "The worst is when you're handed a script. It's an instant no. If they let me create a YouTube video around their brand, that's the best way."

“It would be great if they were braver. YouTube creators really understand their audience. I’d like to see brands being less prescriptive,” Tookey concluded.

As a channel to communicate with consumers, YouTube is only going to grow in importance. Audiences are increasingly more sophisticated, with 53% of YouTube viewers over 35 years old. The niche is going mainstream, but on its own terms.