How Brands Are Seizing the Online Video Opportunity

February 2016

Online video is shaping the future of content marketing. The platform provides near-infinite reach and allows numerous creative opportunities for brands looking to target and engage specific audiences. Here, top industry professionals speak on ways to take advantage of the benefits of online video.

Imagine it’s 1931. You’re on a road trip and you chance upon a quaint little town you’ve never heard of. So you pick up your most trusted source for travel information: An instruction booklet on how to change and repair tires.

Strange as that may sound, that is exactly how the Michelin Guides and the ensuing, highly coveted Michelin Stars, got started.

The Michelin brothers understood that drivers didn’t just need tire-changing assistance. They needed inspiration to venture beyond their local streets, and travel across the country. After all, the further cars went, the more tires they would need replaced.

So the brothers filled the guide with everything a driver would need—destination ideas, detailed maps, and lists of recommended restaurants, lodging, and attractions.

Today, the Michelin Guide is a coveted endorsement of culinary excellence anywhere in the world. But back then, it was a fantastic piece of content marketing.

Be seen. And heard.

If content marketing was important back in 1931, imagine how imperative it is now. There are more than one billion smartphone users in Asia-Pacific1—that’s one billion people with an infinite number of choices of how to spend their time. The majority choose to watch videos on smartphones at least once a week.

With so much competition for our attention, we expect brands to earn it with messages that are personally engaging. Brands are realizing that the line between ads and content is blurring, and as Vipul Prakash, CMO at Pepsi India, points out, “Traditional advertising like TV isn’t alone able to hold people or get them to engage.”

While a content marketing plan could include various media channels, Annika Viberud, director of global strategic marketing communications at Volvo Trucks, explains why online video should be a priority. “We try to capture a broad audience in the awareness phase and the video format is outstanding because it is captivating and easy to view. Because of this great potential, we focus a lot on video content.” Remember that moment you cringed, then applauded Van Damme for that epic stunt he pulled off?

Another clear advantage of online video is that it’s primarily consumed on mobile devices.2 Smartphone users are 2X as likely as TV viewers and 1.3X as likely as desktop viewers to feel a sense of personal connection to brands that show video content or ads on their devices,3 creating opportunities for brands to enter people’s lives and establish relationships with them.

“We’re developing a relationship with the consumer we never had before,” notes Amy E. Pascal, senior director of digital marketing at Johnson & Johnson. “It’s a direct relationship, and we are acting more as a friend than a big corporate company.”

It’s imperative for brands to get this right, however, so that they’re welcome guests and not creepy intruders. Viberud warns, “We need to be relevant in our communication or we will have only created a gimmick.”

Let’s take a look at how some industry practitioners have managed to get it right.

1) Tell stories that make people care

If there’s one thing that industry leaders agree on, it’s that brand videos today must earn viewers’ attention by being interesting and relevant. This necessitates a shift in the way brands have traditionally approached marketing.

As Alison Lewis, CMO at Johnson & Johnson Family of Consumer Companies points out, “We’re in a world today where people are on 24/7. They have much more choice about what they look at and when they look at it. In order to be relevant and continue to connect, we have to do things differently.”

The imperative to be interesting comes from a power shift that has taken place. “With the internet, the power has shifted to the consumer. Therefore, becoming part of what they watch and part of the content they consume is what we need to do,” says Hemant Bakshi, executive director at Unilever India.

Punnee Chaiyakul, chairman of Ogilvy & Mather Advertising Thailand, shares this view. “The digital age has empowered consumers who will choose to consume only content that is relevant and matches their interests. Thus, it is important to create content that consumers want to engage with and stay tuned to until the end.”

Brands have found that the quickest way to be interesting and capture audience interest is through storytelling. Viberud points out it’s not as hard as it sounds. “Telling stories to entertain and build a brand becomes much easier with video because you have a more extensive toolbox than with written text.”

Chaiyakul recommends an approach that puts storytelling before the media plan. The way her agency works today is by “[starting] from the brand ambition and business agenda rather than the media platform. We start with “The Idea,” then choose the platform that is most suitable to deliver that idea.”

In other words, a brand should determine the story it wants to tell before deciding on the platform to deliver it.

To increase consumption of its breakfast product, Kellogg’s India wanted to show Indians the different ways in which they could use and enjoy Corn Flakes. The company created a 100-episode sitcom with a recipe embedded in each episode. In this way, Kellogg’s India wrapped functional information about its product into entertaining and hilarious stories about a sitcom family.

Given the unusual format of storytelling, the campaign was run entirely online on YouTube, and to great success: Kellogg’s India observed a 20% uplift in sales as a result of the online video campaign

2) Look for ideas in new places

To tell great stories with video, brands without in-house content production capabilities must find the right partners. Today, brands are experimenting with working with partners with very different types of video production expertise.

Chances are your favorite creative agency is raring to work on a video content brief—with ideas waiting to be unearthed once they know you’re open to considering them. Chaiyakul attributes the success of Ogilvy & Mather’s work with Thai Life Insurance to the fact that “Thai Life Insurance clients are open-minded and are willing to give the agency a chance to produce great work.”

In addition, your creative agency can play an important role in helping to manage any specialist agencies that you also work with. Sameer Agarwal, director at Johnson & Johnson, emphasizes that the job of the lead agency is “to help coordinate all these different agencies to make sure they stay on strategy.”

adidas Football has found value in working directly with video producers to tell episodic, ongoing stories. Rob Hughes, global PR & social media director at adidas Football, describes the approach. “We have a fully-functional creative resource covering us from video content production and editing to 2D content production to make sure that we’re in the moment creating content, producing content, and executing. A key part of how we’ve evolved is producing episodic content. It’s more now about storytelling on the platform.”

Brands can also benefit from partnerships with established YouTube creators who are already reaching their target demographics. If a creator is already interested in your product or identifies with your brand, the collaboration is all the more authentic. This way, each channel can naturally tap into the other’s audience to find new fans.

Another advantage is that the YouTube creator’s audience already understands the platform—how to subscribe, comment, and engage—giving your brand an instant social media ecosystem. However, brands have to be credible and honest. Keep in mind that no collaboration should be a paid endorsement of your products or a one-way creative process (from brand to YouTube creator). If the audience doesn’t believe the collaboration is bona fide, nobody wins.

3) Keep telling better stories

The digital age has also brought about a new, more iterative way of working in which brand content can be optimized, improved and even created on the fly.

Pascal describes the shift in approach at Johnson & Johnson. “In the old worlds of advertising and marketing, 80% of the work was done up front. [Today,] we don’t have to perfect it before we launch it. We should spend about 20% of our time up front and then nurture it and grow it over time to see what resonates with our audience.”

“You have to adjust what you do based on what’s working and not working; you can’t ever sit back and accept the status quo, and you’ve always got to push for boldness,” argues Lewis.

Part of this new way of working is scaling up the speed of work. Kacey Dreby, group brand director at Clean & Clear U.S. shares, “Our usual turnaround was at best two to three weeks on getting something approved versus a day. There’s a big learning cycle, and it happens as you get moving. This is about making sure that whatever we’re doing, we’re doing efficiently.”

Brands are also paying attention to what consumers are saying to forge deeper bonds with them. As viewers now have the ability to engage with videos by liking, sharing, and commenting, brands have a chance to respond.

Consumers now want to be involved. We see it with their active sharing, commenting and joining a conversation. A brand can leverage these passions and conversations to forge deeper bonds with consumers. According to Jeff B. Smith, president of U.S. J&J Consumer Skincare, “Content models are less about spending your time measuring and more about making sure you’re engaging with your consumer. There’s been a big shift for our organization to think that way and to do it bravely."

Spotlight: Storytelling with Thai Life Insurance

Thai Life Insurance, a familiar face on our Ads Leaderboards, is a great example of a brand committed to making effective content that resonates with its target audience. Its 2014 spot, Unsung Hero, was the #2 most-watched (with more than 23 million views) across all of Asia-Pacific in 2014. And The Reason (2015) earned the top spot in Thailand in 2015.

The company recognizes the importance of differentiating its brand by communicating its brand values, so that it will be top-of-mind when consumers are in the market for insurance policies. According to Chai Chaiyawan, president of Thai Life Insurance, the company’s marketing strategy is to get “consumers to love and be loyal to our brand.”

In its emotionally moving ads created by Ogilvy & Mather Advertising, Thai Life tells stories around the “Value of Life & Love.” As Chaiyawan explains, “Taking out life insurance is a result of love and realizing the value of life.”

Thai Life pioneered the long-form commercial in Thailand, and taking as much time as needed to tell a brand story. “Time was essential in creating emotions,” Chaiyawan points out. “This eventually became the signature of the Thai Life Insurance brand. When other brands created long-form or emotional commercials, consumers often thought it was the Thai Life Insurance brand.”

As audiences moved online, YouTube was a natural platform for showcasing the company’s brand of storytelling, which has been shared far beyond the borders of Thailand.

Thai Life has also embraced innovation in storytelling. To complement the Unsung Hero spot (below), the company launched the Thai Good Stories microsite to share stories of people who had done good deeds without expecting anything in return, just like the commercial’s eponymous hero.

When brands get content right

As with interpersonal relationships that are nurtured over time, today’s marketing landscape requires that brands earn the love of consumers over the long-term—with content that is truly relevant and relatable, while staying true to what the brand stands for.

Ultimately, the objective is to ensure that a brand is top-of-mind when consumers are in the market for a purchase. Chaiyakul, whose agency works with Thai Life Insurance, notes, “People don’t need and don’t think about life insurance every day. When the day [when they need insurance] arrives, the brand that they’re aware of and understands what they’re feeling will be in the final running.”

A bonus side effect? Viberud of Volvo Trucks, responsible for arguably one of the most effective and well-loved series of online video content, says: “Through their appreciation and comments and applause, we are encouraged to continue with what we do.”

Video will be the future of content marketing as it quickly becomes the go-to medium for people to satisfy their needs for entertainment and information. For brands to make stronger connections with their audiences, just remember what our parents used to tell us about making new friends: Start a conversation with a good story. And keep talking.

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