With consumption continuing to grow, many brands are prioritising online video as a way to both satisfy consumer appetite for engaging content and to deliver marketing messages in a rich, immersive way. As businesses begin to behave more like publishers, many find they need to rethink traditional approaches to production and distribution. Five key considerations will help guide the way.

February 2015

Use video in layered storytelling

The media mix at play today is enormous, so brands need to think about exploiting the strengths of each channel to build nuanced, inclusive stories across time and place. "What's very interesting at the moment is that there's a lot of synchronous usage," says Nick Cohen, Managing Partner and Head of Content at Mediacom, who is joining Little Dot Studios. "We all have to think that way, how messages are being delivered across the media and the interaction between them, looking at that whole system of communications and how one leads to another."

In this environment, intelligent businesses have come to view online video as indispensable in fleshing out a brand's story. "Online video is not a luxury," explains Kristian Dean, National Content Manager at Audi UK. "In the past it was seen as an extra bonus if you like, but now brands are really waking up to the fact that it's expected. When consumers visit your platforms, they don't want to just see photographs and read paragraphs of text; they expect to be entertained, they expect video."

Put mobile front and centre in plans

The fact that many users are viewing content on phones and tablets has an impact on their expectations, so brands must act accordingly. "On YouTube we see half of all views are now on mobile devices," says YouTube Head of Brand Content Susan Agliata. "So the key message for brands thinking about where to distribute their content is that mobile has to be first and foremost. We're seeing that users who watch video on mobile are actually more engaged, and there's a very good reason for that: it's a more intimate experience."

Not only are they more engaged, though — they're also more choosy. Unencumbered by the fixed schedules that have defined TV, online video has to truly captivate, because consumers can easily click away. "Users of mobile devices can be a lot less patient, a lot less tolerant of substandard content," Kristian observes. "If you're on your mobile or tablet and after 30 seconds you feel it's not going anywhere, boom — you're gone. So there's a real need to get it absolutely right and capture people's attention early on."

Think big, think like a publisher

In today's always-on multi-screen world, many brands are responding by increasing the volume of video content that they commission and create. Previously, the video requirements for a business could be fulfilled in series of 30-second TV commercials; both production and distribution were straightforward. Now a brand's video content strategy is both more complex and longer term.

"You have to have a more collaborative creative process where you're not just using a traditional TV team and expecting them to come up with something that's going to work," says Ben Hooper, Karmarama's Head of Content. In addition to creative and video skills, for example, ideally an online video team responsible will work in concert with PR and social to develop an evolving body of content. "You need to be much more like a broadcaster," Ben says, "because the most important thing about mobile video and online video is quantity and scale; to be able to create impact, you need to be there consistently over a long period of time."

Solve volume demands through co-creation

Rather than going down the resource-intensive route of becoming channels in their own right, many brands are currently winning through collaborations. "We're in a really critical time as organisations are trying to become publishers; we're not quite there yet," Susan affirms. "In the meantime as we support brands working towards always-on content strategies, we absolutely suggest partnering with creators to reach those new audiences and really engage with their fans."

While an online star comes with a readymade following, it's vital to look beyond sheer user numbers and strive for a good fit. "To work with YouTube content creators is a good editorial process for brands to go through, because they can't just see it as a media buy," Ben points out. "The brand's message has got to be blended properly into the content creator's story. If it's not, it will annoy the audience and make the brand look silly. You have no choice but to be authentic."

Strive for transparency

Justin Pearse, MD of The Drum Works, agrees that simple honesty is the best policy. "In the industry, everyone talks about authenticity all the time," he says. "Brands think it's just some box to tick. Everyone's rushing to pretend to be authentic, and that's a massive danger." How can businesses avoid the pitfalls? His advice is that a third party is in a much better position to assess and maintain brand authenticity. "It's about handing much more control over to your agency — because your agency isn't you."

Beyond that, brands need to be forthright; clearly declaring involvement in a piece of content prevents any possibility of consumers feeling tricked. "Studies have shown that users are not averse to branded content that is truly branded, and I think the numbers show that it's an absolutely acceptable method of communicating with your audience," says Susan.