People are increasingly living their lives online, demanding immediate, relevant answers to any question. With digital search now an essential mode of uncovering inspiration and learning new things, YouTube has become the world's second largest search engine. According to Google UK Country Sales Director Peter Fitzgerald, this unique go-to resource for people in need of answers and ideas presents a profound opportunity for brands to be present where audiences are.

October 2015

While I'm no chef, I am a father of two — which is how it came to be that I recently heard myself utter the following words: "Ok Google, show me Halloween cake recipes." Among the 194,000 YouTube results that appeared were cakes resembling graveyards, cake pops that looked like ghosts and layer cakes crafted into the shape of pumpkins. The expertise at my disposal ranged from celebrities to native digital talent — Nigella was on hand with a devil's food cake, while YouTube stars Sorted Food were there with a special Halloween recipe lab.

We're increasingly living our lives digitally, and in this context we demand fast, relevant answers to any question. A few years ago I would have had to wait for a cooking show to hit my TV screen, at which point I might have crossed my fingers hoping a Halloween recipe would appear. Not anymore. Today a few gestures combined with a smartphone are all that's needed to find specific knowledge at any given moment.

The new definition of WWW seems to be "What I want, when I want, where I want it." Digital search is the means we use to seek inspiration, uncover new products or resolve a friendly debate. And now, a decade after its launch, YouTube is the world's second largest search engine. When it comes to learning something new — from DIY techniques to song lyrics — YouTube has emerged as the go-to resource.

In fact, YouTube reaches almost 87% of people online ages 35 and over in the UK each month. For brands and retailers aiming to connect with consumers on their own terms at scale, YouTube offers a profound opportunity. In this unique setting, businesses are no longer constrained by 30-second ad spots, but instead can experiment with longer branded content and more inventive commercials.

Sainsbury's 2014 Christmas commercial is a case in point; at four minutes long, the story was so powerful that it became the year's most popular ad on YouTube at 17 million views. A second piece of content — the Story Behind the Christmas Ad — then scored another million views for the brand. For Sainsbury's, YouTube was the perfect place for its content to work harder and smarter.

The opportunity doesn't begin and end at ads, though. New branded channels are emerging as a home for content that both entertains and informs. As an example, look to ASDA's Mum's Eye View. Launched in early 2014, the channel covers food, fashion, beauty and lifestyle topics with the aim of connecting with a consumer that's crucial to ASDA — mums.

As a next step in augmenting its fanbase and reaching a broader audience, ASDA partnered with some stars of the YouTube universe — a key technique many brands are embracing. ASDA's Christmas campaign featured power couple Zoella (7 million loyal fans) and Alfie, as they prepared a Christmas feast using the retailer's own ingredients.

In another example, Pepsi Max engaged a key target audience by collaborating with YouTube creators and filmmakers on original content. Tapping into the passions of people ages 18 to 34, this drew watchers to Pepsi's "Unbelievable" branded platform. The brand's CMO says that shifting from a TV-led model to digital content saw return on investment increase by 43%.

These examples underline a basic rule — brands need be present in the places where audiences are spending time. I can make the greatest Halloween cake in the world, but if my kids can't find it then what's the point? Turning them into devoted baking fanatics might be a further challenge of course, requiring me to work out their preferences, adapt, connect with their friends and partner with others. But I'm pretty sure I can rise to the challenge — when it comes to boosting my know-how, I already have a good idea of where to look for help.