Is online video the Savior of fragmented digital marketing?


Fragmentation and complexity have long been the biggest barriers to digital marketing’s advancement – maturing video tech is solving many of these issues

Fragmentation and complexity has, in my opinion, always been the single biggest barrier to digital marketing’s advancement. Brand managers for whom communications is often just a small slice of their daily workload are understandably put off when a digital expert rolls up explaining the latest complexities and technical capabilities. Just imagine for a minute how stunted the wider creative sector would be if every TV channel demanded a different execution, or if marketers had to learn about the intricacies of film-making equipment before they yelled “action”.

Video promises to be the great unifier – a simple, well understood format that can spread itself across most major digital media channels, delivering believable return on investments in the process. Among other things, 2015 is clearly the year of online video, with platforms like Facebook and Twitter racing to build out offerings as comprehensive as established giants like YouTube or AOL.

Taking a break from writing about the demise of Facebook, commentators have been quick to instead hail the platforms’ exponential growth in video and its potential giant-slaying abilities. Perhaps not quick enough though. YouTube’s estimated income of around $6bn (£4bn) may already have been surpassed if Facebook can persuade around half of it’s advertisers to run video, not an unthinkable task when it charges no extra for the privilege and claims to now serve 3bn video views a day. Don’t go writing YouTube off quite yet though. Over one billion unique users visit the site globally each month and daily watch time there is up 50% year-on-year.

One thing that is clear is that online video has matured hugely over the past 18 months and along with it marketers’ attitudes. I now regularly have serious conversations about diverting 10%–20% of TV budgets to online video simply because we can demonstrably drive broader and more effective reach by doing so – whoever the key players end up being there’s going to be a big prize to be won. The competition to actually make the content (from old school agencies, new media partners or even super users) will be just as fierce, but is a discussion for another day.

Unfortunately the waters of online video aren’t quite as transparent as one might hope. The content might potentially be the same but there’s a world of forced pre-rolls, skippable true views, in-banner video and auto-play (or even auto-preview) posts to discover. Media agencies are already being asked to merge different platforms on to one reporting tracker, but to do so is to mask a world of considerable differences. Does someone seeing three seconds of a video in their Facebook newsfeed equate to the same thing as someone watching a full 30 seconds of a video on YouTube? Of course not, though that is how each network has respectively chosen to define a view.

There’s huge value in both of course. Someone seeing just three seconds of your video (or the five seconds before they can skip on YouTube) can be hugely impacted by it and any video strategy needs to take this into account, looking beyond pure vanity counts. Google’s research shows that even people who skip can remember and be impacted by an advert, while that people watching less than three seconds of an ad can still represent nearly 50% of the value advertisers get from it. Of course one particular advantage that YouTube offers here is that advertisers don’t pay a penny until someone has watched 30 seconds of their video, meaning that by Facebook’s own research marketers are getting well over 75% of the value of their campaign for free.

One of the big questions to ask is whether the same creative can work across a range of different video channels and the answer is often yes, even including TV. A great story is still a great story and the best adverts have always sought to grab our attention and keep us hooked in, although there are of course nuances. Whether consumers are forced to watch the first moments of a video, or have the chance to just scroll past it, the first couple of seconds have never been more important – both to grab people’s attention and communicate something about your brand for people who won’t watch any further. Length is much less of a consideration than with TV spots, and while people are consuming shorter and shorter video there’s still an opportunity for really impactful storytelling which hooks people in for several minutes. One particularly interesting nuance for me is that a lot of online video, especially on Facebook, is first seen with no sound, or perhaps watched in full on mute on a mobile – is your creative ready for that?

Ultimately a big part of the difference comes down to context and relevance, something I firmly believe great digital marketing needs to master. Facebook’s newsfeed does by default encourage scrolling, and while video content can stop thumbs and grab attention the platform lends itself particularly well to cinemagraphs and gentle animation, not always just video as we know it. YouTube on the other hand is a more sit-back experience. With visitors expecting to watch much longer videos they are inevitably in more of a mindset to pay attention to more traditional long form video content and storytelling. Don’t rule Twitter out either, the prevalence of embedded Tweets across the web give their video offering the potential to go far beyond the boundaries of their own platform.

Perhaps I was wrong to say that video will simplify things – sounds like there may be a role for digital experts to keep explaining the nuances for a while yet.