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The Online Video Phenomenon

As the democratization of creativity takes hold, a higher level of customer engagement is fueling an explosion in online video.

With mobile computing technologies dominating the marketplace, trickle-down economics has been replaced by percolate-up economics. From music to political commentary to advertising and marketing, the sheer number of people and entities who can make quality, compelling videos is proliferating.

Video marketing is exploding right along with the proliferation of tablet computer sales, which now exceed sales of PCs. That presents both opportunity and caution for businesses that are still reluctant to try online video, but when the right chord is struck, online video is a powerful communications medium that can take your story around the world.

Citing various data sources, Digital Accomplice, a developer of brand content, reports that online video brings a much higher level of engagement – 400% over static content. The Nielsen Co. has reported that not only has the use of online video increased by nearly 22% in the past three years, the time spent consuming the video has risen by nearly 80%. 

Dave Neelsen, co-founder of Story First Media in Madison, cited video’s growing curiosity factor. “Human beings are visual by nature,” he stated. “There are reasons it’s going to inherently connect more. When you can double or triple your open rates, that’s significant for a lot of businesses.”

Business organizations use online video for a number of marketing purposes: testimonials, product launches and promotion, to announce changes in ownership, to describe a unique business model, or simply to tell their entrepreneurial stories. The videos can make a business-to-business or a business-to-consumer pitch, but the same marketing principles apply to video that apply to other kinds of advertising – understand your target audience and what information is most useful to them, and establish measurable, achievable goals.

Special Delivery

In the 1970s and 1980s, television was the primary medium used to reach consumers. Now, thanks in large measure to social media platforms, the Internet is the delivery vehicle that has the power and the traffic to convert people or drive them in various directions with a call to action, and it does so on a more universal basis.

“You are no longer confined to a local television market,” said Jon Aleckson, CEO of Web Courseworks and Madison Media Productions. “The ability to evoke emotion with music and imagery and editing is very strong. That has always been the case with motion pictures, but now the delivery channel is so much more vibrant, with so many more features and abilities, that its day has come.”

Aleckson’s advice to reluctant businesses is to start small with a short Web video. The vendor market generally consists of older-school video companies and a new generation of smaller companies that can cost-effectively produce a short, professional video. Video vendors should have a portfolio of their work, where prospective clients can view examples of strong, motivating stories that are told through video on the Web.

The most important part of video production is the design process. Andy Wallman, president and creative director for Knupp & Watson & Wallman, said a well-done video script should consistently communicate your brand. “You need to have a single, focused message, and you generally want people to feel something and do something. Those rules are the same for video, a magazine ad, a television commercial, and a website. Just because it’s a video, that doesn’t mean the rules are any different.”

Wallman noted there are different schools of thought about the balance between being entertaining and informative. This is another area where it helps to know your audience. “Entertainment is a nice-to-have, but I don’t think it’s always a got-to-have,” Wallman stated. “When we’re intruding on people with advertising messages, we’re interrupting what they are really trying to engage in. A TV commercial interrupts a TV show. A magazine ad interrupts a magazine article. A video, you could say, interrupts the Internet. 

“If it’s entertaining, that’s giving the viewer a little pat on the back, a little thank-you for spending that time, but not everybody wants entertainment. A lot of folks want just the facts. Entertainment is a nice quality that can make it more watchable and shareable, but your target audience might be the type of audience that simply wants the who, what, when, where and why.”

Neelsen said the perceived need to be funny is viewed by some as a cumbersome requirement, and it often is what keeps some companies away from video. He places a premium on telling your story, which is the first step in building trust. “Everybody has stories,” he noted. “Stories by nature are ancient and people have been connecting via their stories forever. That is not innovative, but what now allows stories to be told are the new technologies and medias that are used to distribute stories. That’s really where video becomes incredibly powerful because you are able to engage your story in a very authentic way.”

The cost of producing a video, the design and execution and placement, has come down because of the ubiquitous nature of cameras and computer editing technology. According to Aleckson, the cost of creating video using professionals is comparable to other collateral material – the cost of creating a print ad, for example. 

“That cost is not significantly different than other types of advertising or marketing,” he stated. “Obviously, you can drive up the price with different approaches, but generally the cost is comparable.”

Overall, the cost of producing videos in high definition can range from $500 per finished minute to $3,000 and up per finished minute, depending on variables like talent, length of the shoot, and complexity of the editing. For example, are special effects used? 

When it comes to Web placement, there are distribution platforms that will upload your video and release it across various media. Businesses pay for that, and also for any specific placement, but one affordable way to start is to create a YouTube channel, put the video up, and then link to it on your company website. At that point, an advertiser can submit it to one or more social media marketing sites.

Kim Sponem, CEO of Summit Credit Union, has signed off on videos to explain mergers, promote financial literacy, publicize the credit union’s annual meeting, and create awareness of local philanthropic and community-building efforts. Sponem said the more involved video productions – based on length, number of shots, and extent of messaging – have cost between $10,000 and $15,000, while less elaborate work usually ranges between $5,000 and $10,000.

She also noted that video is the perfect medium for reaching younger consumers, and the delivery channels, including Summit’s own website and YouTube, are the least expensive parts of online video. “Marketing done well is not inexpensive,” she stated. “While the production costs might be a bit high, the way to get that production out to people is not expensive. So to me, putting other high-quality videos that will send the message you want to send, in the way you want to send it, and help make that emotional connection or that person-to-person connection, is really worth it.”

When it comes to improving search engine optimization, Aleckson still is a fan of blogs. “Submitting your video to an industry blog, for example, or any of the industry aggregators, is very important,” he explained. “Once you have a video up, and start a YouTube channel and put your video up there, I’d definitely recommend doing an email marketing campaign linking to that video. That is something people can do themselves at a pretty low cost.”

While length is not as important as impact, one of the advantages of the Internet is that vendors can exceed the average video length of 40 seconds. Aleckson said the average online content in a video is about six and a half minutes, and the two presidential campaigns are using this advantage to get beyond the usual sound bites with videos that often make news. 

“I find it very ironic that the old TV media actually goes to the Web to search out the latest video from the campaigns,” Aleckson said. “They are definitely pioneers in the rapid use of video to send a message. That is one of the advantages of Web video – that it’s not confined to the one-minute or 30-second spot.”

Sean Mullen, creative director for Hiebing, says that whether a video is long or short, it’s essential to grab people in the first few seconds: “Whether you decide to go with a content strategy that uses humor or entertainment, versus more of an emotional or testimonial feel, it doesn’t matter as long as your content is compelling,” he advised. “You have got to grab them in the first 10 seconds and make them want to stick around for the rest of your message. 

“Whether you use humor or testimonials that tug at the heart strings, that depends on your brand, what your brand stands for, and your message. The bottom line is, it had better be compelling no matter the executional style. If it’s not compelling, people are going to click away.”

If you’re still not quite ready to take the video plunge, there is no harm in planning for your eventual dive. Two important things to remember in planning are to make sure video is coordinated with all marketing efforts and that video is most likely one component to a marketing program. Surrounding your target audience with a variety of touch points is generally going to be a brand’s best opportunity to grab the target’s attention and engage him or her. 

Barry Edison, Touchpoint planning director for Hiebing, said a coordinated plan is critical to any campaign. “You don’t just create tactics and push them out there,” he stated. “Those tactics must work together. Make sure online content strategy is aligned with other efforts, whether it’s an event or a new product launch. Make sure they are working together and building something larger, rather than appearing sporadically or independently.”

As with any form of advertising, the best way to measure return on investment is to track sales after placement. However, Web analytic tools such as Google Analytics provide some layer of viewership assessment, including the number of times a video was shared. Whether or not a video leads to sales, every click is trackable, including the number of eyeballs viewing it, how long they watched, and where they watched.

“Like a lot of things on the Internet, you are in control and small organizations are in control of metrics and measuring and looking at how they are doing with investment in video on the Web,” Aleckson noted. “It is more difficult to measure how it might improve the perception of a brand, or an organization, or how much information a consumer has gained.

“The type of video has a lot to do with your ability to measure ROI. If you’re talking about a product launch, you should be able to analyze the increase in sales over time, but if you’re using video to communicate a corporate image, or brand, it’s much more challenging and the investment carries a longer cycle.”

Wallman said the ability to track ROI depends largely on your business category. “You can see a direct ROI in consumer goods, based on sales,” he explained. “If it’s a service industry, you can build in mechanisms to evaluate the efficacy of your video. For example, a special offer, a special website that can only be accessed through that video – a special deal that you can only get through that video. There are great ways to track how well it worked. 

“It’s tougher in a service organization, and it’s tougher for nonprofits or groups that don’t have a widget for sale.”

Penetrating the C Suite

B-2-B companies would also be interested to know that an estimated 75% of C-suite executives say they watch work-related online video at least once a week. Aleckson isn’t surprised, noting that C-suite executives are the target market for condensed books. They are among those who pay to read best-selling books in condensed form because they are busy but want to be in the know.

“Video is a little bit like that because video can pack in a lot of information in a short amount of time,” he noted. “The C-suite executives are individual learners. They learn more by watching.”

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