YouTube creators -- the growing legion of video content producers for that platform -- work hard to develop their personal brands and dedicated fan bases. And marketers have noticed.
Collaborating with a prominent creator can mean great things for a product or service when done right… or it can leave your audience feeling conned. On YouTube, the brands that win are the ones that truly understand the YouTube community and its creators. By collaborating with like-minded creators -- embracing their unique personalities and respecting their respective communities -- brands can deliver authentic and compelling messaging in a unique and creative way.
Identify cohesive personalities
Just as it's so important to make sure your creative reflects your brand well, it's equally important to align your brand with creators who reflect the values, mission, and personality of the product being sold. Collaborating with dissonant creators can feel forced and desperate, especially with YouTube audiences who are heavily invested in their favorite video personalities. Remember that on YouTube, quality is more important than quantity. A well-aligned creator with an audience of 40,000 people may be a better strategic choice than one with 4 million subscribers and little in common with your brand. Therefore, preliminary research is key to identify creators whose content and themes resonate with the brand.
Sometimes brands may find that creators who were once a great fit no longer meet those standards (or not enough research was done to vet the candidate before diving in). Creators are real people. Many don't have what it takes to make it in large-scale entertainment and some can have dark sides. Disney recently discovered what happens when a creator's perceived values go against brand, when news broke that prolific YouTuber (and Disney's Maker Studios collaborator) PewDiePie included anti-Semitic jokes in multiple videos on his channel. Disney and YouTube swiftly broke ties with PewDiePie, but the damage was done.
There are a lot of great tools designed to help brands identify great YouTube partners. Companies like TapInfluence and Upfluence use large databases to identify and build relationships with influencers, then deliver metrics reporting to make sure you're on track to meet your campaign goals -- all for a fee, of course. Some tools, like FameBit, allow brands and agencies to explore for free before submitting proposals and choosing from creator applicants. While these tools can help you find great talent, don't let them limit your reach. Sometimes doing some traditional internet stalking can lead you to great partners who are only a DM away. Find the partners that fit with your goals regardless of how you reach them.
Coca-Cola has done this in a big way, partnering with creators to launch its multi-national CokeTV. On each country's channel, fans can follow two popular YouTube personalities on fun adventures (while enjoying a cold bottle of Coke, of course). Each creator selected embodies the fun, exciting, and uplifting themes of the Coca-Cola brand, making the partnerships feel natural and seamless.
Embrace creator creativity
Remember that you chose your video partners for several reasons, among them their unique personality and creativity. Therefore, it's important to rely on those attributes to bring your brand's message to life. Many brands fail by requiring their collaborators to meet the same restrictions and guidelines they require of agencies. Instead, trust in the creators' expertise. Week after week, they keep their audiences coming back for entertaining content that far exceeds a traditional 30-second spot. YouTube's Brand Partner Program recommends that creative briefs be succinct, include strategic guidelines and any watch-outs or mandatories, but also give creators enough freedom to be themselves. In other words, give them guardrails without smothering their creativity.
In 2013, 20th Century Fox reached out to YouTuber CaseyNeistat to collaborate on a video to promote the release of "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty." Instead of bogging him down with guidelines and key messaging points, they gave him full creative rein and one simple task: make a video about living your dreams. The resulting video was inspiring in a way that stayed true to Neistat while also promoting the film's themes. It has garnered more than 6 million views and 7,000 comments, and got lots of free press in several prominent publications including Variety and The Hollywood Reporter.
Respect the community
With crafted personal brands and cultivated communities, creators offer their brand partners access to a captive audience that would otherwise be unreachable–and they do it in an authentic way. But reaching the audience isn't enough; it's just as vital to respect it. The YouTube community has been inundated with sponsored content for years and can spot a "spon" or a bad "collab" in a heartbeat. If a video feels forced or reeks of Adland, followers will rail their beloved creator as a sellout. So don't patronize them -- let them in on the secret. Allow creators to be as open with their audience as possible, entertaining them in fun new ways.
Creator Tim H (TimH Films) went all out and invited a handful of popular YouTubers to join him for a silly, but relevant sketch to promote AMC's show "Lucifer." The talent chosen was a gift to his fans who legitimately freaked out when seeing several of their favorite creators in one video. The sketch itself fits in well with the other content on his channel. It feels native and unpolished and totally what his audience has come to expect -- but it's an ad and he wanted his audience to know it. By being open and honest with his audience, he respected their ability to sniff out an ad by inviting them in on the joke. AMC was wise to approve this kind of tongue-in-cheek performance and even comes out looking like the network is in on the joke, too. TimH's audience loved it and many even went on to love the show.
Whether you're launching a new product or trying to stir up excitement for an old brand, YouTube is a great place for brands to play. And, by partnering with creators who understand the unique nature of the YouTube community, brands can get a leg up with engaged and passionate audiences. However, YouTube is not a surefire marketing tactic. It's up to brands to choose their partners well and trust them to produce creative and compelling content. If brands are willing to embrace creators' creativity and fan base, success won't be far off.