I started a discussion of online video in "2 Strategies for the Future of Online TV," where I mentioned that several threads have worked themselves together in the information I presented. I'm continuing that discussion in this column because it is rich and the findings might be useful.
Online video versus TV
I should start by explaining what I call "TV."
TV is an information device which stimulates a passive observer. This passive participation is known as "exafference." You may change the channels, you may get up and make a sandwich during commercials, but that's about it.
In comparison, online video is (if you'll forgive the pun) an eye opener. First, online video is a "reafferent" event, meaning the stimulation changes based on what the viewer wants to view. Here things start getting fuzzy. DVR users have some reafference with what they're viewing, but it's limited. Even then, you can only record what's on right now.
True online video is completely reafferent. When something is on is an irrelevant question that makes no sense. Viewers can cut and paste video clips, change the background images, incorporate alternative soundtracks… and these are just the obvious reafferent elements to online video. You can still get up and make a sandwich, but now you do it by pausing the video rather than waiting for a commercial. You can switch the channel, but you won't be missing one show by going to another because the first show will always be available via the infinite online repository of the internet. This makes online video true video-on-demand (VOD).
But VOD has big problems.
Stork legs, escalators, lunch trucks and time-on-site
Almost a year ago I wrote about directing attention and determining what someone will see and won't see.
The examples I used were the stork legs in "Return of the Jedi," the hand-cranked escalator in "Ella Enchanted" and the lunch truck in "Jabberwocky." These things were clearly on the screen, but few people noticed them. Those examples were very much on my mind at the time I was writing that column because NextStage was conducting research in branding in online video.
Elements that play a role in such branding include an often-ignored metric in traditional web analytics-- time on site. This is fast becoming a critical metric in all web analytics, and especially in online video, because time on your site means your brand is in front of your visitors and not your competitors' brands. (I cover this in more detail in Home Page as Bookcover and Pavlov's Eyes: Get Users to Respond)
Time-on-site is especially critical now because 'tis the season, the political season, that is.
Branding in online video is subject to VOD, but there's a catch. Political branding can't be entertaining because a candidate won't be taken seriously. Also, political branding is much more about reinforcing an image than it is about winning converts to a new product or service. Politicians attempting to rebrand themselves face a tougher road than Coke attempting to use its brand recognition to sell tires.
Reinforcing an image is different than winning converts. Reinforcing an image intersects with time-on-site by removing the desire to switch channels (in the TV paradigm) or use VOD (in the web world). The longer I keep you watching my video, reinforcing my image, the less likely you are to watch a competitor's video because the most expensive thing in people's lives is still time.
Entertainment VOD doesn't have this constraint because people seek out entertainment and, even when VOD based, entertainment still has exafferent elements. Not so political VOD. Here the whole point is to get the visitor reafferent: highly involved! Vote! Contribute! Tell your friends how good I am!
Increasing both how much an online video is in demand and how often it is demanded depends on several factors (numbered for ease of explanation):
- Entertainment value (yes, even political online video needs to entertain)
- Color usage and placement in the video and on the page
- Where the video is placed on the screen
- What else is on the screen while the video is active
- What is the video's message
- What is the page's message, and how well does it synch with the video's? (Anybody remember the national news story of the elderly having to eat dog food because of social security cuts being followed by a commercial for dog food? How about the news story of someone being attacked by sharks being followed by an ad for a special, "Swimming with Sharks"? You get the idea.)
- The video's run length
- Does the video match the target audience's ability to become motivationally aware of the "message" in the video and on the page
- Reinforcement (branding elements on the page reinforcing branding elements in the video and vice versa)
Drilling down deeper on the 9 factors above we find:
- Items 7 and 1 are tied together because the longer a video is the more it must entertain. Entertainment? Yes, as in "you must give viewers a reason to watch." Regardless of content, viewers must believe they got something for their time investment. Leave them with nothing and that's what you'll get in return.
- Item 2- Movies fade to black after the credits. Online video should not. A final "success" image -- people laughing, sharing, hugging, doing something they want to do -- must be the video's final image. Even if a "play again" button appears, leave the success image and you'll have a reason for people to play the video again and again and again.
- Items 3 and 4 are tied together because the worst thing you can do is have competitive videos on the same page. "Competitive" means "two or more dymanic images," not competitive products. Placement is best handled by answering a group of questions I'll get to later. Competitive placement is even more dependant on answering those questions.
- Items 5, 6 and 8 are tied together because viewers will not act unless the video is motivating them, and they will not be motivated unless the various messages on the page and in the video work together to give the target audience the desired message.
Knowing information such as that listed above helps determine several factors including:
- Where and how the brand/logo needs to enter the video
- How large the brand/logo needs to be in relation to the video
- How many times a brand/logo needs to appear in a video in order to be remembered
Questions needing Answers
I mention above that answering the where's and how's of branding in online video and ad placement ties lots of things together. A question I was asked more than once at iMedia's Agency Summit last December was whether or not there was a way to determine where an ad needed to be on a webpage in order to maximize ROI. Well, yes, there is. It requires answering about fifteen questions at present. The challenge is that the questions anthropologists, sociologists and such ask may not be the ones marketers and advertisers can answer.
Right now at NextStage, we're testing an ad placement tool, and this new tool emerged out of an attempt to provide some simple answers to "Where does something need to be on a webpage in order to increase ROI?"
Currently Avenue A | Razorfish, Casale Media, Underscore Marketing and others are providing NextStage with feedback on how the tool would be best used. Please feel welcome to join in this discussion.
It doesn't matter whether something is a static image or a video; the first question has to be, "What response do you want from the viewer?" Do you want them to respond immediately? Do you want them to remember this information for later in the buying cycle? Do you want them to provide contact information so you can further qualify them? Answering that first question can be complex. Hopefully the information in this column will make it easier by providing some guidelines for your next buy.
Directing Your Customer's Gaze
Homepage as Bookcover
NextStage's Ad Placement Tool
Pavlov's Eyes: Get Customers to Respond
Reading Virtual Minds
2 Strategies for the Future of Online TV
Usability Studies 101: Brand Loyalty
Note: I'll be speaking at the San Francisco April '07 Emetrics Summit on Quantifying and Optimizing the Human Side of Online Marketing on May 7, 2007. Come on by and say hello.
Joseph Carrabis is CRO and founder of NextStage Evolution and NextStage Global, and founder of KnowledgeNH and NH Business Development Network. He is also author of the Biz Media Science blog. Read full bio.