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Beyond pre-roll: What's next for online video

Beyond pre-roll: What's next for online video Alison Provost

A new wave of online video is emerging on the heels of three popular but ultimately insufficient waves. These first three waves -- entertainment video, viral video, and pre-roll -- were popular media because of their initial novelty but did not prove to be reliable, consistent, or scalable models for marketers to adopt. The dynamics of this medium's first decade and a half have been too fluid to build something even remotely as stable as the TV advertising model. There were good elements to carry forward in each initial wave, and each successive one has come closer to a sustainable model.

In short, we have learned from our mistakes in order to create the next online video evolution. Let's take a quick look back to see where marketers got it right, and where we failed as it relates to online video.

Wave 1: Entertainment video
The summer of 2001 saw the advent of the first wave of online video: entertainment videos. You'll likely remember the now infamous video of Ally McBeal's dancing baby. However, the greatest example of entertainment video was produced by luxury automaker BMW. In short, the BMW films were game changers. Shot on film by some of the best filmmakers in the business, featuring the then-unknown Clive Owen, these shorts were brilliant pieces of film that perfectly integrated the features of the car into the story line. The ultimate driving machine in the hands of the ultimate driver, playing on the ultimate web experience was, well, ultimate. One hundred million views and eight films later, the project was ultimately abandoned because it was too expensive to maintain, and the vice president leading the project moved on to Mini-Cooper.

In the years following, Nissan, among other companies, rushed to adopt the branded-entertainment model, Madison & Vine was born, and conferences were held touting branded entertainment as a major shift in marketing. However, no other branded entertainment series ever came close to the level of BMW's initial marketing success primarily because making great entertainment is both a difficult and an expensive proposition.

Verdict: While popular at the time, branded entertainment video never proved to be scalable or sustainable for marketers.

Wave 2: Viral video
The second wave of online video hit like a digital tsunami in the form of viral video. One great example of a viral video series that became a cultural phenomenon during the summer of 2006 is the Diet Coke and Mentos experiment. Two friends, a lawyer and a professional juggler, passed the time one night by dropping Mentos in a Diet Coke bottle. The result was an explosion that amused both friends. Unsure of whether they were strangely entertained or if, in fact, their discovery of the candy/bottle impact was actually cool, they set out to capture it on film. On the first day that they shared the video online, more than 4,000 people watched the content, and included in that group was a producer from "Late Night with David Letterman." Next thing you know, both friends were showing David Letterman himself how to create a geyser using Diet Coke and Mentos on national television. By September 2007, the videos had been viewed more than 10 million times. 

While viral video can be a wildly successful and highly entertaining medium for online video content, in reality it's like channeling lightning in a bottle. The truth is, fewer than one in 500 viral videos ever attracts more than 500,000 viewers.

Verdict: Videos have the ability to reach mass consumer audiences very quickly. However, it's nearly impossible to predict when a video will strike a nerve with consumers, and the majority of viral videos are rarely successful in going viral at all. 

Wave 3: Pre-roll
In the beginning, pre-roll was just about the best thing for online advertising since Google. Companies such as BrightRoll and the like began working with leading brands to develop online video advertising campaigns in the form of pre-roll. There are three things that pre-roll was able to achieve that, to date, other forms of online video had not been successful in doing. First, pre-roll had increased accountability (i.e., consumers were essentially forced to watch it). Second, it targeted a more engaged user as the consumer had to click on the original link to view it. Last, pre-roll was more interactive as the viewer could choose to take further action to learn more about the brand/product, if desired. Where pre-roll fell short was in alienating the consumer, the most important factor in online video. 

In 2007, a Harris Interactive poll confirmed that 73 percent of frequent visitors to the video-sharing site YouTube would visit less often if the company introduced pre-roll advertising. With pre-roll, consumers are more or less forced to watch the advertising if they want to watch the content they were originally searching for. As marketers, why would we choose to interrupt our target when we have the opportunity to engage with them?

Verdict: Pre-roll is a good means to reach target customers but completely misses the mark when it comes to consumer engagement. This is where the fourth wave of online video comes into play, and you can either choose to ride the wave and start winning for your brand, or you can watch it roll on by.

Wave 4: Branded editorial video
The fourth wave of online video holds promise for brands that would like to use today's best new medium to meaningfully communicate with, and engage, consumers. It is branded editorial video. Today, most brands are topic experts within their respective industries, and there is ample opportunity for marketers to share their insight. These insights can help solve the everyday questions consumers are seeking to answer online.

This is not to be confused with the unfortunate popularity of "content farms." Content farms, like Demand Media, are getting a lot of attention today for their "search-driven" development model. However, this model is a what-ad-will-the-consumer-click-driven search and not based on real consumer search insight into a category. It's important that brands don't imitate the television advertising model of first interrupting (i.e., pre-roll) and then talking at people, but rather that they work to develop rich and engaging content that is relevant to what they are already seeking online.

Betty Crocker is a good example of a company that is currently using branded editorial video to its advantage. Betty Crocker wanted to find a way to reach and engage today's moms, while ultimately increasing customer conversions. Through research, the company was able to understand that the average woman is not necessarily searching for "Betty Crocker" every day, but instead is seeking to understand how to make a specialty cake for her child's birthday party. Thus, the Betty Crocker Kitchen's online video series for how to make themed birthday cakes for children was born. The series features trusted baking expert Liv Hansen, who teaches moms how to make a multitude of specialty birthday cakes including train, princess, and turtle cakes. Through this model, Betty Crocker is able to subtly convey branded messages to its target market, while ultimately providing them with the valuable information they desire. 

Verdict: The branded editorial video model is about creating relevant content for targeted consumers. However, it is not just about the content creation itself. Marketers must also be diligent about optimizing search and identifying targeted distribution channels.

Here are five tips for how you can begin riding the branded editorial video wave in order to start increasing customer conversions now:

It's all about search
The key is to make video content that is relevant to what consumers are already searching for online and optimize it accordingly. The aforementioned Betty Crocker video series is a good example of how to do this successfully. Another example of a brand that is getting it right is Autodesk, a world leader in 3-D design, engineering, and entertainment software. To ensure Autodesk stands out in the home design/remodeling industry, the company researched what people look for online before they start a home renovation project and found that people often search for questions such as "What do I need to do before I call a contractor?" and "How to refresh my kitchen with paint." To answer these burning questions, Autodesk developed the searchable "HomeStyler" video series, a library of TV-quality videos that provide ideas and inspiration from TLC's "While You Were Out!" designer, Nadia Geller, in a journalistic style that is familiar and engaging to audiences. 

Adopt a different attitude about creative
Consumers want information-rich video. Through video, they want to learn about your brand's features and benefits. However, advertising-style copy is not going to resonate. Brands are legitimate experts in their field and have a right to act this way. A brand can and should share its expertise in a way that is useful to consumers. For example, who knows more about baking than Betty Crocker? The Betty Crocker test kitchen videos referenced earlier use the brand's expertise in way that provides value to the consumer. This series just surpassed 20 million consumer views. Another good example of a brand that is using its industry insight to engage consumers in a meaningful way is Sony. 

When marketing its digital cameras to consumers, Sony was able to identify that people want to know how to take good photos, not hear about the technical specs on Sony camera lenses. Sony quickly realized that if it could teach people how to take better photos of their family and friends, they would become trusted advisors and, in turn, sell more digital cameras. To accomplish this goal, the brand partnered with respected fashion photographer Nigel Barker to create a searchable, branded video series that provides consumers with tips for how to take the best baby photos, holiday pictures, and outdoor images. 

Go for TV-like reach!
Once you have developed the right content for consumers, it's important not to adopt the "build it and they will come" mentality. In other words, don't confine the content to your own website. Targeted distribution is critical, and it's important to tap into the editorial and feature wells of content-driven sites. This approach increases consumer engagement, and it allows for targeting into topic-focused publishers. For example, videos created on the consumer how-to video website Howdini.com that are related to food topics are also shared via iFood.tv. Additionally, Howdini videos on topics such as "How to get a celebrity hairdo" and other fashion and lifestyle related-trends are strategically available on many of Glam Media's network of women's blogs and online sites.

Harness the power of YouTube
Let's face it, YouTube is the king of online video. However, makers of some of the best YouTube videos don't know how to optimize their content in order to drive the content to the top of the search column. It's important to understand that video can be optimized for search in the same manner in which we ensure websites are searchable. The truth is, you need video SEO, just like you need site SEO, and just tagging is not enough. Brands can channel the power of YouTube by optimizing online videos for search and creating channels on the popular video-sharing site. For example, Howdini.com launched a Howdini Guru channel on YouTube in order to create another means for sharing its how-to video content with consumers. The Howdini Guru channel on YouTube now has more than 32,000 subscribers.

Realize the power of social media
For marketers, social media strategies are everywhere we look these days. When used strategically, social media is a powerful content distribution vehicle. Distributing content on publishers' sites is a great way to target the content, but to drive SEO for that content, marketers must also distribute via social media channels. Video-sharing sites are a great start, but it's important to also remember tactics like tagging, bookmarking, and news-sharing sites.

Follow these five steps for developing editorial video for your brand, and you can start meeting your consumer's unmet and growing need for information-rich online video. Consumers are hungry for this kind of relevant and substantial content, and marketers will reap the benefits of deep consumer engagement with their brands.

Alison Provost is founder, chairman, and CEO of TouchStorm.

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Alison Provost is founder, Chairman and CEO of TouchStorm. Alison is a born leader. From her commanding presence to her ability to affect change, Alison exudes leadership at every turn. Alison has a knack for attracting people who are at the top of...

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