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It might sound strange but not that long ago we used to have to argue the case for business owners to embrace video and to start producing content themselves, during our Video Skills Workshops. Not so now, they’re all chomping at the bit!

We started our first online channel in 2008 using the Brightcove Network and right from day one, we knew the revolution was coming and we’ve been rather evangelical about it ever since. Back then, YouTube might just as well have been called ‘CatTube’ and it wasn’t a place for those creating ‘serious’ or ‘professional’ TV like content. How times have changed and in such a short period. We migrated over to YouTube later that same year, Vimeo pretty much as soon as that launched and created our first full service client channel in 2010. We started publishing pilot content on our own channels and, while it was still too early really for this operation to be considered ‘online TV’ on the YouTube platform, we still believed that, given time, the inevitable would happen and YouTube would become a massive catalyst for change. And so it has been.

The ‘video rush’ in recent years (the marketing equivalent of the prospecting boom) was inevitable once the tech benchmark reached a point where medium and long form content became viable and has meant that every social channel and platform is now awash with the moving image. From the business owner’s perspective, the benefit previously to be had from simply putting video on your website or social feed – that your content would stand out from the crowd – has vanished.  Video is now the default content online, so unless your’e thinking creatively about how you’re using it, your video will just be one more piece of moving wallpaper in an increasingly crowded space.

For us, this video revolution was always about bringing opportunity to everyone, to create televisual or film content where previously there were massive barriers to entry. Yes, short clips of cats, crashes, people doing ‘amazing’ things etc are what has really caught people’s attention because of the number of views they can create. For us though, the potential has always been about story telling and distribution – being able to create something original of value and get it directly to the viewer, without having to navigate the gate keepers of TV and cinema.

With the high levels of video saturation we have across all platforms, being distinctive is vital but more than that, the way you approach the whole genre of online and social video is becoming ever more critical. The lines between television and online video have always been blurred (at least they have for us) but the further on we all go with the video revolution, the less distinguishable the two platforms become. Is Netflix TV or online video? Is the iPlayer TV or online video? Is the YouTube app on your connected TV online video or TV? And this is where both the opportunity and threat lies going forward for promotional business video.

As TV, film, gaming and social video merge into just ‘content’, how are you supposed to find a role in this increasingly high value landscape for your promotional videos? If, next to your post on Facebook, the viewer sees a trailer for the latest Game of Thrones series or a screen record of their fifteen year old’s gaming exploits or newsreel of a disaster somewhere from a newspaper website, how likely is it they are going to notice your promo? Yes, you can pay to promote it but that only places it on their timeline, you still need to persuade them to watch it!

Leaving the whole question of production quality aside for this article, the fundamental mistake many businesses make is to focus more on their promotional messages, than on the general appeal of the whole piece. They create content that simply tells the audience what they want them to hear. The really important thing for any organisation to do in relation to video is to be seeking to create content that gives more to the viewer than it asks for in return.

Look at what all the videos you’re in competition with are doing. The broadcasters are giving the audience exclusive teasers of their latest TV shows. The film companies are giving the audience blockbuster action trailers. The fifteen year old’s giving you a whirlwind ‘first person view’ ride through a stimulating game and the newspaper’s giving you shocking footage of a natural disaster. What chance have you got….. unless you think like them and create content like them!

It’s all about having someone’s attention for a moment and being remembered. How you use that moment is up to you but it will determine whether you get a return on your investment in video. The important thing is not to get too greedy or needy. It is wholly possible to meet both the objectives of the audience and also the marketing objectives of your organisation but it takes vision and also a fundamental acceptance that all video content is entertainment.  If you don’t accept this fact, you’re starting from a very disadvantageous position.

Video = entertainment. People like entertainment. People therefore like watching videos but there are more videos out there than they have the time or patience to watch. How are you going to get them to watch yours? By telling them what a great organisation you are? Nope. By creating a video that has little substance or visual appeal? Nope. By putting in some drone clips and those lovely slow motion shots? Nope – they’re as ubiquitous as video itself. By focussing solely on a promotional message or advertising slogan? Probably not, unless they’re specifically looking for what you have. The solution is simply to buy into the concept that entertaining an audience is an investment.

Whoever would have thought that a company would spend millions establishing a couple of animated characters (Meerkats of all things) in order to promote a website? What possible logic could there be for doing that if the overriding priority from the outset was to generate transactions? The logical approach would have been to focus on telling people the how, why and where. To lay out what the website does, to incentivise them to visit the site, perhaps to reward them in some way for visiting the site.

Instead, the early adverts for Compare The Market focussed much more on entertaining us. Yes, of course, there was the site’s address and the hook line but most of the core time was spent establishing the characters and their back story. Now it’s hard to find anyone who doesn’t know what brand they represent and it’s also hard to find any analyst or critic who doesn’t think the whole Meerkat campaign has been a work of pure genius.

Scale this down and apply the principle to your own situation and what is the baseline approach? It is all about seeing the first purpose of your video content as entertaining the viewer. Now, ‘entertaining’ could and should mean many things.  It doesn’t mean employing dancers or comedians or even necessarily animating animals, it simply means creating something that the people who will come across your content will first tolerate (it’s so easy to keep scrolling over promoted content) and then actively engage with.

The specifics of this are fully dependent on your line of business and the characteristics of your potential audience but the principle is always the same. Seek ways to give the audience something of value, something they don’t perceive to be a sales pitch. Work harder to entertain them than you do to get your message across because viewers can sniff a promotional push a mile off. Make them feel that you’ve given them this content without ulterior motive and they’ll begin to trust you and, as we all know, trust is the essential foundation for any relationship.

So, isn’t this just ‘content marketing’? Well, yes, it is but all too often so called content marketing videos are far more marketing than entertainment and are essentially just promotional videos. Just because you create a piece of ‘content’ doesn’t make it entertaining. The opportunity to create highly engaging TV or film like content which gives the viewer something engaging to watch but which also gently introduces them to your company, your products or your promotional message is huge but it takes skill and experience to really pull it off.

Columbia Sportswear is an excellent example of a company that has successfully pulled off ‘content marketing’ by focussing on entertainment.  Their YouTube series – ‘Directors of Toughness’ features first a competition to appoint two outdoors enthusiasts as the ‘Directors of Toughness’ and then a whole series of short adventure films where they are set expedition challenges in various countries, exclusively using Columbia’s clothing and equipment.  The entertainment is in watching these people (who have been well chosen for their engaging personalities) having the adventure. The promotional benefit to Columbia is that people see their kit being used in a real life situation and therefore have a stronger sense of its capability than if, perhaps, a salesman had simply made a video presentation extolling the virtues of the equipment.

The great thing about this campaign is that these videos remain active long after their initial run and continue providing entertainment and brand profile in equal measure for years to come. They won’t lose their relevance except perhaps in terms of product lines that are no longer in production but because it is all about creating a piece of entertainment, discontinued products aren’t important because the viewer still sees Columbia’s kit in action with real people doing real things and loving the brand.

This is not a campaign without promotional substance though. Each episode offers the viewer a follow up video where the presenters give a product demo of some of the key pieces of equipment used. There are also calls to action to follow on Facebook or Twitter, in order to get additional content relating to the series.  You see, taking the ‘entertainment first’ approach does not mean stripping out all promotional messages or denying yourself the chance to try and get people to connect with you. This is all about how you structure the piece and how you package and present your key messages. It is about enabling the viewer to connect with you not giving them reasons not to. Give the viewer a gift, include information which effectively promotes something you do or make but which doesn’t feel like a sales pitch. Let them feel like they are in control, that they have taken the decision to connect with you entirely of their own free will.  That’s all this approach is about. It’s not about indulging your secret Spielberg fantasy at great cost to your marketing department!

The other really important thing is that your overall aim should always be to build an audience, not to ‘get views’ or likes. Views are simply a receipt that shows that someone has seen your video and likes don’t really tell you anything of substance. Having an audience means that you have people out there who are useful to you, a community. If you have an audience, not only are they continually aware of you, if you’re producing content regularly (as you should be) but they are more likely to buy your thing over someone else’s thing because they’ll feel aligned to your brand or offering. It’s like someone who loves browsing in a particular shop. If the shop owner encourages this pastime, sooner or later they’ll buy something and then they’ll keep returning to buy more.  If the owner instead jumps on them and tries to get a sale on the first visit, they’ve probably lost a customer forever.

So, next time you need a video or are about to start a new project, start by looking at what opportunities you have to entertain and then how this might connect with people.  Invest in entertainment rather than ‘promotional video’. Tell stories that show how your product or organisation works and which provides the viewer with something engaging to watch, regardless of the brand’s involvement. Ask yourself: “if I didn’t work here, would I find this interesting”. It takes creative vision and experience to pull it off but it’s worth it!

At Mediapack, we’ve been creating TV style infomercial videos and magazine shows for YouTube for nearly ten years, so if you’d like more information about how we can help you devise an affordable and effective video entertainment strategy that you can run yourself, click on the contact section and drop us a line.

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