Huge untapped potential for brands in online video

Cedar has surveyed 500 British YouTube users about their usage and opinion of branded online video, Chris Rayment reports.

Chris Rayment: insight and planning director at Cedar
Chris Rayment: insight and planning director at Cedar

In 2013, YouTube’s Video Solutions lead, Derek Scobie, addressed an audience at the IAB’s video conference. He said that for everything brands and advertisers tend to do on YouTube there is someone on YouTube doing it better.

Scobie urged brands to think less like advertisers and more like publishers and to embrace the creativity that the platform had to offer. Nearly two years on, has progress been made?

Cedar recently commissioned Populus, one of the UK’s most respected polling organisations, to survey 500 British YouTube users about their usage and opinion of branded online video.

The results clarified that there remains huge untapped potential for brands to optimise their online video content strategy. Here’s what we found:

…There’s no issue with reach. In fact, when questioned about recall, our research respondents claimed that branded video proves as memorable as news channel/publisher YouTube videos by media outlets such as Vice, CNN and Reuters.

…There’s no issue with usage. Usage of branded video varies according to the product or service being bought – among YouTube users, it tends to be used in around a third of purchase journeys in sectors such as travel and food and drink, but in some sectors such as technology as much as half of the customer base are using it. For all sectors we looked at, usage of branded video is most prevalent during the initial consideration and evaluation stages, but usage continues through to the post-purchase experience, especially in the travel category.

…There’s no issue with brand pessimism. Our research illustrated that 73% of respondents agreed that "if a YouTube video looks entertaining, I will watch it regardless of whether it’s a brand or not" and 57% of respondents agreed "entertaining or useful YouTube videos about subjects that I care about are a good way for brands to connect with people like me", which indicates that there is an appetite for branded content.

…But there is an issue with engagement. Looking at Socialblade's stats for the top 500 YouTube channels by subscribers and views, brands lack a strong presence. Our research suggested that just 20% of YouTube users have subscribed to a branded YouTube channel. For those that have subscribed, the second most popular reason for subscribing (behind brand affinity) is for the "quality of content in the videos" that respondents had seen. The suggestion is that – given the high penetration of online branded video - there’s not enough quality content out there from brands to generate subscribers.

A counter argument to why brands can’t or won’t generate quality online video content is that not all brands and/or their products and services are in a position to produce interesting, entertaining or useful videos which are relevant to their brand.

One of the things that we are very interested at Cedar is the idea of brand permissions. In other research that Cedar has commissioned, we see brands that talk about interesting things, which their audience feel the brand has authority to talk to them about, are much more successful in their content marketing efforts.

For example, a telecoms brand might have permission to talk about films and TV. Therefore content they put out about films and TV is likely to be considered relevant and engaging and may benefit the brand.

Conversely, if that same telecoms company were to talk about medical issues then their audience are likely to be confused and switch off. It might seem crazy, but some brands do go off-topic and veer into content territories they have no business to be in.

Where there is no context, no relevance for readers or viewers, content can sometimes have a negative impact on the brand. Clearly, that’s not good content strategy.

A big take out from our research findings is that it’s not necessary for a brand to have an expert voice on a particular subject in order to build YouTube views. Just one third of YouTube viewers agree that they "would only look at YouTube content from a brand if I consider it to have an expert voice on the subject".

What this means is that online video is different from the majority of other channels and platforms in that it’s somewhere that a brand can build permissions in an area where they didn’t have permissions previously. This is exactly how Red Bull, a soft drinks manufacturer, has established itself as an authority on subculture topics such as extreme sports. 

Having jumped a number of fences to get to this stage, brands face the toughest hurdle of all – the need to support a strong online video presence with engaging content.

Our point is that there is no excuse for bad branded content or to use YouTube as an ad dumping ground anymore. It doesn’t matter who your brand is and what products or services it offers, if branded video is properly promoted and the content is useful, interesting and/or entertaining, people will watch it, providing a strategic platform for long-term brand gains.

Our research was part of our whitepaper: Cedar Smart Thinking: How brands succeed in video content marketing.

Chris Rayment is insight and planning director at Cedar

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