The Catch-22 of Video Marketing
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For years now, we’ve been told that video is the next big thing in marketing. Articles like this one from Gary Vaynerchuk in 2015 called for the rise of video as a marketing tool. You know what? They were right.
According to WordStream, YouTube now has over a billion users and more than 500 million hours of video are watched on its platform each day. More video content is now uploaded in a given 30-day period than the major U.S. television networks have created in 30 years. And, specifically related to marketing, 87% of online marketers now use video content. It seems that the video star has indeed risen.
In February 2017, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg said that video was “a mega trend” in the same vein as the growth of mobile devices. Twitter, through its ownership of Periscope, attempted to make live video an even bigger aspect of its platform by adding it to the “Explore” tab on its dashboard. And both social media giants have begun streaming live sporting events through their platform as a sign of where video content on social media may be headed.
All signs are pointing towards social platforms positioning themselves almost like new TV channels. Instead of turning on the tube to see your favorite video content, you’ll just hop on Facebook or Twitter.
But here’s the problem: that’s simply not how we use social media.
The Attention Span of Goldfish
Quick, short spurts of information have become ingrained into our daily habits. The data simply does not support the idea that people are looking to social media platforms for long-form video content. Don’t just take my word for it.
Wistia, a leading video marketing business, did research on video length compared to engagement to find the ideal video length. They found that, after the two-minute mark, video engagement dropped considerably. Along the same lines, this article from Forbes advises keeping videos short and tailoring them to individual platforms. It even cites an article from TIME Magazine that says goldfish now have longer attention spans than humans.
Therein lies the catch-22 of video on social media. Because everyone is on social media, marketers see it as an opportunity to engage customers with video content. But everyone is there for short snippets of information, so videos longer than two minutes in length tend to be less engaging.
Consider this article from AdAge that investigates the viability of two-second video ads on Facebook. The article makes the case that even time frames as short as two seconds can be extremely valuable.
But short video content provides its own problems. For example, it’s much more difficult to provide context. Dove was recently embroiled in a massive controversy over an ad they ran that seemed to depict a black woman transforming into a white woman. The backlash against the ad was swift, and Dove ended up removing the ad from all platforms. It was a three-second spot, and one of the actresses wrote an op-ed saying that the video’s short nature brought about misinterpretations. The longer video, she said, gave a clearer outline of the brand’s message. Adweek recently posted an article wondering if the controversy was a product of short ads and short attention spans. But clearly much, if not all, of the blame still rests on Dove for blatantly attempting to try to put the square peg of a 30-second ad into the round hole of a 3-second digital ad window.
So if long videos are too long and short videos are too short, what are we supposed to do? As marketers, it is on us to learn how to maximize the value that video offers. So how do we do it? We start by going back to basics.
Consider Your Audience
As with any marketing discipline, you need to have your audience in mind when you’re creating content. The same is true with video.
Maybe you have a new product that you need to explain to your audience. You have data saying that they are interested in information about new products from you, and they are used to seeing promotional content from you on social media. Maybe a longer video can work for you there. But that’s because you already know that your audience is interested.
The problem is when we just dump a two-minute video all about us into customers’ Facebook feeds. They are more likely to be there to see pictures of their friend’s newborn and share cat videos. They might not be too pleased to be distracted by a long video about your latest product.
At the same time, short video can work for you if it’s engaging to your audience. But just a short clip that doesn’t offer any utility to them will not help you achieve your marketing goals. No matter the length of your video, you have to have an understanding of your audience to make it work.
At the risk of tossing around an industry buzzword, this is where storytelling comes in. Once you know what your audience is looking for, you need a creative way to give that to them.
So your audience wants information about your new product. Great! Now how are you going to frame it? Well your audience is the hero, but they have an obstacle they are trying to overcome. Your product is exactly what they need to overcome their obstacle and reach their goal. There’s a great story full of drama and intrigue. But again, always understand that you aren’t the hero. It all goes back to your audience. But you can be exactly what your audience needs, and that can be a powerful way to use video to help both you and your audience achieve your goals.
Consider the Platform
The medium is certainly not the message. You need to have your audience and story figured out first. But when looking to leverage video content, you should at least consider the platform you’ll be posting it on. A video might play differently on Facebook than on Twitter, and audiences might engage with a video differently on LinkedIn than on Instagram. Keep in mind the platform as you’re crafting and preparing your video, and you’ll be set up for greater success.
Clearly, video has become a major tool for marketers. It is not going away. We need to understand the value it offers while also recognizing the potential pitfalls that are present. In an age of shorter attention spans, users are looking for short snippets of information. But long form content can still work if it is done well. For any video, if you keep your audience in mind, if you craft a compelling story and if you give thought to the platform you’re going to be using, you can have a great deal of success in using video for marketing purposes.
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