Over the past year, digital publishers’ attempts to “pivot to video” have been met with everything from gut-level skepticism to traffic freefalls. Mashable – one of the first digital news brands to make this pivot – is rumored to be for sale, traffic to the hottest millennial-focused publishers is way down and in a 1300-word article for Columbia Journalism Review, Ladders’ Heidi Moore (an ex-Mashable editor) enumerates the potential problems when tactics are substituted for strategy.
None of this is to say video is a bad idea. But it’s a completely different skillset and mindset than text-and-graphic-based content.
The challenge of video also holds true for brands that don’t see themselves as publishers. In most cases, creating engaging video is easier if you’re an entertainment brand, but tougher if your brand is, say, a floor cleaner, luxury sunglasses or a maker of industrial shipping equipment. Wrestling with everything from creative to scalable process and inventory takes more knowledge than most brands have in-house and that’s before you even figure out how to get it seen on distributed platforms you don’t own or how to make sure your efforts are delivering in the long-term.
Here’s what to ask before you step in front of (or behind) the camera.
1. How will your brand balance its message with what’s interesting to viewers?
There’s nothing worse than meeting someone who can only talk about himself. Similarly, a brand that makes videos without considering the customer first might as well leave the party early.
Digital video should be a story, not a commercial. Viewers will come to you along all points of the funnel. Generally speaking, a brand story works best when it’s targeted to consumers at the top of the funnel, educational content works at the mid-point and specific, problem-solving content is most effective when someone is right at that conversion point.
The same brand strategy you apply to your social and written content applies here, too. Your current search traffic and social analytics are a good place to start to learn who your video consumer is and what they need.
2. What does your creative look like?
Even something as simple as a video blog requires a well-lit location with engaging visuals or talent. Sure, there are people watching Facebook Live videos that have all the production value of a dirty sneaker. But if you’re trying to convince people to buy from you, it helps to make something that looks like you spent a few dollars or hours on it. Or, to put it another way, don’t expect your audience to put in more effort watching something than you put into making it.
As far as talent goes, the smartest, most accomplished people in the world (or in your office) don’t always make for the best on-screen face of your brand. Can they get there with the right director? Maybe. But do you have that person on staff?
Even if you’re already producing video and have a team that knocks it out of the park with five-or-six-minute, documentary-style video, how will that play on social? A 30-second Instagram clip or a minute-and-a-half Facebook video that gets someone to stop scrolling and watch with the sound off is its own art.
3. How does your brand’s video identity work at scale?
Making a single video and paying a few influencers to try and get it to go viral isn’t going to do anything for you. Just like your other content, video will be an ongoing need over a specified period of time.
Balancing the quantity and quality of your video content takes a skilled set of producers and editors who can create work that embodies a campaign idea, but remains infused with enough variety to maintain consumer interest even if it’s all captured in a single shoot.
Production, equipment and staffing for video is part of what makes it so expensive. An iPhone as your camera and iMovie as your editing software is convenient for some things, but it’s an aesthetic that may or may not work for your brand. The simplest shoots still involve pre-production time. Keep in mind that every time you hire a crew or send yours out into the field you’re either incurring an accounting cost or an opportunity cost.
4. How is your content going to find its audience? And will they care?
Your audience isn’t sitting around waiting for you to drop a video into its Facebook feed. Understanding the various segments of your potential viewership and whether they’re more likely to watch via Facebook, Instagram or YouTube is key.
Plus, it can be tough to know which video metrics work best for you. For instance, do you want to optimize for completion rate or engagement? Which audience segment is more likely to deliver on that measure?
Unlike publishers who are still trying to wring the last drops of organic reach out of Facebook, most brands have accepted that Facebook is best used as a paid channel with incredible targeting abilities. You’ll just need to know what content should get served to whom.
5. How does video fit into your overall content strategy?
Some topics (like this one) are better covered in an article than a video. But video can be a powerful way to boost your overall brand’s visibility and authority.
Before you’ve even started to film a single frame, you need to understand the purpose of video within your larger content mix. Will this be a how-to video embedded in a larger article about a topic meant to drive search toward an eventual conversion? What kind of videos will make your email subscribers click through? Do you want to be nimble enough to crank out a social video around a trending topic or are you sticking with the tried-and-true long-tail strategy?
Pivoting to video implies it’s possible to jump right into it with a quick turn on your heel. It’s not. A successful video strategy can pay off, but only if you’re asking the right questions and taking the time to find the answers.
Scott Smith is TeamWorks Media’s Director of Editorial Content.
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