• December 1, 2009
  • By Jessica Tsai, Assistant Editor, CRM magazine

Video Is More Than Viral

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For the rest of the December 2009 issue of CRM magazine please click here.

Video may have killed the radio star, but it hasn’t been as lucky in its attempts to slay other marketing channels. Technology and bandwidth have been the stumbling blocks, but as the systems mature, the question can finally be asked: Can you truly connect with customers through video? 

Projections from eMarketer indicate online viewership will increase to 188 million by 2013 (representing 85 percent of Internet users), up from 135 million in 2008 (or just 70 percent). The firm projects online video advertising in the United States to rise from $1.1 billion in 2009 to $4.1 billion in 2013, with its share of overall online advertising spending rising from 4.3 percent to 11.0 percent in the process.

Credit for democratizing the medium for the masses belongs to YouTube, but at least one expert characterizes the typical YouTube video as “just a crapshoot” as far as marketing is concerned. For a few years, the monetization of choice for video involved “preroll”—short snippets that, as their name implied, would run before the selected video. In other words, marketers found themselves in front of people who had expressly clicked to watch something else. Even with the best kind of segmentation and predictive analytics, experts say, that was never going to be ideal. In fact, according to one estimate, less than 10 percent of the content on YouTube is eligible for preroll ads—the drop-off rate is too high. (See sidebar, “Rules for Running the Preroll,” page 39.)

“People don’t know if it’s worth it,” says Nate Elliott, a principal analyst at Forrester Research with 12 years in the interactive marketing space that includes rich media and video advertising. The channel, he says, has yet to live up to its potential. “Video hasn’t been a really useful part of online advertising,” he says. One problem, as is common with the early days of any innovation, is that the supporting technology hasn’t been up to the challenge. Slow Internet connections delivered footage displayed at one to two frames per second—an experience Elliott calls “abysmal.” 

Fast-forward to a world in which broadband connections are becoming the norm and not the exception, and everything has changed: Banner ads contain videos that expand into large, full-screen windows; television shows stream without freezing in the middle of a punchline; and businesses can demo all the features of a product. 

Viewers, meanwhile, seem to have a predictable set of priorities: According to a MarketingSherpa study cited by research firm eMarketer, respondents in four age groups listed the following adoption concerns in the same descending order of importance: quality of picture, speed of downloading/streaming, lack of interruptions, ease of watching on television screen instead of computer, and ability to watch high-definition television. 

Forrester’s Elliott says that if a preroll video is followed by an episode of, say, a favorite television series, most viewers are now willing to sit through it. (They’re less accommodating when the ad precedes a video titled “Funny Kid on Bike.” For that matter, advertisers and marketers don’t necessarily want to be associated with this unknown “Funny Kid.”)

In any case, Elliott says, online video’s growth won’t make the medium a threat to offline television any time soon. Offline spending may be decreasing, but video represents just a portion of the overall budget being shifted online. In fact, though spending in other offline mediums (namely print) is falling, Forrester sees television ad spend holding steady. 


But growth is the prevailing signal, and Benjamin Wayne, president and chief executive officer of video platform provider Fliqz, says online video is taking a larger role in the marketing mix. Just a year ago, Wayne says, companies typically restricted online video to a single spot where viewers could view everything in one place. In the last few months, video has emerged more frequently alongside text and images, becoming more seamlessly integrated into the homepage and throughout the site. 

As with any marketing medium, a video strategy can’t live in isolation. A multichannel strategy can go something like this: A company creates a white paper, then films a demo about the white paper, which is later uploaded onto YouTube. The video is then repurposed in a PowerPoint presentation at a sales meeting or trade show in addition to appearing in the weekly email newsletter, reaching those at their desks. Moreover, it’s embedded into the company’s daily blogpost, and the link is shared through a variety of social networks such as Twitter and Facebook. 

When Internet marketing software vendor HubSpot creates a video, Mike Volpe, the company’s vice president of inbound marketing, says the goal is to get the content “published out to as many places as possible.” The goal, naturally, is “to be found anywhere we possibly can.” Prior to joining HubSpot, Volpe was a marketer at a company that hosted more than a hundred videos on its site, garnering roughly a couple thousand views in any given month. Shortly after YouTube launched in 2005, Volpe had an intern upload every video onto the video-hosting site and soon its views on YouTube alone were nearing 15,000. “It was no new content,” he recalls. “We were just unlocking videos from our Web site.” 


Many companies are taking advantage of the same channels that are making it easier for consumers to upload video. Whereas video previously required heavy production costs, tools today allow users to create content that looks professional without the expense. 

Every Friday, for example, HubSpot TV cohosts Karen Rubin and Mike Volpe tape a 30-minute podcast on inbound marketing. Preparation for the show takes approximately an hour, with another 20 minutes of set-up before the show. Post-show editing and the insertion of an introductory segment takes 20 minutes more, and then the video is processed and made live. Some interviews with industry executives and experts, typically just videotaped conversations, require no more than five or 10 minutes of editing. 

In terms of distribution, YouTube remains the most visible destination for consumers and businesses alike. Rob Rose, vice president of marketing and strategy at Web content management solutions provider CrownPeak, says that while some companies prefer not to have the YouTube logo on their videos, that group is “definitely the exception.” However, other platforms like Blip.tv, available in beta, and Vimeo account for services YouTube doesn’t, such as hosting videos longer than 10 minutes, or in a different format besides Adobe Flash—Apple iTunes, for instance, can play .mp4, .m4v, and .mov video formats, but not Flash. 

Because of the variety of formats for creating video—depending on what recording device, software, hosting platform, or even computer (Mac or PC) is used—one obvious pain point is the absence of a seamless process. “It’d be great to be able to take a video, upload it to one place, and have it automatically convert to all the right formats and [transmit] everywhere in the world,” Volpe says, adding that he’d also like to see all of the stats feed into one central location.

Few experts see YouTube’s 10-minute rule as unreasonable. In fact, when it comes to video, shorter is often better: Few viewers are willing to sit through long clips, particularly in the B2B industry. “Let’s be honest with ourselves,” says David Thompson, chief executive officer of Genius.com, “B2B is always slightly more boring than B2C.” 

Still, that’s hardly an excuse to skimp on engagement through video—after all, any B2B buyer is always a B2C buyer. Pay attention to the cadence of your voice, your appearance. “In the B2B context, it’s about education,” Thompson says, “but every good high school teacher will tell you that if you’re not at least slightly entertaining, you’ll fail as a teacher.” Any video that can both inform and provide a little enjoyment will magnify its impact. [See one of this month’s Real ROI case studies, “On Your Marketing, Get Set, Go!,” page 44, for more on the sales value of video.] 


Founded in 2006, HubSpot didn’t begin its marketing efforts until the beginning of 2007. Any young start-up might be willing to try new things, but it certainly helped that the firm’s core premise involves innovative marketing strategies. In less than two years, HubSpot has accumulated a video library that ranges from Webinars to podcasts and informational videos to viral videos—among its first, in fact, was an interview with its chief executive officer, Brian Halligan. 

Most people are comfortable enough to have at least their voice in a video, but effectiveness will depend on how consumers want to best consume the content—not on whether your onscreen “talent” is camera-shy. For marketers dealing with executives prone to stage fright, or otherwise reluctant to participate, Volpe recommends starting out with a video that indulges the ego: Remind them that video can make them famous.

Any video that runs just five minutes could (and perhaps should) take hours to put together, and allocating the resources and time to do it right—from obtaining equipment, to writing a script, to finding the right representative—is critical. For each video, CrownPeak’s Rose says, you should have a unique objective—one you’ll need to define up front—and a well-defined process in place. “One audio file doesn’t mean you have a podcast, one blogpost doesn’t mean you have a blog, and one video doesn’t mean you have a video strategy,” Rose says. “You have to think through how you’re going to utilize and support all your assets.”  

Viral campaigns may require more of a production investment and a cast with at least tolerable acting talent. The importance of hiring someone who’s good in front of the camera, Volpe says, is “just like [hiring] someone that’s a good blogger, or someone good at sales.”


Fliqz’s Wayne points out that beyond the technological barriers, the expectations around video have shifted—or rather, expanded. Whereas before, people were daunted by the need to be “super creative,” that is no longer a prerequisite. Consumers are increasingly looking to video as a resource to help them complete a task (e.g., complete a tax return) or understand a specific message without having to sit through a whole song and dance. (See “Lights! Camera! Action!,” below, for more on how businesses are using video.) 

This isn’t to suggest that marketers should be swapping one style of video use for the other. “In 2009, when someone poses the question, ‘Are you creative or technical?,’ there’s no differentiation,” said Robin Sloan, online product strategist at independent media company Current TV, at the first User-Generated Conference and Expo in February 2009. “Everyone should be a hybrid.”

That said, there are tricks to be learned from the pure entertainment side of video. The short-attention-span syndrome demands that the video is attention grabbing within the first five to 10 seconds. However, as with any viral campaign, it’s difficult to predict what will win over the viewer. (See “The Cure for the Common Virus,” our October 2009 cover story, for more on viral marketing.)

At HubSpot, certain intended-to-be-viral videos flopped (such as a “Link Love” video that debuted in conjunction with Valentine’s Day), while others became instant smashes: “You Oughta Know Inbound Marketing,” for example—a parody of the Alanis Morissette song “You Oughta Know”—garnered 40,000 views in its first week. From this experience, Volpe assumes that viewers are more likely to relate to—and in turn, enjoy—creative materials they’re familiar with and that reflect existing materials or trends, rather than content that’s too original. Moreover, a fast-paced, music-video–like quality with constantly shifting imagery seems to be a plus, Volpe says. “People can always rewind if they don’t know what’s going on, but you don’t want to lose people because it’s too slow.” 

The general rule of thumb? Create videos viewers want to see, not what your company wants them to see—and definitely avoid branded commercials. Of the four online events HubSpot produces each month, three explicitly mention the company and feature HubSpot products and services, but registration for the fourth one typically runs four to five times higher. Still, marketing experts encourage incorporating a clear call-to-action in your video—or, as Fliqz’s Wayne suggests, somewhere around it, since you can’t rely on people making it to the final frame.

In the case of HubSpot’s “You Oughta Know Inbound Marketing” video, viewers did last through the final frame. The video concluded with no mention of the company, just a screen showing the words “inbound marketing” being typed in a Google search box. HubSpot—which pops up as the second result (behind Wikipedia)—saw searches for the term quadruple. Volpe contends that people are actually “more curious than you think,” prompting at least a number of people to find out who’s behind a viral video, even if there wasn’t a direct call to action. 

Even so, Genius.com’s Thompson says videos should be short, actionable, and visual. If you’ve got the video down to two minutes, break it up into 30-second bites, and make sure each segment conveys something highly actionable. 


Despite its growing popularity, video continues to be a difficult medium for measurement, especially when attempting any direct connection to actual sales figures. When Genius.com ran a video campaign to promote a July 2008 Webinar, the company saw 300 people register for the event. Of those, only 150 actually attended, but 25 percent of them became marketing-qualified leads, with three converting to sales opportunities—and one eventually signed a deal. Video’s direct, standalone impact, however, remains unknown. 

HubSpot measures the number of views on its videos and the amount of traffic the video brings back to the Web site. Webinars are by far the most valuable video asset HubSpot uses, because everyone who registers provides contact information, is interested in the topic, and tends to tune in longer. In terms of return on investment, Volpe says that, for Webinars, the “R” translates more into qualified leads and sales, while the “R” for other video properties may be more along the lines of buzz and brand building, with fewer direct leads or sales.

A year ago, clients were asking about what video technologies were available; this year, Wayne is seeing ROI become the more-pressing question as video increasingly becomes part of the marketing conversation. “People are getting smarter and asking harder questions of the video providers,” he says. Measuring viewer engagement is now an old metric (e.g., 20 percent of viewers stop watching at 30 seconds), but when marketers are asked how that impacts their business, many are at a loss. 

Wayne says clients are looking at metrics other than engagement: how releasing a video attached to certain keywords drives an extra thousand clicks to the homepage, or how keywords placed on a certain social networking site affect the final sale.

“Unless you’re a big media company trying to sell advertising, [engagement metrics] aren’t that meaningful,” he says. “How [the metric] is going to get me new customers—that’s meaningful.” 

SIDEBAR: Restricted for Mature Audiences

Uploading a video onto YouTube may take only a few minutes, but for the most part, it’s still a platform primarily for consumer—as opposed to corporate—use. “It was built to get as much traffic as possible [and to provide] easy access to content,” says Guillaume Cohen, chief executive officer and founder of enterprise video service provider Veodia. Sometimes, however, companies may want just the opposite. For the same reasons marketers use video as a medium to reach audiences far and wide, Cohen says some companies want to leverage video but are concerned about the security measures.

Platforms such as Veodia’s host sensitive content that can’t be easily accessed by outside parties, enabling users to create content that lives within existing departments and processes. For instance, if salespeople are using a CRM platform, Veodia allows them to stay on that platform to create a video, rather than having to log into another system. “It’s important to make people more efficient in their daily activities,” Cohen says, arguing in favor of solutions that make video creation extremely accessible—not just technologically, but as a medium of communication. Companies should be allowed to share something over video, he says, without having to “care if their hair is not perfect.”

SIDEBAR: Rules for Running the Preroll

Consumer’s don’t like preroll ads—actually, consumers don’t like any type of ads. “Of course consumers don’t want to see advertising, but they understand the trade-off,” says Nate Elliott, principal analyst at Forrester Research. “And most of them are very willing to make that trade-off.”  

When customers are asked whether they’d accept advertising in exchange for free online content, versus ad-free content delivered through a viewer-paid model, the response is 2:1 in favor of the free, ad-supported content. (Elliott argues that the ratio is likely higher given the fact that many people who claim they’re willing to pay often fail to do so in reality.)

According to Forrester, preroll advertisements will cost any given Web site less than 5 percent of video traffic, and most companies report upwards of 80 percent of their viewers watch all the way through. The 20 percent that don’t certainly aren’t negligible, but Elliott adds in the fact that on average, 10 percent of people abandon any online video, regardless of whether or not there’s an ad there at all. So advertising certainly does increase the drop off rate, but not as much as people may think. 

So even though prerolls are a generally accepted practice in online video, there are certain guidelines to follow in order to avoid burdening, or worse, driving away, your viewers.

According to Elliott, an appropriate advertisement frequency for preroll videos is typically one after every 2.5 content clips. Elliott recommends that if one ad for every 2.5 videos is the average, companies should start conservative, with one ad for every three or four videos—or even one in 10, he says—just to get a feel for what the audience is like, then adjust accordingly. It’s best to be conservative at first and then incorporate more advertising as you go. 

In addition to ad frequency, Elliott stresses the importance of ad length. Online consumers, he says, typically complain most about 30-second spots—but those are far less common than they once were, with the average advertisement now running roughly 16 seconds. 

Finally, creative ad rotation is a requirement on the part of the publisher. “It’s a terrible experience for the user to see the same preroll advertisement five times in a row,” Elliott says. Not only is it annoying for the user, but it’s ineffective and wasteful for the advertiser. 

Therefore, Forrester recommends that advertisers give publishers at least two to five different creative executions, which may include a mix of 15- and 30-second spots. Publishers, then, should not only examine the idea of including different creatives, but the ability to rotate among different advertisers as well. 

The situation can often default to a numbers game, Elliott says: Any given advertiser might end up paying a higher per-thousand rate, but any viewer-repelling repetition of creative material will likely make the lower-cost option substantially less effective as well. 

SIDEBAR: Lights, Camera, Action! How Businesses Are Using Video

  • Replicate television advertisements online through prerolls, in-stream ads, on video destinations such as Hulu.com, NBC.com, and YouTube. 
  • Insert video into existing Web content, such as blogs, social networks, and banner ads. 
  • Foster a community of user-generated videos and ask users to pass their videos to their friends and invite more contributors. 
  • Create product demonstrations for new or existing products, which is particularly helpful for software companies that can take advantage of screen sharing.
  • Help users answer commonly asked questions through a video how-to guide or refresher course.
  • Train and educate employees. 
  • Connect a global company through internal corporate communications set up behind a firewall.
  • Engage prospects and customers through casual, “about us” videos that add a human touch to the organization. 
  • Enhance marketing via efforts that are both multichannel (Forrester reports that, given the competition, video is about 50 times more likely to appear on the first page of search-engine results than any given text page is) and cross-channel (e.g., use video to liven up previously one-dimensional emails). 

Sources: Guillaume Cohen, Veodia; Nate Elliott, Forrester Research;  Rob Rose, CrownPeak; Benjamin Wayne, Fliqz

SIDEBAR: Short Vids for the Small Biz

In just under nine minutes—purposely avoiding YouTube’s 10-minute maximum—Jim Kukral, a business Web coach, decodes the massive YouTube landscape to explain how companies can best use video to help the small-business user:

Create an Account: Your username will also be your channel name, which then shows up onscreen as www.youtube/username. Make sure you will want to keep it forever as you will never be able to change it again.

Upload a File: Make the Title, Description, and Tags specific to the video and your business. These keywords will be crawled by YouTube, Google, and other search engines, so apply the same rigor to these words as you would with search engine optimization.

Engage with Viewers: In “My Videos,” YouTube allows you to create “Annotations” similar to popup bubbles that give users a call-to-action (e.g., “Click here for more videos”). You can see statistical information regarding where your videos were watched and where they’re being embedded. 

Kukral points out that YouTube is essentially a social network. Users can rate, “favorite,” comment on, and subscribe to your videos, which can enhance the popularity not just of the videos, but of your company as well. To do so successfully, however, you should also be prepared to engage actively in the community and with content produced by others. 

Contact Associate Editor Jessica Tsai at jtsai@destinationCRM.com.

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