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The future of video: Will native be the answer?

Once upon a time, there was no such thing as a chief content officer. Similarly, there were no content strategies, content marketing plans, or thousands of experts, large and small, dedicated to concepting, writing, producing and distributing content. For each of these, we can thank video and the platforms through which we deliver it.

If the rise and rise of video has done nothing else, it’s given a boost to employment across the branding and advertising industries. Of course, it has done more. Video content has allowed brands to break out of the 15” and 30” TV spots which underpinned brand storytelling for decades, and provided the opportunity to connect with audiences across a multitude of platforms and in a multitude of ways.  The popularity of video – from both industry and consumer alike – confirms video as the flagship format in today’s advertising. 

While down from its peak of 36% growth in 2014, global growth for video remains at an impressive 20%.  Yet, such backsliding doesn’t appear to be occurring in the Asia Pacific region, where investment in video continues to rise. But while video is continuing to expand as a format, the platforms through which we deliver it and the ways we use it are not. A handful of distribution points and even less formats dominate the video trading marketplace. Much of this is to do with the audience which certain platforms can reach, but are we putting all our eggs in too few baskets?

To make full use of new opportunities, a paradigm shift needs to happen: advertisers can’t be afraid to move beyond what they know, or to do better at what they’re already doing now. And in many ways, the conditions are ripe, with technology evolving to such an extent that it has made things far more accessible for brands in relation to utilising video. 

For many advertisers, the extent of their video advertising strategy starts and ends with YouTube, and it really is not hard to see why we put so much stock in it. After all, one of the main draws of YouTube is its incredibly broad reach, particularly in the Asia Pacific region. Beyond reach, the sheer amount of time spent on the platform is also noteworthy. For instance, just under 16 million Australians spent almost 22.5 hours per person on YouTube in June 2018. But for brands to really take advantage of the power of video, several things need to be considered:

  • How will my audience most wish to consume video content? Short, long, as pre-roll, as informative, as entertaining or for discovery, and so on.
  • What is the brand’s need and what is the role of video in the purchase cycle? To inform, to introduce a new product, to shift perception, to maintain brand identity, to achieve reach and impact or to drive engagement?
  • Through which platforms or format is it best served? Social media, ad units, pre-roll, native, etc.
  • What is my measure of success? Completed views, on-journeys to site or purchase, reach and awareness through completed views, time spent, or perhaps something else?

Long gone are the days when our options were limited to skippable and non-skippable, 15 or 30 second pre-roll ad formats. Long-form formats, for instance, lend themselves perfectly to a story-telling approach, ideal for the advertiser looking to build brand affinity. In fact, so popular is long-form that the likes of Instagram have now also expanded into long videos, placing it in direct competition with YouTube, while some brands have also started experimenting with other forms of long-form content, like video series.

Brands are becoming increasingly adept at understanding the role content can play in each stage of the purchase funnel and consumer journey. This draws together the often-chaffing intersection of creative and media, as it requires each to appreciate the story that needs to be told and through which medium to a particular audience segment. For example:

  • The upper funnel, usually concerned with reach and awareness, can be addressed with pre-roll and bumper ads across catch-up TV, ad networks, YouTube and social, or in-page.
  • The middle funnel, where consideration is at play, can offer long form videos, or even simply use video as a mechanism for grabbing attention before acting as a gateway to a deeper brand experience, something Exponential offers via its VDX Engage units. Native might offer the same.
  • The lower funnel, at which point we look to drive conversion or action, requires us to link content strategies to the best audience data, attribution models and ROI imperatives we can find.

The last point is perhaps the one which will come under the most scrutiny in the coming 18 months. The linking of video and data to drive efficiency and ROI has been largely left alone, mostly because the function of video has overwhelmingly been branding, but for other reasons too.

In the area of general pre-roll, data has not offered the granularity of its display-based counterpart. For every video player out there, the internet offers thousands of pages across which data can be gleaned and cookies valued. Additionally, the mechanisms for buying video do not always adhere to performance focussed outcomes. Buying models like completed views act to build brand and drive awareness, not necessarily conversions.

The next frontier in digital video will likely look to close this gap and ensure that video content is placed in front of the audience most likely to convert, thus joining the dots between brand-based awareness and conversion-driven performance. If that’s the future, the now seems to be owned by native. Native’s goal is to seamlessly integrate brand content into publisher content so as to be almost indistinguishable (though publishers are mostly obliged to call out the fact that it is paid content). Whilst it is an art to deliver an experience which doesn’t play the audience for suckers, in a moment of pre-roll fatigue, native is finding popularity.

Regardless of the platform or the execution, video overwhelmingly strives to achieve one thing: audience engagement. How this is defined or is bought varies, but overall, we can describe this as an attempt to foster time spent between brand and audience. Video does this best because it is more attention grabbing, more impactful, and acts as a better tool for story-telling and information distribution. It is exactly why so much emphasis has been placed on it, and why marketing departments are reconfiguring to include specialists.

Video is the format which all of us – brand and audience alike – can agree on. It will continue to dominate our media touchpoints moving forward and, for that reason, it is imperative brands understand the opportunities it can provide and the solutions in which it can be housed. Perhaps this is really where our attention should be focused.

The writer is Tyler Greer, director of global sales strategy, Exponential.

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