Meet Shreemi, the modern, earning, young consumer that many brand marketers are trying to influence. Every day, Shreemi spends a few hours online. She connects with her friends, searches for information, catches up with news and trends, shops, shares pictures and does many more things.
Reaching out to Shreemi online is a new found opportunity for the brand marketer. Every day, the marketer throws millions of display banner impressions, thousands of pop-ups, hundreds of SEM listings, mails and many branded apps at her. Not to forget, the attempts to get her to ‘like’ the brand page. Shreemi ignores most of it. She will not see what the brand marketer chooses to throw at her. Instead, she will choose what she wants to see and experience. It’s precisely this behaviour that is challenging for the marketer.
The online brand building is tough. The formats arrived with great promise and fanfare and were varied — display banners, rich media, social media applications, games and so on. This seemed exciting initially but created clutter for the consumer and confusion for the brand builder. Moreover, the success of some of these in brand building has either been limited or short-lived. What is happening? Which is the best format to go with? What formats are likely to engage the consumer? How can the digital consumer warm up to brand messaging?
Acquisition versus brand-building
The answer lies in the fact that the online world formats, which are good for ‘acquisition’ may be different from formats that are good for ‘sustained brand building’. Acquisition formats, including search, display, customised mailers, are targeted towards potential customers in the ‘purchase’ mode. This has moved to an advanced level in the last few years. The messaging is typically linked to offers, discounts, convenience, which help close a sale. Hence, they tend to be transactional in nature. Brand building engages customers ‘emotionally’ into the brand promise. In the process, it lifts the relationship much higher from a transactional purchase to an emotional bonding.
Now, in online brand building formats, videos are the new wave. In India, more than 70 per cent of online population is watching videos. Globally, online video marketing is popular. In 2011, the top brand video was ‘shared’ more than 4 million times. According to a leading digital report, in 2011, many ‘brand’ campaigns crossed the 10-million ‘viewed’ mark.
The real power
The power, however, does not necessarily lie only in the numbers. It lies in the fact that consumers have chosen to view and share these brand videos on their own. Which marketer wouldn’t want this? The power also comes from the fact that these views are shared ‘free’. The power lies in the “unlimited shelf life” that these videos have.
So, why are videos so popular? It’s because they are not intrusive. Worldwide, intrusive advertising is losing its sheen. Bombarding internet users with screens cluttered with banners, rich media, and screen take-over is giving just limited effectiveness. The user treats such clutter as intrusion and ignores them. So, while millions of impressions are getting served on a page, the user may not feel the brand impact.
In fact, ad avoidance has always been an integral and worrying part of the overall consumer media consumption behaviour. In the digital world, this avoidance becomes more acute. The screens are getting smaller (from PC and laptops to mobiles and tablets) and any intrusive ad on such small space can put off users. Also, the message does not choose the customer, it is vice versa. In such an environment, formats that have ‘viewer pull’ are likely to succeed more than other ‘push’ formats.
Videos entertain better: Videos have a unique capability that makes them entertaining, which, in turn, can add value to a brand’s equity. For the marketer, it is not enough that users choose to interact with the brand. The brand needs to leave behind an impactful post-interaction impression. It is here that videos turn out to be a rich medium in wooing users, leaving behind a distinct brand impression.
The secret lies in the power of audio-visual content. For years, marketers have loved advertising on TV because it could carry audio-visual content. With videos arriving on the scene, this magic can now also be created in the digital world. To me, online videos are TV++ because they can do much more than TV ads. They have no duration constraints, they are interactive, free-to-air, can be shared and have unlimited longevity.
Sharing brand information: In categories where information seeking is an integral part of consumer behaviour, videos can help in delivering complex information in an effective manner. Financial services, home decor & paints, automobiles, are some categories where videos can help in building brand equity. In categories like insurance, where the product experience is understated, videos can amplify the product benefits.
Creating a winning video: An analysis of some top-of-the-chart videos reveals only broad areas. Many successful videos have used humour, unexpected stunts and music in novel ways. Others have depended on topical events like Olympics, elections etc. Still others have used animations and sensual content. There isn’t a fixed formula and this makes it a great marketing challenge. This is because, at the core, being popular is not the end goal for a video. Instead, driving brand associations and brand impressions along a desired dimension is the goal for a brand video.
Each category and each brand objective has its own magic formula. Thus, a lifestyle energy drink trying to get attitudinal leadership is better off making high-adrenaline, cutting edge action videos. A family vacation brand could make aspirational videos to urge people to spend on leisure travel.
If creating an engaging video is an art, marketing it is a science. Videos require intelligent seeding, easy sharing ability, social integration, user promotions, to make them successful. There are threshold marks around the number of views that a video needs to cross in the first week of its launch. Most of these do not cost much money but require diligent planning by marketers.
The challenges that marketers face are production quality and costs, unpredictable ‘hit’ rate of content creation and a general discomfort around a non-TV brand presence. While production costs vary in India, sometimes the cost to make a high-quality video is similar to that of an ad film.
Presently, there is a very small space where quality meets affordability. One also needs to keep feeding new videos to the audience at regular intervals. All videos are not ‘pulled’ by the users and this builds constant pressure for new ones in the pipeline.
Marketers are also coming to terms with being comfortable with brand building without a TV presence. TV ads are known to be easily visible, though at a significant cost. Marketers will need to change this mindset.
A final word
The online consumer has changed the branding landscape. With consumers getting the power to choose, real marketing begins now. Brand building can no longer be facilitated through large spends alone.
Behaviour influencing content emerging out of a complex mix of real consumer insights, powerful imagination and intelligent technology will be the key to brand building. Videos are the right carriers of such content. That is why they are the new brand currency in the digital world.
SVP & Head - Marketing, ICICI Prudential Life Insurance Company