Developing a Better YouTube Strategy

May 29, 2014

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Ezra Fishman

Business Intelligence

Most of the companies I come across on YouTube are using the patented “video dumping ground strategy.” Someone in the company — maybe even you — is tasked with uploading every new website video and TV ad. The result is a small trickle of views, no new brand awareness, and lots of shoulder shrugging. This is not an effective YouTube strategy, but there is a better way.

Success on YouTube requires work and planning. Below are five questions that we could all benefit from answering before embarking on the YouTube journey.

1. Are your prospects on YouTube?

There’s no doubt that some of your prospects are on YouTube. I can state that pretty confidently without knowing anything about your business because YouTube reports over 1 billion unique users per month.

By and large, “internet user” and “YouTube viewer” are now equivalent terms. In other words, if your prospects use the internet, they most likely spend at least some time each month on YouTube. That said, as you start to research your prospective customers, it’s worth noting how much time they spend there and what they’re viewing.

2. What are your prospects watching on YouTube?

Simply knowing that your prospects are on YouTube still isn’t sufficient evidence that you should devote resources to this channel, and it certainly doesn’t give you any guidance on how to do so effectively.

I find an analogy helpful here: a significant percentage of Wistia prospects drive a car each month. Let’s call these folks roadway users. This is useful information for me as I try to build a profile of my typical prospect, but it doesn’t suggest that I should immediately invest in highway billboards, nor does it tell me where to put them.

We need to learn a lot more about the specific behavior of our roadway users if we’re going to leverage this channel effectively. The same is true of our YouTube users.

To start, we need to know what our prospects are currently watching on YouTube. For now, don’t worry about how it relates to your business or industry. Maybe they spend lots of time on YouTube watching NBA highlights. Cooking videos? Video game reviews?

Answering these questions requires some detailed knowledge of your target audience. The best way to get this information is simple: ask. Interview some of your customers and prospects to find out what they watch on YouTube.

Look for patterns and common trends. A good place to start is generally buyer personas or a similar system to classify your target audience into meaningful groups. Even a very basic categorization will help significantly if your prospects are as diverse as ours.

3. Can you make relevant content that they’re looking for?

To successfully harness YouTube for new discovery, you need to find the overlap between what your target audience is currently consuming there and what content you can and want to create. If you sell accounting software and your prospects are heavy YouTube users, but they’re only watching NBA highlights, you might be better off with an advertising-only strategy.

Simply uploading your website videos and hoping for the best is not good enough. No one is going to YouTube looking for your company testimonial. You can optimize keywords and descriptions ’till the cows come home, but you are not going to drive significant discovery with content that your prospects aren’t looking for. Instead, you should be making video content specifically to match the search intent of your prospects.

Is anyone on YouTube searching for videos about how great our company is? No.

I would focus my attention here on the things your target audience is trying to learn on YouTube. By and large, people go to YouTube for entertainment and education. For the average company, competing with Comedy Central, Red Bull, and music videos on the entertainment side is a losing battle. We can, however, compete on the teaching side.

These teaching videos will be most effective if they are related to your industry or field of expertise, but not your product in particular. In the case of Wistia, a video showing how to set up lighting for an interview is a good fit for YouTube, while a video explaining how to use our software is not.

This video itself is pretty mediocre. But it’s answering a question people are actually searching for on YouTube and has more than 45k views as a result.

4. How effectively can you use YouTube advertising?

If you are committed to growing brand awareness and getting new discovery on YouTube, you should almost certainly plan to supplement your organic efforts with YouTube’s paid advertising. YouTube advertising is self-service and there are no minimum budgets, making it accessible even for small companies.

Even if you can’t make relevant content for YouTube, you can still do advertising or retargeting there. Basically, you can follow an “advertise only” strategy.

Despite the attractive CPMs, many digital marketers struggle to see results from YouTube advertising because of the limited targeting options. You can target pre-roll ads (the most abundant of YouTube inventory) based on geography, basic demographics, broad interest areas, and specific videos or channels.

If you are a large B2C brand like Nike, these targeting options are probably sufficiently granular. Nike can target any female age 18–25, who is interested in athletics and living in the U.S., and feel relatively confident that the audience they are reaching consists of many prospective customers.

If you’re selling enterprise accounting software, however, you are going to struggle more with targeting. There isn’t a way to target CFOs or any other job function with YouTube advertising. Instead, you’ll need to spend more time looking at your buyer persona research. Maybe lots of people who buy enterprise accounting software also watch World of Warcraft videos on YouTube. Maybe they are mostly women aged 35–50 and living exclusively in Atlanta. And maybe not.

In the end, targeting your prospects as specifically as possible will always be the most efficient approach. If you’re targeting everyone in the LA area, you will likely hit many of your prospects, but you will also be paying for lots of useless impressions. Before launching your next YouTube advertising campaign, evaluate how precisely you can reach your audience with YouTube’s targeting options.

5. Do you need your prospects to reach your website?

This final question is designed to help you tie your efforts on YouTube to your broader business goals. After all, building a YouTube channel with lots of viewers and subscribers is only a means to an end.

YouTube is great for brand impressions, but is less effective if you are hoping to drive traffic directly to your website. The large B2C brands make a living keeping their product top of mind, increasing the likelihood that I buy their product on my next visit to the drugstore. YouTube fits neatly into this context because it’s another touch point with no immediate follow-up action required, very much like a TV ad.

If you’re looking for more than brand impressions, you are going to face a bigger challenge on YouTube. Much like a casino, YouTube is designed specifically to encourage viewers to stay put, consuming more videos and, subsequently, more ads.

You can certainly add links in your descriptions and video annotations, but getting a consistent flow of traffic is rare. Phil Nottingham of Distilled analyzed 95 of his clients’ YouTube channels and found an average referral rate to external sites of 0.72%. Take this into account as you establish goals for your YouTube channel.

YouTube as a marketing channel

Any place your prospects spend time and look for information has the potential to be a strong marketing channel for your business. YouTube is no different. However, translating that potential into tangible results takes strategic planning, lots of research, and solid execution.

Adding every video you make to YouTube (the “video dumping ground strategy”) is a popular, but totally ineffective, strategy. It’s equivalent to uploading every image from your website to Instagram or Pinterest. Sure, images are the currency required to play on those channels. But not any image will do.

Don’t just add videos to YouTube. Add videos to YouTube that your prospects are looking for and will be eager to consume there. If there are no videos that fit that description, YouTube is not a great channel for you. That’s okay. Find a channel that is better aligned and crush that one.

Ezra Fishman

Business Intelligence

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