The No. 1 Thing You’re Forgetting About Video Storytelling Could Sink Your Brand

Opinion: Pure entertainment can hurt your returns, but so can aggressive messaging

Test many different approaches to find the most effective balance between entertainment and information Ildo Frazao/iStock

Last December, Adweek profiled Graham Nelson,  Vox Media’s branded content division leader. If you read it, you probably got pulled into the accompanying video created for MailChimp , and you probably now understand a lot more about a myth claiming that dinosaurs had a second brain in their backsides.

It’s an entertaining video—silly, informative, aesthetically pleasing. At four-and-a-half minutes long, it’s a roundabout way for this email marketing provider to sell its “second brain” services, but it hits on many of the best practices more brands need to learn if they’re going to stay competitive in today’s social media and mobile-driven environment.

As people make a decisive shift toward consuming most messages on their mobile devices and in their social media feeds, marketers, brands and advertising professionals must change the way they tell brand stories. Unfortunately, many are addressing this transition all wrong, especially when it comes to mobile video.

How people view video content in a mobile environment should dictate the creation of brand content and determine the direction of every story arc. Within that mandate, there are four facts every marketer should keep in mind:

A smartphone is a vertical device

When consumers grab their smartphones, they hold them vertically. This is a basic, well-known fact, yet it has failed to change the way many creative teams build videos that are most likely to be consumed on mobile devices.

When brands fail to build within a video format that matches the preferred vertical aspect of smartphones, they create unnecessary friction for prospects.

Does it matter? On average, consumers decide within three seconds whether to swipe or stay on any digital asset. Three seconds isn’t much time to deliver content that will get a prospective customer to stop swiping and start watching what’s on their screens.

When format can be the first factor in this near-instant decision-making process, it’s important to format for aspect ratio, as well as length preferences.

Consumers see audio as optional

It takes an extra step to pump up the volume on videos in a social media stream, and plenty of consumers skip that step. Don’t ignore such behavior patterns. Create videos that work regardless of sound.

For example, if you’ve created a vertical video (see above), try splitting the screen, using the top half for footage and the bottom half for a graphic overlay. Brands can also use on-screen text to convey their messaging, instead of relying on closed captioning.

Working within the limitations and opportunities of mobile and social norms, marketers must use ad space in a more dynamic fashion than other formats allow.

Personalized content is the new normal

Mobile-oriented consumers are used to increasing levels of personalization, and messages that miss the mark stand out—but not in a good way. Marketers need the tools to recognize where each individual is in the customer lifecycle, to target audiences appropriately and to create dynamic video content that meets the needs of multiple audiences of one.

If, for example, your viewer just bought a car from you, the video likely to grab his or her attention is not one asking them to make a purchase. However, you could build on your retention strategy with that customer by delivering a video that teaches them some basic vehicle maintenance, or a video that gives them a tour of features in their new ride.

Recognize the right message for a consumer at the right point in time, and target audiences with content specifically relevant to them.

We all want to be entertained and informed

What does all of this have to do with the dinosaurs I mentioned above? Well, no one wants to stop scrolling through his or her Facebook feed to watch a sales pitch, especially when there are so many channels delivering such a steady stream of marketing messages.

The new norms of digital video require brands to create innovative storytelling that stands out from the clutter. MailChimp’s dinosaur video is an effective example for marketers eager to reach mobile-driven audiences. Adweek credited it with capturing “the lost element of whimsy”—something mobile-first publishers like Vox have stressed.

Yes, the video is selling something. But it does so while recognizing that consumers are people, and people crave entertainment, even when they’re looking for information.

As you strive to strike the balance between messaging and entertainment, remember that neither end of the spectrum is a desirable place for brands to be. Pure entertainment can hurt your return on ad spend, but so can aggressive messaging. Consider the range of informational content types people consume on social—from explainer video to listicles—and tap into that editorial approach in your creative process.

Experiment with different story arcs like a burst, in which you front-load the video with the brand message and then continue with the entertainment. Or create a boomerang arc by using repetition through the video. Try a classic linear storytelling pattern. Test many different approaches to find the most effective balance between entertainment and information.

Today’s video technologies set the stage for marketers and advertising professionals to influence with every video, but creative is still key. Brands win when they organically build their messages into content, deliver it in the format audiences want and reach them in their preferred channels at the most relevant moments.

Guy Atzmon is vice president of creative and industry solutions at personalized video platform SundaySky.