Online Video: The View From Mars

I was going to give my view of online video from 10,000 feet up -- but decided that was still too close. So let's back it up even further and take a look from Mars. Every day, I read stories declaring that online video is either the wave of the future, is already dominating the online marketing industry, is failing to live up to the hype, or that online video has stolen your wife or husband, run away to Barbados with half your money and is staying in your timeshare, drinking that bottle of Merlot you were saving for your 10th anniversary and smoking all of your best cigars. All of these can't be true, at least not all at the same time -- can they?

First off, let's assume that online video didn't run away with your wife or husband, but rest assured that if it did, the deed would likely be captured on video and posted online. Second off, I don't know anyone who smokes cigars anymore except for the Dos Equis Man. Third off, the reason for so many conflicting stories is that we're all measuring different things and addressing different predictions, expectations and results.



As an extreme example, a quick search of the term "online video marketing statistics," in just the last month, shows this result on Squidoo: "5 Amazing Statistics About Online Video Marketing" that cites a Coremetrics claim that "online video boosts sales by 35%." Click the source link and you're taken to, where a dated, 2007 article reads "Video Product Tours Result in 35% Increase in Online Sales Conversion,"  referring to a dated study conducted by SellPoint and Coremetrics. 

The original, broad-stroke claim really refers to a very specific type of online video (Active Product Tours) and the 35% increase in sales was measured using visitors to CompUSA, a very specific audience.

So, when we're projecting the future of online video, we really have to consider whether we're talking about all online video or talking about online video produced with the intention of selling more products and services. Are we talking about online video advertising? Online video marketing? Branded entertainment? Product videos? Viral videos? Event videos? Number of views? Engagement value? Post-click activity? Bottom-line sales?

Online video is not magic, it's not the next big thing and it's not going to replace anything. Online video is one slice of the larger online marketing pie that includes online advertising, social media, search, mobile and other disciplines that are all part of the even larger marketing pie that includes advertising, PR and sales.

We should all start thinking of online video marketing as something that can be integrated in various ways to help brands, businesses and organizations influence purchasing behaviors and sell stuff! That's it. 

To do this, start ignoring the broad-brush predictions and statistics and focus on what's happening now. If you are a marketing decision-maker, look at video marketing, social media and integrated online marketing campaigns that have worked -- and ones that haven't worked -- and make marketing decisions based on the bottom-line results. Then ask:

•           Did online video stand alone, or was it part of the campaign?

•           Was the campaign better off for having a video element?

•           Did the campaign rely too heavily on an online video component?

•           Was online video used to its maximum potential?

•           Was video an afterthought, or an integral part of the overall marketing strategy?

•           Was the overall marketing strategy an afterthought to the video?

•           Did video contribute to brand awareness?

•           And most importantly, did video help sell more stuff?

Online video is a tool -- and, I would argue, a tool of social media. Without a coordinated social media effort, or at least a freak mention on Tosh.0, videos live in a bubble, reaching no one and selling nothing. The sooner we all stop thinking of online video as a magic bullet, or a giant TV-killer and start thinking about the view from mars, the better and more effective video will get, and the faster online video marketing will grow.

4 comments about "Online Video: The View From Mars".
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  1. Sean Womack, March 15, 2011 at 1:49 p.m.

    David, good points about the dated info and thinking that surrounds online video today. But I have to disagree with you on your conclusions about online video as a component and not a driver of campaigns.

    There are a number of forward-thinking brands creating libraries of TV-quality, editorial video content and syndicating them to top publishers across the web as content and not advertising. They are being rewarded with millions of engaged audiences who are searching for the exact content they are providing.

    In this scenario, social media is indeed an important channel for distribution of the videos, but not to build awareness, it is the place they are viewing the content.

    As the branded editorial video category grows, we are going to see a significant shift in the way that brands think about video content -- away from the viral panacea and toward information-rich content that audiences are searching for (i.e. not the content farm junk).

  2. Ruth Barrett from, March 15, 2011 at 2:07 p.m.

    There are just some things that once they are here feel like they have been here forever, on earth I mean. Talkies in terms of films for example. That's the way I feel about moving pictures with sound on the Web. Why did it take so long? I would spend very little time measuring and a lot of time re-training folks on using moving images with sound to tell compelling, authentic and honest stories, like in the old days, when it was just assumed you would learn how to read and write so you could communicate in the most effective way possible - then.

  3. Jonathan Mirow from BroadbandVideo, Inc., March 15, 2011 at 2:09 p.m.

    Agreed - you can't define "online video" any more than you can define "broadcast TV" - it can be educational, offensive, entertaining, marketing / sales based etc. The thing that makes online video exciting (as opposed to traditional video) is the distribution channel - which has an unprecidented immediacy: things are picked up or ignored pretty quickly and cost is no longer an issue. Most recent excellent usage: Jen Aniston Smartwater video - 7 million views and counting.

    Video now plays an important role is SEO via the relationship of Google / YouTube / Facebook / Twitter - in fact, given 5 identical sites, the one with embedded video on YouTube rises to the top of the pick list. This is no small item.

    Two last points - re: Sean - "content farm junk" can be valuable: I found a video detailing how to change the oil in a 10 year old portable generator the other day. I watched it in my driveway on my Droid (doesn't TouchStorm "create libraries of TV-quality, editorial video content", could this be a shameless plug?) AND, point number 2 - I still like cigars, but I've often found online video sneaking cigarettes behind the shed.

  4. Richard Monihan, March 15, 2011 at 2:48 p.m.

    It's not about the medium. It's about the message.
    The only reason to say "Online video is the next big thing" is because it's growing so rapidly, and is so easily adopted by the younger generation (much like MTV was so easily adopted in the early years of cable).

    It doesn't matter, if you have a good message, if it appears online, on broadcast, or on cable. As long as the message is good and it's hitting your main audience, then you've done your job effectively.

    What makes online video somewhat more compelling are two main things:

    1. an audience that has actively decided to view the product of online video
    2. an audience which can usually be more easily defined than it can from a standard Nielsen demo chart.

    In the end, video is video regardless of the distribution platform, and the message still has to get delivered to the correct audience.

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