One of my favorite subreddits is r/YouTubeHaiku. On this discussion board, people curate and comment on videos that have have runtimes shorter than 14 seconds. There are uploads that last up to 30 seconds, but they’re referred to as video “poetry,” not video “haikus.”
Videos shorter than 14 seconds can often feel irreverent, disturbing, or evocative, simply because they don’t offer any context. One of my favorites is this clip of a Greek Orthodox baptism ceremony (which looks pretty intense for the baby), cut with audio from The Big Lebowski.
Why is this such a great video haiku? It begins with action (baby being dunked in holy water), and within just a few seconds, the conceit of the joke is obvious. The baby is Lebowski, and the priest is interrogating him. By the time you’ve realized what’s happening and you begin to laugh, the video’s over. This short runtime encourages a replay, and it’s exactly the kind of weird dissonance that would inspire me to share in a group text.
Now, I’m not telling marketers to start putting Coen brothers audio on weird clips they find online, but I am asking you to borrow a few tactics. Video, whether from Reddit meme-lords or media companies, is the backbone of the internet. You shouldn’t forge ahead into video production without analyzing what the greats have done before you.
Here are 10 tips for video marketers, straight from movie studios, pop stars, mainstream publishers, and media companies.
1. Create video you’d actually want to see
We often counsel brands to value customer experience over intuition. However, before you start creating a video strategy, you should still take some time to prioritize yourself and your team. When you’re brainstorming, try to think of videos you would actually watch if they came from somewhere else.
Allow yourself to get a little weird too. This is the internet, after all. If you’re into something, odds are you’re not alone. W Magazine took a chance with its ASMR Interview series, and by challenging celebrity guests to create beloved cult content, the video team found a few unexpected gems. Rapper Cardi B, it turns out, is a fantastic ASMRtist, as evidence by her W ASMR video, which has almost 25 million views. If someone on W’s team hadn’t already been an ASMR fan, they wouldn’t have known to pitch the series.
2. Make different cuts for different social platforms
It’s a good rule of thumb to avoid uploading long videos to social channels. People scrolling through feeds aren’t likely to stop and watch something 10 minutes long. If it looks good, they’ll either click through to your site or save it for later.
Use social to drive readers to your site. Post flashy images or “sizzle reels” from your video product and encourage those curious to hit the “link in bio,” if you’re on Instagram. You can put the link right in the post on Twitter or Facebook.
Chopping up video in different forms for social distribution is a strategy used by modern pop stars and movie studios alike. You can see how Taylor Swift’s social media team prepped for the release of her 2019 single “You Need to Calm Down.” Before dropping her music video, Swift posted eight still shots, one short clip, and one GIF from the video to her Instagram. Her team also evidently distributed this text-based clip to all the guest stars in the music video, and they each posted it to their feeds in the hours leading up to the release.
— Ellen DeGeneres (@TheEllenShow) June 16, 2019
If you’re launching a video campaign that your team is especially proud of, borrow a page out of Taylor Swift’s book (as bedazzled as it is) and get your stakeholders involved in promotion. Hand them the assets they’ll need, and produce these assets by chopping up your primary video.
3. Action and dialogue in the first three seconds
Although you should make video with your target audience in mind, you can’t create video hoping that every viewer gives you undivided attention. Your target audience won’t be settling into a home theater with a beer and no extra devices, ready to focus solely on what you’ve made. Realistically, they’re watching on their phone on the subway, or they’re scrolling on their office desktop while picking at a salad.
For this reason, you don’t want to start off with a company logo or some unnecessary filler. Viewers are supposed to care about the story in the video more than the source. You can simply drag that logo to the end of the video and leave it there.
The first few seconds of any video are prime real estate. Just look at how all movie studios now place five seconds of flashy action before every trailer on YouTube. It’s like a mini trailer for a trailer, which is a condemnation of our shrinking attention spans, but don’t think about it too long. It’s just the reality of the internet now, and your brand needs to create accordingly.
4. Give your video series time to take off
There’s an understanding among publishers of comic books and serialized novels that stories with several installments can take time to ramp up. That’s especially true in TV, where shows, even ones with significant hype, build up a viewership over time thanks to word of mouth.
You can see the lasting effect in this graph depicting Game of Thrones viewership:
When you’re creating episodic video in a series, you want to wait until the third installment to figure out your ROI. Then you can decide whether you want to axe the project or green-light more episodes. In short, give people a chance to get on board.
5. Cultivate an audience by listening to what they have to say
One great example of a video campaign that addresses the audience’s desires directly is Wired’s Autocorrect Series. The conceit is simple: Celebrities answer the most popular questions about themselves that people type into Google. That’s it.
It’s a genius formula: Beloved celebrity + exclusive on-camera interview + only the questions average people want answered. It works because Wired values search data over editorial opinion.
When you’re in the drawing board stage, be conscious of digital habits. Make note of the angles and styles that give you pause. Keep in mind, even if you’re working for a B2B brand, your target audience is ultimately people. They may be watching your videos about software or business solutions, but they still need to be entertained.
6. Showcase your best on-camera talent, not your execs
Although GQ certainly has a robust team of editorial strategists, writers, and hosts, the men’s lifestyle publication often outsources its video content to hosts who can explain things with optimum charisma and insight.
GQ could have had its film editor or pop culture reporters break down actor Jon Hamm’s career on camera, but that video would never have gotten as much traction as the alternative. In GQ’s popular video series, actors and creators comment on their own resumes and portfolios, which makes for a far more interesting trip down memory lane than a critic’s round-up.
7. Figure out what your competitors are doing and do it better
It’s a dog-eat-dog world out there, and every dog knows how to use Final Cut Pro. To get ahead, check out the multimedia offerings of your competitors and one-up them.
them, a queer publication from Conde Nast, nabbed the drag makeover series idea from Logo, the queer television network. When the drag queen reality competition series
RuPaul’s Drag Race was originally airing on Logo (it later moved to Vh1 for Season 6), Logo had a complementary web series called “Drag Makeup Tutorial.” In that series, contestants from Drag Race take viewers step by step through their face-painting process. The videos were loosely based on YouTube’s popular make-up tutorial trend.
Conde Nast did Logo one better when it launched “Drag Me,” a video series in which Drag Race contestants make-over other celebrities using their signature styles. This way, viewers get to see their favorite contestants in drag as they show off their make-up skills. They get the bonus of seeing more celebrities undergo the drag transformation. It’s a pretty clear improvement on the original.
8. Optimize for mobile and use closed captions
NowThis, one of the most successful social video production companies, understands the value of catering to mobile viewers. Most of the company’s snippet-long videos are set to stock music, and they loop original footage alongside stock and archival clips.
Ideally, you’d watch the videos with the volume on to digest all the info. However, they’re designed to be accessible even if you’re scrolling on your phone with no headphones too. Every brand that distributes content on social media should take note.
— NowThis (@nowthisnews) June 17, 2019
9. Stick to ideas that inspire strong emotions
The Dodo, owned by Group Nine Media, is another video production company that specializes in social feeds. The Dodo team produces videos about animals, including wildlife, domesticated farm animals, animal rights, and everything related to pets.
Their content is optimized to be as emotionally resonant as possible. Most videos feel like someone chemically engineered them to make you feel giddy or furious. When it comes to The Dodo and emotional stories, there is no in-between.
10. Carve out a space for exclusivity
In addition to on-camera interviews and music explainers, Pitchfork sends reporters to sold-out concerts and posts the stylized footage on its YouTube channel. The publisher knows its audience. If you’re a regular Pitchfork reader, you’re probably into under-appreciated bands who aren’t playing arenas yet, which means you’re a great candidate to watch concert footage.
By securing the rights to concert footage and uploading it, Pitchfork makes itself into an exclusive destination for visuals that would otherwise require travel, ticket money, and the strain of standing in a crowded mosh-pit for four hours. In this way, they’re providing viewers with new value that’s difficult to access, which builds trust and commands authority.