One of my dearest friend’s youngest daughter, London, once asked me to take her to several stores for slime ingredients. Why did this happen? She had watched several how-to YouTube videos on slime.
She may be ten now, but she’s on the cusp of a generation that uses YouTube for more than how-to’s. She watches it to find her favorite music videos and — most importantly — her favorite programs.
That last point is especially crucial in today’s social media context. Live streaming has grown popular among YouTube, Instagram, and Periscope users. But YouTube holds the most promise for marketers, not least because its additional status as the second largest search engine raises its analytics value as well.
YouTube’s content creators are providing programming rivaling that of television and cable. For example, Issa Rae gained fame producing a popular web series on YouTube called “The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl.” Rae now produces an HBO series, Insecure. There are other popular YouTubers covering a wide range of subjects such as style expert Michelle Phan, parody and comedy entertainer Markeplier, and UK gaming entertainer Dan The Diamond Minecart.
Add a trove of popular informational videos alongside that burgeoning entertainment roster, and you have essentially a network that can retain people’s attention — on demand and/or on-the-go. Given the currents state of fragmented customer attention, a platform that holds a mobile audience is extremely attractive. According to , YouTube reaches more 18-49 year olds than any broadcast or cable TV network. And this achievement is heavily based on mobile consumption, meaning a reach to that coveted on-the-go crowd. Moreover, paid programming faces a downward trend. By 2025, half of viewers under 32 will not subscribe to pay-TV services.
YouTube also holds the most analytics promise for linking viewing to sales. Click-to-buy features such as TrueView ads have been available on YouTube since 2015. TrueView ads are a type of Google Ad that appear before, during, or after a video, providing a clickable offer during video playback. The ads were initially designed to complement the video subject. With the growing variety of creator videos uploaded to the platform, YouTube now has a capability of altering how products and services are advertised alongside a televised series.
For example, a retailer working with a social media influencer can plan an “in-store” offer to appear with an influencer’s YouTube video. The ad can direct an audience viewing on a smartphone or tablet to a landing page. The analytics reporting associated with the landing page can highlight user engagement with the offer, while viewers can enjoy their favorite program. Contrast that idea with traditional television, which uses ratings to demonstrate commercial value, and marketers can appreciate how YouTube generates the opportunity to more deeply relate engagement to conversion.
Google has recognized this potential by adjusting YouTube Analytics reports to focus on watch time — a metric defined as an amount of aggregate time that viewers are watching videos in your channel. The reports monitor related metrics — impressions, click-through rate, views, and viewer watch time. Watch time is positioned as a primary metric: YouTube uses it in its algorithm to optimize search results for videos with growing watch time.
Marketers can also choose additional reporting platforms to show how playback activity on YouTube is linked to consumption of other media, or correlated with other campaigns. Google Data Studio provides a plug-in to incorporate YouTube metrics into a dashboard, displaying them alongside data from other sources. There are also libraries within R programming that can import YouTube data into a R script for use in an advanced statistical model, such as a marketing mix model or a regression.
YouTube’s growing importance to marketers highlights some key challenges. When working with influencers, marketers must ensure their brand is appropriately aligned with influencer content; That effort includes auditing ad campaigns to ensure that the content reinforces the product or service message advertised. This minimizes the risk of using influencers who make offensive remarks or content. (To review brand risks that have arisen from online associations, read this post on affinity ethics in branding.)
But marketers should now be focusing on YouTube as a central element in digital marketing and social media strategy. The generational appeal to young consumers as a go-to platform, combined with the trend of moving from TV to online viewing, means YouTube will grow in importance as a channel to gain attention for products, services, and brands.