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Brands on YouTube: Hits and Misses


Brands on YouTube: Hits and Misses


Viral videos are still largely a mystery. Why a South Korean music video has been viewed over half a BILLION times in less than 3 months is beyond me. It's a catchy tune, yes. And the parodies have been oodles of fun. But over 500M times? I doubt anyone would have predicted that. Justin Bieber still reigns with his Baby video, which should reach 1 Billion views by the end of this year, but PSY is catching up in record time.

But while viral videos are often a one-hit wonder mystery (Chuck Testa, Double Rainbow Guy, Charlie Bit My Finger, etc) and are largely due to luck (funny/interesting/surprising content + right place + right time + slow news day), there is another realm of YouTube that has more predictable results: content channels.

Content channels are the YouTube producers that provide regular programming with deep, long-term engagement. They have loads of subscribers who tune into their videos on a daily or weekly basis, watching, commenting, liking and sharing videos on a consistent basis. And though some of these channels were jump-started by a single viral video, many of them were built over time by engaging their audience and following some well-publicized best practices on YouTube (highly recommended download).

Though these best practices, tips and tricks are readily available, I've been surprised to find that many brands that are dying to engage in the power of YouTube ignore or avoid this advice altogether, opting instead for big advertising spends and vanity plays. When I say vanity plays, I'm referring to the tendency for brands to invest more in branding than they do in long term engagement. A fully customized YouTube channel page, for instance, has a price: a major advertising investment (in the US, having a vanity page could cost you $200,000 ad spend + the cost of customizing the page). That's a whole lot of money in lieu of engagement.

So, what are some of these best practices? They are pretty simple:

  1. Create great content that's unique, compelling and engaging (informative or entertaining)
  2. Use the first 10 seconds of your video to grab attention: if you are posting a how-to video, show the results before you go into the spiel
  3. Post on a consistent basis: one video won't do it, and uploading a whole whack of videos at once won't do it either.
  4. Post fresh content on a regular basis: record, post, interact, get feedback, use that feedback to improve your next video. Repeat! The most powerful part of YouTube is the interaction. The best video bloggers listen to their audience and incorporate questions and requests regularly.
  5. Use great thumbnails (show the end result or the best snap of the video), tag well, title descriptively and use annotations and information to your advantage


For this analysis I'm focusing on beauty because there are MULTIPLE categories for multiple viewers on YouTube and beauty is not only one of my favorites, but the area in which I have spent most of my analysis. Music, comedy, travel and gaming are areas in which brands and independents are mixing quite well at the moment. Fashion and beauty are still laggards. And, for the purpose of analysis, I've chosen one ostensibly independent channel and two of the top brand channels (meaning that they are well-recognized beauty brands). I also rate by subscribers and not views. You can buy views, but subscribers come organically and are a good sign of engagement.

One of my favorite channels on YouTube is LuxyHair:

Though I'm pretty sure their bedrooms aren't really that spotless, they do a lovely production job of mixing casual and professional. Mimi and Leyla are sweet and generous and friendly. The lighting is perfect. The setting (bedroom) is fun and casual, but lovely. The styles they do are timely (they watch the trends and the comments). And because of this, they have amazing engagement: nearly 600,000 subscribers and nearly 100 MILLION views on their videos. They also get oodles of comments and interactions (video replies, likes and messages).

And guess what? LuxyHair is a brand!

They've been posting videos and slowly improving since a few months before they launched their hair extensions line. They did it right. They started building a community and audience and providing value before they started posting any product at all. And even today, they rarely, if ever, talk directly about their hair extensions. Instead, they show us in the audience how to wear them and look amazing in various styles. Subtly, there is always a link in the comments to the extensions they've used in the know...just in case I need to know.

I actually didn't know that LuxyHair was a brand until I'd been subscribed for a few months. I found one of their hair tutorials as a related video and loved it so much, I subscribed to the channel. I kept watching the videos through my YouTube dashboard and one day Mimi mentioned something off hand about the extensions, so I clicked through and checked them out. I was impressed that they spent so much time building community and offering something for the viewers that I'm likely to order some extensions from them in the near future.

Another brand that does a pretty decent job is Mac Cosmetics:

Normally, I wouldn't think much of their YouTube content as it's sort of all over the map and much of it misses the mark on what I need to get from a beauty channel (personally, I could care less about backstage at FashionWeek), but their really short and snappy tips and tricks are pretty awesome. Like this tip for winged out eye makeup or this one on how to clean up the red pout. Their thumbnails, awful bad titles that aren't descriptive and their general inability to focus drive me a bit nuts, but the content is there. It just needs to be cleaned up.

Plus, I can totally forgive them because they run a full-on integrated, love for the makeup artist community show through multiple platforms, including on their own site (but really? No sharable URLs? C'mon!). They obviously care and it shows. They just need some discipline. But whatever, they are artists. ;)

Mac Cosmetics looks to be the most subscribed to major beauty brand on YouTube, but one of my favorite social brands is catching up fast...Sephora:

Of course Sephora has the advantage that many beauty bloggers have: they have multiple lines of cosmetics to work with. However, they started late in the game and through using many of the YouTube best practices (regular, timely uploads; good thumbnails; great use of playlists; effective titling and tagging; etc), they are taking the beauty world on YouTube by storm. Just a snapshot comparison of Sephora, Mac Cosmetics and Luxy Hair shows that they are growing in leaps and bounds:

They are nowhere near LuxyHair, but are poised to overtake Mac in a few months as the reigning Queen of beauty brand YouTube. I should add, however, that some of the early growth was due to paid advertising, but they've used it pretty sparingly along the way and the majority of their channel growth is organic and due to their use of best practices, attention to details and community interaction. Like Mac, they also have a fully integrated social strategy and use Facebook, their own BeautyTalk community, Twitter, Pinterest, Tumblr, Instagram and mobile platforms. They interact regularly and produce helpful and fun content on all of their platforms. They also have a robust VIB (Very Important Beauty) program that rewards loyalty, a killer email marketing program, make their stores super DIY and have a really great website and ecommerce platform that makes it easy to search for products by brand, skin issue, categories, trends, specials and expert advice. It's hard to compete with their focus on customer experience...but you should try.


I originally had analyzed a few misses, but I've decided to make this a more general post because, well, it encompasses pretty much every beauty brand on YouTube. Sorry. By now, if you are reading this and you work for a beauty brand, you probably know who you are. Instead, let me point out what you are generally doing wrong.

You are making one or many or all of the following MISTAKES:

1. In a desperate attempt to 'go viral', you are paying for advertising to boost content that is best suited for a one-way medium (ie. an advertisement that has no story, emotion or interactiveness).

2. You are getting a bunch of tutorial videos professionally shot all at once so you can have plenty of content kicking around to upload over time.

3. You are spending a whole bunch of time and money getting your channel landing page branded beautifully (for those rare people that actually land on a channel homepage - less than 1% btw).

4. You are running short-term campaigns on YouTube with no long term planning or thought of how much a community would benefit your brand over the long run

5. You aren't paying any attention to how people really discover your videos...through search, blogs, social networks and other sources where your thumbnails, descriptions and titles really really matter for discoverability.

All-in-all, you are sending the signal that you would rather spend a big sum of money than spend the time building real relationships and community around your brand. Spending money is fine, but it should support, not be in lieu of community building. I've watched many too many brands with short-term visions and I know that part of it is the way that advertising budgets are set out. But if you want to really benefit from social, you need to BE social. You need to look at it through a long-term lens and budget accordingly. Online doesn't work like print worked. It doesn't work like television or outdoor or radio or any of the previous one-way media worked for brands. Social is multi-way conversation between you and your customers, your customers and your customers and your customers and your future customers. Hell it's even a conversation between you and your competitors because even the most loyal customers use multiple brands and working WITH that fact will help you a great deal.

You need to think from a customers point of view. It's not about you and how pretty or authoritative or polished your brand is. It's about how you help make her feel. What does she need? What does she desire? I've said it before, and here I go again:

Social is about making your customers’ lives simpler, less confusing, less alienating, more efficient, more meaningful and just plain better.

It costs less money and more time. Instead of spending $200,000 on ads and $50,000 on a fancy brand channel page, spend that money on hiring great people who understand your customers and your brand (maybe even one of your biggest fans!) to build your community. It will cost you less in the short term and have way more benefits in the long term. Use YouTube best practices...learnt from those who have built strong, adoring, amazing communities of devoted viewers.

Everything is social now and your customers expect more from you now. You need to change your thinking if you want to succeed today. And believe me, you will look back and realize how wrong your approach was when you are spending little money on advertising and lots of time really interacting with your customers.


When it Comes to Social, Small is the New Big


When it Comes to Social, Small is the New Big


Actually, big has never really been the way social works.

Big is the way traditional advertising operates. The bigger the bullhorn, the bigger the brand impact, right? Sure it reaches more people, but as the old adage goes, "It's not the size, it's how you use it." And this matters more than ever in the social sphere.

When it comes to social, I don't mean 'social media', either. I prefer removing the media part of that distinction. Why? Because all too often people focus on the tactics and tools rather than figuring out the strategy first. So if I remove 'media' then we focus on the 'social'. Don't lead with the how. Lead with the why.

Vanity of the Big Idea

Clients often want to hear 'The Big Idea' and, in general, marketing teams froth at the mouth when a campaign is bigger than life. Take the most recent Red Bull stunt: a space jump. It's definitely a big idea. And definitely cool. Red Bull funded a world record jump and a human being breaking physical laws. Was it "on brand"? Hell yes. Red Bull has long established it's brand as an edgy,  risk-taking, rebellious brand. Red Bull aligns itself with extreme sports, high adrenaline producing activities and youthful male culture. Will this increase sales for Red Bull? Perhaps, but CAC (Customer Acquisition Cost) is probably a little extreme. Personally, I think the best thing that ever happened to Red Bull was the addition of vodka. Dragging your arse on a Friday night out with your friends? No problem. Skip the beer and wine and go for Red Bull and vodka. Cost of that campaign? Next to nothing. Red Bull is prohibited from promoting the combo publicly in many markets.

"But, Tara, there are all sorts of residual benefits of big campaigns!" Yep. I recognize that. And whether it is employee pride, brand favorability, awards, defensive positioning, market saturation and, in general, social capital, there are all sorts of intangible, unmeasurable, but very real outcomes of The Big Idea. However, most all of them are connected to corporate vanity, not to real customer experiences and needs. Real customer experiences and needs are rarely expensive and showy, but doing a good job of executing on this requires three things that are difficult for marketers:

  • thinking about the customer's needs
  • taking the time to serve those needs
  • doing all of this without needing a pat on the back

In other words: "Sure, Tara, it's effective. But it's not very sexy and I won't win an award for it."

Anti-Social Social

Everything is social, but very few people really understand what that means. And companies think about social as a free way to get others to spread the word about their product. This is not social. This is anti-social.

Imagine a company that thinks that way being a human being on a social network. This is roughly how she would behave:

  • only posting things about herself
  • asking you to like and share all of these posts about herself
  • running contests to get more attention and grow an audience so more people will see posts about herself
  • deleting comments that question the quality of her posts about herself
  • thinking that posts about herself are 'giving to the community' because everybody likes the posts about herself
  • when that doesn't work, buy ads to drive more traffic to posts about herself
  • once those ads + contests work, brag on more posts about herself about how many people love her
  • and so on...

Would you continue to follow that person? Probably not. I may follow her if she was super interesting and posted information that was truly engaging and helpful, but most companies don't remember the engaging and helpful part. And when it comes to imagining engaging and helpful content, instead of taking the time and effort to find out what is engaging, many marketers manufacture it. From "inspirational" quotes to lackluster polls to faux-charity to puppies, too many marketers watch what passes as popular amongst friends then try to recreate it. This mimicry misses the point. It's not about a formula, it's about true engagement. And it can't be planned or manufactured.

Nothing I say can say it better than this Facebook Page I came across recently:

Corporate Bullocks on Facebook

The Condescending Corporate Brand Page uses sarcasm to communicate how fed up they are with corporate Facebook pages. In an ironic twist, the likes on this page have gone 'viral' in the few weeks it has existed. Between the 'Hall of Shame' app where users can point out the lame pages and campaigns they've come across and the often brutal back and forth sarcasm on the main wall (they even poke fun at Felix Baumgartner from the Red Bull jump), they've nicely uncovered how consumers really feel about the brands they follow. Similarly, Things Real People Don't Say About Advertising (Tumblr) may sting many brand managers:

These sites aren't aiming to be mean for the sake of being mean. They are merely an outlet for people to speak back to what is happening as brands enter the social space. This is an opportunity for marketers to listen and understand that consumers are savvy. We may be generally irrational when it comes to what we buy, but we can smell a lame campaign when we sniff it. So stop spending money on stuff that makes us roll our eyes and start spending time figuring out what we need and want.

I've said it countless times, but being social means:

…making your customers’ lives simpler, less confusing, less alienating, more efficient, more meaningful and just plain better?

It's not about accumulating fans or likes or pins or views, it's about how you make your customers feel. The likes, fans, pins, views, etc will follow from there.

What I Mean by Small

Small isn't always in relation to size. Small is about removing yourself from the equation and focusing on your customer and her needs. Does she need to feel confident? Does she need to feel beautiful? Does she need to feel in control? Does she need to feel important?

Anyone who knows me understands how much of a skincare addict I am. I have the need to live a life of enjoyment while continuing to look youthful. Okay...I never want to grow up, I admit it. I like good wine and staying up late talking with friends, but my skin hates me for it. I tend to get severely dehydrated skin that gets blotchy after one of these nights. So I buy products that placate my dermis and allow me the occasional girl's night out. But the choice isn't clear. There are tons of products in skincare and they all claim to fix wrinkles and reduce redness and quench dryness. And I've bought too many of them that don't work to believe their claims. Skincare isn't cheap, so when I find something that works pretty well, I tend to stick with it. Switching is scary and expensive. So what is that small thing a skincare company can do to reach me?

Good old fashioned samples help. That's why I love Kiehl's (and why many people love them). I can go in and get a free consultation - personalized to my needs. I can tell the specialist that I like wine and don't get enough sleep, but want something that will work hard to repair the damage I cause and she will lecture me, but then hand me samples to try. If those don't work, she'll give me others. And if I like a product and it stops working for me, Kiehl's has been known to let me return a partially used product for credit. It feels like they are on my team. And just recently, I was invited to attend a Dermalogica event where they gave me a full skin-analysis and a handful of samples. Within a few weeks, I've fallen in love with their products...and am making a switch.

This won't always work. Dermalogica and Kiehl's take a risk with me because my skin may not respond well to their products, but by trying, they don't hurt my relationship with their brand at all. I am more likely to blame my skin and continue to recommend their products to others.

Small means focusing your attention on the customer, not the glory. To take the time to figure out what works for your customer, not your own vanity. A fancy YouTube channel may match your print ads and feel all on-brand, but the often hundreds of thousands of dollars you spent to create and promote it is lost on your customer, who is discovering videos through search, related videos and recommendations from friends and rarely, if ever, even visits your channel home.

Small means thinking about how easy it is for your customer to use your application or find the information she needs on your product rather than how cool and pretty your website looks.

Small means using the platform that works to interact with your customer, not going for the flashiest, coolest new thing because you want to look cutting edge. Hell, email is still a great option if that is where your customer feels most comfortable.

Small means listening to feedback, listening to it and responding in good time. Sometimes you will find out that you need to change your product, not the way it's spun.

Small means that you focus on quality instead of quantity, building relationships instead of campaigns, your customer instead of yourself, service instead of flashiness, interactions instead of followers or fans and engagement instead of reach.

Think small and the results will be big. Sure, nobody in the industry will talk about what a genius you are, but I guarantee your customers will.