Complete Views & The Art of Storytelling
Video content took the spotlight early at the 4A’s “Transformation 2016” event in Miami Beach, with opening day sessions covering multiple aspects of the video revolution. I had the pleasure of joining Tara Walpert Levy, Managing Director of Agency Solutions at Google and YouTube on her main stage panel “Where Culture and Content Collide” along with fellow guests Shabnam Mogharabi, CEO and Executive Producer, SoulPancake and Rob Candelino, Vice President of Marketing, Unilever. Towards the end of the session, Tara asked each of us to give one piece of advice to the audience. I spoke about the value of engagement and the red herring of “complete views” as a metric; a topic worth expanding upon here.
The core Internet user experience is predicated upon the notion of instant gratification: the user clicks and the user gets what they want. As marketers, it is often our goal to insert a brand message or prompt into this basic transaction. That can be problematic, as unwelcome intrusions delaying immediacy offend the very promise of the medium, itself. Even more troublesome is the layer of expectation marketers put on the experience, especially when we start tracking the illusive “complete view.”
The idea that complete views of video content are the holy grail of video marketing stems more from habit than reality. The online video industry adopted, without question, storytelling techniques of the past. More often than not, this is reflected in the 3-act story arc that has driven movies, sitcoms and even 30-second TV spots throughout the history of motion media (and theater, before that). In the 3-act arc, the payoff to the story happens at the end. In film, that means the Death Star doesn’t get destroyed until late in the movie; in TV commercials, the story wraps up and a logo appears around the 27 second-mark; and in digital video, the end of a clip traditionally leads to a URL and a call to action. By the design of our stories, we are forced to value complete views because our story is only effective if the user gets to the CTA/URL closing frames.
That’s great, except for one thing: web users have little motivation to stick around to the end of a video.
We see this in the numbers. You will see it in yours, if you look carefully. Unless you have a pre-roll situation where the user is forced to let the video play in its entirety (whether they are actually watching it or not is another question), reaching completion rates of 70, 80 or 90% is a very difficult feat. We live in a click-happy culture where time is truly the most valued commodity. The online video viewer is more likely to skip around your video and stop viewing when they are satisfied, completely without regard for how the agency or brand intended the clip to be consumed. Generally speaking, a video earning a 40-60% voluntary completion rate is actually doing pretty well. If the payoff to that video is held until the end, that’s not a good sign for message delivery.
The solution is to focus on engagement and what the user does after viewing the video, rather than stressing out over how much of the video gets viewed. At the end of the day, the goal of branded content is to sell product, not score high completion rates. We are marketers, not filmmakers.
Accepting this reality also means changing the way we tell stories. The 3-act play, dependent upon completion to make its point, is not the most effective story arc for online video. There are other models that seem to work better, including the journalistic-style which puts the emphasis on explaining key information at the beginning of the story, with the remainder used to flesh out details for those who care. There is a simple brilliance to this: all comers get the heart of the story, while the rest of the video is there for those who want a deeper experience. Isn’t that what good marketing should do? Deliver the message to everyone and provide the details for those most interested in the product?
If we begin to consider this kind of experience as the online standard, we can lose the shackles that bind us to “complete views” and start focusing on storytelling that motivates the consumer towards the kinds of engagement we want; the kind that drive sales.