By Katie More
As video content continues to be the central focus for social media platforms, it is no surprise that an increasing number of brands are testing live video streaming as part of their marketing strategy. Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, and YouTube have all added this capability to their respective platforms and have seen a steady increase in branded video content. (For the Silicon Valley fans out there, Pied Piper has unfortunately taken a hiatus from live streaming since their initial success with the “Condor Cam” in 2015). Regardless of industry, there are several reasons why brands should consider adding live streaming to their playbook.
Live streaming has become a popular experiential marketing trend for music, art, and cultural events. Coachella, the annual two-weekend long music festival held in Indio, California, has seen great success through live streaming musical performances on their YouTube channel. In 2016, Coachella added YouTube’s 360° Live option for the second weekend, which allowed viewers to rotate the camera in any direction, giving them a more authentic feel of the concert’s environment. Fans also had the option to choose which stage they wanted to stream and could re-watch performances from earlier in the day that they may have missed. These capabilities have transformed the way that viewers experience live events by allowing them to “attend” from a remote location.
Live streaming also facilitates a two-way conversation between brands and consumers. In April 2016, Buzzfeed utilized Facebook Live to stream a live video of two employees putting rubber bands around a watermelon to see if it would explode. In true Buzzfeed fashion, this was an unplanned (and rather bizarre) challenge, yet users couldn’t look away. The video lasted 45 minutes and garnered 807,000 viewers, as well as over 315,000 comments, indicating high user engagement and interest. (For those who are curious, it took 690 rubber bands for the watermelon to finally explode). The event even started trending on Twitter under the “#watermelon” hashtag. While this was not the most conventional way to experiment with live streaming, the video’s high viewership demonstrates how quickly users can become invested in real-time content, especially if there is an element of surprise.
In the era of overly curated, filtered Instagram feeds, live streaming also offers a refreshing “behind-the-scenes” look at popular brands. Rachel Silver, brand consultant at Birchbox, praises the authentic feel of the brand’s live streaming content: “I’m OK with the low quality; it almost forces you to be real. I’m over the polished video thing.” This approach works especially well for a subscription-based brand like Birchbox, which caters specifically to beauty product newcomers. Through live video content, Birchbox aims to educate its customer base with makeup tutorials and product information in a conversational style. The brand even opens a live Q&A section at the end of its videos, encouraging further interaction. Despite dwindling attention spans among consumers in general, Birchbox has also proven that long-form live content can still be valuable, with its most successful live stream reaching an average view time of 10 minutes.
While there are many positive characteristics for live streaming, one general concern for product marketers is the difficulty of attributing specific user conversions to a live streaming video. There are several consumer engagement opportunities in live video, such as comments or likes, yet it’s not clear if these specific actions are boosting sales. Live streaming therefore appears to work best as a branding/engagement tool to reach large audiences rather than specifically drive purchases. However, as user tracking capabilities become more advanced, brands will likely be able to connect video engagements to lower-funnel conversions in the future.
Live streaming is an effective method for brands to engage with their fan base and expand to larger audiences. Whether the goal is to enhance the user experience or to respond to consumers’ questions, live streaming can complement all types of marketing strategies. At minimum, brands should at least experiment with the channel to see how it benefits their business and strengthens their relationship with consumers.
Katie More is a graduate student at Northwestern University pursuing her master’s degree in integrated marketing communications with a specialization in marketing analytics. She has three years of advertising agency experience at Havas and hopes to work in marketing analytics/research upon graduating in December 2017. To contact Katie, you can find her on Twitter or LinkedIn.