As the largest celebration of online creators and digital video, VidCon hosts events and panels led by today’s influencers, creators, experts in online platforms, and leaders from content studios. One clear message emerged from this year’s conference: consumer expectations are higher than ever. Brands are expected to foster community, present an authentic voice, and provide engaging content. Here are five big takeaways from this year's event:
1. Experience is as important as the product itself.
Consumers are increasingly more interested in experience than ownership, with three out of four millennials saying they prefer to spend money on experiences over material purchases. Companies are under increasing pressure to reach consumers in nontraditional ways and extend their presence beyond the product or point of purchase.
This is equally true in online spaces. The ways in which we socialize, consume content–even shop–are beginning to intersect with each other more and more. Facebook Marketplace and Instagram allow users to shop within a social media content, while ecommerce companies make their presence felt off screen with pop-up shops.
By appearing in these spaces and on these platforms, brands are increasingly challenged to fulfill consumer expectations and entertain an audience. A big part of this comes from behind-the-scenes content, reminding consumers of the world behind the companies. This must be conveyed in as seamless a way as possible, with format fitting purpose. Jim Squires, the VP of Business & Media at Instagram, explained at the Instagram Fireside Chat the intuitive ways that companies use the platform. “Stories is kind of like your diaries, behind the scenes, day-to-day; feed is your highlights reel, the big moments you want people to see; Live is like a meetup; IGTV is like your show,” Squires said.
As more and more apps are demonstrating, vertical video appeals to a wide audience. Instagram introduced IGTV as “the recognition that 90 percent of the time we’re holding our phones in vertical mode” Squires said. TikTok and Spotify are other examples of companies using vertical video.
2. Build your name with a great product offering, then diversify.
Amazon and Google both started as single-product companies. Companies which start out with one great product grab mindshare and build customer trust quickly, often by responding to a universal need or experience, such as sleep (Casper, Helix) or shaving (Harry’s, Dollar Shave Club). It’s proven way of building out a solid foundation, only to expand to something else, and capture another market along the way. And as the digital space evolves, platforms are diversifying their product offerings to expand to new audiences as well. Think Red Bull expanding into the media space, or Airbnb helping consumers book flights as well as stays–these are companies taking on new markets with new products, while communicating to their audiences why it works for their brand.
3. When working with influencers, creative freedom is king.
The best partnerships will leverage an influencer’s creativity and allow creators to make content that resonates with their audience. Not only does this build new potential audiences but it allows for new forms of expression that a brand might not otherwise explore.
When YouTube partnered with Christian Dior to promote their Spring/Summer 2019 collection, they gave seven of their top influencers access to the collection, allowing these influencers to share the designs with their combined 24 million subscribers in whichever way they chose to promote it.
Brands and influencers agree that a certain level of creative freedom is key to a productive partnership. The viral buzz around Calvin Klein’s #MYTRUTH campaign with Billie Eilish in which she gives a deeply personal explanation of how her clothes protect her demonstrates how much audiences prize authenticity. This is something that came up again and again at panels, with Vincent Marcus explaining his process of creating sponsored content at Instagram’s Fireside Chat. “Creators put together, first, content that’s going to be most interesting to their followers, then reverse engineer how to get the brand into the content so that the final result is authentic,” said Marcus.
This doesn’t mean that companies should sacrifice their brand guidelines, just that modes of storytelling are changing, and exploration is key. This was something echoed by Stacy Minero at Twitter. “There’s a place and time for best practices, but rules can be restrictive,” said Minero. “A lot of people want to have control of what the outcome is going to be, but if you are pushing a creator into making something that isn’t what feels true to them, you’re sucking the energy out of it, and you just need to trust them.”
4. Brand voice isn’t enough – it’s about brand personality.
Brands are no longer just speaking to their audience, they’re very publically fielding replies. This two-way dialogue offers new avenues for building and engaging a community. Brands set a tone through their engagements. “If you’re just putting content out there and not looking at comments you might as well have them turned off because the lowest common denominator has the voice of the stage,” said Alyssa Onofreo, Director of Social & Audience Development, CryptTV, speaking on the panel "New Tools, Older Tactics: How Community Management is Key To Your Success in Today’s Mobile Content Ecosystem."
What’s more, brands are under pressure to be transparent and communicative about more areas of their business than ever before, from manufacturing processes to political values. Fashion company The Reformation created a highly desirable brand through the transparency of their manufacturing processes, along with their cheeky marketing. After the First Lady wore a jacket that said I Really Don’t Care Do U?, women’s apparel company Wildfang created a jacket in response, saying I Really Care Don’t U?. All proceeds went to charity and over the course of a week they made $250k as a small startup in Portland.
5. Lower down the funnel is the place for content strategy.
Ultimately, content and influencer strategy is more about developing, nurturing, and engaging an audience than sales. However, this doesn’t mean there aren’t valid business KPIs to monitor. Brands can look at the types of comments and conversations generated through social content, as well as quantifying the off screen impact of online strategies by monitoring user-generated content.
This was stressed by Adam Goodman of Dichotomy/Invisible Narratives. “If you’re not paying attention to the data and evolving based on it, you’re missing the whole opportunity of the space,” Goodman said. “Since we’re releasing so much we have a chance to test everything. Every time you get each one of those things right you have a chance to increase engagement and viewership.”
Derral Eves, at his talk "Triggering Massive YouTube Growth: Metrics That Matter," stressed the importance of average view duration and monitoring viewer retention in understanding user engagement. He emphasized the importance of drawing attention to content through well-designed titles, which quickly deliver on their promise. Ultimately though, he had one main piece of advice: the number one thing you can to engage an audience is to create better content.