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Digital video: The challenge of the opening seconds

Immediately hooking viewers is becoming critical as mobile content choice explodes. Experts have a few ideas about how to make a good first impression.

As the sheer volume of mobile video content skyrockets, hooking viewers in the first few seconds is more critical than ever, putting the pressure on marketers to focus on clarity of message and conciseness while still understanding their ideal target audience.

Savvy marketers recognize that mobile viewing habits are different than on other devices and are adjusting their efforts to optimize for smartphone users. Marketing Dive recently analyzed why short videos of 10-seconds-or-less in length are an important way to engage young mobile consumers, who typically seek short bursts of entertainment in between other activities. 

But not every message can be boiled down to that brief amount of time. Brands wanting to optimize longer videos for mobile users need to think more about building a strong hook in the first few seconds, something that requires a different development approach than, say, TV advertisements. 

"For creative directors coming from the world of TV commercials, mobile requires a reorientation of thinking," Sheryl Daija, Chief Strategy Officer at the Mobile Marketing Association, told Marketing Dive. "With TV commercials, the logo or call to action delivers on the promise of a 30-second commercial. Of course, it's debatable if people watched the full 30-seconds.

"With digital, [marketers] need to deliver on the promise within the first few seconds," she said. "Then, once they’ve captured the audience’s attention they can truly leverage the uniqueness of mobile and further encourage interaction.”

Filling the screen

Video is now the main focus of Facebook’s strategy, and the digital advertising giant has suggested its core platform will be fully mobile- and video-oriented by 2021. Google's YouTube, another key player for any video marketer, recently surpassed 1 billion hours of video views daily — many of those presumably on mobile — putting the video portal on a clear track to beat out television. 

These developments are impressive, massive in scale, and more marketers want skin in the mobile video game. However, marketers familiar with producing video for TV or even desktop run the risk of restricting mobile engagement if they don't account for the ways the channel is different.

Facebook, Snapchat and other video-driven mobile platforms have been trying to impress on marketers the critical importance of the opening portion of a video, for example, hoping to help brands drive better results.

At the Interactive Advertising Bureau's Annual Leadership Meeting in January, Snapchat’s chief strategy officer Imran Khan discussed how the creation and consumption of content are fundamentally changing. On Snapchat, the average user is on the app more than 18 times per day, creating and viewing video messages throughout that period; the average attention span is 8 seconds, according to some studies.

For brands, this means running up against both a wealth of competitive content and easily distracted eyeballs, making it imperative to focus on work that captures an audience right away.

"Mobile is becoming the dominant means of consuming video content — it is often considered the first screen," MMA's Daija said. "Therefore, there is a huge opportunity for brands to create more meaningful and engaging brand experiences by leveraging both the uniqueness that mobile has to offer and the video-ready consumer.

"While it might be the smaller screen, these elements combine to make it the most powerful medium for sight, sound and storytelling," she said.

On the company's recent Q4 earnings call, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg highlighted how Hershey drove an 11-point lift in brand awareness and a 20-point lift in ad recall by focusing on the first few seconds of its video ads.

"People consume video differently on mobile, so the best marketers are optimizing their creative," Sandberg said at the time. "[Hershey] optimized their video ads to grab attention in the first few seconds and used captions for people who were viewing without sound."

Tuning in targeting

While all effective marketing is predicated on understanding a brand's target audience, this rule becomes even more important with mobile video that viewers can easily scroll past.  

"The key challenge for video marketers is knowing their market and target audience extremely well," Joe Hyland, Chief Marketing Officer of ON24, said. "You need to make your content immediately relevant to your audience and show them right off the bat how what you are presenting will benefit them — otherwise we can almost always guarantee they will not keep watching."

To capture attention in the first few seconds of a video, Daija said creative execution is critical. Additionally, marketers must ensure that brand, logo and call-to-action are featured proactively and early on, and in a way that is welcome to the viewer.

The trick is hooking viewers through creative strategy while also making sure the message aligns with business objectives. Adding a solid layer of innovation on top will encourage viewers to further interact with the brand.

Producing 360-degree videos is one way marketers are driving innovation. For example, Honda recently integrated spatial, dynamic audio into a 360-degree Facebook spot for its CR-V model. The ad features three separate "sets" with different audio backgrounds that responsively shift as users pan around the scenery, adding to immersion.

Another strategy for locking in viewers quickly is to simply be transparent, Hyland said. Making the first five to 10 seconds of the video a teaser that clearly explains what the longer video will cover can convince viewers to stick around for the full content — that is, assuming the full content is interesting enough. 

Autoplay strategies

One challenge in online video marketing with both organic and paid ads is that viewers encounter video under a variety of circumstances, including autoplay video that may or may not have the sound on depending on the platform where the content is encountered. It may be tempting to assume that autoplay will do the job of pulling in viewers, but optimization is still necessary.

For platforms where autoplay is a known feature, the content shouldn’t have too much of what Hyland called "background noise," and should instead focus on visuals including subtitles with a clear call-to-action. 

For Daija, the cardinal rule is to understand the medium and context and to mold strategy around both. 

“Videos that autoplay will likely need to be contextually more relevant within a stream, which may result in a higher likelihood of more time spent," she said. "If audio [is] on, it’s more intrusive for the user, so the creative should cut to the chase even faster, else it could turn people away."

Autoplay videos with sound are less effective and can actually backfire on the brand experience, Daija added. 

Overall, Hyland said ON24 focuses on organic video for testing and then uses the content that gets the most traffic and longest views for its video ads. ON24 website viewers have to click on videos to watch them instead of having the videos autoplay because the website behavior provides data on what the audience is electing to view.

"We usually find our best performing organic videos that see the most traffic and where viewers stay the longest, and put all our ads behind those," Hyland said. "It can be really expensive to pay for the ads, so we prefer testing with organic video."

Filed Under: Video Mobile