What YouTube stars teach us about millennials and long-form content

Famous for shunning everything dated and passe, it’s not surprising that the old formats of TV and TVCs have lost their lustre with millennials, but probably not for the reasons you’re thinking.

It’s true that attention spans are growing shorter, but if that’s the case, what makes YouTube stars such as Jenna Marbles and Ryan Higa, with 18.5 million and 21 million subscribers respectively, so popular among millennials? Much of the content they upload is over 10 minutes long, shutting down the theory that millennials are easily distracted and simply looking for that hit of instant gratification in six seconds or less.

What’s the big secret to gaining millennial fans, that so many marketers have yet to crack? After spending a lot of time watching content by YouTube celebrities (yes they are that addictive), I’ve realised that you can’t just tell millennials things they want to hear and then end the conversation. The trick is in keeping it fresh and interactive, and treating them like they’re your pals.

Millennials want to have a conversation

Don’t be afraid of getting too informal or too friendly. YouTube stars are able to build intimate relationships with their audiences by being authentic. They aren’t afraid to be goofy, raw, weird and (almost uncomfortably) personal.

YouTube stars talk to their screens with such gusto, that we may be forgiven for mistaking it for a two-way video conference. They engage with their viewers as if it was a casual conversation between two people and directly pose questions to them, expecting them to leave their reply in the comments below.

Therefore, it isn’t rare to come across YouTube videos that attract thousands of comments. On the same note, there is a distinctive style of YouTube videos, that discuss questions posed by viewers. Viewers feel acknowledged, and are encouraged to keep engaging even more with the YouTubers, in the hopes of having more of their questions answered someday.

It works for YouTubers, and it works for some brands as well.

However, your job doesn’t end when you hit upload on your video.

Put a face where your money is

Don’t just be a faceless avatar on a screen communicating with your followers. What makes these YouTube stars so famous yet relatable is that they lend their face to their brand. Despite not communicating in real time, having a ‘face to face’ interaction is what makes their fans feel connected to them emotionally.

If you want to establish a relationship with your millennial consumers, you have be perceived not as a brand but as a living, breathing, human being. People connect with people, not brand logos. Spend time thinking about what your brand looks and sounds like in a human form. The main factor is to be as authentic as possible.

There is a growing trend for brands to use their employees as brand ambassadors. After all, who is better placed to tell your stories than your biggest fans: your employees?

Take global behemoth, General Electric for example. GE has implemented an army of over 13,000 brand ambassadors, investing little to no additional resources. These new ambassadors are yielding fantastic reach and helping GE engage with their audiences in fun, fresh ways.

Similarly, software powerhouse Adobe attributes the inspiration of its new social media strategy to one enthusiastic employee, who single-handedly drove more traffic to the website than C-suites on Adobe’s official social media presence.

Stay away from pushing your agenda too hard

Telling your millennial followers that you have a world-class solution that will solve their problems will only raise their guard.

You want your audience to open up and share stories about your brand, such as the most surprising things that have happened while using your product (hopefully in a good way).

These days it seems everybody is into F45, one of the fastest growing fitness brands in the world. In fact unsurprisingly, most people would have heard about F45 through word-of-mouth, whether from a friend or from the internet.

F45 has a massive online presence, and much of it comes from YouTube videos of people doing the F45 Challenge and reviewing it. The challenge encourages people to take pictures of themselves before and after, which plays a significant part in getting them to be comfortable in front of a camera, talking about the brand.

What I like most about F45’s marketing strategy is that rather than make tall claims and fitness promises, they invite consumers to try it out for themselves and be the ones to tell their story. As a result, the common narrative among all these reviews was of people becoming fitter, beating their personal records, and how much fun they were having doing it.

I admit to having watched several of these F45 reviews by YouTubers when making my decision about whether to sign up, because I trust what consumers have to say about a brand, a little bit more than what a brand has to say about itself, but that’s a story for another day.

What brands can take away from this

YouTube stars treat their target audience as friends who are simply having a conversation that is authentic, exciting, and perhaps even a little silly. There’s a lot to be learned from that for brands.

The impact of the one-way perfunctory TV advertisement may be significantly diminished, but YouTube celebrities are proof that long-form content is still alive and kicking, although it looks nothing like the marketing we know. Instead, it’s a fun, fresh conversation every time, that speaks directly to millennials, and expects nothing back from them in return but their engagement.

Antoine Bouchacourt is VP, Asia at Shootsta.

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