4 video marketing tips in the era of autoplay

I assume by now you’ve noticed that videos are appearing in greater and greater frequency in your Facebook timeline. From buckets of ice to upcoming movies to everything else that humanity can imagine or capture, it’s showing up for you. Over the weekend, as I was watching yet another round of ice bucket dumpings go by, a few thoughts occurred to me about autoplay videos on Facebook.


First, if you’re a video creator, does your work stand alone without the audio? Obviously, there are some video types where audio is mandatory. A video of Andre Rieu or Joshua Bell needs audio. But for most commercial videos, particularly for advertisements, the question remains: does your video tell a strong enough story that it can convey the point without audio?

Second, what’s in the first 3 seconds of your video? As we scroll by on Facebook, we see only a few tiny seconds of video content. Those first 3 seconds had better be compelling enough to get us to stop scrolling by. Even the first frame of the video matters, because that’s the image placeholder.

Third, are your calls to action in sync with your video? One of the key criticisms of the recent ice bucket challenges was that people were dumping buckets of water and ice over their heads without a whole lot of context. Very few of the friends and colleagues who made those videos put calls to action to donate to ALSA in the video itself or in the accompanying text to actively solicit donations. Now, if the video’s purpose isn’t for the viewer to take action of some kind, then a call to action isn’t that important, but even a simple “Learn more here: URL” statement could have made a much greater impact.

Fourth, is your video accessible? Upload closed caption files to your YouTube videos (the service supports it VERY well), and expect to add them to Facebook videos in the relatively near future. As Facebook’s video platform takes on greater importance, I would anticipate calls for additional accessibility to be part and parcel of the expansion, including being shown in autoplay. Closed captioning isn’t just a “nice to have if you have the time” – when you provide closed captioning, at least on YouTube, your video has text content that accompanies that, and text is what search engines like YouTube’s owner, Google, use to return results. Get those captions in!

Take action on these four simple ways to improve your videos.

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The curious question of pumpkin spice lattes

I’ve been watching yet another meme pass around on Facebook, this time about the “hazardous chemicals” inside of a popular coffee brand’s pumpkin spice latte coffee drink. There have been opinions offered on all sides of the debate about whether X chemical is healthy or harmful, whether X ingredient is in the drink or not (and if it’s a retail product vs. an intended for home purchase or not).

Storyville Coffee

What astonishes me is this: very, very few people ever see either the article or commentary and say, “Well gosh, I can do better than that. I’ll make my own.” Pumpkin pie spice is as old as… well, pumpkin pie. Here, take a look at what constitutes pumpkin pie spices, based on about 5 minutes of Googling:

Dry Goods

  • 4 parts cinnamon
  • 3 parts ginger
  • 2 part nutmeg
  • 1 part allspice
  • 1 part cloves
  • 1/4 part salt

Wet Goods for something like a pumpkin spice latte

  • 4 parts honey

You’ll need high quality spices from the store or Amazon, especially if you have specific dietary needs. Mix the above ratios in as little or as much as you need. Because spices oxidize quickly, only make as much as you need at any given time, especially if you’re grinding your own spices. If you seal the dry goods in an airtight container, they’ll stay reasonably fresh for a couple of weeks. Your best bet is to mix the ratios of whole spices, bag those in little containers, and then grind on demand. Note that there is no pumpkin in it because it’s assumed you’d use pumpkin spice on pumpkins.

Now, bear in mind, I’m not a professional chef. I’m not even an amateur chef. I’m a marketer, a marketing technologist, a hacker (in the most ethical sense of the word). That means when I see something, the first question that leaps into my mind is, “How can I do that?” How can I reverse engineer it, figure out how it works, what makes it tick, and ideally, improve upon it?

If you find yourself saying, “How hard can that possibly be?” and wandering off to experiment with things, if you’re not afraid to fail frequently and spectacularly, then you have one of the most powerful traits of those who are successful in marketing:

You’re curious.

Curiosity is an incredible personality trait. It drives you to want to know more, to want to discover more, to seek out new ways of solving old problems and to understand as much as you can about what interests you. Curiosity is what transforms a marketer from average to awesome, because the more curious you are about your business and the industry you operate in, the more effective you will be at marketing what you do. Curiosity is what defines marketers and marketing technologists; we want to understand how something works so that we can make it better.

So whether it’s pumpkin spice memes, ice buckets, or whatever the issue of the day is, get curious! Explore, challenge, and expand your boundaries and knowledge. You, your career, and your company will be richer for it in so many ways.

Oh, and enjoy the pumpkin spice recipe.

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Formulaic marketing

One complaint often heard about marketing is that it’s too formulaic, that it’s too rote and lacks creativity. “Don’t you have something new?” is a common refrain asked of marketers like you and I. Our answer, too often, is to scramble to try and invent something new on the spot and usually not produce something better than the formula. Perhaps, in the words of Chen Stormstout, there is a better question: “is the formula working?”

Consider this: some of the bestselling authors on the planet, whose works are loved by millions, obey clear, unambiguous formulae. “Trashy romance novels” all follow the same boy meets girl formula. Even one of my favorite authors, the late and beloved Tom Clancy, had clear formulae for his books. The topics and subjects may have varied, but the underlying structure shared many common themes.

MarTech 2014 Boston Watercolors

Think about what you cook in the kitchen. A recipe is nothing more than a formula, a way of ensuring you get a consistent result each time you try to make a dish. Ultimately, the question isn’t whether or not you should be using a formula/recipe in the kitchen, but whether the recipe is any good. If it’s not, you work on it until the recipe is a good one.

Do the same with your marketing. Don’t invent things for the sake of invention – one of the greatest lies about innovation in today’s marketing. Rely on formulae that work, discard or improve formulae that don’t work, but don’t mindlessly throw away the process of systematizing your marketing because it feels uncreative. Be creative within your marketing recipes, be creative about improving them, but keep the recipes. It’s the only way to ensure consistency and scale.

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