Online video marketing is ready for its closeup

Bigger isn’t always better when it comes to video-based marketing, according to a panel of Canadian digital content innovators.

The name of the game, they told a Toronto audience on Thursday, is not to aim for the most viewers but to aim for the most relevant ones.

“The nice thing about this relatively new industry is that all the (content) creators are very niche,” said panelist Jake Labow, vice-president of content and talent at Cue Digital Media.

He was speaking at an event held by the digital media industry organization Ontario Interactive in Toronto.

TV vs. online video

Traditional television content and marketing are still targeted to wide swaths of viewers based on age and gender. Since online video is cheaper and faster to make and distribute, however, its creators can afford to aim their content at an extremely narrow target audience.

YouTube Space Toronto - lobby entrance
Toronto was selected as one of nine cities around the world to host a YouTube Space facility for online video production. YouTube Space Toronto opened in April.

This means businesses can laser-focus their marketing content through online video in ways not possible via TV.

“So you may have someone whose channel only has 20,000 (YouTube) subscribers but is very specific to say, lawnmowers. So they’re very important to that type of retailer. If that’s your target audience, that’s the right person to go to. And it may not cost you an arm and a leg,” Labow said.

Taking aim

That view was echoed by fellow panel member Jordan Bortolotti, executive vice-president at Studio 71. He said it’s better for marketers to partner with online video talent that’s already carved out an established, specific audience. Driving results among a particular consumer niche makes more sense than spending $100,000 to “throw” content into a vast sea of traditional distribution channels where it makes less of a splash, he said.

Canadian Lilly Singh, seen in a promotional photo for her world tour, has over 9 million subscribers to her YouTube channel.

In addition, online video content doesn’t face the same regulatory constraints that TV shows and commercials are subject to under Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission guidelines. And while commercial ad time can only be bought at set prices on traditional TV channels, there are no fixed rates for marketing content online.

By changing the distribution model, online platforms have also upended how video marketing content is produced and consumed.

Jake Labow of Cue Digital Media.

“Nowadays we put the marketing content where the audience is. Before, we just let (the content) go to a TV network and let the network be the voice of our brand. We have much more control – and closer relationships with the creators of a show – using YouTube and many other platforms,” said panelist Carlos Pacheco, vice-president of audience development at Boat Rocker Media.

“YouTube has completely democratized the process,” added Bortolotti.

Digital video’s reach and influence are illustrated by global YouTube stars with massive followings online and on social media. Some of that talent was homegrown right here in Canada.

Lilly Singh of Scarborough, Ont. has over 9 million subscribers to her Superwoman YouTube channel. Matt Santoro of Welland, Ont. has over 5 million subscribers and 600 million views on his YouTube channel of top 10 lists and “Amazing Facts” videos.

In terms of online video talent, “Canada punches far above our weight class globally,” Bortolotti said.

YouTube Space Toronto

In April, Toronto became the latest city to open a YouTube Space facility for online video production, training, and collaboration. YouTube has a total of nine such facilities worldwide, with others located in New York, London, and Tokyo.

Brands are flocking to leverage the popularity of online video superstars. Singh has her own clothing line and an endorsement deal with Smashbox Cosmetics while Santoro appeared in the promotional campaign for the Paramount Pictures film Terminator Genisys. (Bortolotti said his company is now helping Singh and Santoro explore opportunities in traditional TV.)

SEO and analytics

Even companies that can’t afford to partner with big names like Singh and Santoro can still get results from video-based marketing content and platforms, said Abby Ho, head of CBC’s YouTube strategy and its Fullscreen Creator Network.

The key is using SEO and analytics data to find out “how people are discovering your content,” she said. “Think of YouTube as a search engine to get the audience to discover your content.”

Once companies learn who is consuming their video and how, they can fine-tune the type of content they make and the viewers they should target with it.

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Christine Wong
Christine Wong
Christine Wong has been an on-air reporter for a national daily show on Rogers TV and at High Tech TV, a weekly news magazine on CTV's Ottawa affiliate. She was also an associate producer at Report On Business Television (now called BNN) and CBC's The Hour With George Stroumboulopoulos. As an associate producer at Slice TV, she helped launch two national daily talk shows, The Mom Show and Three Takes. Recently, she was a Staff Writer at and is now a freelance contributor.

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