What Can Brands Learn From YouTube Stars?

If the brands of today hope to stay relevant, they may want to re-evaluate the way they work.

(Eric Piermont/AFP/Getty Images)

The past year or so has been huge for YouTube: it has hit a tipping point in interest among brands and the press. But, despite this overwhelming hype, and despite the fact that YouTube as a platform has been around for a decade now, many brands are just not showing much success on the platform and could benefit from adopting tactics which make YouTube creators so effective.

Of the top 100 most subscribed channels on YouTube there isn’t a single consumer packaged goods or clothing brand. Compare this to Facebook and Twitter where among the top 100 most ‘followed’ and ‘liked’ pages are dozens of brands including Samsung, McDonald’s, and Oreos.

This can be attributed to the fact that you can’t buy subscribers on YouTube the same way you can buy likes or followers on Facebook and Twitter.

The reality is that individual YouTube creators are able to outmaneuver brands, they’re dominating the charts and wielding audiences rivalling that of major TV shows. Furthermore, the majority of views around many brands, if not all, are not coming from the brand’s own YouTube channels but from consumer created content and channels.

Where does this leave brands?

Marketers and advertisers today are failing to understand the way media is consumed for anyone under the age of 25.

A recent study analyzing over 500 million clicks and 15 million conversions showed that YouTube is the most effective social media platform in driving sales. This fact that so many brands are underperforming clearly leaves brands in a precarious position.

If the brands of today hope to stay relevant, they may want to re-evaluate the way they work and ask themselves if they’re doing what’s effective, or simply maintaining the status quo. In an era where content is becoming commoditized with 300 hours of video being uploaded to YouTube every minute, is the traditional creative process viable any longer?

For a brand, typical commercial production is a lengthy and expensive process – a brand typically briefs their agency to come up with an idea. The agency typically pitches several directions, then there are revisions and back and forth before finally getting signoff. Then a month is spent trying to find the director, but it has to be the right director, the one that shot that cool music video you love that’s the next Spike Jonze (because they probably spent a month trying to get Spike Jonze only to find out he was too expensive). Then its time to hire the production company, there’s two weeks on casting, renting a space, hiring a crew. Then when its time to shoot there are thirty people on set for days and there’s food and craft services to be paid for. THEN there’s editing for several weeks, then color correction, and sound design before anything is ready to see the light of day.

This process can take months (sometimes years) and easily cost hundreds of thousands of dollars for 30 seconds of video. Also, once the brand has spent lots of money and time to make content, but they still need to pay to distribute it.

Compare this process to a typical YouTuber who handles their own ideation, production, casting, and distribution (to a loyal fanbase no less) for less than the cost of craft services for a traditional production shoot. In an era where YouTubers are more recognizable than traditional celebrities, collaborating with established channels and adopting their methodologies should be worth exploring.

So why haven’t brands changed?

Great looking production is laborious (and/or expensive), and its what most advertisers want. They want their brand to look glossy, high-quality, and aspirational. But that’s not necessarily what consumers want. Younger consumers don’t care about high-quality production. What they want is an emotional connection.

In advertising, there’s the saying that a client can pick two out of three of the following:

  1. Fast
  2. Great
  3. Cheap

And on YouTube, fast and cheap wins. The brands that understand this best will reap the rewards for years to come.

Brendan Gahan (@brendangahan) is a YouTube expert helping Fortune 500 brands with their YouTube influencer and community building campaigns. He was named Forbes 30 Under 30 in Marketing & Advertising and one of the 25 Top YouTube Business Power Players for 2013. 

What Can Brands Learn From YouTube Stars?