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Consumer Discovery is Fundamental to Success

One of the most important things that a project design teams needs to think about when building a successful online video initiative is the concept of Consumer Discovery.   Amazingly enough, in my experience, this tends to be one of the most overlooked component of any project.

When you think about it all the major online success stories: Google, Amazon, eBay, Microsoft, CNN, Twitter, YouTube (to name but a few) all make discovering information, products, services, call to actions incredibly easily.   There's a whole universe of information out there and as a consumer I need to get to it with the least amount of friction possible.   Not only because there are many competing sources of what I'm after (Google vs Bing, Amazon vs, Microsoft vs the world, Twitter vs Email) but also because in any given day I need to consume a lot of it and the laws of physics only give me so my time in that day.  I will always favour the source that I feel helps me get to the goal line quickest.   This is true for a lot of things in life, both online and offline, and also holds true with online video.

Video as a medium is a tremendous force in this information age.  With its ultraband messaging capability we can fit so much more information in any given segment than any other medium. On my series around Video Encoding 101 I looked at how video can offer over 100X the information capacity than text.   This is really powerful stuff.   But it comes at a cost.   Video is all encompassing, it typically requires 2 of our primary senses to be pre-occupied for a relatively long period of time (2 -5 min) and engagement starts with a relatively hefty handshaking period. Most importantly is that the message is the medium and the medium is the message.  Whereas with text the message is broken down into components (letters and symbols) and delivers it sequentially (easy to stop at any part and pick it up at any point in the future), video intertwines many parallel messages into one uber inseparable stream of data.  To compound that even further, each watcher of video will see something different (hone into a unique subset of all the messages flows on offer)  For those of you that have an interest in Quantum Mechanics (showing my geek side now) this is akin to the Schrödinger's cat thought experiment where the principal idea is that the observer influences the outcome of the experiment.  You can think of this as with video the watcher influences the message that is delivered and ultimately consumed - for the rest of you basically my argument is that you need to watch the video to get its message and that message will change however slightly or extremely every time you and any other viewer watches it.

Video's greatest success: the ability to deliver the highest volume of data per time slice; is offset by its greatest challenge of having to accurately, quickly and efficiently describe its embedded messages to all its potential watchers, all of whom see it differently from one another. 

Getting back to reality now... how does all this help you?  Well if video is hard to explain externally and all the most successful website show that excellent discovery is a cornerstone to their success then putting the 2 together you need to know how to you make your content easily discoverable across the breadth of your viewership.

And to do this you need to make your video available to our common search tools: Search Engines, Social Media Streams, Content Feeds like RSS, System Feeds such as CMS integration etc.

So lets turn this theory into real actions - breaking this right down we get to 2 categories of actions: those that help DESCRIBE your video, and those that help DISTRIBUTE your video.

Describing video content can be consider more an art form than a science.  There are well established tools and frameworks that can be leveraged for this task but because everyone sees a piece of video content differently we need to find ways of using metadata that can tease the entire audience into engaging the content.  So this can take some time and practice to get right.  To kick off though here are the tools that are available to you:

  • Taxonomy : a defined and agreed set of keywords, phrases and hierarchy that is consistently applied to all content within its scope. 
  • Categorisation : grouping content into thematic segments such that all content exhibits that theme - for example many sites use playlists to group by content type: News, Sport, Entertainment etc
  • Editorial Description : written abstracts of the overall content.  This typically is only about the primary message and ignores all nuances in the video.  This can be a description of the plot of a TV show or a description of environment

The trick with Describing anything is really to use as few ambiguous words as possible and focus on the primary messages in the content.  It really is an art form but by tracking usage through tag profiling, categorisation popularity etc you can start to really understand what your viewers are reacting positively to.

The next step is then to open up your now well described content to DISTRIBUTION tools.   This is much more defined and more of a science than art.   We all use the web everday, and we all know what works well for us when trying to find the information we need.   So it ain't rocket science how to get your content into the main distribution channels:

  • SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) : creating your content in form that is consumable by search engines like Google, Bing, Yahoo is a must.   Each follows general rules and following these should be a cornerstone to your plans
  • Positioning : Burying your video in the depths of your site just doesn't make sense.  Give your video prime positioning in your shop window, make it easy to find via good user journeys.   Users don't yet always seek out video when they come to a site. 
  • Distribution : new channels emerge everyday, 2 of the most popular are Facebook and Twitter.   Linking in there is incredibly easy - let your users carry your content for you.
  • Accessibility : Burying your content into layers and layers of obtrusive "creative" functionality can drive users away.  Increasing an already high transaction cost we have at the basic video medium consumption level needs to be thought through carefully.

All in all viewers are fickle time-hoarding beasts.   Not only do we have to deal with the traditional channel surfing mentality that has been imported from our traditional TV viewing habits but we also have to compete with all the other media channels now present in the same arena.  More now than ever you, as the next uber successful video publisher on the web, need to make sure your content is as easily discoverable as possible and described in the best possible way.

-- Cameron Church