Saying something over and over doesn’t make it true. However, when you’re constantly hearing the same thing over and over with little to no rebuttal, you may start to assume it’s true — simply accepting it as fact without doing any research or critical thinking. And content marketing is no different.
Here’s an example: Whether I’m doing research for an article or brushing up on my own content marketing skills, I see post after post proclaiming that, if your content doesn’t include videos, you might as well go home.
And that makes me feel a bit like the kid who didn’t get invited to a popular classmate’s birthday party, because videos quickly exceed my capacity for patience. I rarely watch those viral videos my friends share with me. Even when I took Copyblogger’s Certified Content Marketer course, I didn’t watch a single video (the default option). I went straight for the transcript every time. When I’m shopping, brands that present their information only in video get scratched right off my short list.
Even when my husband and I watch TV at night, I’m playing games on my phone or doing something else with my hands. I’m apparently constitutionally unable to just sit and watch.
Granted, I’m a word geek — to the point where I sometimes struggle to make sense of charts and infographics. But I couldn’t shake the thought that everyone was gobbling up the “video content is best” mantra a bit too quickly. So, with some gentle prodding from the content heretic whispering in my ear, I decided to do my own research.
Here’s what I learned:
Content statistics don’t lie
The statistics regarding the effectiveness of video content are indisputable:
- Including video in your content makes people 39% more likely to share, 36% more likely to comment, and 56% more likely to reward it with a “like”
- One third of all internet activity comes from people watching videos
- 59% of executives say that they choose video over text when both are available
- Video drives a 157% increase in traffic from search engines
- Including a video on a landing page makes it 53% more likely to show up on the first page of search results
- Blog posts that contain video attract three times as many inbound links as those without
With such overwhelming evidence, you’d be perfectly justified in wondering why I’m wasting time on a post that questions the effectiveness of video content. It comes back to an argument I’ve made numerous times, which is that traffic and engagement don’t necessarily lead to conversions. Just because video content increases engagement, there’s no guarantee that greater engagement will lead to more conversions.
So what’s a content marketer to do? Look at the science, of course.
The science behind content format preferences
Text and video content rely on different cognitive functions
As far as our brains are concerned, text and video are like apples and oranges.
- Reading is an active process involving a number of cognitive functions. Our brains have to handle more of the heavy-lifting, such as drawing conclusions, inferring tone, and creating mental images.
- Watching video, on the other hand, is passive and automatic. It doesn’t require the same degree of focused, purposeful attention.
And, thanks to the evolutionary fact that we once needed to save every bit of our mental energy for survival, our brains are naturally lazy, which explains the preference most people have for video content.
Text and video content engage us in different ways
This is a corollary to how the two formats rely on different cognitive processes, but it’s important enough in a marketing context that I think it deserves its own section:
- We engage with text by thinking.
- We engage with video by feeling. Thanks to a process known as the mirror neuron mechanism, videos are a magic potion when it comes to engaging emotion and creating empathy. The mirror neuron mechanism enables us to feel what the people in a video are feeling (although to a lesser degree).
When videos go viral, it’s because people are “catching” the emotions portrayed in the video. But no matter how many views, likes, and shares a piece of content gets, that doesn’t necessarily mean those emotions will lead to conversion.
The visitor’s state of mind adds another layer of influence
Readers’ preference for text vs. video is based on why they’re engaging with your content in the first place. “Unintentional” visitors– those who want to relax or be entertained — are more likely to prefer video, while people who approach your content with a goal in mind tend to prefer text for a number of reasons:
- They can scan the text to find the information they need
- They don’t have to sit through a whole video before discovering it doesn’t answer their questions
- Text makes it easier to go back and find specific pieces of information
- They don’t have to sit through a repeat of things they already know to get to the information they’re looking for
- They’re planning a purchase that requires critical thinking (a house vs. a lamp)
There are other factors at work, too. One example is the need for control. People who want to do things at their own pace and in their own way may choose text because it gives them a sense of control that video can’t compete with.
Location and context are important, too. Somebody who’s surfing during a boring class, for example, won’t want to attract attention with a video.
(And then you have people like myself, who are just too dang impatient. I can read faster than anybody can talk.)
How do you decide which content format to use?
It depends on the goal for each piece of content. Established brands — Coke, McDonalds, Pampers, etc. — have little need to tell people about themselves or their products, so they may use video to tug on heartstrings (loyalty, nostalgia, etc.) Ads for luxury cars use this tactic, too: While they may mention the car’s features and benefits, they seek to hook viewers in with the implied promise that, “If you buy this car, you can be just as cool/rich/handsome/etc. as the person driving it in the video.”
Text, however, is better for situations in which you’re emphasizing the factual reasons people should choose your product. “Have to” purchases (as opposed to “want to” purchases) are a good example. Emotional appeals won’t work as well when you’re talking about a product or service people would rather not have to buy in the first place. Prescription medication is a good example. While showing scenes of healthy people living productive lives can’t hurt, people want to know the facts: what the drug does, what the side effects are, how much it costs, etc.
A lot of B2B content falls into this category, too.
How to have your cake and eat it, too
Offer the same content in both formats
It’s becoming more and more common for brands to offer both options. My Copyblogger certification is one of the best investments I’ve ever made, because it’s paid for itself multiple times over through the business it brings my way. But I probably wouldn’t have bothered if they hadn’t had the option of reading transcripts of their video courses. (Yes, I really do hate video that much.)
Ramp up the emotional impact of your text
When you get right down to it, words are just another type of image: a collections of lines, swirls, and dots that we’ve been trained to associate with specific meanings. Looking at it from that perspective, there are visual tricks you can use to tap into your readers’ emotions. Different fonts, for example, convey different emotions.
Applying colors to important words is another easy way to convey emotion: Red communicates anger or fear, green communicates action, blue conveys peace and calm, etc. And you can use images within your text — especially human faces and body language — to suggest the emotion you want the reader to feel.
I’m not suggesting that you should ignore content marketing best practices. Most of them come from people and/or brands with a long history of success. The problem arises when you learn about these best practices primarily through headlines and 144-character Tweets. If I relied on those, I’d be looking for another career after concluding that written content is dead and buried.
Here’s the thing: Video is an important part of content marketing. But, as with any other best practice, you don’t want to skip over the fine print. Before you except anyone’s advice (mine included!) run it through the filter of your own experience, instinct, and knowledge of your business and its customers. If you’re just getting started in content marketing, learning about best practices is probably a good move. Just be aware that all best practices were developed for a certain purpose and context. No matter how many times it gets repeated and retweeted, that doesn’t mean it’s right for you. Only you can decided that, and don’t be scared to make a call that goes against the trend.
My inner heretic is happy (for the moment).