The power of live video

Why brands like GoPro, Doritos and Target are experimenting with live video messaging

In early 2010, Fritz Brumder watched Apple’s iPad launch and saw the future.

What impressed Brumder wasn’t so much the tablet itself but Apple’s presentation of it. As with most Apple introductions, fans and the media were riveted by the live introduction of the new device.

Shortly afterwards, Brumder was advising a friend about how to market his retail business in New York. "I was asking questions and he turned the camera and showed me the store," said Brumder, who at the time was working at a web development firm. "He started taking products off the shelf and bringing them close to the camera, telling me details about the products, and I wound up buying a few things. It was kind of a lightbulb moment, and I thought, ‘Hey, could we use live video to create a retail experience?’ "

Apparently, yes. Since its launch four years ago, Brumder’s company, Brandlive, based in Portland, Ore., has hosted live product launches for brands as varied as Levi’s, GoPro, Adidas, Rockwell, Marmot, Gerber, New Balance and eBay. The brands use the cloud-based technology to live stream events on their own websites.

"We're seeing more and more people launching their product on live video," said Brumder. "The goal is to humanize and tell the story of their product in a more scalable way because the people that are watching can access it from any device."

While live video has so far been mostly a niche media play for brands, two of the world’s social media giants have made it easier for marketers to test it in front of mass audiences. Twitter’s year-old live video app, Periscope, drew early-adopter brands like Starbucks, Red Bull and J.C. Penney. And many others have followed suit, including Kohl’s, which recently ran an Oscars party on Periscope during the event, and unlikely converts like Dunkin’ Donuts, GE, and Lincoln. In December, Facebook also began letting brands live stream from their accounts. As with other forms of new media, it’s probably too early to tell how effective live video will be for marketing, but some brands have already claimed success using it for product launches and real-time content marketing.

Facebook jumps in
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, bullish about video in general, actively promoted live video during last month’s Mobile World Congress in Barcelona and during a Town Hall meeting in Berlin. "Live video is one of the things I am most excited about because it's so raw and so visceral," said Zuckerberg, in Berlin. "It gives people [the ability] to express what's going on in their life now, what they care about, without having to feel like it's some super curated thing, and I think that's going to be very powerful."

Zuckerberg wasn’t just talking up live video. Last week, Facebook tweaked its News Feed algorithm to make live video show up higher in the News Feed than standard, static videos.

While brands might see Facebook’s live video feature as an additional distribution vehicle, the company has made it clear that it was designed for consumers, not brands. It’s possible that Facebook will offer a live video ad product in the future, but not anytime soon.   

"We build first for people, creating great experiences and new ways for them to connect and share. We learn how people use new products and features, and the value they create," a Facebook representative said. "Over time, we explore ways for businesses to use these new services and connect with their consumers, and when appropriate, we build and test ad products that support the new ways in which people connect.

"When it comes to live video on Facebook, advertisers should watch live content that resonates, see what’s working for publishers and try out Live themselves."

Still, some marketers are experimenting with the feature. So far, brand use has ranged from product launches and QVC-like promotions to reality TV-inspired content. General Motors used it to introduce the Bolt EV at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in January. Kate Spade employed it to broadcast its runway show from New York Fashion Week. And Birchbox used it to talk about new additions to its boxes in March and February.

Perhaps the most ambitious use of the platform was Southwest Airlines’ behind-the-scenes coverage of Winter Storm Jonas, which hit the Northeast US in January. The effort kept travelers informed and encouraged them to rebook if needed. The live video stream also served a branding exercise, displaying how hard the company’s employees work, and how seriously they take such storms.

Brooks Thomas, social business advisor for Southwest, said the brand has averaged around 4,000 views on Periscope, but the Facebook stream hit 80,000, which far exceeded the brand’s expectations. The airline used the feature again last month to introduce the TennesseeOne, a new plane decked out with the Tennessee state flag. "Having seen that Facebook is ranking live video higher, we’re paying a lot of attention to it," he said, but added that the brand will continue to host live events on both platforms. Periscope can boast some impressive audience numbers, too. Kohl’s Oscar party, for instance, drew 200,000 views.

Twitter’s Periscope
While Facebook is a relative newcomer to live video, Twitter began offering live feeds for brands last March with Periscope. Since then, many brands have used the feature. Target, for instance, broadcast the making of a Gwen Stefani music video with American Idol alum Todrick Hall. The completed 4-minute video was later shown during the Grammys. And Cover Girl used it to detail the Grammys makeup routine of new CoverGirl Zendaya hours before the show.

Twitter has moved to monetize the live streaming platform. In February, Doritos became the first brand to use its Promoted Video option, when it gave consumers a live feed from Levi’s Stadium during the Super Bowl. Periscope allows brands to form a closer bond with their fans by "giving them real-time access to moments that matter," said Ryan Oliver, head of brand strategy, East region at Twitter. "Viewers come to Periscope to gain a view of the world they can’t get anywhere else."

Brands can also reach audiences beyond their target. "Fans and followers of a brand are likely to tune into a broadcast, especially when a brand has sent reminders in advance of when they will go live. But Periscope is a public platform so anyone can jump in and view a brand’s stream," Oliver added.

Utility for brands
While many brands are experimenting with live video, occasions for live broadcasts are scarce and pulling them off can be a challenge. "Live video is so hard," David Berkowitz, CMO at MRY, which works with Coca-Cola, Microsoft and Visa, among other brands. "It’s a fun idea, but I’m not really sure you need that technology."

Ken Kraemer, CEO of Moment Studio, which has executed live video campaigns on behalf of Purina, Lay's and eBay, says that getting people to tune in to a live event can double the work. "The trick is driving views. Live mobile or online video events are a bit at odds with how people use digital media, which is largely about asynchronous views and individual discovery," Kraemer said. "To really make a streamed event big, you wind up 'advertising the advertising.' That doesn’t have to be wrong, but it can be costly."

Like Facebook though, Brandlive’s Brumder thinks that live video will eventually go mainstream once the average consumer starts using it more. He compared it to the growth of Dropbox, a cloud-based storage solution that consumers started using so much, they eventually forced their workplaces to use it too. "Consumers are by definition people who work for companies as well," he said. Similarly, if brands see that people are making use of live video, more of them will eventually follow. "Our mission is to allow brands and retailers to take advantage of what’s happening in the consumer market," he said.

While Southwest has been an early adopter of live video, Thomas warns it should be used with purpose and was careful to point out that his brand would only use live video if there was a real reason. "We see a lot of utility in live stream," he said. "But for us to do it, it has to satisfy a consumer need."

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