New data shows power of videos, text and storytelling - but the advertising model is still broken

Jon Reed Profile picture for user jreed January 8, 2018
I thought I was going to roast a Playbuzz PR email on fixing fake news. But their data on the impact of video in brand storytelling is worth a look. Here's how it impacts enterprise marketers.

As a hater of fake news and junk web sites, an email titled "Fake News to Run Out of Steam in 2018" grabbed my attention. It was a missive from Playbuzz, an "authoring platform for interactive storytelling," which includes Disney as investors.

The message from Playbuzz PR said:

In 2018, publishers can take fake news on, and win.

I'll take that cheese.  How?

They can do this by focusing on creating quality content, that has engagement at its core. For example, if you blend a news story with an interactive element (to test a users engagement), the time that people spend on that story jumps by 20%.

But how does that stop the spread of fake news?

More engagement there could equate to a safer news environment, and reduce the inadvertent spread of 'fake news'."

Why "dwell time" matters - and how video helps

Nah - as long as clickbait clowns crank out crud, that's not going to work. But there is interesting data to chomp. It's about video and web site "dwell time." Playbuzz measured a sample of 8,000 articles published by outlets using their storytelling tools, from July to December 2017. They concluded:

In an era when the average dwell time is 15 seconds per article, readers who consume articles that encompass video spend about 7X more time on those articles versus non-video articles. [Emphasis mine]

Combining videos with another "storytelling" features is even better:

In fact, our data shows that articles with video and one other storytelling element (such as a list or poll) can increase dwell time by 30%, compared to non-video articles.

I don't care whether your business model is advertising, or B2B content for lead gen. We can all relate to "dwell time." Getting folks to spend more time on your pages before they "bounce" is almost always a good thing. Playbuzz makes the dwell time case:

Dwell time is key to more meaningful consumption and showcases a story’s effectiveness while boosting reader loyalty. Dwell time also helps publishers meet their commercial goals as notable dwell time means increased viewability for their advertisers.

"Boosting reader loyalty" seems like a reach, but the rest makes sense. Another Playbuzz point: video alone doesn't get the job done. Despite the hype cycles over video content, it's the combination of video embedded in text that pays off:

Rather than resort to video as a text replacement, data shows publishers should combine video as part of a bigger story to garner the highest impact.

More Playbuzz data:

Our data shows that combining video and text is impactful, resulting in a 42% increase in dwell time, compared to text-only articles, and a 33% increase in dwell time compared to non-video articles.

Intrusive promotion is not appreciated

Earning attention through content works, but intrusive ads and interruption marketing don't. This is a tough problem for video and podcast monetization, where advertising comes off as impersonal and intrusive. Playbuzz:

Today’s consumers don’t want brands aggressively pushing their way into social media feeds, video viewing or podcast listening. This is a dilemma for publishers who need the ad money and also for brands who have the funds to develop compelling content but still need to reach consumers.


Publishers and brands will be looking for effective ways to work together in integrating monetized content that is more engaging and relevant, than intrusive.

How would you do that?

For example, monetized video that is relevant to the editorial it is placed in.

Perhaps - but this is where my common ground with Playbuzz gives way:

Today, publishers produce video content quickly, resulting in something no TV network would ever run.

Well, first off, TV networks run a lot of craptastic content right now; good production values can't make up for the stench. Network television has a ratings erosion problem and is hardly a role model in terms of monetization.

This [quality problem] will change as third party tools become available for publishers and brands to craft beautiful video quickly and easily.

If only it were that simple. In the enterprise space at least, quality production values aren't the heart of it. The problem is creating too much slickly produced, brand-pushing content that no one can relate to. Automating video "storytelling" is a help, but that won't save content producers from themselves.

The crux is creating soulful and/or truly helpful content that people enjoy. Ironically, informal videos can get more traction than the highly produced stuff. Call it the authenticity factor - e.g. Holger Mueller's "event review on the way to the airport" phone video rips.

When we do customer video shoots for diginomica, sure, we want the videos to look nice. But we try to emphasize an informal conversation over a bunch of whizz-bang graphics and visual distractions. That's because a customer willing to go on visual record with their results - and their challenges - just never gets old. It doesn't need a lot of dressing up.

My take - we need to stop throwing around words like "storytelling" and "interaction"

Playbuzz's advisory on the power of video - not as standalone - but embedded in text along with other "interactive" features like polls, is spot-on. But I cringed at the idealization of "storytelling" and "interactive" without properly defining them. Is clicking on an embedded poll in a story "interactive"? Probably. But is pressing play on a video "interactive"? I'd argue not.

And even if it is, enterprise marketers should distinguish between interacting with content and interacting with a community. Content that sparks discussion, event registrations and deeper relationships is the real gold. I don't believe pressing "play" on a video makes me more loyal to your web site. Perhaps we can define clicking habits as "interaction" and real conversations as "engagement," but we should use these words with precision.

The same goes for "storytelling." Yes, there is real power in telling a story. Software that helps you construct a semblance of a story is a good thing. But our language shouldn't make us overconfident. Most of the time, we're not telling stories.

At best, we pull off a "moment" with our readers. A moment of insight, a moment of transparency, a helpful tip they can actually use. Yes, those moments should tie into an overall brand narrative, but storytelling is Harry Potter and Game of Thrones, not an orchestrated series of annoying videos.

Playbuzz included a link to an example of "great editorial" using their product. I'm sure they have better examples, but I found this one depressing. It was a HuffPo article called The Downfall Of Theresa May In 15 Handshakes. I don't care how much traffic this piece got, if this is the future of editorial, please escort me to the nearest bridge - I don't care if the water is cold this time of year.

"Top performing content" like this exists in a precarious world where the ad-dependent model is broken. Adding time-on-page to total-page-views to cannot salvage it. Consumer sites are bogged down in incessant pop-ups, auto-play videos, and other desperate attention measures. The great editorial gasping for breath somewhere beneath all that advercrud is not enough - I don't care how "interactive" it is and what kind of story it tells.

I am heartened by the modest growth of subscription-funded web sites. In the U.S., we are seeing this in regional sporting sites, including one in my sports-addicted region, Boston Sports Journal. Still in its early days, this is largely a reader-supported model. The writers don't have to worry about "storytelling" in some meta sense.

They already have opt-in subscribers eager for their views. Their job is to create the best content based on what they've learned traveling with the teams, and interact with readers in a low-advertising, reader-friendly UX ("No bull. No bait. Just Boston"). You could say they are adding sticky context to stories far grander than anything they could conjure. And guess what? they already have vital data on all of their core paying visitors. No need for aggressive pop-ups, or sensational viral reaches that lack verification.

Does multi-media factor into that mix? Certainly - Boston Sports Journal frequently shares podcasts. I'm sure Playbuzz is right: embedding video into their articles would add more value.

I see five challenges for the B2B marketer:

  1. Create great and/or helpful content for your community/audience.
  2. Produce it at a consistent scale for your needs, automating tedious steps where possible.
  3. Get folks who find your content to hang around long enough to absorb something ("dwell time")
  4. Encourage as many folks to opt-in to further content before they head out - without alienating them with intrusive tactics.
  5. Make sense of results via content analytics - measure progress, identify winning approaches.

Playbuzz touched on most of these pain points, though they were writing for a different audience. Video and "interactive storytelling," properly defined, absolutely have a place in this mix. The success of video with text doesn't surprise, but it's good to see fresh numbers on it.

Fixing fake news is too ambitious for any brand. At best, we can strive to be an oasis of informed relevance, and with any luck, help a few folks along the way.


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