Whether you are a brand or an influencer, there is always an important lesson to learn from your peers - and competitors.  I’ve gone through the best brands and influencers of 2015 and compiled my top 5 for each, pulling out a valuable takeaway I learned by observing their successes in 2015.  Use these lessons now and into 2016 and hopefully you’ll make my list this time next year!

Best Use of Branded Video 2015: 5 Top Brands

BuzzFeed

No brand has cracked the code this year quite like BuzzFeed. They have spent a tremendous amount of effort finding out what type of content resonates best with viewers on every platform and figuring out the most efficient way to draw in viewers based on compelling titles and thumbnails. This has resulted in shareable content that has garnered more than 4.7B views on YouTube in the past year and another 8.8B on Facebook.

Video Marketing Takeaway: Take the extra time to create clickable titles and thumbnails for your video content and figure out what works best for each platform. Video length and duration change significantly based upon the platform. Lastly, don’t be afraid to separate your video properties into specific interests to develop a core audience based on the interests of viewers rather than the personality of the people starring in the videos.

Disney

Obviously, Star Wars gives Disney an easy way to the top of this chart. With just the new movie alone, they could have probably made this list. But it’s how they have handled their video campaign for Star Wars that is most impressive. First and foremost, they are holding something back. Although a good chunk of internet users would say they feel inundated with Star Wars content, by that same token Disney has been careful to protect the plot and secrets of the movie. So while their biggest product is at the forefront of your mind, they haven’t given away the whole thing in video.

They have also done a tremendous job of either working licensing deals with other companies or choosing the look the other way for fan based content. The result for Disney, free promotion from everywhere on the internet. Whether it’s the Bad Lip Reading guys doing videos of all of the classic or the Cinema Sins guys covering every single movie, they are earning credit both through their own work and leveraging influencers as well.

Video Marketing Takeaway: Encourage and support collaborative efforts like fan made content. Your passionate fans can and will market your product in a way that resonates best with your target audience.

The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon

The Tonight Show has done a fantastic job of using YouTube as a highlight reel for the show to both develop an online presence and drive traffic back to television for the rest of the show. Anyone working in television should take note. The Tonight Show has used the best of their content to gain over 9 million subscribers on YouTube and grab more than 1.7B views.

Video Marketing Takeaway: Even if you aren’t in television, you can still use video to drive traffic back to your main product. Like The Tonight Show, put the best parts of your product in video form and encourage and show where viewers can find what they are missing or buy your product.

Adidas

If you want to know how to run a brand campaign that reinforces your brand, look no further than Adidas. In the past year they focused on working with popular athletes and ensuring that their videos put their brand image front and center, rather than just making trendy internet memes. Their video campaigns were able to earn over 188M views on YouTube in the past year with a concentrated push around the holiday season that should translate into bigger sales for this year.

Video Marketing Takeaway: While Android’s video with the cute animals may generate a lot of traffic, the brand message isn’t as memorable as it should have been for me. On the other hand, Adidas has been deliberate in their attempts to echo their brand identity and message throughout the video content they have produced. While “cute” content can get viewers’ attention, be certain that your brand is the product you are selling so that the views you get translate to more sales and aren’t just empty views.

GoPro

GoPro is a great example for building a community. Not only do they utilize and feature the best content created using their equipment on their main distribution channels, but they have inspired a legion of fans to film their greatest moments, and most importantly, tag them when they do. This creates massive brand awareness and identity. Their most viewed video in the past year is approaching 15M views, but the most watched brand video of the year is actually fan made. GoPro related videos have garnered over 1.8B views across all platforms in the past year according to Tubular data.

Video Marketing Takeaway: GoPro illustrates the need to not only inspire and engage with your biggest fans, but also the need to train them in how to interact with you. Don’t just tell them what you like, show them what you like and reward the fans who make the best content about your brand. When a passionate fan interacts with you, there are few better rewards than recognizing that passion.

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Video Marketing Lessons: Top Creators 2015

SketchShe

Few influencers had a better year than this Australian comedy threesome. These ladies created their channel in late December of ’14 and found their niche lip syncing hit songs in their car with a comedic twist. They are on pace for roughly 750k subscribers by year-end and nearly 80 million views. That’s quite the first year for a channel on YouTube. They are utilizing both Facebook and YouTube for posting their content, with nearly double the followers and average monthly views on Facebook.

Video Marketing Takeaway: It’s quite clear from their videos that these ladies have higher aspirations than just lip syncing in their car. They have used the success of this niche content to support their love of sketch comedy and have partnered with a number of brands, helping the campaigns for Pitch Perfect 2 and the latest Minions Movie. They are a great example of riding the video content while it is hot. If something you’re making does well, do it again. While their sketch comedy videos appear to be their prime passion, their lip syncing videos account for over 80% of the views they have generated but only about 25% of their content. Give the fans more of what they want to enable you to do what you love.

Roman Atwood

Roman had an excellent year this year and really followed the blueprint of YouTubers like Shaycarl. Roman put a massive amount of effort into his vlog channel this year, building the groundwork for more long-term success. His main channel focuses on outrageous pranks and passed the 1 billion view mark this year while closing in on 8 million subscribers. But his vlog channel has grown by more than 3 million subscribers this year alone. The daily content he makes there also passed the 1 billion view mark, giving him two channels with over 1 billion total views. And oh yea, this Ohio based YouTuber also has a feature film on the way.

Video Marketing Takeaway: The biggest thing you could learn from Roman’s success this year is to make a vlog channel once you have a sizeable following. Once you have built a base audience, you begin to get a core group of fans who like you not only for your work, but just for being you. Those fans provide an immense value and will subscribe and watch all of the content you upload on a daily basis. For this reason, it makes sense to transition into daily vlogger mode once you have reached a point such as Roman.

Casey Neistat

Casey didn’t just enter the YouTube space this year as a daily vlogger, he completely changed the expectations for creators as well. Although he has had a channel since 2010 that saw plenty of success with single videos, it wasn’t until this year that he took his passion for storytelling and put it into daily vlog form. His daily vlogs routinely get upwards of 650k views and he has increased the size of his channel by a million subscribers and tripled his view count by infusing his unique storytelling style with that of a daily vlogger. Rather than just stringing together clips from his day, he truly tells a 3 act narrative with each day of his life.

Video Marketing Takeaway: Casey is a great example of quality AND quantity. He perfectly balances the quality of his videos with the demand for making them daily by grabbing the equipment best suited for the job. For him, that’s often a DSLR with a mic and he’s ready to go. He also makes sure to interact with viewers both in the comments and at least once a week with a mail video or Q & A video. If you’re looking to get into vlogging, use the best equipment you have around that you can edit on regular basis and put the same attention to building your audience as you do to creating your work.

Rhett and Link

It’s no secret that I’ve been a big fan of Rhett and Link for years. There is more to learn from them than just the lessons I’ve picked up in the past year, but their daily show Good Mythical Morning became a regular fixture in online video this year, something that hasn’t been done too often with this level of success. They are closing in on the two billion view mark on their GMM channel which has grown by roughly 3.5 million subscribers and added over a billion views this year.

Video Marketing Takeaway: The takeaway from Rhett and Link is to train your viewers to behave how you want them to behave. In this case, their show is ready and in subscribers’ inbox first thing every morning, they have consistent thumbnails to make it easy to find and they spent a lot of effort raising awareness of the show through pre-rolls this year. Somehow they trained me to watch GMM first thing every morning. Follow their lead and do the same to your audience.

Tori Kelly

This list would be incomplete without mentioning Tori Kelly. Her YouTube channel broke the 1 million subscriber mark going into this year, her 9th on YouTube. But that’s not her biggest accomplishment. Despite being rejected by American Idol in their 9th season, Tori released her first full length album Hollow this year working with Scooter Braun, who manages stars like Justin Bieber and Ariana Grande. Perhaps the biggest accomplishment for her to date is her Grammy nomination for Best New Artist.

Video Marketing Takeaway: If there is one lesson to take away from Tori, it’s to never stop working hard at doing what you love. Having a passion for what you do and being willing to make mistakes have led her to the point she is at today, realizing her dreams becoming reality. While many creators get immediate success, others may take a while to find their way.

Who were your favorite brands and influencers in 2015?  What are you looking forward to the most in 2016? Let us know in the comments below.