Branded content has been a hot topic in 2016 and it’s not slowing down. The space is growing, creating infinite viewing options across all major platforms. Tubular Labs hosted a panel at the Twitch headquarters to learn from the perspectives of three industry leaders who have quickly become thought leaders in the topic of branded content in online video.

Erin Wayne from the popular YouTube gaming channel, Aureylian, Andy Lunique, Influencer Strategist at Microsoft and John Newlin, Solution Director at Twitch, gave their take on what to look out for when integrating branded content into your online video strategy. We’ll explore some of the key takeaways from the panel, who offered a 360º view of online video from the creator, brand and platform perspective.

Watch the highlights from this discussion on opportunities and challenges around online video and how brands can successfully monetize and thrive in this rapidly changing world.

Why is Branded Content the Future of Video?

Technology has allowed for people all over the world to be very selective in which content they choose to spend time enjoying. Viewers can customize and prioritize their viewing experience and John says that “time is now the currency online.” As a brand, if you can create relevant, sincere content, “which by its nature branded content does,” it allows for a genuine connection with the right audience. “From a brand perspective, it’s a huge win!”

Why is Branded Content Effective?

The ability to connect with and serve your audience today is unlike anything we’ve seen before. Erin Wayne compares the difference between being a teenage fan 15 years ago with the fan experience in today’s world. It was once common for fans to join fan clubs and send hand-written letters to traditional celebrities in hopes that they might receive a reply weeks later, most likely auto generated. Today, celebrities are “everyday people” who are directly involved in their channels. Erin adds, “we want that instant connection. We want to feel like we’re connected to the people that we watch.” She explains that viewers are watching creators in a real setting, doing something they truly enjoy, and the viewer can relate to it. When Erin does a branded deal, her audience can trust that she genuinely likes the product because they feel like they know her.

The Importance of Branded Content

Andy Lunique is a huge proponent of branded content and makes a point to use branded content as an opportunity to learn from his audience. It’s important to keep in mind that branded deals are about relationships, which can be nurtured to whatever extent the brand chooses to take it. Brands should do their research before approaching a creator, using analytics like Tubular to get a solid understanding of that influencer’s audience, then approach the creator in a way that’s open-mind and collaborative. Andy says “co-creation is a beautiful thing and allows one to fully “grasp what that influencer [is] capable of doing.” Combine your data and your brand’s goals with the creative style of the influencer and the authenticity of their channel. Stay true to what attracts your audience in the first place. Andy makes an honest point saying “we only get through this with relationships [and it’s] important to keep that state of thinking.”

Emerging Content Creator vs. Established Creator

Who is more likely to have a greater influence on your target audience? According to our panelists, it depends. A known creator will likely have many brands interested in working with them, usually for good reason. On the other hand, when your audience is bombarded with ads, each ad becomes less effective. A mid-tier creator may have fewer brand deals and therefore John Newlin makes the point that they “can drive more purchases to products than the giant broadcasters who just block out the sun.” Erin Wayne adds that “the average YouTube channel, a very successful one, will get about 5% of their subscribers-to-view ratio.” Any higher is incredible and uncommon. It’s a good metric to look for because a seemingly smaller channel could be in the 5% or more category vs. a much larger channel that is actually dormant. Whether you choose to go after the elite influencers or those who are up-and-coming, Andy advises you view them as entrepreneurs and “treat them with [equal] consideration.”

What KPIs Should Brands Focus On?

When it comes to branded online video, you may want to step out of the box in how you think about KPIs. The typical KPIs we hear about are views, subscribers, minutes watched, etc. When compared against other metrics and factors, these can be very telling, but the practice of branded content in online video is still very new and there aren’t any solid benchmarks to go by. The future in analyzing success is to feel out the room. John Newlin says that Twitch is beginning to do “things around just sensing the mood of Twitch [and] taking the pulse” to see whether the audience seems to be enjoying an activation or not. Andy Lunique agrees saying, “we can get reach all day, but if people don’t think we’re relevant or cool, it didn’t matter.” It’s crucial to do your research using analytics tools, but to compare the numbers with audience sentiment.

Branded content in online video is something that’s definitely worth exploring. It provides an incredible opportunity to reach a very engaged audience when done correctly. Whether you are new to the idea or have begun dabbling with it, do extensive research before reaching out to an influencer and when you do approach that creator, invite them to brainstorm ideas that mesh your goals with their passion, for a fantastic collaboration!