How to Tell Authentic Brand Stories with Video

Digital storytelling with video has become an essential skill for business leaders and brands. In this episode, executive storyteller and industry analyst, Michael Krigsman, speaks with David Hoffman, a successful brand storyteller and documentary filmmaker to learn inside secrets on how to tell a compelling brand story with video.


Dec 06, 2019

Digital storytelling with video has become an essential skill for business leaders and brands. In this episode, executive storyteller and industry analyst, Michael Krigsman, speaks with David Hoffman, a successful brand storyteller and documentary filmmaker to learn inside secrets on how to tell a compelling brand story with video.

David Hoffman practices a simple but profound idea. He says” it's not what you say that your audience hears. Your audience hears a combination of what you say and what they already think/feel. Therefore, to communicate effectively, you must deeply understand the target audiences who you are trying to reach.”

David Hoffman is an 8-­‐time Emmy Award winner & Tribeca Disruptive Innovation Foundation Fellow who has consulted to executives on audience engagement at more than a dozen Fortune 100 companies including AT&T, GE, Google, Verizon Wireless, United Technologies, Merck, Amazon & Sony. His start-­‐up clients include Mesosphere, Yerdle, Cherokee Uniforms, Liquid Robotics & TEDMED. He has worked directly with leading entrepreneurs including Jay Walker, Jeff Bezos & Megan Smith.


This transcript has been lightly edited.


Michael Krigsman: In business, telling stories is crucially important. Today on CXOTalk, we're going to learn how to tell stories with video. David Hoffman is a very prolific and very successful documentary filmmaker.

David Hoffman: I'm a documentary filmmaker using reality to tell corporate stories; startup stories; on occasion, my stories; on occasion, individuals who want to share their stories. Why am I saying stories? Because it's the form that I use to attract the audience and then engage the audience.

Video is the chosen mechanism today. Mary Meeker said both in 2016, 2017, and 2018, also, video is taking over. When you look at Google, Google has under four billion searches a day. YouTube has slightly under four billion searches a day. Video is the way to communicate, it seems to me, so that's why I'm in that space right now.

Why Should Brands Pay Attention to Video?

Michael Krigsman: Why has video become so important? What about video touches us in that visceral way?

David Hoffman: Video, first of all, is emotional. It's very difficult to be emotional on a webpage, on a page, or with a written word these days, particularly, since everybody skims. Video is emotional.

The face is enormously powerful, especially on a cellphone. Seventy-three percent of Americans are watching most of their videos on cellphones, including B2B. People are not sitting at computers the way they used to.

It's this size screen. With this size screen, giant landscapes, beautiful pictures are irrelevant. All the stuff that corporations put into their videos with 4K is just silly. You're looking at it on this big of an image.

The face is really powerful. My face is powerful. I think your face is powerful, Michael. The face brings authenticity and credibility, which is the key, in my mind, to video either on a computer or on the phone.

How Can Brand Storytellers Be Authentic on Video?

Michael Krigsman: Authenticity and credibility, we hear these terms used a lot. Brands talk about being authentic, being credible. Most of it falls short. How do we convey authenticity and credibility?

David Hoffman: Ninety percent of the videos are totally inauthentic. They look like public relations, which is a bad word, or, even worse, advertising. If you're a millennial, and that's just about half the workforce now, you don't like advertising. You didn't like it when you had to watch it on television. You didn't like it when you could cut it off with the DVR, which everybody did. Now, you don't like it on the Web either.

The idea of fancy production, 4K, 2 cameras, oh, what a waste. The guy is talking to the camera and then, all of a sudden, he's looking like this. Then he's looking like that. Then he's looking like that. All set up with music and panning shots with the camera moving – all wrong.

What we want is authenticity. What's authentic? A credible person speaking.

I'll give you two examples, Michael and the audience, very interesting ones. They're kind of Harvard business case. One is Tom Carvel. Now, if you're from the Northeast, you know Carvel. Michael, you're from Boston, so you know.

Tom Carvel gets on the radio and television and he does something like this. I can't exactly imitate it, but it's, "Hi, I'm Tom Carvel. We're here at 110 River Road, Riverwood, New Jersey. Do you make fresh ice cream, John?"

"Sir, we make the freshest ice cream every day."

Tom Carvel looks to the camera. He says, "Tom Carvel, if you're in New Jersey, stop off here." The advertising agencies who don't like that kind of advertising, it's cheap and it's easy to do, blasted the guy. Ad Age blasted the guy and his business and those ads took off.

Another one is Crazy Eddie—the same era—who did the same thing. He just talked.

The idea, when I go to a company like Bechtel, I was just looking at Bechtel, for example, and they have 600 videos that all look the same, the same silly PR style, what I call PR style. No insult to the public relations concept, but the agencies, they're selling you soap.

In my view, authenticity is not about fancy. Authenticity is about real, even if you are selling soap.

Michael Krigsman: You don't need a big budget to be authentic. In fact, sometimes a big-budget gets in the way.

David Hoffman: I get a big-budget primarily to think out the idea, to think out the story long before production is ever made. You know what? The biggest budget should be in understanding the audience, understand who you're talking to.

There's no single audience on YouTube or on television. There are audiences, millennials, people who are technology savvy, people in the United States, women, people who care about their looks, people who don't care about their looks. There are a hundred different ways of looking at this. To understand the audience is where to put the money, knowing who you're talking to, how they feel, what they think, what they'll stick around for, and what they'll connect away from or cut away from; click the button and go away from you or your video.

Then production; production is about making certain that you are the audience in production. Filmmakers, for example, who want to win nice awards at advertising festivals, as I used to do when I made ads, these guys are making things for themselves.

"Wait a minute. We've got to do it again. It doesn't look beautiful. There's a little reflection in the light over there. Could you say that again without the um and ah?"

No, you need the um and ah. You need mistakes. You need to really rethink that to be really credible.

Distribution; some money needs to be put into distribution, but the primary dollars are in understanding, writing, thinking it out, moderate production value. Don't go fancy unless you're going for the big screen, unless you're going to produce a commercial for a big-screen theater. Then I say okay; go for the big stuff.

When you're on a little screen, when you're talking to somebody who can click you off with a little push of their finger, don't spend too much there. Then distribution, well, I think we're going to talk about that. That's super important. Moderately expensive; not that much, really.

How Can Brands Create Authentic Customer Stories?

Michael Krigsman: Well, we're definitely going to talk about distribution, but I'm still hung up on this issue of conveying authenticity because what I see, you know, I've advised the largest software companies in the world for many years. Too often, what happens is this. They say, "We want to do a story or a video about our customer." It ends up back in the machine at the software company and what comes out the other side is no longer about the customer. It's about themselves. I've seen this over and over and over again.

David Hoffman: It's about the customer, is for real. When the company gets going, particularly when more than one person is the writer, more than one person is working on the script, it ends up being a company pitch. "Oh, we can't say that. We better say that. Add that extra phrase."

I can't stand that stuff; more and more and more information rather than, what does the customer really want to know? You remember, "It was simple"? "It's simple to use. It was easy to use." That was a great Silicon Valley term.

Boy, I mean your technology, Michael, is not easy to use. If it's not easy to use, be honest. It's not the easiest technology to use but it is the best.

Michael, when you're interviewing people, they very often are credible. How are you doing that? What's your style? I watch a fair amount of your shows and the people are real, or they seem real to me.

Michael Krigsman: When I interview people, I think the key to authenticity, conveying authenticity is just asking them questions that actually matter and giving them space. I always tell guests on this show; I say, "Imagine you're having dinner with a group of intelligent friends who don't know your business. Aim it there." That's an invitation to simply be honest, be straightforward, and explain whatever it is you do. That's it.

David Hoffman: I post a video on my YouTube channel, which has 260,000 subscribers and 150,000 views a day. I post a video every other day. Just recently, I posted a video of only me telling a story, no clip to one of my films, one of my commercials, or of my corporate stuff. That's what I usually do. It got a huge audience, over a million views in two weeks. Of the 13-minute show, the average was 10 minutes.

What does that tell me? It tells me: story. That's what you're doing, in a way. If the audience can follow along with you, you probably get an audience watching—I don't know—20 minutes or 30 minutes of your 45-minute show, which is really unbelievable.

What I advise my customers to do, the people that hire me who used to be big guys—GE—now are startups, for the most part, who are more interested in fixing their YouTube situation and fixing their Facebook sponsored posts. The big corporations have libraries. GE, when I started working with them, they had 1,200 videos showing on the various sites, various YouTube channels. Is that not crazy? That's just nuts.

Anyway, what I advise people to do is, first off, reduce down to what the audience wants to hear and keep that audience in your mind. When I don't know what the audience wants to do, I do two things.

One, I do my own independent search on YouTube. I become the audience and I say, "What is that audience looking at?" Because I'm a YouTube creator, I see statistics about how much time the audience is watching, so I can get some sense there.

If I really need to, I call some people. I just did this recently. "You're a radiologist. What kind of radiological paper do you use and how do you use your computer and is it important to you?" The answer I got back was so shocking that it changed the job I was doing.

They said, "We don't care about the radiological paper and we don't care about the program we're using. We care about insurance." If I had not talked to that particular radiologist, I wouldn't have changed the whole messaging around insurance because I learned something I never would have known.

You do have to know your audience. I assume you do that when you're doing your interviews. I can't believe you do it the way you do it without thinking of the people who listen and watch your show.

Conducting Authentic Interviews

Michael Krigsman: Here's the funny thing that having this kind of seemingly casual conversation that I described earlier requires a tremendous amount of upfront planning. There's this kind of paradox of creating video, which is, there's all of this setup, including the audience research, including researching the person that you're speaking with, the technical setup, all of it.

Then when you have that discussion, you need to kind of forget it all and just simply listen to the other person. Of course, bear in mind very carefully what you think the audience cares about. Then you just it. If you prepare the ground, then the seed will grow and bear its fruit in the proper way.

David Hoffman: When you and I are interviewers. I'm an interviewer like you. I care more about what the other guys say than what I'm saying. We're interviewers.

If you're a corporate guy, you tend to keep feeling that something is missing; you should say more. The PR folks should say more. You should state the product's name.

All that needs to go away when you do the interview and you need to credibly believe in your product. Believe in your product. There's so little these days by senior employees, a sense that they actually believe what they're saying. That's a matter of credibility.

I ran an experiment once on YouTube. YouTube has this ad that comes up in the front. After five seconds, you can push "Skip Ad." I created an ad that was just exactly like the video that the person wanted to see. It looked exactly like it. It didn't have any kind of advertising look at all, and we had people watching three-quarters of a six-minute video because they thought no ad ran. They thought that was the video. That tells me something.

People watch what interests them. They pay attention to what they hear and interest them. It's about audio. We haven't talked about that, Michael. If you give me a second, I'd like to share with your audience, we are talking about audio here.

We are not talking about video. This is a small screen at best. Even if it's a television screen, even if it's five feet, it's still a small screen. Audio drives story. Audio drives information, to spend your time looking at something.

In fact, even in the car ads, which are incredibly dumb, the car ads continue to sell young men, for the most part, and pretty women. My wife keeps looking at these car ads and saying, "They are not talking to me." We love our Infinity, but it's not talking to us. It's going through the snow and speeding around the corner. What, are you kidding? Who are they talking to? [Laughter] Well, that's a very expensive ad agency out in Detroit, or New York or LA, that spends a million dollars making one of those things, which everybody skims by, even the people who want to buy cars, except young men and pretty women, I guess.

Brand Storytelling With Authenticity

Michael Krigsman: For the brands, very often that there's such a need. They feel such a need to inject their marketing messages even though, really, at the end of the day, nobody likes to be sold to. Arsalan Khan, on Twitter, makes the point that if you're producing a brand-related video, in the end, it has to be, as you said, about the audience, about the benefits, and everything else really is just fluff. Brands have a tough time with this.

David Hoffman: Let's just look at a few elements in this. You know how brands, based on ad agencies—you can see how I feel about ad agencies these days—are very concerned with color. Let's make the brand look exactly the same.

A man who repeats himself, from my youth, is a bore. Brands should forget copying everything. Instead, make everything different. If you're talking to an engineer, it's a different person than if the presenter is a narrator with a very famous voice. I would not use famous voices. There's no credible ad to knowing that it's Sean Connery. It just doesn't do anything. You don't watch the video any longer.

When the brand is looking to present itself, brand values do matter, but they only matter in the context of the audience. What does the audience care about these days? Let's be honest.

One thing they care about is, are you selling something that really does what you say? How true are you? How authentic are you?

It's the old Pepsi/Coke commercial. People are in Central Park. They're tasting Pepsi and they're tasting Coke. This one tastes better, and it turns out to be Pepsi. That's very convincing to me.

Then when agencies do it, they very often make it fake. Two cameras, one camera like this and one camera like that and one camera like that. Why is the guy talking over here? He should never be talking over here. He should be talking to me. Why they do that style, I don't know but, certainly, the comparison of truth, this is really truth.

Also, challenges. When Ronald Reagan was asked a question—classic Harvard business case—and he said, "I don't know. I'll have to look at that. I'll have to check on that," the press said he's a disaster. The public, his ratings went, I think, 76%, the highest rating he ever had. He was believable.

If I'm not sure, if I'm working it out, if it's not yet quite there, what's there is this, folks. You can create a piece of music using my tool just by singing. Is it perfect? Not yet. We're working on it. If somebody said that, everybody would stay watching. Everybody would stick on it.

YouTube is not a social network. Think about that. Do not use your social network people for YouTube. YouTube is a network. It's a network. It's a center driven by one thing: searchers.

The searchers are searching for a bunch of things and up comes, if you're lucky, your video either as an ad or as a real video. If the searcher is the right person and you've presented the right video, they will watch.

You may get fewer views and, of the viewers, 80% may drop off in one minute. You want that. You're only looking for your target. If your video is working, the target is watching the whole thing.

I have an hour and a half long video made on cancer. Nine-tenths of the people watch five minutes. One-tenth watch an hour and a half. That's who I care about. I care about 300 doctors or I care about a new drug that seems to help. If I'm the target viewer, you want me paying attention.

I find some marketing people really savvy because they understand the difference between marketing and communication. Others really don't. They think marketing is communication or they have a MarCom person who follows the marketing and creates communication.

Communication is about attracting the audience and responding to what the audience is thinking. It's a responsive chord. If I'm talking to you right now and I am not relating to you, that's my fault. I'm not finding the responsive chord that will hold you to Michael's program and what we're talking about so you remain interested.

Building Connection to the Audience

Michael Krigsman: For our YouTube channel, the focus, as you said earlier, really is on retaining viewer attention and so we spend a lot of time trying to figure out who is the audience for every single show, what's the angle that we need to take to address those audience needs, and then what kind of content do we need to create in order to attract that audience. I am strongly of the belief that if you have good content and you're able to reach the right audience, you can lead the audience to water and, if the content is good, they will drink. That's the philosophy behind a lot of what we do.

David Hoffman: That's why it works. You're talking about why it's so successful.

There's another factor: kindness. We live in a very fractured America and, really, a fractured world. Partisan divide, horrible as it was in 1968, and I'm old enough to remember, it may be worse. People are angry a lot. Kindness, kindness from the speakers, from the presenters, from the interviewer.

This is off the point, but it's a pretty funny story. If you go to YouTube and you search yourself, anyone listening to this or watching this, you will find two kinds of things show up on YouTube. One is the videos your guys created. The other is the videos you didn't; somebody else created. It was an interview with you. I've worked with CEOs where they're unaware that the top videos that post are the ones done by someone else who is controlling everything about that video.

One of the things I like about your videos, Michael, is there's kindness coming from you and there's this sympathy for the worker, for the hard aspects of being a worker in today's corporations. It isn't easy. Maybe it never was, but I think—fantasy, maybe—that it was easier when my dad was working in a company than it is now. The stress, the pressures, the workloads, the confusion, Wall Street, the press, employees not feeling loyal—in some ways for good reasons. I'm sure you all agree.

Michael Krigsman: I speak with top leaders in business, government, technology, and academia in the world. But what I have tried to do from day one is humanize them and establish that human connection because, at the end of the day, we all go home. We all have our problems. We all get sick, what have you.

I do think that one of the issues, one of the major problems that many brands have is they are unwilling; they don't have the bravery, almost, that's needed to express honesty and vulnerability. That puts up a barrier with the audience. As you were saying, when you're open, when you allow yourself to be vulnerable and not perfect, and if you inject some warmth into that, it's unique and it's appealing. It's authentic, to use your term, and it becomes credible as well.

David Hoffman: I absolutely agree. Beautifully put and very insightful. It's not so easy to do because, when you have an ad agency and/or a PR firm, you can always blame it on them and get another ad agency. I've worked in the agency world and have seen that happen with major corporations where I'd rather have the agency do it.

Here's something I want you to think about, everyone watching and listening to this. Style: There's a style right now, which is the standard video on the Web style. It has a certain panning. It has certain zooming. It has titles that come up. It has music of a certain type. It is so similar that, rather than turn the audience on, that style turns the audience off. It'd be like every feature film being made with the same exact technique.

Television commercials are very often fast-fast-fast, funny-funny-funny, music-music-music, pop-pop-pop. Who are they talking to? My wife and I hit the DVR the second we hear it. We do not want to hear that. It's just too much noise. I'm having my dinner. It's evening.

The same thing with the videos you create on the Web. Stop that standard form and replace it with one which is somewhat authentic. If you're going to use a person from the company, which I really believe in—employees are great—I bet you most of the viewers can tell if this is a fake or real person, if this is a real person who is reading a script from a teleprompter—boy, is that a mistake—or if it's a real person.

One of the ways you can tell is, who is the person speaking with? Are they talking like this? If they're talking like that, who are they talking to? Who is over there? Is that not the screwiest thing to have someone and they're talking like this rather than like that? [Laughter] You're talking to somebody who is watching this on their cell phone and can easily click you off.

Those are just a few of the many techniques to think about. One of the most interesting ones to me is making a mistake, not making it perfect. The second the viewer sees a mistake he knows there's something here that's different. That's just one of many techniques. It may be manipulative. I'd sure like to see it in politics. When you do see it in politics, it often works.

Michael Krigsman: How much pitching is acceptable? If a company is putting out a video and they want it to be thought leadership but marketing is saying, "Well, no," or the CEO is saying, "We need to show the ROI and we need to get our message out there," how far can you stray into the kind of pitching before it becomes a problem?

David Hoffman: A pitch is a legitimate thing in many businesses to the customer, to the person you want to buy an idea. A pitch is legitimate. Just say what it is.

PBS taught me that a long time ago. I put a bunch of military documentaries on PBS sponsored by United Technologies. That was hard to do. PBS basically said, "We're not running any show from United Technologies that involves the military because it gets $6 billion or $7 billion a year from the military," and I got them on the primetime.

How did I do that? By starting off and telling the audience right up front what I was doing. "This is a story about American Sailors and why they go to sea and why they don't retire."

"Really? Oh, so this is a story about people who like the Navy?"


The same with the pitch. "I'm about to make you a pitch. I'd like you to consider doing an interview with Michael because I feel good when I'm doing it." That's my pitch.

Now, if you don't want that pitch, you're going to turn me right off. If that pitch interests you, this is another one. "Do you need a mortgage? Well, we're a bank and that's what we do. We give mortgages, but you know that. So does every bank. How are we any different? Well, that's a darn good question."

The audience is going to stick with that, even on the radio. I learned a lot of lessons, Michael, not from video, not from film, not from TV, but from the radio where people do not have eyelids, but they do have earlids. They listen to what interests them as they're driving.

There's been evidence time and time again. If you start off by telling people what you're doing, "I'm about to pitch you something I deeply believe in, something I've spent 5 years building with a crew of 500 other people. It's a product that sounds like others at first, but it isn't. Give me a minute and let me tell you about my toothpaste."

"Now, all toothpaste comes in a tube and all toothpaste is sort of meant to taste good and has little advertisements on it. We focused on one thing: cavities. My kids got cavities and I couldn't stand it. I got these top 25 doctors to take a look and see, is there anything real that can be put in toothpaste that makes you not have a cavity or less likely to have a cavity."

Is anybody going to turn that off who has a kid who has cavities? That's what a pitch should be. A pitch should be, tell the audience what you're going to do and then go ahead and do it straight out because you have the freedom. If they don't like it, they'll turn it off.

Michael Krigsman: That is being authentic. Authenticity means being honest and it means being straightforward. If you're going to pitch somebody, just tell them, "I like this thing and you'll like it too." [Laughter]

David Hoffman: Honest is different. I'm not saying you shouldn't be honest. I'm saying that it is not a requirement of authenticity and credibility. Authenticity and credibility are about, does the audience believe that what you are saying is what you believe? That's somewhat different.

Honesty would mean I share things I may not want to tell you. This is still about very selective communication but it's done in a way that appreciates a number of things.

  • One, you're not the most important thing to the audience, no matter what, unless it's cancer. Maybe then.
  • Two, they've got other things to do.
  • Three, they've got a lot of choices, so many choices right now, so many ways to not pay attention to you.
  • Four, they've got other things on their mind at that moment and you're trying to draw them over to what's on your mind at that moment.

Those awarenesses make viewers appreciate you, your company, and your brand. If it's a spokesperson, make that spokesperson real, not a Hollywood actor, a star, or an athlete.

How to Get Viewers to Engage with Your Videos

Michael Krigsman: How do you get people to spend time with your content? Are there tricks with YouTube? Demystify YouTube for us, please.

David Hoffman: That's a lot of work and I can't do that in this interview with you. It's enormously complicated. YouTube is changing that algorithm weekly. Creatives like myself spend, daily, watching the changes in the algorithm, taking advice from other creators, taking advice from YouTube, who is trying to help its creators, because things are constantly moving.

This is a very fluid network trying to protect itself, trying to be decent, trying to help its advertisers. It's a very savvy, sophisticated world, the world of distribution.

One thing I can tell you, or two things is sharing. Every time a video is shared, you've won the day.

How do you get a video shared? The viewer believes somebody else they know either could use it, would like it, or it says something about the viewer that they showed a friend, a colleague.

I'm sharing things on a daily basis. Are you, Michael? Do you share something with someone else every day?

Michael Krigsman: On YouTube?

David Hoffman: Not YouTube. Just articles, anything, anything.

Michael Krigsman: Yes, of course. Yeah, sure.

David Hoffman: Okay, so for the YouTube audience, let's remember this recent study in 2018 shows 75% in the B2B space of middle-level managers searching for a solution search YouTube as frequently as Google. You know why. Google's 150,000 responses very rarely are what you really want unless you want to buy a refrigerator from Amazon, who is the predominant seller. [Laughter]

YouTube, that search system is super sophisticated and people know it. Also, if I can watch you speak for five minutes, I'm more likely to feel what I want to do with you than if I read your pitch on your website.

Michael Krigsman: How do I get people to watch my videos? That's what everybody wants to know. I make a video. I want a ton of people to watch it. How do I do that? You've done that. You figured it out.

David Hoffman: When I speak, when I write in advance, and when I work for others, I try to think up what will draw the audience and what—this is the key—will hold the audience. There's a draw. I'll stick with you for 10, 15, 20, 30 seconds.

Now, what can I keep on saying, "Oh, that's interesting. Oh, that's good. Oh, I like you"? To some men, a lot of men, you're pretty. That doesn't hurt, as we all know.

[Laughter] Those thumbnails on YouTube that shows a large breasted woman seem to get a lot more views initially than one that shows, let's say, a nuclear holocaust, an atomic bomb. There are factors, many. The thumbnail is ridiculously important to attracting somebody and using a certain kind of language.

Did you know that in the description YouTube allows you to say something like 1,000 words? The algorithm is paying attention to those, so most people write this little thing with just a link to their website. That's not good from a YouTube perspective in terms of getting an audience.

There are a lot of factors to this, but the most meaningful one for me right now, my audience is 45% millennial—that tells me a lot—and 40% people 50 and over – my age. I have a large audience of older people who feel good when they hear me talk. That's what they tell me.

Comments: How many of you who work for a company and are in this space or at a senior level actually read the comments on YouTube? They're real people. How could you not read those comments or have somebody read them and use them?

Some of them are wonderful. Some of them are horrible. There are trolls so, every comment, I have to check it before I allow it to be used, particularly for a client. But I don't remove comments because they're very helpful.

In the old days, ten letters written to a CEO would affect that CEO about a major television program that I had made. I'll never forget that. I got another job because the CEO got ten letters.

Today, it's comments, and they're not coming on Google. They're coming on YouTube. They're not coming on Facebook, which is your friends. They're coming on YouTube and they're extremely useful, so that's another technique that I use. I engage with certain members of my commentators, certain commentators who then share all over the place with other commentators.

Michael Krigsman: What about SEO? Do you think about search engine optimization at all when you're writing your descriptions and creating your videos and your topics?

David Hoffman: I certainly did in the early days. It was a meaningful thing. I'm not convinced that it's as meaningful today and probably most of your audience isn't either.

It's a fancy word. Agencies use it. It's just like agencies say, "We're going to have our social media expert come in," and I know that social media expert may really know Twitter, may or may not know Facebook sponsored posts, which can be very successful putting video on Facebook. [Laughter] One in ten video ads on my Facebook, I buy the product, so they're damn good at finding me.

YouTube is not social media. YouTube is a network presenting ideas for searchers who are searching. YouTube had this vision a long time ago. You may remember it.

Each individual could create their own program for the day. What interests me? I write it all down, and I only see what interests me in a program.

They never did that. I'm not sure why, but it's certainly true when I search YouTube. I'm either looking for something or something else on the right side of the screen, which is another way I get subscribers, followers, has attracted me. I'm constantly paying attention to what words YouTube has selected where the people who select that word then select me. You seem to be very good at this, Michael, because your audience, though targeted, is right on the money for who you're talking to and about.

What are Key Metrics for YouTube?

Michael Krigsman: We need to talk about the distinction between views and average view duration. On YouTube, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, if somebody watches a video, depending on the platform, for three seconds, say, or maybe five seconds, that counts as a view. For the enterprise, for where I work, having somebody watch a video for three seconds is just absolutely meaningless. It's useless.

What we really strive to optimize for is to hold attention; find the right audience so that on, say, any video, they're sticking around for—I don't know—50%, 60% of whatever the time is. On a 45-minute video, that means somebody is maybe sticking around for 20 minutes. If you can hold somebody's attention for 20 minutes, you've really got something.

Anybody can buy; for a penny a view, you can buy as many views as you want. The key is the average view duration. If you've got 10,000 people watching who have viewed your video and they, on average, have watched for 20 minutes, now that's 100,000 minutes that people have spent watching with your content. Now, that's a real number; that's a high number. That's what we care about.

David Hoffman: That makes sense to me. I've had much more targeted interest where, for example, working for a company, a startup that had a mechanism for burying nuclear waste. I created six videos. Each video was targeted at an audience, one of them being investors. The success would be based on, did any investors find the video such that they reached out to the company, A) or, B) people who were already thinking of investing, did it influence them? We did our own research and it worked.

In another case, government officials, a different video. In another case, scientists and educators. These are different ways of focusing on the audience and all I care about in that case is not the total view but who are the viewers and, in some cases, actually, I'm putting a video for a client on YouTube—you'll find this interesting—that isn't for YouTube at all.

They're sending everyone who is watching it to YouTube. Why? YouTube is a third-party network. It has a little bit of credibility, ironically, that putting it on your website doesn't have. On your website, it's PR. You know it's PR. On YouTube, that's YouTube. That's the network. It's a fascinating thing with people.

I remember somebody once asked General Motors, why did you give Ken Burns $10 million for The Civil War? What do you guys care about The Civil War? General Motors' head of marketing said, "Two reasons that have nothing to do with televisions. One, we have all these dealers around the world and we show the dealers elements of the film as special screenings and we have Ken Burns speak." That makes sense.

"The other is, we're in a few magazines that are absolutely critical to us. When we advertise that we sponsor The Civil War series with the right picture, we get more eyeballs and more response to that ad." That's why they're doing it.

They're not doing it because they want people to watch on PBS and see the little ten-second thing for General Motors. They have other targeted reasons.

YouTube is a giant network, obviously, with billions of searchers. I'm using it as a target. I just want to find people who want to buy a nuclear power plant. How many of them are there?

I did this for GE. There were 300 people who buy locomotives. I had to find a way to get those 300 people who buy locomotives to pay attention. That's a very targeted audience.

Influencer Marketing and Content Marketing for YouTube Ranking

Michael Krigsman: How do you do that on YouTube? On Facebook, of course, you can buy very, very targeted ads but YouTube advertising, Google AdWords, doesn't let you go to that level of granularity in the way that Facebook does.

David Hoffman: On YouTube, what I do, and what others do, is we don't start with the YouTube search as the mechanism for drawing the target. We get somebody who is in the target to watch it and share it. In the case of the locomotive, if there was one magazine that paid attention.

In my video that I had mentioned earlier that got more than a million views in two weeks, it happens to be the story of a horse. I got to one horse magazine with an audience of maybe 5,000 readers. They picked it up. Within a week, it was in 15 magazines.

We're using the other media, which includes public relations, in order to draw people to the video on YouTube, not necessarily YouTube. YouTube is a network like television is a network. But if you can draw the eyeballs from any other mechanism that you have: contacts, press, print, Twitter, LinkedIn to some extent. To me, meh on LinkedIn. I don't know how you all feel. In any case, we're using other mechanisms to draw targets who are movers and shakers who then motivate a larger audience.

Michael Krigsman: For example, in the case of that horse video, did you send emails to the horse magazines? Essentially, you're doing influencer marketing saying, "Hey, you'll like this content. Would you take a look and share it if you like it?" or is it something different?

David Hoffman: Yes. In one case, I sent it to the magazine. In another case, it was a Quora guy with a quarter of a million followers who was a horse guy. That's all he had to do was talk about it and that was it. Boom. It took off right away because he had the people and he loved the video. It was a good video for him.

Michael Krigsman: You're putting out a lot of videos and so are you doing this type of outreach for all of your videos or are you selective? How do you think about it?

David Hoffman: For every client, it's a real job. Usually, for me—thank you for asking—it's a three- or four-month gig. Think it out. Understand the audience. See the production be made or make it. In some cases, I make it. In a lot of cases, I don't. Somebody has their local favorite. Then distribute. Then evaluate. That's a three- to four-month process.

I can't take on many clients because I'm not the company that I once was. I once had 80 people in my company and now it's me and some really good freelancers. There's some kind of writing that I can't do, for example. There's some kind of shooting that I can't do and there's some kind of editing that I can't do, so I don't do everything in production at all.

I do everything on the front end. Who is the audience? What do they think? How can we influence them? How do we distribute in such a way?

"Oh, you know someone on the board of ___? Send them this video. Tell them we're going to publish it in a week. We'd like them to send it to their email list."

I am heavily using those techniques and that's not being done by me. That's being done by the client.

Michael Krigsman: This is part of the paid engagements as opposed to the many, many videos that you're putting out on your channel.

David Hoffman: This is a personal statement, but I've come to love YouTube. I didn't start out wanting to do so much YouTube as I'm now doing, but I now have all these people writing me, thousands a day, and I feel for them. They're asking advice, so I started a Patreon account, which is doing extremely well, where, if you become a patron, I personally answer your questions about video or about storytelling. They're mostly not clients. They're ordinary citizens.

I've become attracted to the medium myself, so I'm sucked into it now. I do a video every other day or three times a week.

Michael Krigsman: Are there other thoughts, anything else that we really need to keep in mind if we want to do this kind of digital storytelling from the concept, to the creation, to the distribution of video?

David Hoffman: Have an ombudsman that is there who speaks for the audience. If you and your people, your production people, your writing people, the people in front of the camera, and your ad agency can't do it, somebody should be there who speaks for the audience who understands the audience. An ombudsman is very helpful.

Two, you've heard me slam ad agencies and PR firms left and right. That doesn't mean that everybody who works there isn't terrific because I've met some terrifically savvy communications people inside the agencies. It's about a concept that follows the other guy that wants to spend more money and that tells you, "Oh, that campaign didn't work? Let us do another one."

That's an interesting business. I make more money when you don't do so well, and you hire me again. I do have my problems in that regard.

If your company wants to reach a target audience and you are not really paying attention to YouTube and Facebook, particularly YouTube, if all you're using YouTube for is as a resource library for every video that's ever been made, you're just not using the medium. It's like television in 1950 when not many companies understood how to make an ad that attracted the audience and held the audience, even though they had no choice, right? Plus, the audience was new.

The audience is not new. It's very savvy. Millennials have a strong distaste for anything that seems like it's selling them something rather than telling them something.

Michael Krigsman: Zachary Jean says, "Do you have any thoughts about YouTube's recent demonization of family-friendly content? What do you think will happen with those channels focused on kids or creatives?"

David Hoffman: I think, tell me if I'm wrong, that it's coming from government. That the Trump Administration has passed a ruling requiring this. The last thing YouTube wants to do is hurt its gamers, right? The gamers are making them a lot of money and they're for kids.

We, the content creatives, as you know, are being forced to decide, is this kid-friendly or not? How can we do that? I mean I have 13-year-olds that watch my videos, which are not made for 13-year-olds but comment on it.

Is it made for them? No. How do you define that?

You're onto something. I don't like it, but I don't blame it on YouTube. I blame it on the government regulation COPA that's making that happen.

Michael Krigsman: We have a comment from Twitter from John S. @Ship_Driver who, on the subject of budget, says, "I'm going to have to disagree. It's always about the budget as it relates to scope and cost. Not having a budget is a surefire way to spend frivolously. While qualitative is nice, it's quantitative data that pays the bills."

David Hoffman: I don't disagree. You have to have a budget, and I cost, so I'm not against the budget. What I'm saying is putting your money heavily into production rather than the two other sides of the three poster-table.

  • One side: who's the audience? Understand what you're really going to say and who you want to say it to.
  • Produce it. I say, too much money being put there.
  • Distribution: Usually, it's just dumped into the stream. You may disagree with me about that, but that's been my experience.

Michael Krigsman: I completely agree. Simply taking your content and dumping it on YouTube, what happens is it's just a mass of content.

David Hoffman: Pardon me for a second, Michael. In answer to that gentleman, I've seen, just recently, videos costing $50,000 for 200 views. Can you believe that? I'm sure the company and leadership felt good about it. Not about the money, but about what they saw. But that is just ridiculous. You could have taken every one of those people on a vacation for that money.

Michael Krigsman: I've seen that too, and brands tell me these stories. I think we're pretty much out of time. Again, David, thank you for taking the time to be here with us today.

David Hoffman: You're welcome. Thanks to all of you who are paying attention, whether you agree with me or not. Thanks.

Michael Krigsman: We've been speaking with David Hoffman. He is a digital storyteller. He uses the medium of video. Check out his channel on YouTube. He's got just amazingly excellent content there.

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Thank you so much, everybody. I hope you have a great day and we will see you again next time. Bye-bye.

Published Date: Dec 06, 2019

Author: Michael Krigsman

Episode ID: 637