The 411 Rule and Promotional Video
The 411 rule was popularised by Joe Pulizzi of the content marketing Institute. It was originally based on Twitter engagement though can be applied to other forms of content marketing. I’ve been wondering how this applies to video content. The rule suggests that for every self serving tweet a relevant retweet should be posted and 4 pieces of relevant content written by others. In content marketing the suggestion is that for every 4 pieces of value based content there can be one soft promotion and one hard promotion. In practical terms this might be 4 pieces of educational assets, 1 piece where the author is mentioned in passing and one piece where a direct promotion or call to action is implied.
Traditional promotional videos were based on singing the merits of a company, product or service. The 411 rule of content marketing however suggests the majority of video production output should be providing value for the audience. This might be educational videos, ‘how to’ videos, entertainment, guides, Industry insider information and expert advice. The soft promotion element of the 411 role could come in the form of customer video testimonials. Providing these come across as authentic they can build enormous trust in a company without the audience feeling they are being preached to. Subtle on screen brand placement can also work to this effect. In FAQ videos and expert advice videos the author can subtly give cues as to how they might approach a problem. The hard promotion is more obvious, coming in the form of a direct call to action.
A single promotional video or a long-term video strategy
When I think back on all the videos we’ve produced over the years I wonder to what extent they provide genuine value for their audience. In some, the line between value and promotion is vague. Videos for theatre companies and music acts have entertainment built-in. The value is part of the promotion itself. For companies selling products and services it can be useful to think about what value is being provided. For a customer specifically seeking information on a particular product or service, a direct promotional video is clearly a valuable asset. For more casual, passing traffic, videos that answer their questions and solve their problems might be considered more valuable. The ideal approach might be one short promotional video providing an overview and then a series of value based videos that educate or solve problems. My feeling is that a directly promotional video shouldn’t be longer than 90 seconds unless it’s providing value to the viewer. To include the 411 rule in a single video requires some creative thought. Subtle product and logo placements, passing mentions in talking head interviews or watermark logos in the corner of the screen can create a subtle balance.
The documentary model
Being a documentary maker myself, I watch a lot of them. I notice that they can have an incredibly powerful and influential effect. I watch them for entertainment and information though they often entice me to find out more about the subject matter and the protagonists. This to me feels like the heart of content marketing. If a documentary preaches or tries to promote something it ceases to be a documentary in the eyes of the viewer. Simply by leading the viewer on a story and journey they can become highly enthusiastic whistleblowers for the subject matter, all on their own terms. I’ve been exploring this idea in video production and more long form video marketing. Companies such as red Bull have become the poster children for this format. Producing entertaining mini documentaries about things that their audience is interested in (extreme sports and activities). Hardly ever do they mention their product yet the brand has become a household name as a result.
Value based marketing seems to me to be a positive move for humanity. When we are rewarded for producing material for the good of other people, it hopefully encourages us to build a better world. With the proliferation of online video, the public has become highly discerning in taste. No longer can content producers get away with producing inauthentic material.