I love storytelling. And I love the rush of telling stories that resonate with an audience. It’s a riot. Our latest project at Blade HQ is blowing up on YouTube right now and soaring past 250k views. This is pocket knives, folks! Relatively few people care about steel types, handle materials and blade grinds, but droves of people are watching. So, how do you create successful video marketing that has that sort of value to so many people? I’ll tell you, but first watch the final project:
Build an Audience
We’ve got 150k YouTube subscribers on the Blade HQ channel. So… 150k subscribers = 150k views, right? Nope. My observation with our social media is that 10% of any audience on any platform is regularly participating in the content created. So 150k subscribers = 15k average views. This core audience is mission critical; they are the ones who will lift your content from the Internet dregs and carry it to the world. On YouTube, they’re the ones that will leave the initial comments and start the discussion. These tastemakers and early adopters will sink or sail your content ship; they are the ones that will help you game the algorithms that ultimately control your reach. Build your audience and treat them right. Here’s how our core audience responded to the video:
You may be thinking: but we’re just a small brand with 1,000 followers on Instagram. Yup. You gotta’ start somewhere. I took this screenshot on September 23, 2011 when we hit 1,000 subscribers on YouTube. I was pleased as punch:
We now have 158k subscribers on YouTube. It’s humbling to think about where we started. Audiences are built one day at a time, one post at a time. Here are three things I’ve seen that will help you build an audience on any platform:
- Be Consistent– post regular content at regular times. Match your content with your brand and customer.
- Be Real — I’m not very good at the buttoned-down corporate flow. I like laughing and having a good time. We leave mistakes and funny parts in our content because we’re human! Humans respond to other humans.
- Contribute– Offer suggestions, ask questions, give genuine praise. Become a member of the community in which you’re selling your wares. These contributions always come back in kind.
Tell a Great Story
I’m convinced that there are compelling stories in every industry. I’ve wanted to tell a cool story about rust-proof H1 steel for years. Back in 2012 I made an attempt. 19,000 views in 5 years. Not great. When we revisited the topic, we started with a story: “These knives don’t rust!” That’s an amazing story, but how do we tell it well? That’s where this handy chart from film school comes in:
I won’t go into the intricacies of the chart in this post, but the idea is that you’re creating a story that has plot points, setups, payoffs and a resolution. We sat down multiple times throughout production to make sure the story we were capturing would make sense. Here’s what that looks like in whiteboard form:
Here’s the final iteration of this idea, after all the footage was shot:
I know we got it right because the audience let us know:
I use this chart and storytelling process in thinking about other parts of marketing as well. It works for subject lines and images for email campaigns. I use it when I think about customers landing on our website. The idea is that you’re creating a flow-through story within your content. How does a subscriber, viewer, web visitor or follower flow in and out of your brand’s story? Think about it beforehand and craft the experience.
Game the Algorithm
One of the most useful marketing things I’ve ever read was called the YouTube Creator’s Playbook. It’s gone now and the YouTube overlords have replaced it with a more complex guide called the “Creator Academy,” but the concept is the same: YouTube reveals their algorithm through case studies and tips to help creators be successful on YouTube. These tips are all on their website, but here are the specifics on how we gamed the YouTube algorithm with this video:
- Thumbnail: We put a person and a knife in the thumbnail. People love to look at other people.
- Title: We spent a looong time thinking and revising the title of the video: “Will it rust? Knives vs. Great Salt Lake | We found a drone!” Long title, but every component is important. Asking a question gets people thinking. “VS.” is common on YouTube. Including “drone” in the video title cross-pollinates with another audience.
- Comments: We encouraged our viewers to comment using #Alex and a giveaway, then we responded to their comments in a meaningful way (1,179 comments so far). These comments and subsequent comment banter tell the algorithm the video is worth watching.
- Watch time: Remember those GPS coordinates that popped on screen? The watch time and re-watch time in that area is crazy high… by design. We want to keep people watching as much as possible, so we also created storyline teases, setups and payoffs throughout the video. You have to watch until the end to see what happened with the drone. Each piece is designed to keep the viewer engaged.
- 48 hour views: Remember your core audience? The 15k loyal subscribers on our channel are the ones that unlocked the gate to 250k views: they watched, liked, commented and shared the video in the first 48 hours. The algorithm looks at those metrics and determines it’s worth including in suggested and trending videos across the platform.
Video Marketing is About Mileage
I’ve focused on the YouTube techniques we used to make this marketing video successful. But the Internet is all about mileage: How much mileage can I get on a single piece of content? More than simply 250k views on YouTube. Consider this clip from the video that we posted on Instagram:
233k views on that video! Sweet mercy. That’s huge. Our audience on Instagram is around 200k. The algorithm did us a huge favor. The same clip topped 58k views on Facebook. Here’s a chart of total views from the content we created from this shoot:
Total views on all pieces of content was over 600,000. Boom.
Be cognizant of getting as much mileage as possible out of your content. Each platform is another place to get your name and products in front of a crowd, and if you’ve already made a piece of content, reuse and recycle.
Did it Work?
It depends. Not from a direct revenue and knife sales perspective– those have been lackluster at best. We track direct sales from videos via Google UTM links, and we watch category sales closely on the backend of our site when a promo like this goes live. We sold a few Salt knives, but overall, it was business as usual. So why do a project like this? 600k+ people just saw our brand! That’s huge, particularly when a large majority of those people have likely never heard of Blade HQ. (BTW: the Blade HQ brand is spoken or shown a whopping 17 times in the 12 minute video– subtle, yet saturated.)
In the world of e-commerce, we have a tendency to rely heavily on our direct data and sales to gauge success. But it’s difficult to measure the long-term value of a project like this. Maybe it will hit a million views in the coming months. Maybe releasing it in November wasn’t the best idea, but come summer, people are going to buy rust-proof knives in droves. I’m not too concerned about it. The people loved it. And when the people love it, we win.
A Few Final Notes
Had we stuck to our original plan for this video, it would have lacked soul. The video resonates because of the unplanned additions along the way that gave it life. The lemonade scene and drone find and ending plot twist were all unplanned parts of the story that just happened. Our pre-production planning led us to locations and situations, but we had to keep our eyes open to capture the story as it happened. How do you do this? Pay attention. Look for environmental pieces within the space that would speak to the audience core. This can be applied to email marketing, social posts or any host of marketing techniques. What will speak to the core? Find it, then give them that. Capture it. Tell that story.
I’ve heard it said that the best writing is re-writing. We rewrote the plot on this video at least 5 times. We remade the thumbnail 3 times and rewrote the video title twice. The video still needs some tuning in the description and it could use more YouTube cards. Be wary of stamping a project with “complete” until you’ve thought about all the elements involved. Additionally, be open to mid-flight modifying after launch. The best writing is re-writing.
A project like this happens with a team. Jamie shot it beautifully. I was decent on camera– a stark improvement over my previous work. Matthew took extreme ownership of the edit, even going so far as to shoot more b-roll when we needed time transitions. Blade HQ has a very talented marketing team, and this project is a reflection of many combined minds and efforts.
This video had a release deadline. We could have tuned it for days and years, given the time. Set your little birds free. Let them fly. Maybe they crash unceremoniously into the pavement. It happens. But maybe that’s the story in itself.