Why does video work?

04th November 2021

Why has video become such a dominant force within marketing? The short answer is that well-planned video on mobile is arguably the most effective mass communication format ever. If used correctly it’s the best platform marketeers have ever had to change people’s opinions.

This does not mean video is a magic wand for every marketing problem but it’s a substantial part of the solution, and an understanding of how to effectively integrate it into your marketing strategy can elevate your results ten-fold. In this article, we will dissect the four core reasons video has become the leading tool for engaging your customers and driving sales.

Moving image

Since we first removed ourselves from the food chain, we haven’t had to spend our commute to work worrying about being something else’s breakfast. Our distant ancestors, however, were not so lucky. They needed every advantage that nature could give them to avoid becoming prey, and an ability to detect motion was key to sensing the presence of predators. There is a fascinating topic called the Snake Detection Theory, which proposes that we owe our amazing sight to these reptiles as they forced us to perform better or get eaten and so they have been instrumental in helping us to evolve our visual defences.

The brain doesn’t see light, it merely interprets information coming from the retina via electrical signals from cells. This means that if the whole scene that we are looking at moves, the cells remain silent (which occurs when we move our head). But if only part of the scene moves, they signal to the brain that there is movement. Thus, we are tuned into small, sudden movements, like those of a predator.

In short, when we see moving images our attention is aroused and we pay greater attention – and we can thank snakes for that one. The fact that videos move is a neat physiological reason for the effectiveness of video… but what about psychological reasons?

Our great love for smartphones

The shift from keypad and mouse to touchscreen devices means the type of interface we use is becoming increasingly significant in how we relate to content. 60 percent of net traffic is now on mobile and touch devices, and what was the ‘normal’ way to watch content is no longer the norm.

But why this change in viewing behaviour? I have no doubt that, as you read this, you are within five feet of your mobile phone. If you’re like me, it’s probably right beside you. Boy, do we love to hang onto our mobile devices. So much so that we generally spend an average of three hours and 15 minutes on our phones every day, picking up our phones 58 times in 24 hours with the top 20 percent of smartphone users spending upwards of four and a half hours glued to the screen.

So what is it that we find alluring? The short answer is: dopamine. Dopamine is a neurochemical that makes us feel good when we do things, so we keep doing them. It was a necessary part of evolution as it encouraged us to find food, helped us to focus on remembering things, and gave us the motivation to complete tasks. Without it, humanity simply wouldn’t have been that bothered to get things done.

Your phone is basically a dopamine pump, and every time you use it, you get a surge of the good feelings that keep you going back for more. Hunting for, and finding, new information provides a dopamine high. So does being validated, liked by others and feeling accepted in a wider group. Basically, all things that we look at our phone for.

However, the bond with our phone goes way beyond a simple dopamine kick and there are deep psychological forces at play here. Two crucial principles include the idea of personal self and the endowment effect, which you can read more about in my recent book Video Marketing.

Audience targeting

We’ve had a look at some quite abstract ideas up to this point. Now we move onto something more practical: the power of targeting content at people by the specifics of who, and where, they are.

Our digital lives leave a footprint that’s actively collected by all the major tech companies. Our data is a commodity created as a by-product of everything we do online, which is bought and sold for a profit. Data sets are generated by trackers and apps that cover everything we do, from purchases, searches and messages to locations, communication patterns, interests, faces, emotions and illnesses. This data enables us to know not only who is currently thinking what, when and why but, more importantly, what they will be thinking, when and why. When we know this, we can target ads and messages at a highly selective groups of people.

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Emotional storytelling

The final piece in the puzzle is to understand how videos can drive behaviour change in audiences by talking to them at an emotional level. Emotional storytelling is the single biggest thing that video has going for it. It’s easy to make a video that is emotionless and ineffective, but when you get it right you can sit back and watch your campaign results soar.

Humans have evolved telling and listening to stories. It’s how we have always communicated and how we understand the world around us. Indeed, when humans see or hear a story, a lot happens. Firstly, our brain waves change, the amygdala and hippocampus kick in to remember things, our language centres spark up ready to understand the world, and our brain is flooded with neurotransmitters and hormones like vasopressin, serotonin, endorphins, oxytocin and our favourite… dopamine. These chemicals cause emotion to kick in, which hijacks our cortex, making us forget about using our observant, considered judgements, instead moving to a reliance on emotional decision making.

This chemical reaction underlines the fact that humans have a predilection for narrative, with a psychological and neurological basis born from millions of years of evolution. Narrative engages the entire human brain. It can change the opinion of even the most stubborn of minds using pathos (an appeal to emotion), and is a way of convincing an audience of an argument by creating an emotional response.

In summary

So why does video marketing work? Above we have briefly explored four of the core factors involved:

  1. That humans are hard-wired to engage with moving imagery
  2. We are mobile phone addicts, to the point that we consider them an extension of ourselves
  3. We have more data than ever before through targeting, making our video campaigns more effective
  4. Stories are a powerful tool used throughout history to share knowledge and influence behaviour

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