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The five most popular YouTube video types for SMEs to build subscribers and raise brand awareness

12 minute read

video clapper board against desert background

YouTube is by far the most popular video sharing platform on the internet, as well as being the world’s second largest search engine (after Google) and third most visited website overall (after Google and Facebook respectively).

With almost two billion active users visiting the site each month and a total of five billion video views logged every day, YouTube is the leading source of video content on the internet.

YouTube’s reach encompasses 88 different countries and 80 languages – or 95% of all global internet users – offering an opportunity for anyone to create, upload and share video content on the platform, or browse and watch content from other creators.

As well as providing a platform for individuals to upload videos to share with friends or the general public, YouTube is also an important tool in the arsenal of brands and businesses seeking to expand their reach, increase brand awareness, and win fans and followers. This is something that larger companies and brands use to their advantage very effectively – but with only around 9% of small businesses using YouTube in the same way, the chances are that if you are the owner or decisionmaker of an SME in the UK, you’re missing out.

Sharing video content to YouTube can help businesses of all sizes to build subscribers and increase brand perception, if they can accurately identify their target demographics on the platform and reach them effectively with the type of content they want to see.

In this article I will provide an introduction to five of the most popular video types on YouTube that SMEs in the UK can use to win subscribers and build brand awareness.

What makes YouTube so valuable for brands?

Whilst most people who visit YouTube to browse and view interesting content don’t go there with the intention of shopping or taking in marketing collateral, these are two things that YouTube is very effective at supporting.

The very fact that YouTube is a platform that people use for entertainment, socialisation, to learn new things or to pass the time means that the site itself provides a rich resource of prospects who are in the right frame of mind to take in content that is of interest to them, even if they didn’t originally go there looking for it.

Video content as a whole is at an all-time popularity high, with projections indicating that this will increase over the next three years too; globally, video content is set to make up 82% of all internet traffic by 2021, which if borne out, represents an increase of 73% between 2016-2021.

Publishing the right kind of YouTube content can propel anything from an individual teenager making gaming videos from their own bedroom to a previously unheard-of brand or product onto the world stage, giving them the opportunity to build their brand, highlight specific products or services, and even make significant sums of money.

Top YouTube influencers like Pew DiePie and Jenna Marbles can earn well over $10 million per year via the platform thanks to in-video ads alone, before you even factor in opportunities for sponsored product promotions, merchandising, and everything else.

When it comes to brands both large and small, YouTube can be equally effective and profitable. Lego is the most successful brand using YouTube as part of their marketing collateral, with a total of 8.4 billion video views logged by the channel as of November 2018.

Even at the much smaller end of the spectrum, small and medium-sized businesses and individuals can also achieve a high degree of success on the platform by providing unique, engaging and interesting content; like unexpected YouTube success story Chuck Testa of California’s Ojai Valley Taxidermy. Taxidermy might not seem like the type of hot topic that would catalyse YouTube viewers and achieve viral status; and yet Testa has achieved millions of views from just one video alone, propelling him and his business to internet fame and even serving as the source of inspiration for a variety of popular memes.

YouTube’s core demographics and total reach

Who are YouTube’s users? Few people in the UK who use the internet regularly won’t have used the platform at some stage, and 90% of video viewers in the UK use YouTube regularly. But in order to use YouTube to reach your own prospects with the most effective types of content to generate a positive reaction, you first have to know who uses the platform.

Here are the percentages of UK internet users of different ages who use YouTube:

  • 18-24 age group: 97%
  • 25-34 age group: 96%
  • 35-44 age group: 93%
  • 45-54 age group: 85%
  • 55-64 age group: 71%
  • 65-74 age group: 54%
  • 75 years plus age group: 40%

YouTube usage tapers off towards the higher end of the age spectrum, but the fact that YouTube’s market dominance means that they still reach a solid 40% of even the over-75’s in the UK represents a valuable opportunity to reach out to a significant number of people of every age range.

Whilst metrics such as age and broad geographical location alone rarely provide enough information for content creators and marketing professionals to set up accurate demographic targeting, even this information indicates that YouTube cannot be ignored by any business seeking to reach prospects and grow brand awareness.

Why do people visit YouTube?

The purpose for any individual’s visit to YouTube can be highly variable, and will of course change from visit to visit even for individual users. Whilst many YouTube users visit the platform specifically to check out content relating to goods or products they might be considering buying (such as reviews, instructional content, how-to’s and so on), few visit YouTube with the direct intention of buying something or browsing for goods for sale.

YouTube content of different types fulfils a range of different needs for viewers, ranging from informing, entertaining, educating, spreading awareness and so on, and many people who visit the platform with the intention of viewing a specific video or finding a specific type of content stay to take in more content long after their initial video has ended.

The way that YouTube is set up for viewers is designed to extend viewing times and incentivise viewing new content too, and this is achieved in a number of different ways.

First of all, the autoplay setting within the platform brings up suggested or complementary videos as the video being watched draws to a close, automatically selecting content that the site’s algorithms determine may be of interest to the viewer.

The additional video thumbnails and suggestions displayed alongside the chosen video helps to provide a range of options and incentives to view other content. These suggestions may be made up of content from a creator that the viewer has already watched before, videos with similar keywords and tags to viewed content, or videos that other people who viewed the original content went on to view too.

When it comes to individual YouTube channels, other people’s channels are also suggested to viewers and subscribers too, and content from popular creators or that has already begun to trend and bring in a lot of views tends to be highlighted more prominently than new content from unknown creators.

Viewers return to YouTube time after time even without a specific video bringing them into the platform, because there is always something new to watch, and YouTube makes this easy to find. Another advantage that incentivises viewers is that YouTube provides a quick, easy and no-commitment form of entertainment that can be consumed on the go in a couple of spare minutes, or provide several hours of entertainment for those looking for it and willing to keep watching.

What type of YouTube videos are effective at raising brand awareness and increasing subscribers?

If you wish to use YouTube to build subscribers and increase brand awareness, there is a lot to bear in mind. For a video to rank well on YouTube (regardless of its content) it needs to have reasonably high production standards, appear polished and of a good quality, and be correctly tagged and keyworded to enable it to be found.

When it comes to the types of YouTube videos that can be effective at helping brands to achieve their aims, there are a lot of options to choose from and all have their relative merits.

For the purposes of helping SMEs to get off to a good start with their brand channel’s content creation, I’ll outline five of the most popular YouTube video types that can help to build subscribers and brand awareness too, and how to use them effectively.

1. Tutorials, guides and walkthroughs

How-to guides, tutorials, instructional videos and walkthroughs remain popular across all niches on YouTube, and consumers often turn to video for these things rather than seeking written instructions or guides.

Video tutorials and walkthroughs allow you to highlight the products or services you offer and provide some transparency and insights into how they work and why, as well as making it easy for prospects to find out more about the product in question and its USPs.

Tutorials and similar content should be presented in an informative and relevant manner and not as a sales tool, but this latter can often be achieved organically if people see value in the content and support that you provide.

Try to keep content of this type short in length, and don’t begin with a long introduction that doesn’t provide value. If someone wants to check something out pre-purchase or find out more about something they own, shorter content is more likely to encourage a view than longer videos, and keeping them short, punchy, relevant and easy to understand is the key to winning subscribers and encouraging prospects to share your content with others.

2. Unboxing or haul videos 

Unboxing videos – sometimes known as “haul” videos – are one type of content that has grown to prominence on YouTube over the last few years, and this really began within the beauty industry originally, most notably, beauty subscription boxes.

Unboxing videos began with beauty influencers and subscribers posting videos of the contents of their beauty boxes, and if posted within a day or so of the box’s arrival, such content can soon rack up high view counts as people considering buying the box in question check out what is in it first, such as by watching this video from popular YouTuber Eltoria:

Naturally, this type of video promotes the beauty box brand and the products within it, but also the unboxer’s own channel, allowing beauty bloggers and influencers to build their follower count and popularity and so, their personal brand too.

“Haul” videos also originated within the beauty industry, and are named after shopping “hauls” in which the buyer purchases a number of different products (either from the same range or brand or from different ones that are united by a common theme such as beauty products) and show their purchases within a video produced specifically for this purchase.

Haul and unboxing videos can work for all manner of niches selling popular goods, not just the beauty industry. Additionally, they can be posted by the brand or business offering them as well as by third parties, and another option is to approach influencers and bloggers within your niche and offer to partner with them for mutual benefit to grow both your own following and theirs.

Haul and unboxing videos should outline where the haul or content of the box came from (such as the store, brand or subscription box) and show the main details of each product within it. Pricing and USPs are important to cover too, and where relevant, showing the products in use (particularly for beauty products and the like) also helps to sway purchasing decisions.

3. Novel or themed content

Finding inspiration for new videos can get onerous after a while when you’re trying to put out engaging, shareable content regularly, and too many videos that are very formulaic or similar in nature will soon bore your prospects.

This means that you need to be able to think outside of the box and find opportunities to provide themes and new approaches for your videos, and there are a lot of great places to look for inspiration on producing novel or themed content.

Novel content might involve showcasing or using a product in a new or different way to its intended or expected use, experimenting with it, or otherwise offering something outside of the norm.

The Blendtec brand (producers of blenders and other kitchen products) have achieved something of a cult following for their approach in this area. Their now-famous “Will it Blend?” videos demonstrate the power of Blendtec’s product lines effectively whilst providing entertainment at the same time – such as by “blending” in-demand and high value goods such as Apple products, with variable levels of success!

Tie-ins with current events and seasonal happenings provide many opportunities throughout the year to piggyback trending topics and festive events, which can make it easier to generate ideas for content.

Think holidays and events such as Christmas and Halloween, and also, new releases of popular TV series and other hot pop culture topics too. Take care always not to infringe any brand’s copyright or intellectual property; stick to homages, tributes, hot takes and opinion pieces and steer clear of anything that might come back to bite you later on!

4. Guest videos, collaborations and influencer content

I mentioned influencers earlier on, and partnering with an influencer in your niche to produce a video featuring your products or services can give your brand and subscriber count a real boost. Bringing in an influencer with an existing following of their own provides you with a ready and waiting audience who might make the jump to loyalty to your own brand, and building such relationships with influencers in your field can provide huge value for both parties.

Inviting a guest to present a video or discuss your products can also inject new life into a brand channel, as can collaborations with fans, others in the niche, suppliers of complementary products, or anyone else who can bring a fresh approach or added dimension to your content.

Partnerships of these types also mean that you will have a partner in the promotion and publicising of your content too, as both you and your collaborator will highlight the content to their own fans and followers.

Don’t be afraid to reach out to potential collaborators, even highly popular ones – like everyone else who posts regular content to YouTube, top-level creators continually need to innovate and find new angles to appeal to their audiences.

Smaller-scale influencers and collaborators tend to be very receptive to mutually beneficial approaches, but even big hitters might consider partnering with a small or relatively unknown brand if they can see a good reason to do so.

5. Brand storytelling and building a brand persona with video content

Building your subscriber count and investing prospects in your brand itself can be greatly enhanced by putting a human face on the brand and personalising the full customer experience. Showing video viewers the people behind the brand can be highly effective at all levels, but particularly for SMEs.

Shopping locally and supporting small businesses is very much in fashion at the moment, and reinforcing this angle should be easily achievable for SMEs, because you just need to be able to portray the brand’s persona and the personalities behind it in the right way to appeal to your target demographics.

Connecting with prospects and humanising the brand as a whole will often come quite naturally if you don’t try to force it – after all, the personality and core ethos of a brand or business is ultimately dictated by the decisionmakers behind it, and this appeals to and resonates with certain types of prospects that are already primed to appreciate your work.

Some good types of video content to integrate to tell a brand’s story and engage with prospects include providing an engaging history of the brand’s origins and reasons for beginning, tales of any problems and challenges that arose along the way, and introductions to important members of the team – particularly those who will be involved in several brand videos.

Local insights from physical businesses (such as a tour of the local area or areas where the brand’s work can be seen in action) are also good, as are out-takes, humorous content, anything a bit unusual, or really anything else that allows the personality of the brand or its key players to shine through.

You can also enhance the cohesive image of your brand using videos of this type, by having cast members wearing uniform or logoed clothing, and integrating other branded collateral where appropriate too.

Don’t forget to subscribe…

This is the ubiquitous sign-off of YouTube video creators everywhere, and reinforces the importance for people attempting to build their channels of getting a large following of fans and subscribers. Whilst videos that are solely designed to sell or that are slanted with an overly invasive selling approach tend to underperform, your YouTube videos should still integrate appropriate calls to action and direction to incentivise prospects to take a desired action – such as subscribing, sharing, visiting your website, or viewing your other content.

Integrate appropriate links to your external collateral and other relevant videos, and where possible, give a reason and incentive to take the action you want, such as offering a discount or promotion for compliance.

Involving viewers in your content by asking them for feedback on what they have seen and what they would like to see in the future is great too, because prospects like to be valued in this way and feel as if there is provision made for them to make comments when they have something to say.

On which note, the comment section of YouTube videos can be something of a mixed blessing. Whilst comment streams can be as valuable (or even more so) than the videos that generate them, they can also quickly degenerate into a rabid pit of disorder and savagery if they become targeted by trolls.

Comment streams on YouTube can enable you to answer questions, engage with viewers and personalise the full experience, but if your content is being trolled to death or seems to be generating unwanted attention that is causing problems, they might be better disabled entirely.

Also, whilst YouTube invests in the promotion of content posted to the platform, this alone is unlikely to get you far when it comes to promoting an individual channel or video. To get those initial views of your content and begin to bring in subscribers, you have to take the external promotion of your content seriously, and approach this with a planned marketing campaign that is designed to spread the word and incentivise viewers.

I made a quick passing reference to the production values of YouTube videos earlier on, but this does bear repeating again; whilst you might be some way away from commissioning professional productions for YouTube, the presentation of your videos really does count, and you should be very vigilant about getting things right.

YouTube itself assesses and scores the production values of videos on the platform, and those that are poor are penalised accordingly. At the very least, keep your shots clear and stable, well lit, and ensure that your sound quality and editing are of a good quality too.

You might need to experiment a little and try a few different video formats to ascertain what works best for your target audience, and for most SMEs, a combination of different types of content is most effective. Additionally, as your subscriber count grows and expands, it can be worth revisiting or refreshing some of your older content to appeal to your new fans and followers, presenting them to a new audience without the need to create additional content to support this.

Polly Kay is a British copywriter and content writer with a digital marketing background. After studying Marketing (BA Hons) at university, she first honed her skills as a copywriter by working in-house for an award-winning creative agency in London before branching out on her own in 2012. Today, Polly Kay Copywriting and Content Writing serves clients ranging from small and medium-sized enterprises in the UK to well-known multinational brands. Polly specialises in SEO-friendly content writing for online use, and both brand-led and direct response copywriting for all applications.

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