Today, successful brands understand that they need to create consistent, engaging content – hitting regular singles and doubles vs the “grand slam” that a viral video may or may not provide. It’s the adoption of this “always on” strategy that is successfully growing communities and generating earned viewership on YouTube. Over the last year, YouTube has been sharing this strategy with brands. Their framework, the Hero, Hub, Hygiene approach, is a holistic video strategy that places an emphasis on the need for consistency.

[Click to read my updated post on this strategy under it’s new name of ‘Hero, Hub, Help’]

The concept of “always-on marketing,”creating a steady stream of content, is something brands and agencies have adopted with Facebook and Twitter. In recent years, brands and agencies have even created newsrooms to produce content in real time to respond to current events and customer trends. As production has become cheaper and more accessible the principles that applied to text and images on Twitter and Facebook are being carried over to, and, implemented on YouTube. Consequently, the perception that “viral video” is key to a brand’s content strategy is slowly diminishing.

[Check out my hub, hero, hygiene infographic here]

In many ways the viral video strategy mirrored the traditional ad production model –invest heavily in an expensive TV spot and then promote, wait several months,then go through the process all over again. In adopting the Hero, Hub, Hygiene approach, brands have the latitude to create their campaign and viral content, but it also emphasizes the creation of content series, giving consumers a reason to keep coming back. Successful YouTubers have been implementing this strategy since the platform’s early days. They’ve communicated to their audiences a regular posting schedule so that new content isn’t a surprise that may or may not be discovered, but something that the audience can reliably look forward and return to. hero, hub, hygiene

I like to picture this strategy as a content pyramid with three core layers. At the top is the Hero content: this is your beacon seen by the masses, but most of the content you create can’t, and won’t, fall into this category. From there you have your hub content – there is far more Hub content than Hero, but often is a content series, or video created around brand events and/or product launches. Lastly, the foundation of the content pyramid is the hygiene content. Hygiene capitalizes on existing user interests and is designed to pull users in based on search. hero hub hygiene pyramind

Hero videos are large-scale events or programs that drive mass awareness – oftentimes around product or event launches. This is the top of the pyramid –Hero content builds awareness at a much broader scale to reach the mainstream. According to YouTube, Hero content is something that’s done on average 1-2 times a year for a brand and will still entertain and inspire the viewers with emotional storytelling. An iconic example of Hero Content would be Red Bull’s Project Stratos. For those who missed the biggest digital event of last year, Red Bull’s Project Stratos drew worldwide attention for sendingFelix Baumgartner’to the edge of space, where he then jumped from his hot air balloon and set the world record for the highest freefall jump.  The event was livestreamed, and the video of Baumgartner’s record-setting jump has over 36,000,000 views and drove thousands of new subscribers in just over a year.

Hub videos are meant to entertain and keep an audience coming back. According to YouTube, this content should be “regularly updated,” “valuable and engaging,” and should incentivize people to “subscribe – like – follow” Looking at Red Bull’s channel through the lens of YouTube’s Hero, Hub, Hygiene framework, an example’s of  Red Bull’s hub videos are the behind the scenes and training videos leading up to the official Project Stratos jump. Another great example of hygiene content on Red Bull’s channel is their “Who is JOB” series. “Who is JOB” is a reality web series on its fourth season, that documents the life of pro surfer, Jamie O’Brien and his adventures with friends. In creating a series, Red Bull has established a way to focus its content creation around relevant consumer passion point (in this case, surfing). The fact that it’s a series allows Red Bull to more easily create a volume of content, and engage subscribers regularly.

Hygiene videos are created around the core interests relevant to the ideal viewer or target consumer.  Oftentimes this content is specifically created to capture viewers searching key terms related to the brand. It’s worth keeping in mind that even if your brand isn’t creating the extreme sports content that Red Bull does, it can still create highly relevant hygiene content. For example, if you’re a computer software company, your content could be how-to videos helping your consumers navigate your product. People tend to find hygiene videos through search when they’re looking for answers to a specific question. Although not your typical ‘hygiene’ content, Red Bull’s  “Who is JOB” series could be categorized as hygiene because series is highly optimized for Red Bull’s target consumer’s interests – a cursory search for ‘surfing’ reveals a number of “Who is JOB” videos. redbull surf youtube search

Within the shaving industry, Dollar Shave Club is considered to be the king of online video. They exploded on to the scene in March of 2012 with a disruptive pricing model and hilarious video, which immediately went viral. Today, the original Dollar Shave Club viral video, “Our Blades Are F***ing Great” has 14.5 million views, nearly one hundred thousand likes, and 13,000 comments. By all accounts, the video is a success and has been critical to Dollar Shave Club’s success. However, the reality is for every Dollar Shave Club, there are thousands of attempted viral videos that are total duds that never managed to capture an audience. In many ways the Hub, Hero, Hygiene framework allows brands to relieve themselves of the pressure of having to create the next big viral hit, so they can focus on a long-term community-building strategy. This is something that Gillette has excelled at. Gillette has taken the opposite approach of Dollar Shave Club, and as a result has generated more subscribers – cultivating an engaged community that it can continue to tap into. dollarshaveclub

Gillette launched its primary YouTube channel in May of 2009. Since that time, Gillette has posted 895 videos, garnered over 24 million video views, and accumulated 22,000 subscribers on its main channel. It’s worth noting that Gillette has multiple channels dedicated to specific markets, including Spain, Peru, Mexico, India, which collectively have an additional 750 videos, tens of thousands of subscribers, and millions of views.

Gillette youTube channel

There are 51 how-to videos on the Gillette channel, ranging from the obvious (“How to Shave”) to the more obscure, such as “How To Shave A Pencil Thin Mustache.”  All of these how-to videos are providing value to their target demographic and are evergreen pieces of content – they’re not time sensitive. In the YouTube Brand Playbook, YouTube invites brands to consider the following when trying to come up with Hygiene content:

What is your audience actively searching for regarding your brand or industry? What can serve as your 365-day-relevant, always-on, PULL content programming? E.g. product tutorials, how-to content, customer service, etc.

In Gillette’s case, each of these how-to videos has been created around key search terms that their target demographic (adult men who are shaving), would be searching. This is classic Hygiene content strategy. For example, Gillette’s “How to Shave – Shaving Tips for Men” video has over 1.5 million views, one thousand likes, and nearly 500 comments. It’s a simple instructional video with voice over and basic motion graphics to transition from each step. Undoubtedly, Gillette’s content marketing team looked at YouTube and Google’s keyword tools and identified that there are an average of 44,000 searches on YouTube, and nearly a million on Google each month. YouTube search results Gillette’s “How To Shave” videos now appear on the first page of search for Google and YouTube search results, and are supported with advertising. Screen Shot 2014-06-15 at 9.08.15 PM Of the 895 videos on Gillette’s main channel, approximately 70% of Gillette’s videos could be classified as Hygiene content and include consumer product reviews and testimonials in addition to the aforementioned how to videos.

Gillette has also invested heavily in creating Hub content — compelling content series that are entertaining, tapping into their target consumers’ passion points. A number of examples of this type of content live on Gillette’s channel and many incorporate their sponsored athletes and celebrities. For example, Gillette created a series of videos, “What Women Want” which feature Q&A sessions with supermodels Kate Upton, Hannah Simone, and Genesis Rodriguez. In the videos, the supermodels discuss their POV on manscaping and male grooming habits, and gives advice to male viewers. The content was created specifically to promote the Gillette Fusion ProGlide Styler, a “three-in-one shaving tool that trims, shaves and edges for whatever body hair style she likes.” Other Hub content on Gillette’s YouTube channel include their Gillette Body Ready fan interview series. To support the launch of the Gillette Body razor, Gillette tapped three of its pro athletes — professional skateboarder Ryan Sheckler, Olympic gold medalist in beach volleyball Phil Dalhausser, and national CrossFit champion Jason Khalipa — to participate in surprise Q&As with a their fans. The fans were invited to chat with their heroes and learn what they do to get their bodies ready for their sports. The “What Women Want” and “Body Ready” videos are great examples of Hub content because they’re centered around the Gillette consumer passion points – athletes, sports, and models — and are created largely around new, timely product launches.

Like any brand, Gillette has its mainstream Hero content intended for the masses. Being a sponsor of multiple high-profile athletes such as Ryan Suter, Clay Matthews, and Ryan Sheckler has enabled the brand to leverage them in key tent-pole moments. Gillette’s Hero content include its launch of the Gillette Fusion Pro Glide (this video has since been taken down). which was promoted heavily throughout the 2013 NFL season and features Green Bay Packers linebacker Clay Matthews. The 60-second spot, title ‘Clay Matthews Conditions’ (this video has since been taken down) ran on TV and was promoted heavily on YouTube, accumulating over 200k views. More recently, Gillette funded a documentary,“The Kissing Experiment: Are We Killing The Kiss? ”(this video has since been taken down).

The video was part of a larger brand campaign and invited men and women to visit a site, where the documentary was housed.There, women were polled on what they preferred most – clean shaven or men with facial hair (perhaps unsurprisingly, the results of the poll stated that most women prefer clean shaven).As a Gillette spokeswoman positioned it, the campaign “was strictly to drive awareness to the conversation.” These mass awareness campaigns are the archetype of Hero video content. It’s the content meant to be seen by the masses. As YouTube positions it in the brand playbook:

What content do you want to PUSH to a big,broad audience? What would be your Super Bowl moment?A brand may have only a few hero moments in a year, such as product launch events or industry tent-poles.

While Gillette has done a great job in capitalizing on search and generating a great deal of content following the hero, hub, hygiene framework, there’s also a great deal of missed opportunities. The brand could generate content on a consistent schedule, do a better job implementing end cards and annotations consistently, and curate more of what goes on to their channel. That said, by iterating and continuing to produce content they’ll continue to learn more of what does and does not work for them which will undoubtedly tee them up for long term success.

There are 100 hours of content being uploaded to YouTube every minute. As a result, it’s imperative that content provides value to consumers in order to gain traction. Remember, on it’s own, the Hero, Hub, Hygiene framework can’t guarantee success.

It’s easy to view advertising as a formula with a clear process to follow to become the next Red Bull. But beyond the Hero, Hub, Hygiene strategy, Red Bull, and Gillette and others understand the audience they’re communicating to, and know what their audience will find entertaining. It’s also incredibly important to implement the best practices, optimizing thumbnails, titles, tags, descriptions and creating end cards.

Not every brand needs to focus on entertaining its audience; in fact, oftentimes content that is strictly entertaining is not going to be the most valuable to the target audience. In Gillette’s case, they provided value by supplying useful information that their target consumers were already looking for.

Many brands are creating content that is so overwhelmingly transparently self-serving as to be off-putting for consumers. Hundreds of thousands of dollars don’t solve the issue either. Driving views to your video may boost your view count, but if engagement drops off after the first 5 seconds, is that content valuable? I’d argue you’ve effectively created content that acts as a “leaky bucket” which is inefficient in its inability to convert consumers to subscribers (or even get them to watch a full video) and in its inability to make a lasting impression with consumers – which may alienate them entirely.

Going forward, brands can’t rely on capturing lightning in a bottle with a viral video. Instead, a brand channel needs to have a solid foundation of Hero, Hub, and Hygiene content to draw viewers in and turn an audience into a community. This allows them to iterate and optimize for success over time.