Steffan Aquarone

Steff is a film producer and technology entrepreneur who speaks internationally on innovation, entrepreneurship and digital marketing

YouTube: where does it fit into online video strategy?

As I was cited by Econsultancy recently as saying, YouTube is owned by Google whose commercial interest is driving PPC revenue. Although YouTube is a great way of getting your video found online, it’s much more beneficial for companies to get people to watch video content on their own sites since this gives them greater control over the user experience. And yet YouTube is the second most popular search engine in the world and is the number one most popular search engine for certain demographics.

They key to getting the ‘best of both worlds’ is a combined approach: making sure your site-hosted content is findable through video sitemaps (see recent blog post on how to do video sitemaps) to drive traffic direct to the videos on your site, but also making sure your content is hosted on YouTube so you’re findable there too.

As with SEO itself, there are several factors you can optimise that will determine where in the SERP your video will appear. These principles will determine the order of search engine results on YouTube:

  • Metadata – video title and description tags
  • Number of comments and shares
  • Backlinks
  • Date added
  • View count (and channel view count, number of subscribers and playlist adds for YouTube)
  • Rating and flagging (where applicable)
  • Incoming links (exposure on other sites, other embeds, RSS links

Because it’s so much harder to get viewers to take a related action on YouTube than it is on your own site, my advice would be to upload limited-length or ‘trailer’ style content to YouTube. If your content is interesting, useful or entertaining, a message during the YouTube video that says “visit to watch the full video” will likely be an acceptable ask. Of course, it’s important to test these theories in practice for your content and your customers.

Just remember: YouTube exists to drive clicks for Google’s Adwords customers, taking valuable viewers away from your content and off to someone else’s website – potentially your competitors. Driving customers to watch videos on your website, where you can control the experience including what happens after the video, will always lead to better results whatever your objectives.

Filed under: online video strategies, , , ,

Video SEO: it’s simple, here’s how

Google search engine results pages now contain a combination of types of media. Web page results still dominate but for a given search phrase, video, news, location and image results are mixed in together on top of pay-per-click links in a blended search engine results page.

Video is a key ingredient of blended search. Because there are far fewer videos competing for the top spots than there are web pages competing for top of text search, investing time in video SEO will deliver greater results. According to Forrester Research, optimizing video content to take advantage of blended search is by far the easiest way to get a first page organic ranking on Google.

Videos appear in the search engine results pages of the likes of Google and Yahoo via things called Video Sitemaps. Search engines aren’t smart enough to be able to see what’s in online videos in the way they can read text on web pages, so to add your videos to their video indexes you need to tell the search engines exactly where your videos are. Video sitemaps do this – they’re small files that contain information about where videos outside YouTube (which populates Google automatically) are located. Typically, these files include a title, description, URL of the page where the video can be watched, the location of a thumbnail image of the poster frame, and the location of the video file itself. You can upload your own sitemaps to Google, Yahoo and others or you can use an online video platform to do it for you. I don’t usually link to commercial products but I really like Buto’s simple video sitemaps feature – which will do all the above for you.

The best thing about video sitemaps is that when a user clicks on one of your videos in a search engine results page they‘re directed straight to the page where the content is hosted, as opposed to being directed to YouTube where it‘s considerably harder to get them to take a related action. So a small amount of time invested in putting together your video sitemap or listing automated video sitemaps as a priority feature could pay dividends. Because video sitemaps contain relatively little information, optimising your video for search is limited to the title, description and keyword fields.

Filed under: online video strategies, , , ,

How to Make Irresistible Content (key to online video success, part 2)

The environment in which people now browse the web is fundamentally more competitive than any other media space in the history of advertising. Display ad designers have long had to cope with their work being one of multiple things in an environment competing for peoples’ attention, and TV advert producers know their audiences will channel hop if they don’t like what they see. But online video suffers from all these challenges and more.

Your online video is going to be competing with every single other piece of content on the web. Audiences who don’t like what they see will simply go and do something else – and that includes employees and business audiences too. Not only is your content competing for audiences, but the multiple devices that consumers use to access parts of the web simultaneously provide further opportunities for distraction and drop-out.

The best way to ensure your content gets seen and shared is to focus on producing content people actually want to watch. This is an incredibly difficult thing for many brands to do – even though they think they’re focusing on the customer, more often than not they’re thinking about themselves more. Ask a marketer why a customer really needs the content they’re planning and they’ll probably still say something like “because they need to understand the features and benefits of the product”. This is not what the customer needs, it’s what the brand wants, and it won’t work if it’s made the focus for your content.

Put your customer at the centre of your world and produce something that’s compellingly interesting, indispensably useful or unmissably entertaining. That way people might genuinely enjoy your content, and you‘ll find that it might even get shared around.

Filed under: online video strategies, , , , , ,

How to have a strategy (key to online video success, part 1)

In June YouTube announced that it had hit the 3 billion views per day milestone and was receiving 48 hours of new video per minute. Garner listed online video as one of the top ten strategic technologies for 2011. Yet according to Mark Robertson, founder of, most brands are not using video enough throughout the customer lifecycle.

Your ability to achieving serious objectives through online video relies upon your organisation looking beyond product films, ‘corporate’ videos, or putting TV ads online, and taking a more strategic approach to online video.

The biggest difference between online video today and corporate video of the 1990s is that of audiences. Online audiences today are used to consuming far more information per unit of time than twenty years ago. Just think about the pace of TV comedy, or soap operas, and how it’s simply got faster over the years.

More significant is the difference in environment for today’s audiences. No longer are viewers confined to limited channels in their living rooms, or pre-feature cinema advertising. Today’s online video content is competing with every other available entertainment option on the web: audiences can, and will, click elsewhere if what they’re watching isn’t delivering the goods.

Finally, device convergence now means video can be watched on TV, on laptops, tablet PCs, mobiles, video games consoles and more. Not only does this pose a technical obstacle in that brands must ensure their content works across all devices; it means that audiences could be distracted by any number of interruptions from any device. The living room viewer of today might have three devices operating at once, with all their content competing for attention.

Whilst this might sound like hell to anyone who’s ever wondered when technological innovation is going to be brought to a halt by the limits of human tolerance, it’s an unavoidable fact of modern digital communications. For content producers the take-away message is simple: we must now work harder than ever to ensure our content is relevant to our audiences. We must now undertake a multitude of technical, distribution-related as well as creative considerations in any online video project and this calls for robust strategy.

Setting a strategy is simple: it’s simply about defining what you want to achieve with your online video, and planning every aspect of your campaign around that main objective. Here are some top tips for creating a robust video strategy:

  • Have a clear objective
  • Identify your audience
  • Understand what makes them tick
  • Work out how you’re going to reach them
  • Understand the technologies you need to make it work
  • Define how you’re going to measure success
  • Calculate the value of the opportunity (or the cost of the problem) to guide your budget
  • Build in a mechanism for continuous reporting, thinking and improving your strategy

The most difficult of these is having a clear objective for your strategy. Online video can achieve many different things such as: increasing sales uplift, improving site dwell-times, increasing site return-rate, or improving click-through on a particular part of the funnel. But setting one of these as your main strategic objective will help focus your campaign and your content.

Filed under: online video strategies, , , , ,

Stop wasting money on “corporate video”

Recently I had the pleasure of authoring a report for the lovely people at Econsultancy. “Online Video Best Practice” has, I’m told, been a popular and well-received report on the state of online video.

Writing it was certainly interesting. As someone who spends a good deal of time working strategically on the corporate and commercial use of video on the web it was fascinating to get in-depth input from peers and their clients. The digital marketing sector seems particularly willing to share success stories openly with colleagues, which can only be a good thing for all of our clients and customers.

I was pleased to hear that many of my frustrations about brands’ inabilities to create content that audiences might actually want to watch were shared by the majority of contributors. It’s a shame that things are rarely taken seriously in large companies until something big has gone wrong due to lack of investment, or something big goes well for a competitor. Congratulations must go to brands like M&S who have had the foresight to invest heavily in innovative ideas – I was so pleased to hear how well this investment is paying off when I interviewed the CEO of the company that runs M&S TV, Chris Gorell Barnes.

It amazes me that anyone would still part with scarce budget to produce “corporate video” for the web. Such films are almost always an audiovisual eulogy to the misguided egos of the business owners, that no-one wants to watch. It’s more amazing that most businesses don’t use simple, free tools to measure whether anyone is actually viewing their content. YouTube tells content publishers nothing about how far through their content people are watching, and yet it is still the most popular platform for organisations to host their video content.

Many businesses are hiding behind the excuse that they can’t push the boat out further than headshot interviews and images of office blocks because their brand is “conservative” or their sector “more reserved”. But this view sees the way they experience the world as more important than the way their customers see it and it’s brand suicide. It’s also stupid: making content that people might actually want to watch isn’t about putting exploding chickens on skateboards, it’s simply thinking about what would make your content irresistibly entertaining or unmissably useful. And yes, it usually takes budget to do this. But any brand that wants to gain something from online video would be better off spending £50,000 on a well thought-out strategy that might achieve real, measurable benefits (50% for production, 50% for distribution by the way) than spending even £5,000 on a “5-10 minute corporate video to introduce new customers to our offering and explain our products and services”.

There were many other surprises in the report which you can get a free sample of below. The striking conclusion I’ve reached is that very few brands in even fewer sectors are coming close to realising the benefits of online video. In the next twelve months I expect to see many new flagships launched – and right now, given the scarcity of good branded content, success will earn your brand premium first-mover benefits.

Click here to check out the report.

Filed under: digital marketing

Judge at Your Peril

Last week I posted the script from a speech I delievered to a group of business leaders in Birmingham about Michael Porter’s concept of ‘shared value’. One of the points he made was that where stuff gets made, matters, because that’s where a lot of your customers live nowadays. Companies can no longer afford to treat some stakeholders (for example, the people on their doorstep, or who work in their factories) differently to others as any one of them could be an important customer.

The same can be applied to the way you talk to people calling your organisation from outside. It might make short-term profitability sense to outsource customer service. But where does this leave the brand and the customer?

Dell famously reversed their position on social media when the number 1 spot in Google’s natural results became a complaint forum they’d thus far failed to have a presence in. Now, when you find complaints about Dell machines, you’ll probably find someone from Dell responding, or at least trying to solve the problem.

The same can’t be said for Ikea. I spent ten minutes on the phone to them today, trying to get through to someone in particular. The operative didn’t know that this person was the marketing director, because all his screen was set up to do was handle customer service enquiries. His system didn’t have any telephone numbers. He himself was able to speak to Anna’s PA, but couldn’t put me through. All he suggested I could do was write.


Nobody in that chain of communciation had any idea what I was calling about, or why I wanted to speak to Anna. They just seemed sure that I was a salesperson, trying to flog something.

The insight I got into their organisation made a big difference to my opinion. Even on its own this has serious implications for a brand. Brand hatred travels faster and further than love. Ryanair was listed last week as one of the top most hated brands in Britain. Short-term profits may be healthy, but for how long? Until fuel prices go up? Or a competitor offers a less frustrating service?

The assumptions firms make about people when they try to get in touch are as insulting as any prejudicial stereotype. Smart brands should be aware that the hats of ‘buyer’ and ‘seller’ are not mutually exclusive – and the same inconvenient truth can be applied to virtually every other ‘stakeholder group’.

Filed under: successful businesses

Shared Value: an idea best explained in reality when we look at people’s motivations

I want to talk to you about two things that are very close to my heart: making the world a better place, and business. Two fellows you don’t often see in the same room, or even the same street. And I’m not talking about Corporate Social Responsibility.

Here’s a quote: “CSR is like a tax that businesses pay in order to be seen as the good guys.”

“It’s a truce – creating a zero-sum relationship between business and society, not a joint- value one”

“For too long, business has been profiting from the needs of society without asking ‘are our products good for our customers?’ ”

This sounds like pretty standard stuff from an anti-capitalist, right?

Well, this stuff came from Michael Porter. Yes – the same Michael Porter who invented the five forces theory of marketing, who is a Professor at Harvard Business School, and who is probably the closest thing to the inventor of business strategy we’ll ever find.

He says that businesses are stuck in a definition of value-creation that is around a narrowing economic definition i.e. making money. Not just more money, but more money pretty much regardless of the consequences, because what matters is shareholder value. And, given that most of our shareholders aren’t shareholders for very long, shareholder value means delivering profits this quarter, regardless of the long-term.

But external and societal factors have a profound effect on productivity and efficiency – and on the long-term game when it comes to profitability.

This idea, he calls Shared Value.

Porter says “Business has been so blind to these needs. We’re seeing social entrepreneurs coming up with ‘business models’ for self-sustainability through generating revenue, and people saying ‘they’re doing it better than companies’ – well, they are businesses!”

Meanwhile ‘companies’ are missing out.


Let me give you an example: globalisation. We leaped in there and assumed logistics were free, that we could source from wherever, and ship to wherever. Aside from the environmental impact, companies are starting to realise that this isn’t true – the cost of transportation is something they’ve not thought about before. So the place where stuff is made, matters. It matters too because that’s where a lot of your customers live nowadays.

If we want people to carry on living and engaging with our products, we ultimately have to be doing things that are good for them.

We need to be creating profit through satisfying social need.

So Porter, one of the most respected thinkers in the business world, is saying it’s time for a re-think. He says there’s a “hunger for purpose” in the business community that we need to find within the institution itself (not by legislation).

Within the institution itself.

And that means you guys.

Let me tell you about someone else with some interesting thoughts on this. Dan Pink. American author. Very interested in motivation theory. And he says the science is freaky.

Traditional thinking says if you want a certain thing, then using reward you’ll get you more of the behaviour you want, and by using punishment you’ll get less of the stuff you don’t.

Let’s ask some scientists – at MIT, Chicago and Carnegie Mellon. They did an experiment where they set people some mini challenges – memorising digits, solving puzzles, throwing a ball through a hoop and that sort of stuff. And they used a three-tier reward model. The guys that did ok, they got a small reward. The guys who did well got a slightly bigger reward, and the guys who did really well – well, they got a big reward.

For mechanical tasks, the higher the pay, the better the performance.

But – and this is the freaky bit – once a task called for even modest cognitive skill, larger rewards led to poorer performance.

This sounds vaguely socialist… But these are eminent professors from respected institutions… and this research was funded by the Federal Reserve Bank!

The trick, says Pink, is to pay people enough money to make them not worry about it. Take it off the table, so they can get on with their work. Then the things that matter are three things:



And Purpose

Autonomy – the ability to be self-directed, lead our own lives

Mastery – having the satisfaction of getting better at something

Purpose – contributing to society.


So inside this big structure of performance-based incentives, within an organisation that’s only looking as far as its next quarter’s reports, we find that all the people have more or less one thing in common: the fact that they perform better when they have autonomy, mastery and purpose.

So here we have a situation where companies could be massively under-performing. Not only because their customers want them to have more of a stake in society, but because their staff actually perform better when they have purpose too.

And how could you possibly lead a more purposeful professional life than by working for a company with a strong social purpose at its core?

A purpose like “be disruptive but in the cause of making the world a better place” – Skype.

The effect is that the smart people go where they CAN get this, and everyone else who could be performing really well but perhaps they’re not so into social theory – they stay put but consistently underperform their potential. Even – and especially – when they’re financially incentivised.

The solution to these problems is that companies have got to start investing in shared value.

They need corporate cultures that encourage autonomy, mastery and purpose.

And they need to seize the opportunity to create profit through satisfying social need.

When you understand how the long-term interests of your customers matter – AND that the core productivity driver for people in your organisation is not money but PURPOSE, then you see how this idea of shared value changes the argument.

It changes the argument from being the whining protest of liberals to being “the biggest driver of innovation and growth opportunities in the economy” – and it was Porter – the guy who invented marketing – who said that.

References and fantastic further reading/watching: (Porter) and (Pink)

Filed under: future of capitalism, social enterprise 2010, successful businesses, , , , , , , , , ,

What about words?

Whatever happened to the Ad Men of old? Undoubtedly it’s a good thing that the gross misogyny of Lionsgate Films’ US series Man Men has subsided. But where are the witty strap-lines in adverts today, that were once the preserve of these men?

Advertisers have becomes fixated with price, celebrity endorsement and whiter-than-white imagery. Billboards scream their value propositions as loudly as they can. So-called “blog” copy is hyperbolic rubbish written by marketers who’ve had their common sense glands removed.

The language of advertising has turned from dinner party to Saturday market.

Success in the digital space requires a different approach. Good brands are being established on the old-fashioned principle of delivering a great product and letting the customers do the talking. Screaming about your USPs has no place here. Honest, straightforward language wins.

Just look at

A few words can have tremendous power, especially in digital marketing. There are strap lines from the 90s that I still remember: “I’m a smarter investor: Alliance & Leicester”.

Online or offline: it’s time for a softer approach. Give a customer something in your advertising that makes them think, laugh or smile and they’ll love you forever. Goodness knows you might even stand out.

Filed under: digital marketing, successful businesses, , , , , , ,

TEN KILLER QUESTIONS TO ASK YOURSELF before you set up a business:

I’m about to have a conference call with two excellent chaps who are starting out in business. They’ve asked me to be a business mentor to them, which I’ve agreed to do in principle, but what I’m interested in finding out is what they’re looking to achieve and how I can help them.

I’ve made a few notes for myself before the conversation which I thought might be useful general questions for anyone about to set up a business to ask themselves – and perhaps their support group too (the first bit is of course about what they’re looking for from me).

– What are you looking for from me? My experience is:
– Marketing, especially digital
– Company secretarial – compliance, tax, legal
– Leadership
– Strategy, growth, business planning, performance measurement
– Financial – investment, forecasting, financing

1. What is your vision in setting up the business?
– What do you want it to achieve in your market?
– What do you want it to achieve for yourself – financial / other?
– Where do you want to be in five years’ time?

2. What makes you different?

3. Why do your customers like you?

4. What does your brand say and do, and why would anyone care?

5. Is the business (or idea) profitable, scalable, saleable, sustainable? Which of these matters to you?

6. What happens if it goes really well?

7. What happens if it goes really badly?

8. How will you know?

9. What are you going to do next?

10. Whose needs to know about this in order to support you in these crucial early stages?

Filed under: successful businesses, , , , , , , , , ,

2010 in review

The stats helper monkeys at mulled over how this blog did in 2010, and here’s a high level summary of its overall blog health:

Healthy blog!

The Blog-Health-o-Meter™ reads This blog is doing awesome!.

Crunchy numbers

Featured image

The Leaning Tower of Pisa has 296 steps to reach the top. This blog was viewed about 1,000 times in 2010. If those were steps, it would have climbed the Leaning Tower of Pisa 3 times

In 2010, there were 10 new posts, not bad for the first year! There were 7 pictures uploaded, taking up a total of 149kb.

The busiest day of the year was April 19th with 63 views. The most popular post that day was Who is Venio run by?.

Where did they come from?

The top referring sites in 2010 were,,,, and

Some visitors came searching, mostly for venio, venio services, venio steffan aquarone, does anybody dealt with venio, and steffan aquarone venio.

Attractions in 2010

These are the posts and pages that got the most views in 2010.


Who is Venio run by? April 2010


What does Venio do? April 2010


Reaching the top of the hill July 2010


Just tell me what you do! June 2010


Get in touch April 2010
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