Marketers: We’re Live in 3–2–1…!

Pick up the mic via Unsplash.

Going live is fraught with peril. Most marketers should do it anyway.

by Todd Lombardo and Christian Jacobsen

This post is second in a series, following our podcast last week all about live streaming, and porn.

In 1951, I Love Lucy was considered groundbreaking: it featured female leads, an multi-ethnic marriage, and a pregnancy storyline(!). The show pushed the boundaries of what was possible on TV — to great ratings, and multiple Emmys.

Here’s what else was groundbreaking: in an era when much of TV was broadcast live, I Love Lucy was shot on film, in front of a studio audience. A backstory involving kinescopes, east coast vs. west coast, and sponsor Philip Morris is worth checking out, but what matters is that this set a precedent for what a lot of broadcasting was to become — shot on film or videotape.

As recorded TV grew, “live” evolved to mean something specific in ad circles: event-based shows, like the Super Bowl or the Oscars; morning television; news; politics; and sports. If brands wanted to reach large scale audiences around a zeitgeist moment, live events were the way to do it. Live created tremendous opportunities for marketers, even if they were exclusive and expensive.

Today, the definition of live is changing again, creating new opportunities: NFL ratings are down 11%, as they stream on Twitter, along with the PGA, while Bleacher Report is broadcasting football games on Facebook, using GoPros and drones. The World Surf League regularly broadcasts live, no network required. Live events stream daily from media brands (like Mr. Robot), marketers (IHOP’s Paradise Pancakes), and even from the Senate floor (take that, C-SPAN).

Of course, we viewers are eating it up, which is why Facebook got a reported 8 billion-plus video views a day last year, a staggering number that is increasingly being influenced by live, if Mark Zuckerberg’s “obsession” has anything to do with it. For better or for worse, all that matters now is present tense, because our FOMO ADD culture has gotten the better of us; where pre-produced content feels stale after a day, and there’s always a shiny new toy on the real-time horizon.

With these capabilities easily within reach, brands are no doubt feeling pressure to go live. Truth be told, not every brand is ready or able to do it yet — it’s a huge leap that frightens marketers obsessed with quality and long production cycles, even in an era of social algorithms and disposable content. Will brands built to go live beat considered content brands on social? We’ll have to wait and see.

In the meantime, for any brand considering the implications of live, this is what they should do now:

Think like a media company — AND like a marketer.

It used to be easy. Media companies were responsible for creating the content, and marketers were responsible for the ads. This world of course, no longer exists, and marketers can wish for the past, or embrace the future. We choose to embrace. This is why media companies like The New York Times, BuzzFeed and Vice have opened Brand Studios. The winners in this original content arms race will come to the table thinking like a media company (entertain, inform, distribute) AND like a marketer (value proposition, target audiences). Brands are no longer solely ad pushers, they are also programmers, and live is a part of that mix. Brands who get this right must be both transparent — clear who is behind the content; and authentic — anything too selly will wither on the vine. It’s only a matter of time before brands crack this code.

Tell a story (vs. just selling).

Our left brain wants to talk about why it’s still about reach and frequency, awareness and conversion, ROI and KPIs (and it IS still about all these things). Our right brain, however, wants our favorite brands to take us on a ride, bring us to places we’ve never been, show us the coolest things ever, give us a peek behind-the-scenes, and let us be part of the adventure. This is why live streaming is powerful — because you can do all of these things, in a can’t-miss-it moment. Take Tough Mudder — who reinforces its brand of off-road fitness by live streaming from a pool of mud. It’s not perfect: it’s shaky, and blurry, and a little repetitive. But it works — and got 100,000 views. Sorry we couldn’t be there, but with live streaming, we can — no $400,000 TV spot required. Maybe this is why millennials are prioritizing experiences over material things.

Show us how to use your stuff.

We love the marketing funnel. There’s been talk about how the funnel no longer applies in digital media — and there are arguments for both sides — but the funnel has always been more of a structured way to think, than a literal representation of how every single person operates. Life is far messier than that. Enter Birchbox. Birchbox recognizes that live video can solve for upper funnel challenges (what is Birchbox?) to lower funnel and post-purchase (how do I use X product?). Birchbox live streams about these topics featuring real people. And comments allow for real time Q&A. Funnel or not, these are solid — and strategic — efforts.

Bring people together.

A moon walk. A car chase. A royal wedding. A goodbye. The world comes together to celebrate, cheer, and grieve. We love game day and beach day and Thanksgiving Day because we want to be a part of something bigger, to share meaningful events with each other. Hello, live streaming video. Every brand now has the power to broadcast a message to the world that they have built. Which is why audience development matters. McDonald’s recognizes this, with 67 million Facebook followers. So does National Geographic, at 61 million followers on Instagram, algorithm issues aside. This is why efforts to build audiences are as much strategic as they are vanity. Also, consider this new application of an age-old idea: partner with internet celebs (think Bethany Mota + Target) who have massive followings of their own. Give people a reason to come together. With enough audience and promotion, you don’t need a zeitgeist moment to be live.

Treat creativity as more than a TV spot.

One of the major reasons that 15- and 30-second pre-rolls are so popular is because that’s the form TV spots are already in — no additional production required. With live streaming, it’s not about a TV spot at all. Live stream monetization IS coming, and that may be a good venue for re-using TV spots; in the meantime, creative agencies versed in digital media should be given (in fact, mandated) creative freedom to think beyond the TV spot, to concepts that embrace new forms of communication, whether that’s gifs, chatbots, or live streaming video. Chipotle’s series on Snapchat is a good example of the new school of creativity.

Know that in mass media, live broadcasts still matter.

There’s a reason events like the Super Bowl and the Academy Awards are exclusive and expensive for brands — because they have the potential to make an enormous impact. Marketers should push media companies to put together innovative sponsorship packages across linear and live streaming, because the future is both. Millions of people streamed the 2016 Super Bowl — and for the first-time ever, saw the same ads as everyone else (cord cutters rejoiced). Live streaming won’t replace broadcasting, but it is providing alternative means to “watching TV,” in a world where control is shifting to viewers.

Even as technology changes, our human desire to come together is timeless. Much of modern media culture is now live: real-time, streaming video and Twitter trending. Agencies have been begging brands to let them take more creative risks for years. Well, agencies, here’s our chance — if we want to showcase value to our clients, and thrive in today’s culture, we need challenges ourselves to get more creative with live streaming, plus all the rest, and think outside the TV box.

Just like Lucille Ball.

Todd Lombardo is a digital media strategist and editor at Mistress. Christian Jacobsen is a founder, partner and strategist at Mistress.