Unless you've been completely off the grid for the past several years, you're well aware that the popularity of video content has exploded. eMarketer recently estimated that U.S. adults now spend over an hour per day watching videos on digital devices. Omnicore has reported that in early 2018, YouTube had 1.57 billion monthly active users who watched over 5 billion videos every day.
Video Marketing is Mainstream
Research shows that marketers have embraced the use of video content. In a 2017 survey by Wyzowl, 81% of marketers said they were using video as a marketing tool, and two-thirds (65%) of the marketers who weren't already using video said they intended to start using it this year. In the 2018 content marketing survey by the Content Marketing Institute and MarketingProfs, 72% of B2B marketers said they are using video for content marketing purposes.
Given the widespread popularity of video content, some B2B marketers may be tempted to conclude that video is the future of marketing content, and that written content has lost much of its effectiveness. That would be a mistake, and here's why.
Written Content Still Matters
The reality is, written content remains a highly effective B2B marketing tool, and numerous studies have shown that a large majority of B2B buyers still prefer written content for many purposes. For example, in a recent survey of business executives by Grist, the three most preferred content formats were:
- Short articles (800 words)
- Blog posts (300-500 words)
- Feature articles (1,200+ words)
Twenty-eight percent of the respondents in this survey also indicated a preference for long-form written content such as white papers, research reports, and ebooks. Only 26% of the respondents said they prefer video content.
In the 2018 content preferences survey by Demand Gen Report, survey participants were asked to select the types of content they find most valuable during the early, mid, and late stages of the buying process. Across all three stages, respondents identified thirteen types of valuable content, and all but three were text-based formats.
The Psychology of Content Preference
Basic principles of human psychology explain why we find video content so appealing and also why we prefer written content in many circumstances. Psychologists say the human brain processes visual information about 60,000 times faster than textual information. Therefore, watching videos requires little cognitive effort.
Reading, on the other hand, requires the brain to expend more cognitive energy. When we read, our brains must actively create thoughts about the content. It requires the production of an "inner voice" that enhances our attention. So, reading requires a longer attention span and more brainpower than watching a video.
Human beings are hardwired to avoid cognitive strain, and this means we are predisposed to prefer information that's easy to process. This is one reason we find video content so appealing.
But our mental "laziness" only creates a predisposition, not a hard and fast rule. In some circumstances, people will prefer information in a form that requires a considerable amount of cognitive energy to process. This explains why B2B buyers still prefer written content even though it requires more mental energy to consume.
The key for B2B marketers is to understand when and why a potential buyer will sometimes find video content appealing, and at other times will favor written content.
Written Content Appeals to Goal-Oriented Buyers
The preference for video or text-based content is greatly influenced by what a potential buyer is trying to accomplish. Some buyers encounter content when they are focused on achieving a specific goal by consuming the content. Others encounter content when they don't have a specific goal in mind. They may be mildly interested in a topic, but they don't have a pressing need to learn about it in detail.
A recent analysis of website viewing behavior by Clicktale found that goal-oriented visitors tend to prefer text-based content, while less-focused "browsers" are more attracted to videos and colorful images.
This means that video content may be more effective with potential buyers who are not in an active buying process and those who are engaged in what I have called casual learning. However, text-based content is likely to be more effective with potential buyers who are focused on learning about a business issue or challenge and possible solutions.
Most goal-oriented buyers prefer text-based content because it is more suitable than video content for addressing complex topics and communicating detailed or technical information. This is an important consideration for B2B marketers since many B2B products and services are complex offerings.
Goal-oriented buyers also tend to prefer text-based content because it enables them to easily control their interaction with the content. Buyers can skim over portions that don't interest them, stop reading to make notes, and go back to re-read portions that are particularly interesting or require additional attention to absorb. With written content, potential buyers can interact with the content at their own pace.
The bottom line is that both video and written content are important for B2B marketing success. Video content can be a powerful tool for capturing the attention of potential buyers, while written content excels at meeting the needs and preferences of more focused, goal-oriented buyers.
Image courtesy of Mehmet Pinarci via Flickr CC.