Why Brands Should Ramp Up Their OTT Marketing Strategies

By Tina Wilson, EVP, Marketing Analytics for Nielsen

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When the COVID-19 pandemic struck, video streaming skyrocketed as populations around the globe sheltered at home. The mass consumption of internet-delivered over-the-top (OTT) media wasn’t just a fad, though. As of year-end 2020, video streaming accounted for nearly one-fourth of total streaming among streaming-capable homes. Today, more than three-fourths of U.S. homes have at least one enabled connected TV (CTV) device for streaming OTT content.

These figures suggest OTT media, with its ease of access and customizability, will dominate the future of media consumption—positioning it as a prime marketing opportunity for consumer brands looking to gain a competitive edge. However, despite its ability to reach diverse, captive audiences, OTT still remains largely unchartered territory for many marketers due to its unfamiliarity. The Nielsen Annual Marketing Report reveals that brands are slow to pursue this promising channel, with 58% of surveyed marketers citing internal knowledge gaps as an obstacle to adoption.

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Hesitancy to harness OTT for marketing purposes is a major missed opportunity for brands that want to succeed in today’s markets. As the bridge between traditional and digital media, OTT has immense marketing potential for brands across the full range of product and service categories, with the addressability benefits of paid search and video. Additionally, because marketing via OTT remains relatively understated, brands that secure ads or product placements on these platforms now will stand out even more to audiences without the white noise of competition.

Because of OTT’s promise, brands should ramp up their in-house skill sets around the channel now to capture its value before the competition crowds in. Once marketers familiarize themselves with OTT’s nuances, here’s how they can start using it to their advantage:

Identify content that aligns with the brand’s value proposition

By picking media programs that align with their brand’s value proposition, marketers can place ads in front of consumers who are inherently more likely to engage with the brand’s content. That’s because it’s appearing either within or in tandem with trusted content that already resonates with them. For those platforms that don’t allow ads in the traditional sense ahead of content (e.g., Netflix), there’s the chance for marketers to get creative with brand-building product placements that boost audience favor in subtle yet nuanced ways. Take the inclusion of MillerCoors products in Hulu productions like “The Act” and “Into the Dark” for example; by integrating into these pop-culture hits, MillerCoors aligns with fan-favorite pieces of content, which, ideally, will drive sales.

Beyond offering increased opportunities for raising brand awareness, OTT also acts as a full-funnel platform. Since consumers are already on internet devices, they can immediately jump to the brand’s website to explore product or service offerings, find brick-and-mortar locations, and make purchases. Even if visitors don’t immediately take next steps, the brand’s website can capture those individuals’ information for retargeting purposes using the right software.

Test small-scale campaigns

For marketers hesitant to launch OTT ads, the best course of action is to start small with their investments. Fortunately, OTT opportunities are highly scalable, with marketers often able to negotiate display lifespans and run schedules. Similar to how marketers should be advertising within content that aligns with their brand’s persona, the way they structure and disperse their ads can be tailored to fit their target audience’s typical media behaviors.

From these initial tests, marketers can use dynamic data-collecting tools to capture consumer behaviors once they’ve been exposed to the brand’s messaging. With these insights, marketers can then build out larger, well-informed campaigns to ensure optimized media placements.

For streaming programs that do allow explicit promotions, marketers can leverage audience data to become even more targeted in their reach with addressable ads. Instead of marketing to a piece of content’s entire viewership, marketers can segment those high value audience members and present specific ads exclusively to them. Alternatively, marketers can run an ad by every viewer but tailor the messaging based on individuals’ relationships to the brand, thereby addressing them in a way that is most likely to compel them to take action.

Secure internal buy-in

It may be the case that some marketers are even struggling to get their organization’s OTT investment started. Forty percent of the Nielsen report’s respondents named organizational buy-in as another impediment to OTT adoption. It’s understandable that companies may be hesitant to pool funding into an unfamiliar channel, especially smaller organizations working on tighter budgets. However, according to the Nielsen analyses, it takes, on average, over a year for 47% of the impact of marketing to be realized.O This means that ongoing investment in strategic, timely marketing efforts now has the potential to secure future success. To combat organizational concerns over OTT, marketers will need to demonstrate to their executive teams using data that OTT adoption is an investment guaranteed to draw ROI. They can win favor by articulating the various benefits of marketing on this channel and explaining how pursuing those placements now map to larger company goals.

Once marketers secure initial buy-in, they can sustain executives’ confidence in OTT investments by leveraging dynamic measurement tools to monitor the performance of their campaigns across platforms. With granular, up-to-date insights into how well viewers are responding to particular advertisements, marketers can make adjustments in real time to their messaging and audience targeting to zero in on approaches that yield the strongest returns. In fact, Nielsen research found that having the right data, methodology, insights, and activations in place can lead to, on average, a 7x return on the cost of the analytics program itself. While unfamiliarity around OTT marketing may be holding teams back from exploring it, implementing strategic measurement practices alongside it can maximize its impact and persuade executives of its influence.

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Take advantage of OTT today

While consumer OTT usage is booming, the avenue remains widely untouched by marketers—but this won’t be the case for long. Before OTT marketing becomes mainstream, brands should pursue deals with platforms to negotiate favorable terms while their company is still one of the only players in the field.

By investing in OTT strategies today, marketers can secure stand-out placements in front of captive audiences inclined to engage with their offerings and add a new tactic to their media mix with adaptable, long-term promise. Starting with small, controlled opportunities, marketers can zero in on their ideal consumers and leverage the results to underscore their teams’ organizational value, setting themselves up to excel in the future of digital media as a result.

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