teens hanging out at a park
You can learn a lot about video experiences from Generation Z and YouTube. PHOTO: Antoine Beauvillain

Generation Z — the generation younger than millennials — has a radically different relationship with video than their parents.

More than just passive entertainment, they see online video as a way to find practical information and instruction on everything from Minecraft to hair braiding to the latest dance moves.

Even when they sit back and watch, it’s more likely to be a YouTube star with a following built through personal engagement than anything resembling a traditional three-camera sitcom.

What does this have to do with customer experience?

Everything.

In a recent white paper, Foundation Capital updated a report it issued a year earlier about the “keys to unlocking the decade of the CMO.” In addition to familiar themes like ROI, automation, authentic content, personalization and conversion, the firm now added a sixth key: video. Specifically, it explained: “The rapid proliferation of video platforms … means that companies have a host of new, more engaging ways to connect with their customers.”

With the explosion of mobile, streaming video is now woven throughout daily life as people take a moment wherever they are to seek information, enjoy a shared clip or partake of their favorite personality’s latest creation.

In fact, the number of hours people spend watching YouTube videos on mobile has doubled over the past year alone. Given its ability to convey a large amount of information in just a few seconds, this makes video a uniquely compelling medium for customer engagement.

The question is no longer whether to make video part of your customer engagement strategy, but how.

Taking a Lesson From Your Customers — and Your Kids

As any victim of autoplay knows, being shown the wrong clip at the wrong time can be annoying or worse.

To harness the unique power of video to engage and influence, you have to know what people really want to see, and when. For a starting point, consider the way today’s viewers use and interact with online video.

While the viewing behaviors of the youngest consumers will have outsize importance moving forward, they’re already not the only ones thinking about video in different ways.

People of all ages now turn to the small screen for step-by-step home improvement projects, product reviews, size-and-fit guidance for clothing, trip planning ideas — the list goes on. This is the essence of interactivity: finding answers to the specific questions you have, delivered when and where you want them.

There’s also an element of personal connection at play. Kids don’t watch just anyone play Minecraft online; they follow their favorite personalities, and that’s who they follow along with to see how to create a diamond axe head (or whatever it is they’re doing).

The same applies for their parents: when you’ve found a home improvement video with just the pacing, level of detail and clarity you’re looking for, you’ll go back to that site for every other project you take on.

Video Can Drive Value

What lessons can businesses draw from these behaviors?

The most fundamental takeaway is that video, delivered at the right time in the right place, can drive real value. By inserting these interactive experiences into the buying process, you can provide information the way people prefer to consume it today and help them further along the funnel from consideration to purchase to ongoing brand loyalty.

Video offers a uniquely effective way to interact with customers who might not be ready to initiate a call or chat — you can address their questions and deepen their engagement with your product even if they’re reluctant to get involved with a live agent.

Putting a Human Face on Self-Service

Video makes it possible to combine self-service with human connection, giving your brand a face that people can relate to and built trust with. Or why not leverage the human connections that already exist?

There’s already a large and growing roster of YouTube stars who make their living through the following they’ve built. Find the ones most relevant to your customer base and put them to work for your brand.

That personal touch also extends to knowing when it’s the right time to offer video, and which video to offer.

You’ve got plenty of data to work with, including the path they’ve followed on your site, the time they’ve spent on each page, and their device and location.

For logged-in customers, you can layer on even more data about past purchases and inquiries. That contextual information can fuel analytics to determine the right way to use video to on your site — just as social media analytics curate which videos to surface in an individual’s feed.

The Potential of Video

We’re still in the early days of weaving video into the online customer experience, but a handful of companies are already showing what these practices can look like. For example, online retailers in commodity markets are using video to drive differentiation and build loyalty and retention.

As customers browse their pages, these companies offer a knowledgebase with items they’re most interested in, such as lifestyle tips, product comparisons and how-to guides. It’s the same way a clerk might join you in a retail aisle to answer questions or offer advice — and it can be just as effective for helping the customer make a decision and close a purchase. It’s the difference between being a source and a resource.

Any parent knows how hard it can be to drag kids away from a favorite YouTube channels. That’s the kind of loyalty and engagement you want for your company — and now there’s a way to get it.