"Advertisers have a lot more freedom and more tools in the toolbox to really look at the objective that they're trying to meet with their sites and make sure that they're using the smartest vehicle online to do that," said Laura Schuler, account director at interactive agency AKQA.
More sophisticated use of video
Video in particular has "come into its own" in the past year, Schuler said. "Video was very compartmentalized, but what we're seeing now is that it's more integrated into the Web browsing experience," she said. "Now you're seeing more great content from publishers in video format, [and] you're seeing advertisers use it in ad spaces and bring it onto Web sites and microsites."
AKQA developed a microsite (businessbreakthrough.com) for client Visa Small Business Services. The site, which was relaunched last month, features video case studies on small businesses and offers experts' recommendations on how to address various business challenges.
The latest videos were created in high definition, said Jon Raj, VP-advertising and emerging media platforms at Visa Small Business, allowing a larger viewing frame and a more cinematic experience. Among other features, when visitors mouse over various content categories, they see preview windows with video playing.
Such features create a classier online experience, Raj said. "We've found in the research we've done that small-business owners really appreciate being given the same high quality that a consumer would expect," he said.
One significant force behind the rise in online multimedia is that publishers are beginning to embrace emerging media, said Stacy Malone, interactive media director at McCann Worldgroup, San Francisco. "They're doing it because the marketers and the agencies have been pushing them to do so," she said. "They may be coming [with] a little more kicking and screaming, but they are making huge progress."
The result, she said, is that marketers have a richer test bed for their efforts. "They can create their own content for the Web site in an emerging media format or partner with a third-party publisher and have their messages in a credible, third-party environment," she said.
The biggest benefit of online multimedia thus far has been its ability to show—not just tell—a marketer's story, and video case studies have emerged as a particularly powerful way to do so. "In b-to-b, peer influence is huge, whether it's a C-level [exec], or an IT manager or anyone else," said Norm Johnston, managing director, Europe, at interactive agency Modem Media, which has created podcasts and video case studies for clients such as Ericsson. "The ability to actually use multimedia to have that testimonial from a CIO or someone else is really pretty powerful stuff."
Use video cautiously
Still, marketers must consider their audience and use multimedia only when it will improve the viewer's experience, Johnston said. "When we look at the statistics with a b-to-b audience, they're very task-driven. They tend to be—particularly on the IT side—fairly cynical. It's hard to get their attention. They're time-starved, and they're really hunting for information online."
The length of a program is key, experts agreed, though there are differing opinions on how long marketers have before their audience tunes out. "You have to make it useful and easy to consume," said Sonal Gandhi, an analyst at JupiterResearch. "[Multimedia is] an important tool, and we'll see more applications of it going forward, but marketers should be cognizant of the time limitations that folks have."
Gandhi said there aren't any set rules for how long multimedia pieces can be; she suggested presenting users with post-viewing surveys to solicit their opinion.
Though popular wisdom once held that online videos should be limited to two minutes in length—a position some still maintain—Rob Bagot, executive creative director at McCann Worldgroup, San Francisco, said viewership won't drop off as long as the story is strong. In fact, McCann has had great successes with videos of five to 10 minutes in length, he said.
"Storytelling is getting enriched, production values are going up and the material is becoming more useful," he said. "People are putting greater intellectual capital into the development of this stuff and, by virtue of that, it's generating a deeper engagement from the customer."