Brands Are the Stars in New Slew of Online Instructional Videos

TouchStorm's Howdini, Google's Howcast Turn Highly Searched-for Info Into Branded How-to Clips

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A correction has been made in this story. See below for details.

NEW YORK ( -- How can marketers reach consumers with branded content? It's as simple as following the searches -- and a new breed of media companies is attempting to translate highly searched-for information into branded how-to video.
Piece of cake: How-to's from Howdini.
Piece of cake: How-to's from Howdini.

"When it comes to searching, people are looking for information more than entertainment," said Alison Provost, CEO of PowerPact Holdings, a sibling company of TouchStorm, which produces the branded content, and Howdini, which distributes it.

The model is based on addressing two facts of online consumer behavior. In a typical day, 7 million people search for some form of help online, according to the Pew Internet and American Life Project, and YouTube, despite its entertainment slant, is one of the most popular destination sites on the web. Ms. Provost says there is a huge hole to fill on the web -- the need for videos that provide information -- and she believes brands are the perfect entities to fill it.

"We ask the brand, 'What are you an expert in?'" Ms. Provost said. "[Then we] leverage that by matching it with what people are searching for." The pillar of TouchStorm's model is Howdini, a web destination for women searching for how-to videos. Produced by two former ABC executives, the site's content is delivered in a morning-show format, with brands positioned as experts. For instance, in a segment called "How to Make a Birthday Castle Cake," Liv Hansen, a professional baker at Betty Crocker kitchens, shows viewers the step-by-step process of making the cake, using Betty Crocker products and giving "Betty Crocker tips." The content is undoubtedly branded (clients include General Mills) but not pure commercial content, which is why Howdini also distributes to third parties, such as TV stations, video sites and online content aggregators.

The content is heavily informed by search data. TouchStorm analyzes a sample of nearly 70,000 searches by American women to help clients understand what their target consumers are looking for.

Amateurs meet professionals
Howcast, another startup -- this one launched by former YouTube and Google executives -- is creating a vast library of instructional how-to videos, ranging from topics such as "how to live on a budget" to "how to make a water-gun alarm clock." Howcast meshes the feel of user-generated content with professional production quality. Its content is made in-house, by emerging directors, users or marketers. For instance, Home Depot has a series of how-to videos for home improvement. Like TouchStorm, Howcast has a wide distribution model that includes partnerships with online and TV video sites.

"People are looking for this content," said CEO Jason Liebman, explaining the basis of the business model. "It's evergreen, relative to sports and news ... and in order to be successful, we don't need to create the next 'Lost.'"

Mr. Liebman also noted that how-to content provides a way for advertisers to reach consumers in a targeted way. For example, people watching how-to videos about a topic such as "how to swaddle a baby" are exactly the kind of audiences a product such as Pampers would want to reach with their advertisements.

Howcast is still testing ad models. Some videos have a video overlay or banner ads that promote brands relevant to the videos being shown, and the company is also pursuing opportunities for branded integration where it makes sense with the content.

As with any branded content venture, both companies say they have to prove their worth with viable metrics for marketers to measure the impact of the ad spend.

"You can't invent a new medium without having a measurement piece to prove that it works," Ms. Provost said. TouchStorm has a formal partnership with web-measurement company Visible Measures to track reach and engagement measures, and is also tracking other actions, such as how many people click on links to coupons.

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CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Sony was a TouchStorm client. Sony is a client of PowerPact, not TouchStorm. The two are sibling companies.
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