How to Use Data to Stay Ahead of the Curve With Your YouTube strategy

If your brand is using sponsored videos on YouTube to reach new audiences, then you already know that there is a lot happening on the platform, and it can sometimes be hard to keep up. Adopting a scatter-gun approach can be expensive, and no media buyer wants to waste their budget testing channels that don’t work. Maximizing the potential of your YouTube strategy means buying with confidence, and knowing how to stretch your budget further by getting the most out of each and every one of your brand integrations. 

Users across the world watch one billion hours of video each day on YouTube, which adds up to a lot of eyeballs. With so much content, and so many viewers, the potential for reaching audiences is enormous. However, this also means that finding a way to make your brand stand out can often be overwhelming. 

On the other hand, the advantage of the sheer volume of both videos and viewers on YouTube is that there are so many data points that we can learn from. All of the challenges involved in strategizing and scaling your brand’s YouTube presence can be solved by data. Best of all, you don’t need a degree in data science to begin to find insights that can help to make your YouTube strategy more effective. 

At ThoughtLeaders, we’re data junkies, and we use data insights to help our clients plan and execute the YouTube strategies that will work for their brand. We scrape over sixty thousand YouTube channels every day, to understand exactly what is happening on the platform. We can then analyze the channels and videos according to a whole range of different metrics: what brands have appeared there? Are the videos sponsored? What category does this channel belong to? Where is the creator located and what’s the language of the video? What topics are being discussed in the videos? 

All of these questions help us to build up a picture of what strategies are working, and what content is performing best for both creators and the brands that support their work. One of the big areas we always like to focus on is the question of “trends” - what’s hot right now in the world of YouTube, and, crucially, what’s the next big trend lurking just around the corner? Here are some of the tricks we’ve developed to help us to spot the next big thing and allow brands to stay ahead of the curve: 


How to use data to stay ahead of the curve with your YouTube strategy:

Get Content Specific with Trends

Since the world of YouTube is so vast, it’s often tempting to stick with what you know and look for the kind of content that you yourself would watch. That’s why we developed our Trend report: to help media buyers look beyond their comfort zone and discover the next big thing on YouTube. 

For example, you might personally not really understand the fuss surrounding ASMR. Soft whispered voices, fingernails tapping on microphones, light crinkly noises - some love it and some hate it, and it’s OK if this kind of content doesn’t really speak to you as an individual viewer. 

However, a quick look at our Trend report can show you the extent to which this genre has skyrocketed over the last 3 years (without you having to suffer through hours of ASMR content): 


Over 12,000 YouTube channels have produced ASMR videos during this period, which amounts to 40.7 billion views. That’s a pretty large chunk of audience that you don’t want to ignore, especially when we take a look at the number of brands that have started to muscle in on this trend:

This brand graph shows a steep rise over the past few months, as companies have come round to the significant sponsorship potential represented by ASMR videos. Some of the brands we see cropping up most regularly to sponsor ASMR videos include BetterHelp, Raycon and Skillshare. We see BetterHelp first appearing in ASMR content in May 2016: they saw the potential for this content genre long before many other brands discovered the ASMR niche on YouTube. 

Here is the first ASMR video that BetterHelp sponsored: 

Looking at content trends can help you find new directions for your brand’s strategy, as well as new creators to partner with. Trends are key to discovering new creative ways to connect with wider audiences (before other brands beat you to it). You can also make sure your brand stays away from content areas that are losing traction and falling out of favour with viewers - just look at the trend surrounding “smokey eye makeup”. Once a surefire trend on beauty channels, this kind of content is on a decided losing streak at the moment:


Find a Brand Who's Strategy You Love (and see how you can emulate it)

Your brand might not have had the same kind of luck as BetterHelp in the ASMR example we mentioned above, and it’s understandable if you feel wary about investing in a trend before it truly takes off. To help you buy with confidence, it can sometimes be comforting to watch and learn from another brand who seems to have it all figured out. 

It’s important to find a brand that has already invested heavily in YouTube sponsorships. This will mean that they’ve learnt through trial and error what works for them and what doesn’t - meaning that you can avoid paying for your own mistakes, and just learn from theirs! Ideally, you want to find a brand that doesn’t directly compete with your own but one that is targeting the same kind of audience. (Lifting the strategy of a direct competitor will often mean that they’ve already established exclusivity clauses with the channels you are trying to book.) If you are a food brand, look for someone else in the home and lifestyle space. If you are a B2B software company, find another company that is talking to small business owners. This kind of partial overlap will allow you to emulate their brand strategy and appear on a lot of the same channels without fear of conflict of interest with the creators. 

The next step is seeing exactly where their brand has appeared, and the channels that they’ve sponsored most frequently. You can easily do this using the Thought Leaders Brand report: simply draw up a list of the channels that the brand in question has sponsored and sort by the “Content” count to see which channels they have appeared on most regularly. 

For example, here are the channels that BetterHelp has appeared on over the past year: 

Once you have the list of channels, you can begin to better understand their strategy. You can export the data and look at when the brand last appeared on each channel, in order to get a sense of how many of the channels they have tested are still working for them. Anything that a brand hasn’t appeared on for over 6 months is likely to no longer be an effective channel for their marketing strategy, so you can exclude them from your wishlist. 

You can now analyze these channels according to repetition and relevance: where has the brand appeared most often and most recently. This gives you a list of the YouTubers who have been tried and tested by your chosen brand. These creators are clearly performing well to deserve an ongoing long-term relationship with a brand that clearly knows what it’s doing in the YouTube space, and there’s a very good chance that these creators will perform similarly for your brand. Once you’ve reviewed this channel list, you have a great starting point for your own brand’s strategy with a ready-made catalog of creators for you to contact and discuss sponsorship partnerships. 

Use Data to Maximize Every Engagement by Seeing What Performs Best

Once you've found a channel that you want to work with, the real analysis can begin. Rather than simply booking a video, and leaving the creator to decide the rest, it’s time to take a closer look at that channel and exactly what kind of content you want to “commision” from them. Don’t be afraid to get specific: most YouTubers are happy to play ball, particularly since you are the ones paying!

You can sort their videos according to the highest number of views and likes and see what kinds of patterns emerge. For example, it could be that “day in my life” videos always perform well on this channel, or that the most viewed videos are all “how to” tutorials. This helps you know exactly what kind of content your brand should be appearing in, to maximize the potential reach and impact of your integration. Talk to creators about their upcoming content schedule, and use the data to predict which of these planned videos will perform the best: that’s the video you want to get your brand featured on! Don’t forget to vet the influencer by looking at their past integrations with brands, and the performance on those videos. 

Remember: YouTube Doesn’t Exist in a Vacuum

When you dive into the digital rabbit hole, it can be easy to forget that YouTube is a two-way mirror: the world might be responding to trends on YouTube, but the content on YouTube is also looking out at the wider world. That means that you can plan your YouTube strategy around IRL events that are guaranteed to generate popular content. 

Think beyond the lazy marketers annual calendar of St Patrick’s Day and Fourth of July. Those holidays are unlikely to garner much attention in YouTube videos. In fact, we like to refer to this trick as the “Star Wars strategy” after our CRO noticed that movie and entertainment channels consistently put out fan videos after each and every Star Wars release, and these videos often performed far better than their channel averages. 

How does that data look? We ran a search for the 100 top channels that have discussed Star Wars in the past year. Out of over 51k videos in total published by this group of creators, 8,693 of the videos released by these channels mention “Star Wars” in their title or summary. We can see that videos that included “Star Wars” received 114K average views, compared to 77K views on average for videos that don’t include that phrase. 

This means that as a media buyer, you want to get your brand featured on the video a channel drops just after the latest big Star Wars release, knowing that this is almost guaranteed to bring in healthy viewing figures on the channel that you are partnering with. 

It’s easy to check this with any channel or event and see what patterns emerge. Depending on the audience you are targeting, you can identify the kinds of events that will have them headed straight to YouTube to hear the hot take of their favorite channels. Alongside movie releases, depending on the niche you are going after, here are some events you might want to look out for, and the kinds of popular videos these occasions usually inspire: 

  • Sports games (the post game analysis)
  • Sale days (those Black Friday shopping hauls)
  • Album releases (fan reaction videos)
  • Video game release (live streamed gaming videos)

The nice, money-saving angle when booking these kinds of videos is paying a CPV rate according to the channel’s overall average, with the knowledge that you are very likely to be receiving a video that outperforms that rate significantly.  

When booking the video, speak to the creator about their content schedule and the plans they have around these upcoming events. Knowing the likely subject matter of the videos can also allow you to tailor your brand messaging to the topical events that you know resonate with this audience (even if they have very little to do with your brand). For example, in the Star Wars case study above, we actually used this campaign angle for a client that was an internet tool provider. Although their service has very little to do with the Star Wars universe, there was a clear overlap between Star Wars fans and the tech-savvy, male-skewing audience they were looking to reach. The integrations we booked for this campaign were able to draw on Star Wars terminology and promote our client’s product as being part of the struggle of good against evil. All of the above media buying tricks can be easily achieved with our Sponsorship Intelligence data. Try it out for FREE with our handy Trend report tool - sign up here.


Shoshana Eilon

After a decade of working in film distribution and TV sales, Shoshana joined ThoughtLeaders in 2019 as the company's VP of Innovation. Originally from London, Shoshana now lives in Tel Aviv.

Company bio: 

ThoughtLeaders helps both advertisers and publishers to navigate the ever-growing industry of sponsored content. We are powered by sponsorship intelligence: using data to analyze the connections between thought leaders and brands to identify content trends and growth strategies.

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