Intent and engagement: a framework to create better video content

Every brand wants to forge a unique relationship with consumers. However, in today’s world, where consumers are hit by as many as 5,000 branded messages a day, just shouting louder will only increase the clutter, hence driving deeper engagement becomes imperative. So let’s take a closer look at how to create the right content to strengthen connections with your audience.

As usual, the journey starts with consumer insights. If you want to forge deeper relationships, you first need to understand users’ behaviors and how you can become relevant to them. In particular, you need to understand HOW and WHY users land on video content in the first place. So the two dimensions I will consider here are level of intent and level of emotional engagement. By level of intent I mean the user’s intent to find video content about a specific topic (this is the ‘why’). By level of emotional engagement I mean the users’ attitude when consuming video content (this is the ‘how’). For the consultants and other lovers of 2×2 matrices, if we put these two dimensions in orthogonal axes we get an interesting framework and some initial insights.

  1. Low intent – Low emotional engagement: From a user’s perspective, this is about killing time, not looking for any content in particular, and in a ‘quiet’ emotional attitude. The classic case for this is browsing a social newsfeed. There’s no intent as users do not have a destination or topic in mind, or even a type of content (they might discover videos, but are not looking for them). Generally, there’s no great emotional connection to the activity in itself (think that it often happens while commuting, or sitting on a toilet!). The underlying user’s need is to seek connections with the world outside and see what’s going on, so let’s call this quadrant CONNECTION.
  2. Low intent – High emotional engagement: From a user’s perspective, this is about discovering entertaining content, typically in the form of video. The classic case for this is scrolling down on suggested videos, or it might even happen through a search but a very broad one (so low intent, e.g. “funniest video ever”, “epic fails”, etc). While it might still happen during downtime, it does carry some emotional connection as video content is typically more engaging. So let’s call this quadrant ENTERTAINMENT. One important note: you might think that the difference between this quadrant and the previous one might seem a minor one. You would be wrong. In the real world, CONNECTION is equivalent to wandering in a mall for no specific purpose, while ENTERTAINMENT is like heading straight to a movie theatre or an arcade. This is why the level of engagement on YouTube is so much higher than on other platform where video is not native: recent research from Millward Brown (on a sample of 18-34 years old in US) shows that people are 4 times more interested in watching video on YouTube than on other platforms (note to the reader: I’m obviously biased since I work at Google, but research findings prove the point).
  3. High intent – Low emotional engagement: Users in this quadrant have high intent because they are searching for something specific. However, the topic searched for carries low emotional connection with the user, so it is typically a functional need. This is the case for a number of the “how to” type of searches on YouTube, e.g. “How to fix a leaking aircon”. Let’s call this quadrant EDUCATION, since that’s what users are mostly looking for.
  4. High intent – High emotional engagement: Users in this quadrant are also after specific video content. However, they are searching for something they are passionate about. This can also happen through a “How to” search (e.g. “How to play harmonica”). Other times, users will return to a destination which they are already familiar with (e.g. go to a brand page they subscribed to). This quadrant might also look very similar to the previous one, but again, it’s not. While it may manifest itself in similar user behaviors (i.e. a “how to” type of search), people exploring a passion are in a state of ‘flow’ and therefore high engagement (there’s quite a bit of research on this, cfr. Robert J. Vallerand, On The Psychology of Passion). So let’s simply call this quadrant PASSION.

The full framework is below. Two important clarifications before moving forward:

  1. All the user behaviors represented by the quadrants are very important for brands (although in different ways, as we will see). Low intent + low emotional engagement (i.e. CONNECTION quadrant) might not sound great. However, a very large part of media consumption in digital happens in this way (e.g. we spend a lot of time on social newsfeeds, and with high frequency of usage!)
  2. In reality, the boundaries among these quadrants are blurry, as users’ behavior is not always sharply defined. More importantly, users might cross these boundaries and go from a quadrant to another, even within the same browsing session.


With this new insight on consumers’ behavior in our pocket, we now go back to the original question: how can brands develop content to deepen connections with their audiences? Of course, strategies will depend on the quadrant in the framework, so let’s examine them one by one.


Users in this space are not looking for you. They are also not looking for videos. They just happen to be there, on a social newsfeed or any platform which has content of different types: text, images, multimedia, and of course video. Also, there are lots of people in this quadrant (on Facebook alone there are 1.35B monthly and 864M daily active users as of September 2014) and they spend more time on social media than on many other activities (including exercising and pet care, but not eating…), so this is a great place to drive mass awareness for your brand and category.

Regarding content, going back to the metaphor for this quadrant of people walking in a busy mall, you have to ask yourself: “What would make someone turn around?”. Keep in mind that you might not have the luxury of sight, sound, and motion (i.e. video) to catch someone’s attention: videos on these platform could be auto-playing with no sound or even show in the form of a static image and require a click to play. So picking an eye-catching image or showing some action in the first few seconds (in the case of auto-playing videos with no sound) is critical. Another important consideration is that social media is often use for an underlying need of feeling connected and being part of what is happening in the world. So clearly ‘water-cooler’ type of content works really well here, as users feel compelled to participate, share and amplify the buzz (think Ice Bucket Challenge).

To summarize in one word, in this quadrant your content needs to be visible.


Users in this space have low intent, so not looking for some specific topic or information. However, they are looking for some kind of entertaining experience. Video and gaming are the most common forms of entertainment on digital, but gaming requires intent (i.e. falls into the last quadrant, as users will go straight to the game they want to play), so this is space is mostly about video.

As users are already on a video platform, brands are likely to have sight, sound, and motion available and generally more real estate on the screen (although it depends on the specific video platform). Also, users will be more receptive to long form video content (slightly less so when on mobile), which enables better storytelling for brands. Both entertaining content (e.g. stunts, sketches, action scenes, etc) and inspiring content (e.g. think Dove Real Beauty sketches) work really well in this case. This is the ideal place for a brand to share its purpose. In crafting content here, think of how Andrew Stanton (Director of Finding Nemo, Wall-E, Toy Story, etc) refers to storytelling: “Everything you are saying is leading to a singular goal. Some truth that deepens our understanding of who we are as human beings.”

To summarize, in this quadrant your content needs to be purposeful.


Users in this space have high intent because they are actually looking for specific content. However, since the level of emotional engagement is low, the underlying need is generally a functional one (e.g. learn to fix the aircon), not an emotional one (e.g. how to look pretty with the latest makeup).

High level of intent generally manifests itself in a search, which is why we see plenty of “How To” type of searches on both and YouTube. These users are likely to be at lower stage in the purchase funnel, as they are generally at least considering a specific product category (if not already a specific brand). Brands clearly have an opportunity to engage here, but the content is quite different from what works in other quadrants: users with a functional need generally look for a simple and transparent answer. A perfect example of content tailored for this is McDonald’s Canada “Your food, your questions” initiative, whereby they post videos on YouTube with the answers to their audience’s questions, like this one. Put differently, your content here is truly a service to the user, who will return the value in the form of consideration when it’s time to buy your product.

To summarize, in this quadrant your content needs to be transparent.


Users in this quadrant are have high intent because they are looking for specific content, either in the form of a search query or by just heading to a destination they already have in mind (e.g. a website, a YouTube channel, an app, etc). They are also highly engaged at emotional level because they are exploring a passion: these users are in a state of ‘flow’ (highly attentive and immersed in the experience) and they can spend considerable time engaging on the same topic. They are those who watch a long sequence of related videos and spend more than one hour of video watching in the same session.

Content that works well here fuels the passions of these users. Brands need to find the sweet-spot where their brand essence and their audience’s passion points overlap, i.e. an area where they actually have a ‘right to play’ and engage users at an emotional level. It is also important that the content is authentic to the audience’s passion points, since people engage with creators or brands whom they can genuinely share a passion with. This is why on YouTube we see many brands who behave as (or partner with) creators in the way they engage their audiences and build a community of fans who will continue to go back to their content (i.e. brand channels). A great example is Unilever with Be Beautiful in India and All Things Hair in UK (and other countries), where they address their audiences’ passions for cosmetics and haircare with specific content created by video bloggers (similarly to what YouTube stars Bethany Mota and Michelle Phan do to engage with their fans). Note that a functional answer to an emotional need would not succeed: even a user looking for cooking recipes is unlikely to simply have a functional need and is most likely exploring a passion for cooking. Same could be said for any hobbies at large, e.g. gaming, technology, DIY, etc.

To summarize, in this quadrant your content needs to be captivating.

The full framework is below, it illustrates the type of content that works well to engage consumers, depending on their online behavior.


To conclude, we should note that users display all the four behaviors in the framework at different times, hence brands should have content to engage in all four quadrants (with varying focus depending on the product category). A common fallacy for many brands is to focus mostly on visibility and sometimes on purpose (connection and entertainment quadrants), thus failing to engage on specific education needs and passion points of their audience. The result is that consumers readily identify these brands for something meaningful (e.g. awareness of the logo, or the brand’s purpose) but not at a deeper level for something that they recognize themselves with (i.e. a passion point). More to come on this topic in the next blog posts!


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