The Content Pyramid And Why Video Must Be At The Top

Updated: Oct 27, 2020

By Neil St. Clair

This article was originally published on Forbes.com (March 29, 2016)

One of the first tasks for any good marketer is determining what type of media you'll utilize for your content strategy. Right?

Sometimes it's tough to believe that, even with content marketing's dominance over the past half-decade-plus, some marketers are still wrestling with questions like: Should I create a written case study or a product video? The answer is simple: You should do both, but always start with video. Video, in this article, is defined in its broadest sense--essentially anything multimedia that engages audiences through sight and sound simultaneously (e.g. white board animation). When you're thinking about media, you must be thinking multi-dimensionally in order to succeed at a multi-channel level. And that is why video must be your priority.

Video is the Matryoshka Doll of Content 

Video has the most nested component elements that can be easily transformed into resources for other channels.

a) Video has a script--with slight modification, this can become the template for a written piece

b) Video will contain images--these can be captured for still frames where video may make less sense (e.g. on Instagram or for a Twitter post)

c) Video will have audio--this again can be altered slightly for use on a podcast

Beyond that, with the right pre-production planning, purpose-made social video can be easily incorporated into any larger-scale production. Simply ensure you take a few extra moments during your on-site to create a quick clip or two that speaks to those specific audiences--ensuring that it's in-line with the best practices for those channels. And, more often than not, even if you don't develop purpose-made social content during production, some element of your primary video can be re-cut in post for social optimization. As more and more content consumption goes mobile, it's usually a necessity to create multiple lengths and optimized formats of video content, so you should always have tiered, multi-channel thinking built into your editorial process.

Now, am I arguing that video should replace still imagery, infographics and the written word? Certainly not. Rather, these should be component parts that are developed and incorporated into the multimedia elements of the audiovisual presentation. Again, these can later be broken out as standalone content for various use cases.

Here's a video I produced (How to Make the World's Most Effective Crowdfunding Video) that was used as the basis for a written editorial (How To Make A Crowdfunding Video That Works). The video incorporates several other types of media (e.g. infographics) within the content itself and was also was later re-edited into a piece of standalone social content (e.g. a 15-second Instagram video). Even before developing certain elements internal to the video as external pieces, we scored two additional pieces of content. And their creation was made much more efficient with a video-first approach.

When Does a Video-First Approach Not Make Sense? 

Of course, if your brand makes its living through Pinterest, it may make sense to take a primarily still image tack. That's not to say that video shouldn't be a strong part of your content strategy, but simply means it cannot be the leading part of your strategy. This is a rarer niche marketing issue that most likely applies to industry-specific marketers like photographers or graphic designers.

By the same token, serious academic, scientific and case study work that takes hundreds of pages to explain may still need to survive in book or written monograph form. However, for most marketers, this type of peer-reviewed content is likely unnecessary and overly technical. But still, video should be part of a strategy even with longer works. Video can be a "teaser" to engage audiences on specific topics, explain them more simply and entertainingly, and then draw viewers into reading the longer pieces.

Is Video Infallible? 

Video does have its drawbacks. The primary one being that it cannot be as actively and completely crawled by Google's robot (cf. text)--though this is changing, and recall, Google does own, and provides some preference to, YouTube-launched video.

Expense is also a concern. But with platform democratization, the lowering cost of building your own earned platforms (e.g. brand website), and the commoditization of content production, the overall cost of video is simply more in reach for startups and SMEs than it ever has been before. Video automation (e.g. SundaySky) is also becoming more standard for templated video production such as customer service updates.

The main argument in favor of a video-first approach comes forward when you realize that you're getting potentially 3-5 additional pieces of content for the price of one. With a little arithmetic, the economics begin to make greater sense. Most importantly, companies like WireWax and Rapt Media are building platforms for on-screen video interactivity that will make sales and information input a more organic part of video's role in driving and converting leads.

Ok, Now Prove It...

Statistically speaking, video simply performs better than other forms of flatter content. It's also gaining more rapidly as the primary form of content creation. The most telling statistic comes from a recent study by Invodo, which notes that 74% of all internet traffic will be video by 2017. Video also commands a higher RoI, drives more email clickthroughs/opens and places higher search engine results: 10 Powerful Video Marketing Statistics (and What They Mean to You). And here are some more fun insights: Why Video is the best format and medium for Content Marketing and 2016 Trends: Video in Business.  A quick Google search also turns up the prominent role and success of video in B2B Content Marketing 

generally, and some of the mental underpinnings for this success: Psychology for Marketers.

Admittedly, I'm breezing through some of these points, as the notion of a video-first approach feels to me to be one of those arguments that should be self-evident--almost tautological.

But Wait, Aren't You A Hypocrite? 

Now, you may find me a bit hypocritical that I've given you links to non-video presentations, and that I'm writing a piece of content sans video component. Fair points.

The reason for this is that video must be used as a revenue-driving scalpel--not a brand vanity broadsword. Using myself as an example: I make no money for my business (AW|CS) writing a piece of Forbes-posted thought leadership; so investing time and money in video to beneficently share my thoughts is illogical. And that's the same kind of hard calculus you must use: Will creating video net me one dollar more, drive in neutral, or will I lose a dollar? On the last point, sometimes creating video as a loss-leader can have longer-term benefits, but most young companies cannot withstand this, and must use the straight mathematics of "gain" to determine if video is right for them.

To tell a story correctly, one that appeals to the emotional and rational indexes of a person's brain, and with quality production value, there must be a commitment of time and money. For non-video professionals, it would be burdensome to use this media for your quick, everyday content. Especially if the goal is to simply get an idea out into the internet ether. Rather, video should be part of your medium- and long-term marketing strategy with a focus on thought leadership, pitch/sales demos and educational tools. All of which you'll be providing to prospects, investors, partners, internal resources, and other high-value target constituencies. Video is the tentpole of your content marketing strategy and that cannot be taken lightly.

In Conclusion

To best prove the video top-down approach, try it for yourself. The next time you create a video, break it out into its component parts and count how many pieces you got for a single engagement of time and effort. Now, try the inverse and work from the bottom up. Take a monograph and try to turn it into a meaningful visual story. Attempt to bring emotion and immediate understanding to an infographic. Turn a Tweet into a podcast. It can all be done, certainly, but the time and effort spent is a much more significant input.

If you'd like to share your results of this video-first experiment, or to just have a good old-fashioned argument, I'm best reached at neil@neilstclair.com


Neil St. Clair is a respected social entrepreneur, journalist, and philanthropist. He is currently CEO & Founder of social change consultancy, NES Impact as well as fear-focused venture studio, Notimor. An advocate for children and gender equity, he founded and chairs The NextMen Foundation. Follow him on IG @neilstclair

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N.B. Regarding certain quotations used on this site: I recognize the modern controversy following some of the quoted figures. I further recognize the potentially harmful beliefs these figures held in their time. In quoting them, it is not my intention to glorify or demonize. Rather, I cite their discrete thoughts, which represent a moment of interesting thinking, as separate from their total biography.

© Neil St. Clair, 2020-2025

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