I was excited to read Matt Southern’s article, Google Launches Free Tool to Help Businesses Create Short Promo Videos here on Search Engine Journal.

He reported that a free tool called YouTube Video Builder, which is still in beta, was available to any business that may not be capable of creating videos from scratch.

And he quoted Ali Miller, the Director of Product Management for YouTube Ads, who said:

“Because businesses of all sizes are strapped for time and resources and in-person video shoots are no longer practical in many countries, we are accelerating the next stage of Video Builder availability.”

That was music to my ears.

YouTube & Video Editing Platforms

I was an early fan of a free app called Directr for Business, which was designed for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).

As I mentioned in a post on the Inked blog, 10 Helpful Tips To Improve Your Video Content Quality, YouTube acquired the video editing startup that developed the app in August 2014.

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Directr’s unique storyboard-driven creation process gave digital marketing agencies the ideas, guidance, and tools they needed to create great HD video with just their iPhone and share it instantly to the website, blog, or social media page of clients of all sizes.

If you were a content marketer, Directr for Business helped SMEs produce high-quality video content faster and more simply than ever before.

Directr for Business includes professionally created storyboards for:

  • Customer testimonials.
  • Product announcements.
  • How-to tutorials.
  • Executive profile videos.
  • Event videos.
  • Social media tips.
  • Press release supplements.

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Oh, and the original version of Directr enabled you to share the videos that you’d created immediately to YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter.

Alas, the app was shut down in December 2017.

However, something suspiciously like it resurfaced a couple of years later as YouTube’s Video Ad Builder.

It gave SMEs and their digital marketing agencies a quick and dirty way to make:

  • An intro to my Business (40-second-long version).
  • An intro to my Business (60-second-long version).
  • A video of My Business Story (40-second-long version).
  • A video of My Business Story (60-second- long version).
  • A Promotion (40 seconds long)
  • A product Demo (40 seconds long)
  • A service Overview (40 seconds long)

These themes were designed for “small business owners who want to leverage the power of video without the high costs of a video production company.”

But these themes could also be used by content marketers in businesses of all sizes who wanted to create new video content daily or multiple times a week.

Why would they do that?

Well, even back then, there was a growing need to create more video content to engage and influence consumers throughout the purchase funnel, in order to increase revenues and grow brand equity.

These days, old links to the Video Ad Builder are redirected to a “Creative Services” page which lists 16 creative partners that YouTube says “can help you bring your business to life through stunning visual assets.”

Farther down the page, there’s also the statement:

“Google is not responsible for, and does not make any guarantees with respect to, the services offered by these providers.”

Which brings us to the announcement made on April 14, 2020, that Video creation is fast, easy and free with YouTube Video Builder.

The post by Miller was only 426 words long. And Southern’s article not only reported the news, but also got Google to clarify that this tool is designed for “supplemental” and “lightweight” videos only.

Video Builder is not capable of creating or editing videos of any significant length.

For that, you could have turned to Creator Studio Classic, which is no longer available.

Now, you have to use YouTube Studio or use your own software.

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Creator Studio Classic was created more than a decade ago using older technology.

This technology was limiting YouTube’s ability to build features, which is why it was discontinued.

YouTube Studio is the replacement for Creator Studio Classic.

It uses newer technology, which allows YouTube to build creator tools faster and fix problems more easily.

In fact, YouTube has added over 20 features to YouTube Studio that were never available in Classic, such as expanded analytics.

Giving YouTube Video Builder a Shot

Since YouTube is tracking creator feedback about YouTube Studio closely, including feedback on social media, I decided to give Video Builder a shot – despite knowing what had happened to Directr for Business and Video Ad Builder.

Hey, progress is often made through persistence and iteration.

And you need to try new tools before you have the street cred to demand additional features that would make them more useful.

So, on May 13, I spoke at Ragan’s Google for Communicators Virtual Bootcamp about how to Develop a Paid Search Strategy that Delivers Greater ROI.

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And I included three slides in my 26-slide presentation about the YouTube Video Builder beta.

When I got to Q&A following my presentation, I was hoping to get questions about how to choose the right layout based on your message and goals, or when to generate a short YouTube video that’s 6 seconds or 15 seconds long.

Instead, all I heard was the sound of crickets chirping.

Now, the participants in the Virtual Bootcamp had peppered Lee Odden, the CEO of TopRank Marketing, with questions following his presentation on “Marketing During COVID-19: Be the Best Answer with SEO.”

So, maybe participants were more interested in SEO than paid search.

Or, maybe Odden’s presentation was more thought-provoking than mine was.

Or, maybe, just maybe, the ability to generate a short YouTube video that’s 6 seconds or 15 second long just isn’t that compelling.

A couple of weeks later, I was doing some pro bono work for the Digital Broadway Bootcamp.

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And I proposed using the YouTube Video Builder to create short videos that let the Modern Voices Studio increase awareness of their new Broadway, film, and television camp on Zoom with brief, memorable messages.

They didn’t bite.

They wanted a free SEO audit instead.

OK, so the Video Builder tool is free, but buying video ads on YouTube still costs money.

And, even though you can target your TrueView ads at parents of teens (13 to 17 years old) or use keywords like “TV camp” and “theater camp” to get the right message in front of the right audience, building awareness doesn’t necessarily put butts in the seats.

And recently, I pitched a medium-sized business that wants to gain market share while several of its larger competitors have gone dark during the global pandemic and economic recession.

I explained how we could use the new Video Builder tool to create bumper ads for a brand-building campaign.

But, I also explained how we could use a TrueView for action campaign to encourage viewers to explore their service, share their contact information, and take other actions that are valuable to their business.

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In turns out that they weren’t that interested in brand building.

They did ask for more details about driving leads and conversions by adding prominent calls-to-action (CTAs) and headline text overlays to their TrueView ads.

And they ask, “How long does a video need to be to give viewers the motivation to take action?”

So, I told them they could get a pretty good idea by looking over the special edition of the YouTube Ads Leaderboard that showcases the top U.S. 2019 TrueView for action ads.

I point out that:

So, after pitching the YouTube Video Builder three times without success, I think that I can provide some useful feedback on what would make it a more useful tool.

Or, as Ian Flemming wrote in “Goldfinger”:

“Mr. Bond, they have a saying in Chicago: ‘Once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence. The third time it’s enemy action’.”

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How the YouTube Video Builder Tool Can Be More Useful

There is no question that the beta version of Video Builder is useful for some businesses.

Havenly, an online platform offering interior design services, has used Video Builder to enable their small team to spin out high quality creative with increased velocity while sheltering in place.

Which Wich Superior Sandwiches, a fast casual restaurant chain, has used Video Builder to communicate changing hours or promotions.

Central Market, a gourmet grocery store chain, has used Video Builder to highlight new services like curbside pickup.

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However, the Video Builder tool would be even more useful to a broader spectrum of smaller businesses and those with less creative experience by adding professionally created storyboards for:

  • Customer testimonials.
  • Product announcements.
  • How-to tutorials.
  • Executive profile videos.
  • Online event videos.
  • Helpful and useful tips.
  • Press release supplements.

The Video Builder tool would also be more useful to brands or agencies with existing video resources by adding a quick and dirty way to make:

  • An intro to my Business (15-second-long version).
  • An intro to my Business (30-second-long version).
  • A video of My Business Story (60-second-long version).
  • A video of My Business Story (90-second-long version).
  • A Promotion (15 seconds long).
  • A product Demo (30 seconds long).
  • A service Overview (60 seconds long).
  • An explainer video (90 seconds long).

Finally, the Video Builder tool would be much more useful to video marketers by enabling it to make videos for a TrueView for action campaign.

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Given the current environment, many businesses are more interested in performance marketing campaigns than in brand-building campaigns.

The Takeaway

Now, I realize that making Video Builder a more useful tool won’t be popular with more traditional advertising agencies who have recently announced layoffs, furloughs, and other cost-cutting measures because many businesses remain closed, events have shut down, and a significant portion of advertising has been put on pause due to the COVID-19 outbreak, which caused economic chaos and uncertainty.

But, if big ad agencies can’t produce more engaging videos and ads than a free tool or some templates, then maybe Warren Buffett was right when he observed:

“Only when the tide goes out do you discover who’s been swimming naked.”

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