Digiday+ Research deep dive: YouTube holds strong as a reliable marketing channel for agencies and brands

This research is based on unique data collected from our proprietary audience of publisher, agency, brand and tech insiders. It’s available to Digiday+ members. More from the series →

YouTube might not be considered one of the most exciting marketing channels compared with newer platforms like TikTok and Instagram, but agencies and brands see YouTube as a reliable channel that delivers consistent marketing success.

At least, that’s what a Digiday+ Research survey of 138 agency and brand professionals found.

Digiday’s survey found that 88% of agency clients are spending at least a very small portion of their marketing budgets on YouTube, putting the platform in fourth place among channels that agency clients invest in (behind Facebook, Instagram and Google).

But while agencies clearly see the value in spending marketing dollars on YouTube, the platform doesn’t necessarily get a large amount of marketing spend from agency clients. Digiday’s survey found that just 22% of agency clients spend a large or very large portion of their budgets on YouTube marketing.

Meanwhile, 79% of brand pros told Digiday that they spend at least a very small amount of their marketing dollars on YouTube, making the platform the fifth most invested in channel among brands.

But similar to agencies, a much smaller percentage of brands said they spend a large or very large amount on YouTube. To be exact, only 12% of brand pros said they invest a large or very large portion of their marketing budgets in the platform

Agency spending on YouTube has remained fairly steady over the last year, Digiday’s survey found. But there have been some notable shifts.

For instance, through all of 2022, the largest percentage of agency pros said their clients spent a moderate portion of their marketing budgets on YouTube — 30% in the first quarter of 2022 and 31% in Q3 2022. However, in Q1 2023, the largest percentage of agency pros said their clients spend just a small portion of their budgets on YouTube (24% said this).

And when it comes to agency pros who said their clients spend a large portion of their marketing budgets on YouTube, that percentage has actually seen steady growth over the last year. In Q1 2022, 12% of agencies told Digiday their clients spent a large amount on YouTube, which rose to 15% in Q3 2022, and then rose again very slightly to 16% in Q1 2023.

The moderate and very small spending categories also changed significantly in the last six months. In Q3 2022, nearly a third of agency pros (31%) told Digiday their clients spent a moderate portion of their marketing budgets on YouTube. That percentage fell to less than a quarter (22%) in Q1 2023. Meanwhile, the percentage of agency pros who said their clients spend a very small portion of their budgets on YouTube rose from 10% in Q3 last year to 20% in Q1 this year.

Brands’ YouTube spending has also seen some interesting changes over the last year.

For example, in Q1 of last year, 70% of brand pros told Digiday they spent at least a very small portion of their marketing budgets on YouTube. Six months ago, that percentage rose to 79%, which remained steady into Q1 of this year.

Meanwhile, the percentage of brand pros who spend a small portion of their marketing budgets on YouTube has fluctuated quite a bit over the last year. A year ago, 18% of brands said they spent a small amount on YouTube. Six months ago, that percentage rose to 28%. And at the beginning of this year, it dropped to 21%.

Interestingly, not one respondent told Digiday in Q1 of this year that they spend a very large portion of their marketing budget on YouTube. The percentage of brand pros in this category has historically been small (just 3% in Q1 of last year and 4% in Q3), but it is worth noting that no one said this in Q1 of this year.

When it comes to whether marketing on YouTube actually works, the vast majority of agency pros told Digiday they’re at least a little confident in the platform’s ability to drive marketing success for their clients. In fact, as of Q1 of this year, only 11% of agencies said they’re not confident at all in YouTube (meaning 89% have some confidence).

And it turns out that agencies do have a decent amount of confidence in YouTube’s ability to drive marketing success. Just shy of two-thirds of agency pros (62%) said they’re either confident or somewhat confident in the platform.

The percentage of agency pros who have told Digiday they’re somewhat confident in YouTube has remained consistently at about a third over the last year and a half. The percentage of those who have said they’re confident in YouTube has also remained at about a third, but just over the last year. In Q3 2021, 42% said they were confident in YouTube’s ability to drive marketing success for their clients. That percentage fell to 32% in Q1 2022, and then remained at 31% in Q3 2022 and Q1 2023.

Brands’ confidence in YouTube’s ability to drive marketing success has been a bit shakier, compared to their agency counterparts, Digiday’s survey found.

Eighty-eight percent of brand pros said they’re at least slightly confident in YouTube’s ability to drive marketing success — a significant amount. But that percentage has fluctuated a bit over the last year and a half, from 93% in Q3 2021, down to 80% in Q1 2022, back up to 93% in Q3 2022 and now down slightly to 88% in Q1 2023.

Additionally, the percentage of brand pros who are confident in YouTube has plummeted in the last six months, from 41% in Q3 2022 to just 12% at the beginning of this year. This category has also seen a lot of fluctuation in the last year and a half. In Q3 2021, nearly a third of brand pros (32%) said they were confident in YouTube’s ability to drive marketing success, which fell to less than a quarter (23%) in Q1 2022, before rising to 41% in Q3 2022.

Meanwhile, brand pros who told Digiday they’re somewhat confident that YouTube drives marketing success jumped from 28% in Q3 2022 to 49% in Q1 2023. This category now accounts for the largest percentage of respondents to Digiday’s survey, followed, rather far behind, by the 21% who said they’re only slightly confident in YouTube’s ability to drive marketing success.

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