There is a revival of high quality branded content happening right now. Brands like GoPro, Red Bull and Marriott know what Procter & Gamble knew when they created Soap Operas at the dawn of TV; nothing is more powerful than great content. And to create great content you need great talent.

We recently launched the final episode of our series FOOD FOR THOUGHT with Matt Santoro. It is our highest performing series to date with over 1.5 million views and is responsible for doubling our YouTube subscribers from 60,000 to over 120,000 in just two months.

I’ve distilled some learning from the process into three techniques you can use to help you work with YouTube stars and create impactful content.


  1. Beyond subscriber count: Pick the right talent.

At Quest, we have always taken an innovative approach to building talent relationships and handle them in-house. We don’t write checks in hopes people will say nice things about us. Nor do we blindly ship product to influencers with a note saying “talk about us online!”. Instead we develop a genuine relationship over time and look for opportunities to create something great together. To do that, we move past…

Talent: ”I love your chocolate chip cookie dough bar!”

Brand: “You have millions of subs!”

…to a deeper understanding of our shared values, mission, and why content is central to our collective goals.

Matt Santoro discovered Quest Bars at Buffer Fest in 2014 as he was getting serious about living a healthier lifestyle. He liked Quest Bars so much he vlogged about us. His vlog prompted an amazing phone call about shared passions and goals. That led to a dinner at Playlist Live. After an evening of connection, conversation and Hibachi, we knew we had to make a series together.

Back home at Quest HQ after the Playlist Live dinner, we assembled the team, developed creative, then pitched it to Matt. He shared some feedback and was on a flight to Los Angeles a few weeks later (things always sound so easy in retrospect).

Matt is a huge YouTuber with over 4 million subscribers. That is appealing, of course. But there are many social media stars out there with equal clout. Brands need to dig deeper and understand the purpose of their content (see Simon Sinecks ‘Start with Why’ as a primer) and why a certain YouTuber is the right fit, both for the brand overall and the series itself.

There were three big reasons why Matt was a great fit Quest and Food for Thought:

  1. Matt is a true super fan and Quest Protein Bars and Powders have helped him live healthier.
  2. Matt’s style of content speaks to an audience obsessed with learning and growing, two key attributes of the Quest brand
  3. Matt lives and breathes the Quest lifestyle. He transformed from an office drone to a man who owns his life.

A mismatch between brand and talent will misfire the series and worse, the community. It will erode the fan equity of both the brand and the talent. An easy rule of thumb: If you don’t personally like the talent then your audience probably won’t either. Trust your intuition and pick the right talent, regardless of how many subscribers they have. You can make a great series with someone who has 1,000 subscribers or 10 million but if you’re just writing a check they’ll just be collecting one.

  1. Content is ubiquitous: Make it good.

YouTube is oversaturated with content; 400 hours of footage are uploaded every minute. When information is cheap, attention is expensive. That means you need to make your content great, or don’t make it at all.

To make great content start with what you want to achieve with it. If you want to see a direct increase in sales or website traffic, then use the tried and true 30 second spot. We leverage our YouTube channel to release commercials during product campaigns. There’s nothing wrong with that as long as you don’t overload your subscribers (brand channel programming is a topic for another day).

If, on the other hand, your aim is to create a series that fans will want to watch and share, then put the content first and the brand second. The digital audience is sophisticated. Don’t think you can just sneak in a commercial and get millions of views. When done correctly, the audience will appreciate how the content came to be – and the brand behind it. But if you turn your series into a commercial, expect a revolt. Or, even worse, crickets.

With Food for Thought, direct mentions of the Quest brand were brief and tongue-in-cheek. I never asked our editors for more Quest shots. In fact, a few times I did the opposite. Matt’s audience seems to appreciate how we enhanced his vlog format and introduced a fun new animated aesthetic. They enjoyed the content and knew we made it with them in mind.

  1. The Community Dimension: Connecting audiences through Content.

Social content adds an interactive dimension that can not be an afterthought. In fact, interaction must be built in at the planning stage. It’s one thing to hire a YouTube star for your video, hand them a script then call it a day. It’s another for a brand to connect with that star’s community in a meaningful way. When scripting, consider your fans and the YouTuber’s fans. How will they react? How will you comment and share?

All communities have customs, shared vernacular, favorite brands and unique ways of behaving. For instance, Matt has an alter-ego character named Eugene. He makes rare appearances in Matt’s videos and his fans love him. Eugene makes a brief cameo in Food for Thought. We weren’t sure how Quest fans, and others unfamiliar with Matt, would react since they weren’t in on the gag. In retrospect, we could have used Eugene for the entire episode. Those who understood loved it. Those who didn’t weren’t turned off and instead were brought deeper into Matt’s ecosystem.

When entering a new community, a brand must enter with grace. Know the customs of the community – both in the content itself and in the way you interact in the comments – to earn your place within the community.

Matt’s audience and Quest’s audience are very similar according to YouTube analytics (although he skews more male) so the Quest voice wasn’t forced or off center. The similarities made Food for Thought an effective bridge to bring Matt’s audience to Quest. Our other content will, hopefully, keep them engaged.

We picked the right talent, made compelling content and authentically bridged Matt’s community to Quest’s. By executing the three techniques we doubled our YouTube community and, in the process, raised awareness for all things Quest. Matt has been incredibly generous in sharing Food for Thought across his social channels and even gave us a main channel shout out. He went above and beyond what any contract said because he was proud of the show. Matt wanted his fans to see it, which in the end is the ultimate litmus test.