This case study is based on data valid to January 2021.
Brilliant.org, an education website which features problems, puzzles, and courses in various maths and science subjects has seen tremendous success online within the past few years. Founded in 2012 by Sue Khim, the company began to look for investors and following a successful pitch at Tedx in 2013, Brilliant began to grow its audience. By the end of 2013 the website had around 100,000 users and continued to grow; Brilliant's user base currently sits at around 4 million. Currently Brilliant.org has worked with 200 Thought Leaders and has had a total of 3,000 mentions.
For years Brilliant has been ahead of the game with influencer marketing. Beginning in January 2017, we can see that they were already experimenting with sponsorships on YouTube channels. Since the content on Brilliant.org is video-based, it makes sense that they would be one of the early adopters of YouTube sponsorships. In fact, many of the channels that originally hosted sponsorships for Brillant still work with them today, including SciShow, Curious Droid, and Thomas Frank.
Brilliant.org has found their success mostly with thought leaders who feature General Knowledge content in addition to Technology and Lifestyle channels. Moreover, it seems their best performing integrations are on YouTube.
In regards to format, we can see in 2019 there was a major spike in podcast sponsorships. All throughout the year they were testing various podcasts; finding some success on Podcasts such as, “Science and Futurism with Isaac Arthur,” and “Vector with Rene Ritchie.”
But it seems that overall, podcasts didn’t give them the gains they were looking for, as in 2020 they began to focus more on YouTube as opposed to podcasts.
Brilliant.org also faces a challenge of competitors as YouTube and Podcasts have become a hub for similar brands to advertise on. Skillshare, Curiosity Stream, and Great Courses Plus are just a few competitors that are active in the space.
Skillshare being the most active out of the three, has worked with 2,265 thought leaders to date with about 15k mentions overall. Skillshare also started sponsorship in the early 2014 but only truly ramped up their advertising game around 2017-2018.
Being an advertising powerhouse, Skillshare also does it’s own form of native advertising with their personal YouTube channel. This shows potential customers what they would get by purchasing a subscription to Skillshare but also acts as a potential lead creator for those who have never heard of the service. The channel is quite active uploading a few videos every month.
Looking at Brillant.org’s YouTube channel, they have not uploaded in about a year and have only 35 videos on their site. Although this isn’t an indicator of why Skillshare’s reach is so large, it is interesting to see what supplementary advertising their competitors are doing in the space.
Outside of YouTube and Podcasts, Brilliant.org has implemented other forms of advertising and brand recognition. In 2019 Brilliant’s Facebook page had over 1,000,000 followers and was making frequent posts on their account. But at the end of the year they split their Facebook page into two, one focusing on math content while the other focused on science content. Although separately they don’t have as large of an audience (their math page has around 30,000 followers and their science page has around 20,000 followers), the new pages post frequently with a much more targeted approach. Most of their posts are examples from the Brilliant.org website, featuring either a fun math or science question. These pages are still uploading new content, though the frequency in the posts seemed to have slowed.
The Brilliant.org’s landing page is well put together, initially showing a video on the types of content available on the website as well as a breakdown of the types of classes one can take. There are two types of subscriptions on the site, the free subscription which offers the user “a problem a day” as well as some resources they can use (math/science wiki’s and community discussion) and their premium subscription which is a paid service that offers courses in the science and math fields. The premium subscription also gives the user “a problem a day” as well as access to all previous problems that were available in the past.
With their YouTube integrations, Brilliant normally offers “20% to the first 200 subscribers on an annual premium subscription.” Additionally on their YouTube integrations, most of the placements are post-roll meaning that the publishers only talk about Brilliant.org at the end of their videos.
It’s unclear if this is the strategy that has been working for them or if this is something that Brilliant doesn’t care about. We have data that supports our finding that post-roll integrations perform worse than earlier brand placements. However, it is possible that this brand has tested pre-roll and mid-roll advertisements and found that post-roll was the most successful for them.
Following the current trend of Brilliant.org, it seems that they have found a strategy that works for them. With such a visual product, YouTube seems to be the sweet-spot in terms of advertising and Brilliant has found major success on a plethora of general knowledge YouTube channels. 2021 may be a year where they try Podcasts again, but if the past few months are any indication of what they will do in Q1 of 2021, it will be more of the same.