It started as a dare. Bill DuBois, a consultant at Kinaxis, a supply chain management provider, is known for his sense of humor. When colleagues suggested that DuBois share his talent with more people, his response was, "Get me a camera and I'll do it," according to Kirsten Watson, vice president of corporate marketing at Kinaxis.
"We bought a wooden desk, a camera, paint, and a canvas, and some of the employees and their kids painted a city skyline as a background," Watson recalls. "The company got together after work, we ordered chicken wings, and Bill hosted his first Late Late Supply Chain Show, which we posted online [in 2009]. What started as a homegrown video evolved into a show that our customers love."
Watson and her colleagues knew they were on to something when attendees inserted references to the show in their feedback during the company's user conference.
Since then, Kinaxis has added several online shows: Suitemates, a comedy starring actors Kevin Pollak and Ray Wise, satirizes frustrations with enterprise resource planning vendors' supply chain offerings; New Kinexions explores the ways old and new software (as represented by actors) connect on an emotional level; Sensei Bob's Dojo of Supply Chain Mastery pokes fun at supply chain issues. There are other shows as well.
"It's added a whole new vibe to our company," Watson notes. "We're a company that's growing rapidly, but we're not well-known yet. These videos make it easier for customers to relate to us, and it's great for staff morale. We have taken some bold and edgy steps that some people have told us they're not comfortable with, but that's okay. My advice is don't be afraid to take risks. Be fresh, be different."
From multinational corporations to small businesses, companies are experimenting with the benefits of incorporating video content into their business strategies. Part of the reason is more people are watching online videos. Online video has reached a critical mass among Internet users in the United States, according to eMarketer. The research firm predicts 169 million people, or 71 percent of U.S. Internet viewers, will be watching online videos each month by the end of 2012.
Despite a growing enthusiasm for online videos, Denis Pombriant, founder and managing principal of Beagle Research Group, says that corporate use of video technology is still "spotty."
"The technology is working its way down from large companies to smaller ones, especially as bandwidth and price become less of an issue," Pombriant notes.
It also remains unclear how companies can effectively measure the benefits of video, according to Pombriant. "It's still too early to know what the best way is to gauge [video's] ROI. Many companies are relying on information about the number of eyeballs they're getting more than they probably should."
As companies explore the different uses for video, such as for marketing and customer service purposes, they continue to fine-tune the ways it fits into a business. Pombriant pointed to Salesforce.com as an example of a company reaping the benefits of having a video library. The Beagle Research Group awarded Salesforce.com the grand prize in its 2011 Short Tale Award contest, which recognizes companies for their innovative use of video.
Over several years, Salesforce.com created a catalog of short public videos on subjects related to the company's sales, products, services, strategy, and market outlook. When it entered the contest, the company claimed it received over 7,500 daily hits on its video library and that the video library is doing the work of 46 "hyper-effective" inside salespeople.
"This points out the value of video as a medium for communicating high-value content and shows why video's persistence and stickiness will make it one of the go-to technologies of the future," writes Pombriant in a statement about Salesforce.com's winning entry.
Internet users who watch online videos have been shown to spend 13 percent more compared to other Internet users, according to a 2010 specialty retail report by research firm L2. "Shoppable videos," videos equipped with technology that lets viewers engage directly with product info as the video plays, present numerous marketing and sales opportunities.
"Digital videos can be long-form content, feature an engaging call to action, or be targeted to specific audience segments," writes Forrester Research analyst Tracy Stokes in her report "Why Marketers Must Integrate TV and Video Strategies." "To best take advantage of digital video," Stokes advises, "have a clear understanding of the media opportunities before investing in creative production."
To promote its new collaborative line with Italian designer Missoni last fall, Target debuted its first shoppable video, featuring Margherita Missoni, the granddaughter of Missoni founders Ottavio and Rosita Missoni, in various scenes reminiscent of 1960s Italy. Those who watched the video online were able to click on a product and see a pop-up window with more details. Viewers could also buy directly by clicking on items and adding them to a shopping cart without leaving the video.
Target worked with the advertising agency Olson on the video, which Dennis Ryan, Olson's chief creative officer, described to the New York Times as "a new way to understand the Missoni look" that was "far less disruptive [than traditional channels]—you just follow your bliss." The agency also produced other digital ads and a mobile Web site where users could watch the ads and download their favorite Missoni for Target prints to use as wallpaper on their phones' home screens.
The clothing line was so popular that Target's Web site crashed several times on the first day the Missoni line was unveiled. Other brands, such as Ralph Lauren, Net-A-Porter, Diesel, and eBags, have also experimented with the digital shopping tool.
The automotive industry is another industry that has embraced the visual benefits of video. Small and medium-sized businesses, in particular, are using the technology to level the playing field with larger competitors.
Hotchkis Sports Suspension specializes in suspension components used by road racing, drag racing, and autocross racing teams. The Santa Fe Springs, Calif.-based company also sells its products to recreational drivers with installation services. For customers who want to install a suspension system or other hardware themselves, videos have been a boon, says John Hotchkis, the company's founder and president.
"Customers are less mechanically inclined these days, but they still want to modify their cars," Hotchkis notes. "Our installation videos have saved my staff about twenty percent in time. Instead of us trying to tell someone what to do over the phone, our customers can watch a short video that shows them how to do it, and they can call us if they still have questions."
Hotchkis notes that since his company started producing videos three years ago, the number of returns has decreased, which he attributes to customers turning to the installation videos for additional help.
"It's been a learning curve to understand what people want to see. What we're selling is not a 'need' product but a 'want' product, and what helps are videos that show people what they can do with their cars," Hotchkis says.
Online videos are also a key marketing and sales tool, notes Cam Benty, vice president of marketing for B&M Automotive Group, which includes B&M Racing, Flowmaster Exhaust, Hurst Shifters, and Hurst Drive Line Conversions. "The fact that someone can listen to the sound of an exhaust engine is a huge selling point. From there it takes only another click or two to make the purchase," Benty says.
Both Hotchkis and B&M have made it a point to produce videos that are compatible with mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets.
"It's hard for us to know if a video is [ultimately] what convinced someone to buy a product, since it could have been through several channels, but we know there is a lot of interest in the digital side. We can tell from the traffic to our Web site. And, more people are getting smartphones, which can help drive conversions.... Video is where the future is heading," says Nate Shelton, B&M's chief marketing officer.
Video Dos and Don'ts
Although it's possible to create an online video with just a handheld camera and an Internet connection, most companies hire a creative agency to help them produce a polished product. Mike Vannoy, COO of marketing firm Sales Engine International, has worked with numerous clients on producing B2B videos.
"Video is an excellent way to tap into the knowledge of people in an organization," Vannoy maintains. "White papers, blog posts, and articles can be time-consuming, and it's hard to keep up."
The answer, according to Vannoy, is to shoot a video that can be converted into several products. "Four different executives can come in to our studio for a half-day shoot and we'll ask them a few questions," he says. "If it's about desktop virtualization, for example, we may ask them about the challenges, its impact, and the best-in-class solutions. Afterward, we edit the video into four clips that can also be turned into a podcast and transcribed into an SEO-optimal article."
The most successful videos—those that viewers will actually watch—are educational, Vannoy explains. "People usually get this stuff through an unsolicited email. As soon as they sniff a sales pitch, they're gone. If they're learning something, they'll hang on. All you need is about three and a half to four minutes for the video."
Try not to rely on a script; instead just use an outline with bullet points. "The person who uses a script to act like he isn't using one usually can't pull it off," Vannoy says.
Using Video Internally
In addition to serving as a marketing and customer service tool, video offers numerous benefits to companies internally. "We've seen a renaissance in video [as a productive tool] over the past five years," maintains Philip Karcher, an analyst at Forrester Research. "The cost of HD video is continuously dropping, and there's a growing interest in desktop videos, video conferencing, and Webcams."
In a 2010 survey of more than 300 C-level and senior executives at large U.S. companies ($500 million–plus in annual revenues), more than 80 percent of the respondents told Forbes that they watched more online video than a year earlier. Nearly 60 percent of the respondents said they would watch video before reading text on the same Web page, and 22 percent said they generally liked watching video more than reading text for reviewing business information. Three-quarters of all executives said they watched work-related videos on business Web sites at least once a week, and more than half did the same on YouTube.
Video is an efficient way for large organizations to distribute messages. Instead of preparing and distributing documents in various languages, an IT team can film the CEO addressing the entire company, for example, adding subtitles if necessary. Multinational companies such as Cisco, Boeing, AT&T, and IBM have experimented widely with internal corporate video, producing training videos, news events, live meetings, and more.
"People are using video to drive employee engagement, to make them feel part of the larger team," Karcher notes. "The ROI for video conferencing is [that] it cuts down on travel expenses and the loss of productivity."
American Electric Power (AEP) is a multibillion-dollar energy company with 19,000 employees in 11 states. The company produces more than 100 videos a year, according to Tim Nicholson, AEP's director of interactive media.
"Video can take you places you can't go to and show you things you can't see in person," Nicholson says. "When we want our employees to see a new power plant, taking them on a video tour is an incredible time saver. Videos are effective for getting to know people. You can watch the CEO and get to know him better than you ever could through text."
AEP has been producing in-house videos since the early 1980s and added live streaming video in 1997. Employees can view hundreds of videos on-demand, as well as tune in for live Webcasts. AEP also maintains its own YouTube channel, which contains videos for public viewing.
AEP built a studio more than 10 years ago for live Webcasting, enabling executives to appear on network and cable news programs.
The company's next step, according to Nicholson, is to make sure the company's videos are compatible with mobile devices. "Our Web team is working on this now," he says. "We want to enable our staff to leverage video from different platforms and make sure the mobile experience is just as rich."
As gas prices and airline fares continue to rise, companies are being forced to look for alternative ways to allow employees to attend conferences or client meetings.
At the time this article was written, more than 1,000 people were expected to physically and virtually attend Digital London, a live and digital summit hosted by Maven Cast, a U.K.-based event organizer.
Maven Cast hired BroadVision, a provider of e-business and social networking solutions, to install its enterprise social networking platform, Clearvale, to connect attendees, speakers, exhibitors, and sponsors through an interactive community platform. In addition to allowing online viewers to attend the conference sessions via live Webcasts, they will also have the opportunity to sign up to view the virtual exhibition stands from sponsors and to participate in discussions within the Clearvale solution.
Another advantage that the Clearvale platform offers, according to Adam Malik, CEO and founder of Maven Cast, is that it gives people an added incentive to attend the event.
"We usually start with the number of delegates who are preregistered, and we may see a fifty percent drop-off," Malik says. "But by offering this platform, engagement becomes much stickier. [Based on test runs at other events] the attendance rate goes up to seventy-two percent—not an insignificant jump."
According to Malik, the uptick can be attributed to the networking opportunities. "People are more likely to attend an event when they've got a meeting set up with their peers," he notes.
As technology continues to advance, companies are just starting to scratch the surface of digital media. Who knows what we'll see next?
Reaching Your Viewers
A great video that customers—or potential customers—can't find is worthless. Follow these tips to lead viewers to your video.
Shane Lovellette, a product manager at TechSmith, a video software provider for businesses, says it is important to make it easy for viewers to find your video.
"If you build it, they will come—right? Actually, it's not always that easy.
Increase the chances your video will be discovered [using SEO techniques] to attract your target audience through search," Lovellette advises. Lovellette offers these key tips:
- Informational videos do the best at getting ranked higher by Google search. Pure sales or marketing videos don't rank as high.
- Host a series of related videos on your Web site and on YouTube. YouTube is the number two search engine, so if you want reach, you need to be on YouTube. However, to get more visitors to your site, you also want to host the videos on your own Web page with additional content that adds value beyond what YouTube can provide. This will get other sites and visitors to link back to your site, rather than to YouTube.
- Leverage YouTube for exposure. Consider putting one part of a series on YouTube that gets viewers interested enough to want more from your Web site. Include links back to your Web site in the description for the video, and even as a clickable link as part of the video.
- Use the title, tags, and description fields to their fullest extent on YouTube.This is the most effective way to make sure your videos are found. The title, tags, and description must be relevant and compelling. YouTube does not like it if you put unrelated tags with your video just to gain exposure. Doing this will hurt your search results.
- The title should highlight what the video is about in a short, compelling way. This is the key thing viewers will see in the search results.Use as many relevant tags as possible. Include multiple spellings of words, especially if the word is often misspelled. Include both specific and generic tags. Using the "grill" example, consider tags such as cooking, steak, types of steak (if they are relevant to the content), types of grills, grilling steak, etc. Also include your product name and company name in the tags. Use the description to its fullest extent. Include keywords, relevant links to your company Web site, and other helpful information. For example, you should consider including a transcript of the video, or the most compelling, important summary that you can fit. Also, put the most important information first.
Associate Editor Judith Aquino can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.