Merchants Find the Value of Video

May 01, 2010 9:30 PM  By

Thanks to its quirky product videos, Dynomighty Designs is now a YouTube sensation. And that exposure has helped the online jewelry and accessories merchant flourish.

The company made its YouTube debut in November 2006. That’s when president/designer Terrence Kelleman took a point-and-shoot camera and created a 1-minute, 36-second video of himself demonstrating its flagship product, the $15 magnetic Bandoleer Bracelet. He then loaded the video to YouTube.

The clip became so popular that it was featured on the YouTube home page just before Christmas. Seven weeks after the video posted, Dynomighty Designs had sold about 3,000 Bandoleer Bracelets. That was double the number of bracelets the merchant had sold in all of 2005. (Though they were overwhelmed by the response, Kelleman and his wife, Ingrid, managed to fulfill the orders.)

The video was made on the cheap — Kelleman already owned the handheld camera, and the video editing software came preloaded on his Mac — and on the fly. And as Kelleman puts it, the clip became a “monster” marketing vehicle for Dynomighty Designs.

“It overnight changed our company into a company that was advertising with YouTube videos,” he says. “It was amazing to see how powerful YouTube was. YouTube viewers are not just watching videos — they are buying.”

Retailer interest in video usage is growing, according to Multichannel Merchant’s recent Outlook 2010 survey. Of the 594 respondents who said they sell via catalogs and/or Websites, 46% said they are using rich media to include video on their sites.

What’s more, 21.7% of survey respondents said they allow user-generated video on their sites, and 37.4% said they are using video to help boost their rankings in the search engines.

Use of video is set to increase, too: The Outlook study indicates that 42.3% of merchants will incorporate videos into their Websites in 2010.

Dynomighty Designs may have picked the perfect time to test video, according to Tom Funk, vice president of marketing for e-commerce consultancy Timberline Interactive. Funk believes the video revolution really kicked off about three years ago as Internet speeds both at home and in the office became faster, and both Microsoft’s and Apple’s operating systems became more robust.

The game has certainly changed since Timberline Interactive began putting videos on its clients’ Websites 10 years ago. Back then, it was a novelty.

But now, “People are watching videos on their phones and across other devices,” Funk says. “And there are a lot more dynamic Websites out there, which makes flash a much bigger part of the user experience.”

Timberline’s first video experience was on Vermont Bicycle Touring’s Website. It’s a video the travel cataloger, now known as VBT, still uses today: a look inside different tours the company offers.

The video works well with a company like VBT, which offers a visual product, Funk says. “It shows people riding down country roads in Tuscany, eating a meal in the south of France,” he says. “It gives prospects that extra dimension they can’t get in a standalone photo or a slideshow.”

How are other Timberline clients using video?

Dinn Trophy, for one, has an introductory video that shows the daily process of engraving, picking and packing awards. The video also puts a face on the people who work behind the scenes at the trophies merchant.

Sgt. Grit, an online seller of Marine Corps apparel and novelties, allows users to upload their tributes to their families and friends in the armed forces to its community pages.

Then there’s Wine of the Month Club. Video has helped turn president Paul Kalemkiarian into not only an Internet star, but a television celebrity. Kalemkiarian’s live wine-tasting appearances have helped build his credibility as a wine expert. In fact, KGO-TV, ABC’s Bay Area affiliate, even gave him his own wine-tasting segments.

Kalemkiarian has been posting video to hosting sites like YouTube and Vimeo since March 2006. He also places videos on Wine of the Month Club’s dot-com and dot-tv sites and its Facebook page, and uses the free service Ustream as a host for his live performances. Merchandise-related videos are linked to the product pages, too, for use as selling tools.

Getting into the video scene

Although many marketers are now using video, several remain hesitant to take the plunge. Party supplies merchant Century Novelty has considered adding video to its Website for about three years now. What’s stopping it?

Concerns about expense and potentially highlighting minor product imperfections with video footage, says vice president/general manager Ian MacDonald.

“It’s not just the cost of the video equipment, but the time to record it and the hosting cost,” MacDonald says. And with 95% of Century Novelty’s items having a price point of less than $1, it’s difficult to justify the start-up costs of video. MacDonald has estimated the company would have to spend a few thousand dollars for the equipment, and that it would double the time to shoot footage for the Website vs. still photos.

Dynomighty’s Kelleman understands the hesitation — before he started, he didn’t know how easy it would be to shoot and upload a video. He also didn’t know how inexpensive it would be.

In Dynomighty’s case, Kelleman already had the gear (a Canon point-and-shoot camera and iMovie video-editing software). So other than time, the only cost he accrued to make that first video was for royalty-free music, and he got that online for less than $10.

Even now, Kelleman uses a $500 Canon TX1 HD camcorder and a low-end Macbook Pro with iMovie to create videos. His time per video ranges from two to three hours, though if it involves going off-site to shoot a lifestyle video, it could take him one to two days.

“If you’re getting a photo taken of a product for your Website, you need someone to operate a camera, format the photos and put them on the site; when you apply that to video, the fear multiplies,” Kelleman says.

“If marketers could just get started by opening the movie feature on a point-and-click camera, they would find out that with just the basics, you can create compelling video,” he adds. “You need to take a risk in order to get noticed.”

Dynomighty’s original Magic Magnetic video, when this article went to press, had been viewed more than 2.7 million times on the video hosting site. And some 120 videos later, ranging from product demonstrations, lifestyle videos and movies about the brand, the merchant is still going strong with moving pictures.

Like Dynomighty, Wine of the Month Club started off with fairly inexpensive equipment. Kalemkiarian used an early-model handheld video camera with a hard drive (he’s since upgraded to a $3,000 Canon 5D Mark II), and utility lighting he picked up at the local Home Depot.

As he became more comfortable with the process, Kalemkiarian converted warehouse space into a studio.

Measuring video success

Kalemkiarian is not big on Web metrics to determine the success of his videos. Instead, he listens to viewer feedback. And the first comment left on one of his videos — that it was the most boring video the viewer had ever seen — was enough to make most people quit.

“I didn’t understand the premise of online video,” Kalemkiarian says. “My opinion was I needed to prove I tasted 300 to 400 wines per month.” The viewer wants to be entertained, he notes. “I thought the premise was for me to be validated as a wine expert.”

Comments aren’t the only measurement Kalemkiarian looks at, but he admits metrics were not his primary concern when he started doing video. “I didn’t expect to sell a lot of wine by video. Metrics was second to building my credibility and personality,” he says.

In contrast, Jimmy Healey, product marketing manager for multichannel shoe seller Onlineshoes.com, is a metrics junkie. Healey feels that no two videos — no matter how similar — are viewed the same, but that you can learn a lot by studying up on metrics. Every time the shoes merchant thinks something works well, “there seems to be a different reaction the next time we try it,” Healey says.

Healey was the company’s entire video department in 2008, and shot all footage with a $300 Sony Handycam. When he took on the video project, he didn’t realize the impact it would have on Onlineshoes.com‘s sales. According to its A/B testing, customers who watched video converted 45% higher in 2009 than the site’s average.

Also in 2009, Onlineshoes.com had a 359% year-over-year increase in monthly video views, and 750,000 incremental touches through video SEO (videos placed offsite).

Next Page: Keeping them tuned in

Keeping them tuned in

Onlineshoes.com does have a YouTube channel, but it uses the online e-commerce platform LiveClicker to facilitate videos in the e-commerce space. With that, Healey can tell not only the number of video streams, but the engagement level. The platform allows Onlineshoes.com to see when a viewer starts losing interest in the video.

If viewers start tuning out after 10 seconds, Healey knows the video is not attention grabbing, or that it may contain too much information for the consumer. The merchant then has a chance either to reproduce the video, or replace it with another version.

Onlineshoes.com has found that drop-off rates can be a frequent problem with vendor-generated videos. Though the company considers itself to be a lifestyle merchant, videos from some suppliers, such as Patagonia and The North Face, can be too technical or adventurous for the fashionistas, Healey says.

“Sometimes a video for socks doesn’t need to be a minute long just because a minute long is the optimal length for a video,” he says. “Sometimes you’re going to tell the viewer everything he or she wants to know in 15 seconds.”

Experts say that shorter is generally better for video. Kylee Magno, an analyst with Chicago-based consultancy E-tailing Group, says guides and how-to videos typically range no longer than two minutes, and product videos should be no longer than one minute.

“After two minutes, I think people lose interest, unless it’s a how-to video for something very detailed,” Magno says.

Then again, Dynomighty Designs has had success with longer videos. The company in November posted a 7:10 video of one of its interns drawing on its Blank D.I.Y. Mighty Wallet; by April, the video had garnered nearly 175,000 views. Kelleman says that product, made of Tyvek material and decorated by the owner, routinely sells out.