Online video is fast becoming the preferred advertising channel for business. According to a recent study by Break Media, U.S. advertisers are predicted to spend $5.4 billion on video ads in 2016, up from $2.0 billion in 2011.
In yet a different study from Invodo and the e-tailing group, product videos on websites were watched 60 percent of the time by consumers, and almost two-thirds of respondents said they would spend at least two minutes watching videos before deciding on a purchase. Videos take full advantage of the web's capabilities, allowing you to tell your story with sound, action, and immediacy to convey messages with an emotional appeal that text-based formats simply can't match.
Film it yourself?
"Almost anyone can make a video today to communicate either an aspect of their business or to demonstrate how something is done," says Lou Amico, president of L.A. Management Company, a Charlotte, North Carolina-based strategic marketing firm.
A small business can either do an entire production in-house—using their own crew, equipment, and software—or rely on a professional outside agency to coordinate the myriad production details. While cameras and editing software make it relatively easy for a do-it-yourself shoot, Amico points out that technical considerations can hamper a production helmed by an inexperienced team. In particular, the lighting and audio can pose unforeseen problems. For example, filming a person in front of a light source puts their face in shadow, and a mike that is too far away makes the person sound like they're in a tunnel.
You also need someone in your marketing department who understands how to construct a narrative that holds customers' attention. "Anyone with a camera is a videographer. The question is, are they storytellers?" Amico says. "Do they appreciate and understand what needs to be included to make a compelling video?"
Many businesses waste too much time with bland or self-indulgent openings in their videos. "You've got to cut to the chase," Amico explains. "We do a lot of work in the elective medicine field. Nobody wants to hear a minute-and-a-half intros about doctors and their background before they get into the procedure."
In a video for ProSpec building products, Amico turned a simple shower installation into an engrossing how-to demonstration that was viewed over 75,000 times with almost no drop off in viewership.
Now that Google is reporting more videos in its results, putting keywords in the title of your video can give you a higher ranking. Be sure to include your company website as the first thing in the video description. "If you put the link in at the end, oftentimes [customers] won't see it," Amico explains. "But if you put it at the beginning, the link will easily bring people to your website."
Tell them a story
Telling compelling stories has helped fuel the growth of PrintingForLess.com, an online commercial printer specializing in small business accounts across the country. Starting as a local print shop in 1996 before launching as a nationwide e-commerce company in 1999, the Livingston, Montana-based business racked up $21 million in sales in 2011 and has a 150-person workforce in a town with 7,000 residents.
Beginning around 2005, PrintingForLess.com started using videos in their marketing mix to assure customers that they were a "real" company, to explain the services they offered, and to put a human face on the different teams that worked on particular orders. To dramatize their story in an engaging way, they produced a video titled "The Life of An Order" that walks the customer through the entire process, from placing an order to actual production and quality control to the time it arrives in the hands of the customer. In one version or another, the video has been seen over 4,000 times.
"We always hear from people that they watched that video and that's why they chose us over a competitor," says Daniel Gaugler, vice president of marketing at PrintingForLess.com. "People pick out different reasons why that video converted them. That's why it's on our homepage."
When Gaugler's team first experimented with videos, they polished them and tried to make them perfect, making employees recite a script from memory and read it on camera—but no one was happy with the results. But when they spoke naturally about the work they did, the videos clicked.
"Nobody wants to see a marketing message," Gaugler notes. "They're already on your website. What they want is answers to their questions, and they want to be partially entertained."
Another phase in their video marketing involved asking their customers over the phone if they would consider sending in a video testimonial. To speed things up, PrintingForLess.com sent out Flip cameras with simple step-by-step instructions for recording. More than 75 video testimonials are now on the company's website. "A video comes across as extremely authentic," Gaugler says. "We couldn't come up with [the kind of] videos that our customers do."
Throw them a curve ball
For businesses that don't need to be convinced of the power of online video, the next questions to be addressed are: Where will the video fit into the marketing mix? How might it be used best?
"Video, just like text, could be used in a manner of ways," says Dane Frederiksen, owner and principal of Digital Accomplice, a Northern California-based brand content developer. "It could be used for sales, branding, education, internal training videos, recruitment, even a holiday video."
To promote his own business, Frederiksen took his own advice—conceiving, shooting, and editing a clever brand content video called "Just A Kid." The 80-second video features a kid of about ten telling marketers that the age of video marketing is here and they need to be part of it—delivered in a charming but effective style.
"I did get the message across in a way that engaged people," Frederiksen admits. "It kind of came as a curveball. You see this kid and you're curious. It’s fun. There's fun music. You've got a wide variety of interesting shots, but there's also a respect for the audience. I know they're busy and I have a high bar reach to impress them."
For "Stir," a brand content video Frederiksen created for Sherwin Williams, the name of the company is mentioned only on a title card at the beginning and the end of the video. The remainder of the video tells the story of the excitement that comes from redecorating—not about the paint itself.
"If you use story and then use emotion, both in the performance and the elements around what the subject matter is, you're selling in a different way," Frederiksen says. "The first rule of branded content is, don't hit them in the face with what you care about."
There is disagreement about the ideal length for a video, but Frederiksen thinks between 30 seconds and three minutes is a good average. The longer a video plays, he says, the more chance there is for a drop off in audience attention.
Online videos that present stories from your business in engaging, tightly edited ways are likely to keep customers and prospects glued to their screens for many years to come.