Ed Davis wanted to have a word with his customers.
He was shepherding his small California manufacturing company, Ceilume, through a transition from a custom job shop to a maker of vinyl ceiling tiles, and he needed to begin selling directly to consumers. That raised a perception problem: many people associate ceiling tiles with the ugly, dusty and stained mineral-fiber tiles that have loomed over offices for generations. Mr. Davis, Ceilume’s president, wanted to tell consumers his company’s vinyl products were different. He decided to try online video.
Over the last several years, Ceilume has produced dozens of YouTube videos for product demonstrations, advertisements and how-to instruction. These videos are embedded in the company Web site or show up in results when customers search for keywords. As a result, Ceilume has reached tens of thousands of customers at a very low cost.
Online video is becoming a first stop for many customers. It is akin to what the Web page was a decade ago — something that can give early adopters an edge over competitors. It gives them a channel to talk directly to customers in ways previously accessible only to large companies that could afford TV advertisements.
This guide to using online video focuses on YouTube, which is by far the dominant player with two billion views per day — but many of the principles also apply to the other hosting services, including Vimeo, MetaCafe, Facebook, Viddler, Brightcove and Blip.tv.
SHOW YOUR PRODUCTS Short of getting a customer in the door or sending a salesperson on the road, online video may be the best way to demonstrate a product. According to Mr. Davis, more Ceilume customers place orders without requesting samples because video helps them find what they want.
At Ceilume, video helps customers choose among 30 different styles of ceiling tiles. Ceilume, a 40-person company that has about $5 million a year in sales, produces its “Ask the Ceiling Tile Guy” videos for little expense with internal tech staff and Mr. Davis as narrator. The videos have attracted more than 500,000 views, and Mr. Davis says he believes that video has been a crucial factor in increasing sales 15 percent a year.
CREATE A DESTINATION It is easier to win customers if you give them a reason to tune in. For BBQguys.com, the reason is food sizzling on the grill.
BBQguys.com began as a traditional brick-and-mortar store (The Grill Store and More) in Baton Rouge, La. In 2001, the company went online, which allowed it to reach legions of new customers but also reduced its ability to provide personalized service. Online video has helped the company recover its human touch virtually.
In 2006, it started posting informal YouTube videos featuring new grills, narrated by its customer service manager and chief executive. The channel grew so much that the company recruited a local chef, Tony Matassa, to be its on-camera personality.
It now has nearly 400 videos on YouTube, which have collectively been viewed 1.4 million times. Video has become so essential that the company has built a small studio in one of its warehouses. “We see the video almost like a TV commercial,” said Troy Olson, digital advertising manager for ShoppersChoice.com, the parent company of BBQguys.com. “We’re planting our brand name in their minds.”
The company does not just pitch products. Rather, the goal is to establish its people as customer-friendly experts and provide a channel full of useful information about how to fry a turkey, grill a pizza or smoke a beef brisket. The hope is that the information will draw viewers — many of whom will become customers — and increase the site’s conversion rate. According to Mr. Olson, a person who comes to the site and watches a video is twice as likely to make a purchase as a visitor who does not watch a video.
USE ANALYTICS AND TOOLS YouTube offers tools that allow you to measure the effect of your videos. BBQguys has used this data to make its videos more compelling — shortening them, for example, to two or three minutes after discovering that customers tend to stop watching the longer ones. The company also discovered “hot spots” that viewers rewind to and rewatch — particularly images of food sizzling on the grill — and it now makes sure to include more such scenes.
“Video has to be evolving,” Mr. Olson said. “You have to always be willing to change everything you’re doing.”
BUILD A BRAND CHANNEL One way to get the attention of customers is invite them to become your video producers — especially if they jump off cliffs, ski down steep powder ridges or do somersaults on BMX bikes.
GoPro.com, a maker of small high-definition cameras that can be worn during adventure sports, has built a thriving YouTube presence with customer videos. YouTube allows businesses to establish channels, or a home page that lists videos, playlists and contact information. The GoPro channel features more than 100 videos — including surfing, skiing, motocross, auto sports and flight — which have been viewed more than 24 million times.
“It is the No. 1 most convenient way for us to validate our product to customers,” said Nick Woodman, founder and chief executive. He said business was growing 300 percent a year. “Viral word-of-mouth marketing for GoPro is massive. Video is really the conduit.”
ADVERTISE WITH VIDEO YouTube is the second-largest search engine after Google(which owns YouTube) and represents a huge audience of potential customers. It offers a dozen advertising options, including banner ads, promoted videos that appear on top and beside search results, and “preroll ads” that appear during other YouTube videos much like a conventional TV commercial. YouTube recently announced that it was displaying more than three billion ads per week.
Like Google, YouTube generally follows a cost-per-click or cost-per-view model so advertisers pay only when users click on ads or watch ad videos. Advertisers can view metrics such as number of impressions, conversions and viewer demographics via theirGoogle AdWords or YouTube Insights accounts.
Ads can be aimed at customers based on demographics, keywords or interests. For example, a person who searches for “ceiling tiles” might see a Ceilume video titled “make an ugly ceiling elegant” highlighted as a promoted video atop the YouTube page. Ceilume devotes about 10 percent of its advertising budget to YouTube.
OFFER INSTRUCTION Online video makes it easy to follow the adage “Show, don’t tell.” Many businesses have turned to video for instruction manuals and how-to guides.
Directfix.com sells replacement parts and accessories for smartphones and other electronics. The business faces a constant customer service challenge: showing lay people how to take apart electronic gadgets and install fragile components.
In the early days, the company used pictures and text, said Robert Stanley, founder and chief executive. Inevitably, those instructions left customers with questions that placed a burden on the company’s customer service department. In 2007, the company began posting how-to videos on YouTube. That summer, it released one of the first videos showing how to take apart an iPhone, a video that has been viewed more than two million times.
The company has compiled a library of instructional videos that have reduced customer questions by half, allowed the company to eliminate phone support and cut its customer service budget about 40 percent. Without video, Mr. Stanley said, he would have to hire four or five additional employees.
“You can tell somebody over the phone to turn the screw in the top right corner,” he said, “and they might understand what you mean and they might not. If you show them on a video, they get the point.”