September 1, 2009, 12:00 AM

The new show business

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"Before the web videos, I would tell people why our direct coupling technology created a better blending experience, and peoples` eyes would gloss over," he says. "But now when they see in an online video how we put marbles in a blender and push the smoothie button, they care about what makes our blenders different. Then we can provide the details of our product technology and their eyes don`t gloss over."

E-mail links
Retailers are also using video to boost response rates in e-mail marketing.

"In all of our e-mails, we see a much higher engagement when we include a video link," says Rich Fahle, vice president of content, outreach and entertainment for multichannel books retailer Borders Group Inc., which has particular success with videos of authors browsing stores and discussing their favorite books.

When eBags executives personally delivered their 10 millionth bag order along with a gift certificate to a customer-a woman who answered the door with four excited kids-and caught it on video, the retailer e-mailed the video to 1.2 million people. "That e-mail had an amazing click-through rate," Cobb says.

And for, a five-year-old manufacturer of video and still cameras designed to take action shots while attached to things like surfboards, helmets and race cars, online video has made it possible to grow quickly through viral marketing and branding, says founder and CEO Nicholas Woodman.

A surfing video by GoPro customer John Maher that uses a surfboard-mounted camera, for example, shows him close up and standing on his board under the curl of an ocean wave. That and other customers` videos, which usually show the GoPro logo, have been posted to, and other sites and have produced a surge in recognition for the young company, Woodman says.

"Before online video sharing, a video got shot, went into a drawer, and sat there until someone took it out to share at a family party," he says. "Now customers use our cameras and put their videos on the web, where we have tens of thousands of videos showing our brand. It`s clear to us that a large percentage of our web traffic is driven by authentic branding by our customers` videos."

While companies like Sears, Blendtec and GoPro have attracted attention to their brands and traffic to their sites with highly entertaining videos, there`s also a role for more sober content. Video should also be used as a customer service tool that explains how products work and reduces calls to a retailer`s contact center, says Bobby Tulsiani, a video analyst at research and advisory firm Forrester Research Inc.

That`s the strategy followed by Peak Road LLC`s Masai Fitness, a manufacturer and distributor of fitness products that provides promotional and instructional videos to its client online retailers. "The consumer gets a fast-paced, visual walkthrough of our products` key features as well as the reassurance that they are going to have the assistance they need to get up and running with the product," says CEO Rob Rekrutiak.

Within two weeks after deploying the instructional videos, Masai Fitness experienced a drop of 10 percentage points in the volume of customer service calls as a percentage of orders, says Gajwani of, which works with Masai Fitness` product images, assembly manuals and other materials to produce the videos.

Multichannel boost
At, a multichannel retailer of pet supplies that sponsors online and in-store information-sharing events for owners of particular pet breeds, online video has bridged the gap between pure entertainment and information, says Chris Liashek, online marketing manager. features online community bulletin boards where customers post their own videos along with information about caring for and enjoying their dogs, cats and other pets. The videos draw the most visitors to the retailer`s Online Pet Park community section.

And the most entertaining videos-such as one titled `Dogs Home Alone` that shows a large black dog repeatedly skidding down a slide on all four legs into the family pool-routinely drive new web traffic through viral marketing, while also keeping loyal customers engaged with Muttropolis.

"Our analytics show increases in online visits when customers find a video entertaining because they forward them on to friends or share them through Facebook or Twitter, but we`ve also seen an increased buzz from the videos in traffic to our in-store breed meet-up events," Liashek says.

In turn, these events prompt customers to post new videos, photos and other information from the in-store events, and those, too, are shared through social networks. "So we know video is helping to build our community traffic and enhance our brand," she says.

Casting the right format
When it comes to product demonstration videos, EyeBuyDirect, a web-only retailer of prescription eyeglass lenses and frames, is finding that it pays to present and test different formats, says founder and CEO Roy Hessel.

Since launching online videos earlier this year with Treepodia Ltd., a developer and distributor of video content, the retailer has experienced an overall 30% increase in product page conversion rates, Hessel says. And because Treepodia charges fees only on a per-view basis with no additional set-up fees, "I only pay for the opportunity to convert traffic at a higher rate," he adds.

Treepodia develops videos in two basic formats: One, which it calls its automated version, appears like a PowerPoint slide show that displays a series of still product images with overlaid text that describe a product`s features. The other is a full-production video, which typically shows models in a moving scene using the featured product.

Although Hessel says he hasn`t yet seen a difference in conversion rates between the automated and more costly full-production video formats, the retailer has conducted A/B tests of full-production videos to identify versions that convert at the highest rates.

In two versions of a video showing a model wearing eyeglasses while reading a magazine, for example, only one video showed text subtitles to describe the eyeglasses-`Designer Fashion` and `Best Seller.` That version produced a 9.2% conversion rate, compared to 2.0% for the video without subtitles, says Tal Rubenczyk, CEO of Treepodia.

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