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How to Create Online Videos That Can Lead to More Sales

Most customers want to see a product in use before they buy it. Posting demos on your web site can generate more traffic -- and conversions.

So have you seen the new Jennifer Aniston "sex tape?"

Before you go rushing off to YouTube, note the quote marks, please. The video--a nearly three-minute promotion for Glacéau smartwater featuring the former Friends star and gossip-mag mainstay--has officially gone viral, hitting 8.8 million views as of early April. And it's done so by trading on all the clichés of viral video: lip-synching preteens, cuddly puppies, CG babies doing inappropriately dirty dances, the goofy "Double Rainbow" guy, the ever-popular groin shot and yes: tagging the video itself as "Jennifer Aniston ‘sex tape.'" (Seriously, don't look for it under that name.)

Video Vitals
49: Percentage of respondents who watch online video daily

7: Average hours spent per week watching online video

58: Percentage of respondents who do other things during TV ads

26: Percentage of respondents who do other things during online ads

Source: Online Video and Television Viewing Attitudes and Behaviors, Frank N. Magid

Online video consumption is through the roof. In a February survey by research firm Frank N. Magid Associates and video ad network YuMe, 66 percent of respondents said they watch more online video now than they did 12 months ago, and 48 percent expect to watch even more in 2011. And before you attribute that growth to a time-shift to watching full-length programming over the web, note this: Seventy percent of the survey's respondents watch clips shorter than five minutes.

What do these trends mean for marketers trying to reach this viewing audience? First, if you're looking for a secret formula that will get your video a Lady Gaga-size viewership and lots and lots of viral sharing, good luck. There's really no scientific approach to what creates massive video buzz. It's digital lightning in a bottle, measurable largely in eyeballs and brand lift. And unless you've got the kind of money that Glacéau spent on CG effects and Jennifer Aniston's fee, you probably don't want to try to compete on that ground.

But there are many ways to generate video that can lead prospects to make a sales conversion, or at least get more deeply engaged with your product. Consider product description videos. When it comes to buying we're all pretty visual--we want to get a look before we buy.

Online jewelry retailer Ice.com has added short product videos to the descriptions of many of its 3,000-plus inventory items. Jewelry is worn to be seen, after all, and the Ice.com videos give consumers a better sense of what the piece will look like on a human being. Video also conveys the clarity of the stones, adding some reassurance to a purchase that many people are not totally comfortable making online.

Result: Ice.com visitors who view some of the videos on the site convert four times more often than those who don't. Meanwhile, product returns have decreased by 25 percent, a fact the company credits to the increased assurance that comes from giving customers a closer look before they buy.

Shoe seller Zappos.com also has added more than 50,000 product videos to its site. Zappos manages not only to convey product information with the videos, but also to cement its image as a brand staffed by human beings who care--rather than order-taking bots--by using actual employees in the videos.

And the video stream runs two ways: Zappos has been successful in tapping its biggest fans to create and share their own ZapposExperience on a YouTube channel of the same name. These user-generated clips are short and simple: Some are actual footage of customers opening their purchases or gifts, while others are simply talking heads praising the company for strong service. None get more than 150 to 200 views. But they do get shared on Facebook and tweeted on Twitter. If you have a resource of enthusiastic customers, why not let them speak?

Ice.com and Zappos have done so well with videos that they run their own production studios. But the example of Milwaukee Electric Tool shows that you can outsource your filmmaking and still make the numbers work. The company, which manufactures large portable power tools for the construction trade and sells primarily through resellers, began adding video to its product pages in 2008 in response to customers saying they wanted to see the equipment in action. It now has about 50 videos on its website.

When Milwaukee Tool realized the video enhancements were creating a 30 percent increase in traffic to the website, the company decided to push video into its e-mail marketing. (Not real video, since spam has led most e-mail clients and ISPs to drop support for video, but a screen grab with a big Play button that links to a video hosted on the web.) The result? A 3 percent clickthrough rate for Milwaukee's e-mail--and a growing house list of subscribers that is now in the six digits.

And to a marketer, those are some very sexy metrics.

Brian Quinton is executive editor of Chief Marketer magazine.

Like this article? Get this issue right now on iPad, Nook or Kindle Fire.

This article was originally published in the June 2011 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Lights, Camera -- Transaction.

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