Amazon has been offering its customers the opportunity to upload video product reviews for years, but peruse the site and you'll see that text reviews still dominate, with only a scattering of videos. No doubt recognizing how powerful video has become, it looks like Amazon may be putting a new emphasis on video product reviews. In an email I received yesterday from the company (which millions of other Amazon customers are likely receiving as well), the subject line read "Review your recent purchases at Amazon.com," with a large callout:
"New on Amazon! Grab your video camera or webcam and add video to your customer review. Click on "Review this product" above to upload a video or find a different product to review"
To be accurate, video reviews aren't a new feature on Amazon, though clearly they haven't been used much; for the 3 products I had bought, all had a healthy number of text reviews, but none had any video.
Settling in over breakfast yesterday with the Sunday Boston Globe (yes, I actually still read my hometown newspaper in print), I was intrigued by a story featured prominently on page 1 , detailing how Tufts University, a highly-selective college in the Boston area, has encouraged freshman applicants to submit one-minute "video essays" of themselves. Of the 15,436 applicants this year, over 1,000, or 6% submitted one.
Talk about a college in synch with the YouTube/Facebook generation. Not only does the idea cater perfectly to what kids today are already doing a lot of online, it provides the admissions office with an unvarnished insight into the kids, talking about what makes them special, in their own unique and creative way.
Video is an emotional medium in ways that text simply is not. That has never been truer than with these submissions. I looked through all the videos that the Globe added to its gallery (you can also go to YouTube and enter "Tufts admissions" to see more) and they are priceless. There's aspiring engineer Michael Klinker flying a styrofoam elephant he designed (Tufts' mascot is the "Jumbo"), to the music from Disney's "Dumbo." And Amelia Downs, whose interests are math and dance, showing the moves she's invented to simulate different math concepts. Then there's Conor Buckley, pianist and Rubik's cube solver-extraordinaire, pursuing both of his passions on split-screen.
The videos are endearing and authentic. Most seem to have been made on a shoestring budget, featuring 17 and 18-year old kids just being themselves, doing what they love. And if you were thinking that the one-minute video idea biases toward wealthier kids, the Tufts director of admissions said that at least 60% of the videos that have been viewed were from kids applying for student aid. With video-ready digital cameras and cell phones, ubiquitous Flip videocameras plus ubiquitous low-end editing software, kids today are more video-capable then any generation in history.
I relate the Tufts admissions videos to Unigo, the Trip Advisor-like site for high school students to check out colleges through videos made by the students themselves, which I wrote about here. Both are perfect examples of what I've called "purpose-driven" user-generated video ("UGV"). What I mean by that is with millions getting comfortable making short videos just for fun and then posting them at YouTube and elsewhere, there's an opportunity to tap this experience, but direct it into specific pursuits. Other UGV examples include the Doritos Super Bowl ads and ExpoTV's "Kitchen Table Conversations" research service. I'm sure there are plenty of others.
I expect many more organizations will leverage purpose-driven UGV going forward.
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ExpoTV has formally launched "Kitchen Table Conversations," (KTC in my shorthand) a new research service in which certain members of its community provide video responses to a set of brand-sponsored research questions. The resulting video footage provides authentic, qualitative insights on actual consumers' habits, attitudes and behaviors. KTC is yet another example of "purpose-driven" user-generated video, a concept I began discussing in Fall '08 that continues to gain traction. I talked with Expo's president Bill Hildebolt yesterday to learn more about how the new research service works.
For those not familiar with Expo, it is a community-oriented site where consumers create videos of themselves reviewing products they've used. The site now offers a catalog of 300,000+ of these "videopinions" on a wide diversity of products, generated by 60K+ community members. Over time Expo has evolved from being an outlet where users alone chose which products to review (which they can still do) to a model where sponsors are able to tap the community for video reviews of specific products. Members receive points in exchange for their video submissions and other activities.
Bill explained that the KTC research service originated from sponsors approaching Expo with a desire to interact with community members on a deeper level. With KTC, the research sponsor (e.g. brand, ad agency, trade organization, etc.) can submit a series of questions and the respondent profiles they want to target. Expo then taps into its member database and offers invitations to participate. Because participants have a track record of submitting video to Expo, a minimum quality level is pretty well assured. As part of its service, Expo can edit the submitted videos into a package or just provide them raw to the research sponsor to use as they'd like.
While online research is not a new concept (how many of us have filled out surveys or email questionnaires), what's different here is the reliance on video, which provides a different level of insight. Bill said that for researchers, KTC fits between traditional focus groups (where a group of individuals is brought together in a room to discuss their views of a product) and "ethnography" (a process whereby professional researchers actually live with participants for a period of time studying and capturing their behaviors). Bill believes that KTC provides many of the same authentic, on-location benefits of ethnography, but at a price comparable to focus groups and in a far-quicker turnaround time of 2 weeks or less.
Expo has run half a dozen KTC research projects over the past 9-12 months, working to refine the process. The adjacent video, from one of the research projects (focusing on moms' grocery shopping habits), is a good example of an edited result. In it, you see and hear women in their own homes, speaking authentically and showing specifics (e.g. a coupon folder, handwritten lists, etc.) of how they do their shopping. The video won't be mistaken for prime-time entertainment, but to researchers looking for nuggets of insight, it's golden. For agencies in particular, which can incorporate select segments of KTC video into their client pitches, it's a totally new approach to consumer research.
KTC is the latest example to hit my radar of how certain types of user-generated video can be used for very productive purposes. Regardless of what might be said about YouTube's and others' inability to monetize the user-generated video uploaded to their sites, one of the derivative benefits of all this user activity is that an army of amateur videographers has been created, many of whom are comfortable in front of and behind the camera. Their video won't win an Oscar or Emmy any time soon, but as Expo and others are proving, their skills and passion are valuable and can be tapped for various purposes.
What do you think? Post a comment now.
Ever find yourself shopping online and wish that there was a video that showed you the product's key features and benefits, and maybe even showed the product in action? And assuming that the video educated you and in turn increased the likelihood that you actually followed through and bought the product, wouldn't that delight the online retailer because it increased their conversion rate?
Invodo has built up a library of 20,000 product videos from 1,900 manufacturers that it is now syndicating for free to over 1,000 online retailers like Amazon, Sears, Buy.com and others. Craig said that they've been able to build their video catalog in less than a year primarily by sending crews to industry trade shows, where they arrange to have company reps explain their products on camera. Though there was nothing fancy about the videos I randomly selected to watch, they did convey valuable product texture and would have helped in the purchase consideration process.
My first inclination was to think Invodo should be charging for the videos, all the more so if they help drive higher conversion for the online retailers. However, Craig and Trey explained they've been most focused on scaling distribution and simply giving the video away to retailers for free is the best way to do that. That makes Invodo another example of the free business model that Chris Anderson discussed in his original Wired article, which will released as the book "Free" in a few weeks.
But giving away the core product (both the content and platform), with the goal of upgrading the customer to pay for premium features (the so called "freemium" model), means Invodo's business model depends on identifying valuable premium features that retailers will be willing to pay for.
There are two premium paths the company is pursuing. First it is offering a "buy now" button in the videos, which supports impulse buying, raising conversion. And second, it is offering an embedded player, so the video plays within the retailer's product page (as opposed to being a link to a new player window). The embedded player also provides features like ratings, sharing, etc. All of this too is meant to increase conversion rates.
With video becoming more pervasive and expected by users, it is only natural to think that retailers will embrace it as well. The only other company I can think of that is doing something vaguely similar is ExpoTV. But their product reviews are created by users, and I don't think they syndicate these videos to retailers.
It's clearly still very early days for Invodo and the category. I'll be curious to see how things work out.
What do you think? Post a comment now.
Wrapping up the week, today I revisit a post from several weeks ago, "An Intersection of UGC and Brand Marketing?"
In that post I mused about the opportunity for brand marketers to harness the recent enthusiasm many consumers have for creating video, as evidenced by the popularity of sites like YouTube. The idea I floated concerned how brands might somehow incent consumers to produce informative videos about their favorite products, which in turn could be showcased by the brands to help prospective buyers were in research mode. It seemed to me there might be a happy marriage in there somewhere.
It turns out I may have had my head in the clouds on this one. Daphne Kwon, CEO of ExpoTV reached out to me to explain some of the realities that my idea would encounter. Daphne's in a good position to know, since ExpoTV runs a site offering users the opportunity to upload videos with their reviews/opinions about products. ExpoTV has aggregated over 200K of these "Videopinions" to date. ExpoTV isn't exactly the concept I had in mind to marry UGC and brands, but it's definitely in the same ballpark.
Daphne raised two issues which she believes constrains brands from pursuing the user-generated reviews idea I envision. First is the specter that these reviews will be biased in some way. There are multiple dimensions to this. Will the brand maintain a completely open environment so that even negative reviews would be posted? If so, what are the implications? If not, and only positive videos are exposed, then the area wouldn't feel authentic or trustworthy. Also, would reviewers bias toward saying positive things simply to ingratiate themselves with the brand for ulterior reasons, such as getting noticed to be in a future ad or obtain funding for a private project?
Further complicating this is Daphne's sense that when people upload videos they're doing so to be part of a community that is responsive and interactive. This has clearly been a big part of YouTube's success. So brands couldn't just offer a place to upload, but rather would need to hire staff to manage the area, interact with participants, figure out how the area should be policed or self-policed, etc. Daphne doesn't see brands biting all off all of this, as it's a lot of work and she doesn't see any corporate mandates for brands to actively participate in these kinds of community-building activities.
Second and possibly more problematic is that there may be legal liability for brands to provide such platform, as the brands might be held responsible for the truthfulness and accuracy of the user-submitted videos. This liability would be broad, ranging from the relatively small (e.g. "The product didn't work as explained") to the very significant (e.g. "I used the product this way and was injured."). Clearly, in the litigious society in which we live, deep-pocketed corporations could be exposing themselves to all kinds of financial risks. Then of course there is the risk of negative PR, which alone could be quite damaging. Tying back to issues above, if there isn't a clear mandate to pursue these activities, no astute corporate soldier is going to risk his/her career diving into such precarious waters.
Hearing these considerations makes me think that the optimal route for incenting user-created video reviews may just be the way ExpoTV is doing it. Provide a "well-lit" space with a mix of financial incentives and community recognition, and monetize traffic in a number of creative ways (affiliate deals, advertising, etc.). Importantly maintain a focus on the community-building tasks required for motivating active and continuous user participation.
All of this serves as another reminder that with broadband - as with technology in general - just because something is possible, doesn't necessarily make it advisable.
What do you think? Post a comment and let us all know!