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ONLINE MARKETING

Using Viral Video to Boost Sales

By creating clever Web videos, companies like Smule and Kiva Systems explain their technology to customers and produce sales leads.
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When it comes to explaining what your company does, video often speaks louder than words. YouTube demos featuring seemingly mundane products such as blenders and mattresses have attracted hundreds of thousands of viewers online. And getting noticed doesn't require slick production from a professional studio. Even a company on a shoestring budget, using just a basic camera and simple editing software, can produce an entertaining demo that reaches thousands of prospective customers.

FrontPoint Security is one company that is successfully using video demonstrations to expand its pool of customers. The company, based in McLean, Virginia, sought to position its $99 home security systems, which customers can install themselves, as more user-friendly alternatives to systems from companies like ADT. But sales reps found that the message wasn't getting through to many prospective customers, who had little knowledge of how most security systems worked. Last August, the company began posting video tutorials on its website and on YouTube. Since then, the number of monthly sales leads FrontPoint receives from its website has increased 250 percent. Its most popular video, which shows how to install the company's security system in two minutes, has been seen thousands of times.

FrontPoint now posts several videos a month. They are developed primarily by its marketing and public relations teams, which collaborate on scripts before shooting each clip. Initially, the company hired a videographer, but the employees soon learned enough to film their own clips. FrontPoint has even begun posting demos from its customers, to whom the company sends Flip video cameras to film footage. Once the customers return the cameras to FrontPoint, employees use Apple's Final Cut Pro to edit the footage and add an introduction and background music. "Video was a total black box for us, but we can produce great video now in a day or two," says Chris Villar, FrontPoint's CEO.

FrontPoint has lots of company, as more and more businesses discover the power of videos. Smule, a Palo Alto, California, maker of iPhone apps, produces in-house videos to launch each of its products. Co-founder Ge Wang filmed and edited some of the early productions using a $600 camera from home and iMovie, a free software program for Macs. The company's two demos for its Ocarina app, which lets the iPhone function as a kind of flute, have attracted a combined 1.5 million viewers. One video shows Wang using the app to play the theme from the Nintendo game The Legend of Zelda. The other features several Smule employees and their spouses playing "Stairway to Heaven" on their phones. "What people seem to like about the videos is that they are clearly made by the same people who make the app," says Wang. "Our wackiness and quirkiness show through." The videos' success has translated into brisk sales for Smule. Ocarina is one of the iPhone's top-selling apps, having been downloaded more than 1.5 million times, at 99 cents each.

Although straightforward demos are often effective, using a product in amusing and unexpected ways can pique interest. Most of the videos Kiva Systems sends to prospective clients illustrate how the company's robots, used to retrieve inventory within warehouses, streamline order fulfillment for retailers. But the Woburn, Massachusetts, company also encourages its employees to think of more creative ways to demonstrate its systems, which typically cost $3 million to $5 million. To celebrate the holiday season in 2007, a Kiva employee recorded the warehouse robots moving in time to the march from the Nutcracker Suite. The minute-and-a-half clip generated more than 50,000 views. "When you're talking to somebody about having robots in their facility, you sometimes get a blank stare," says Mitch Rosenberg, Kiva's vice president of marketing. "These types of videos are primarily for fun, but the secondary effect is that people hear about a practical way to use a robot."

There is no sure-fire way to score a hit video, but the most effective demos have several features in common, says Lee LeFever, founder of Common Craft, whose popular "In Plain English" series of animated videos explains complex concepts such as cloud computing and the stock market. "They should focus more on how a product fits into someone's life, not how it works," he says. For instance, if you make software, he suggests pairing screen shots with a story illustrating what particular problem the product solves. In Common Craft's video for LinkedIn, a fictional owner of a small business guides viewers through several of the site's features, which are illustrated with charmingly nontechnical paper cutouts. LeFever advises writing a script in advance, as FrontPoint Security does, to ensure that the video conveys the company's message clearly. He also suggests making the videos as brief as possible, ideally no longer than three minutes.

Sometimes producing an engaging video takes some tweaking. Many services, including YouTube, offer analytics tools that let you see at what points in the video people tend to lose interest and click away. Knowing which parts of the video strike a chord may even help you hone your overall marketing pitch. For instance, Kiva Systems, which uses a tool called Wistia to privately e-mail clips to prospective clients, studies the analytics to see which video segments clients replay most. "If we see that a lot of customers are focused on, for example, energy savings, we'll know to put energy savings first on our reading materials," Rosenberg says.

Ultimately, though, videos can provide value beyond the hard sell. Kiva's video of dancing robots attracted the attention of one of its clients, Zappos, the online retailer, which later filmed a joint promotional video with Kiva at Zappos's warehouse in Kentucky. The lighthearted video, which includes several Zappos employees, stars a Kiva robot that dreams of racing in the Kentucky Derby. Like the Nutcracker clip, the video for Zappos does not focus on the robots' routine warehouse work. But, says Rosenberg, it fills another important function: establishing the company's brand among both prospective and current clients. "It reminds our customers that we're not just a hardware vendor," he says. "We're fun-loving people."

For more on how to create entertaining company videos -- and to see examples of some of the most popular product-related videos on YouTube -- go to www.inc.com/keyword/feb10.

Last updated: Feb 1, 2010




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