With reality star Kim Kardashian serving as the company's co-founder and chief fashion stylist, plus a recent $40 million round of funding led by the powerhouse VC firm Andreessen Horowitz, online shoe-of-the-month club ShoeDazzle has no shortage of big names touting the company. Yet one of ShoeDazzle's most persuasive spokespeople is an anonymous teenage girl whose online video testimonial posted on the ShoeDazzle website has been viewed more than 37,000 times. In it, she explains how she is "obsessed with shoes" and gushes over the service's low prices. "The prices are, like, perfect," she says.
If Yelp taught us anything, it is the power that individuals can have in persuading their peers. That power is amplified with video testimonials, where would-be customers can actually see and hear the inside scoop from like-minded individuals. Even in our celebrity-obsessed culture, the best spokesperson for a new business might very well be, literally, the girl next door.
Brian Lee and attorney Robert Shapiro (of O.J. Simpson case fame), co-founders of the legal-services website LegalZoom, founded ShoeDazzle in 2008, along with MJ Eng and Shapiro's family friend Kim Kardashian. Essentially, the service delivers high-fashion shoes as well as bags and accessories to women monthly, handpicked based on their personal style preferences by a team of Hollywood stylists. Membership is free, as is shipping, and every product costs only $39.95.
Kardashian's name created lots of buzz when the company launched, in March 2009, and by 2010, ShoeDazzle had a million fans on Facebook. The company's founders wanted to build on that momentum but recognized that some people might have some trepidation about joining a new kind of monthly service that seemed a lot different than just browsing for shoes online. "We wanted to find another way to have transparency for people—that there is a real service behind it," says Eng. Rather than hiring celebrity endorsers, the company decided to let real customers explain what they like about ShoeDazzle with short webcam videos.
The company had already gained a lot of word-of-mouth buzz through reviews written on its Facebook page and on sites like Yelp. But video provided a twist. "It's compelling," Eng says. "Reading a review is one thing, but putting a face to it puts it over the edge." So late last year, ShoeDazzle contacted VideoGenie, a Menlo Park, California–based start-up. VideoGenie's software collects 20-second videos from customers, analyzes those videos, and distributes the videos to YouTube, blogs, Twitter, Facebook, and the ShoeDazzle website. The service can cost $500 to $2,500 a month for basic software that allows customers to record, submit, and share videos to as much as $50,000 a month for high-powered market analytics.
After designing a pitch to shoppers and adding some coding on its website, ShoeDazzle started soliciting videos on Facebook and via e-mails sent to its most loyal customers. Customers were asked to record a quick video about what surprised them most about ShoeDazzle. With VideoGenie's service, customers simply press Record on the ShoeDazzle site, and the videos are automatically uploaded and e-mailed directly to the company. After a quick review, customers receive an e-mail confirming that their video has been approved and posted online.
In the first month, more than 70,000 videos were viewed online, leading to approximately 1,000 member sign-ups. The website had 2.4 million monthly visitors in March following the video promotion, up from 956,000 two months prior. Unlike a slick ad campaign, most of the videos are poorly lit and grainy and have a fun, next-door-neighbor vibe to them. But the content, not the resolution, is what makes these videos noteworthy. Satisfied customers talk about how they like the price, the selection, the fast shipping, and even the pink shoeboxes their shoes come in. ("The packaging is great," says one happy client. "They come in a cute little pink box. You can even regift it.")
Although he declines to give details, Eng says the testimonials definitely helped boost registrations and sales. Visitors to the site watched an average of nine videos per session for a total of more than three minutes of video. Every day, more than 2,000 videos are viewed on the site. The company also found that people are much more likely to sign up if they have seen a video than if they have not. "Real people are talking about the service, using their own words. It's not marketing speak," says Eng.
The testimonials also provide the company with a good deal of practical insight about what appeals most to their customers. Analytics track which videos keep people's attention longer, which ones lead to more customer conversions, and which videos are the most shared. The technology can also identify influential customers by tracking how many people are driven to the site after watching that person's video on Facebook. The more powerful voices can then be included in future marketing campaigns.
One of the top ShoeDazzle testimonials, for instance, has been viewed more than 48,000 times. In it, an enthusiastic woman fawns over a studded blue high-heeled shoe. "What surprised me most was the quality," she says. "I love the detail. I love the pretty pink and cute bag that you sent." No spokesmodel could have said it better.