It has been said that every company is a customer service company, and that every company is a technology company. In the future, everyone just might find themselves in the broadcasting business.

From embedding video messages in a simple e-mail to broadcasting live interactive sales and training events, companies are using video technology like never before, to communicate with both customers and employees. Of course, a few viral marketing campaigns have created a lot of buzz--Burger King's (NYSE:BKC) Subservient Chicken, for example, and Smirnoff's Tea Partay. But companies that aren't hip enough to produce a YouTube hit have been quietly developing new uses for online videos that are cost-effective and easy to produce--if not quite as cool as, say, the Obama Girl videos or Saturday Night Live's "Lazy Sunday."

It's easier than ever to find a service to help you produce or distribute videos. Some companies are production firms that make videos. Others provide technology for delivering video over the Web. Thanks to these services, anyone with a modest budget can use video to show off products, host online conferences, or take the virtual office to a whole new level. "You used to need millions of dollars to put together a full broadcasting setup," says Guillaume Cohen, founder and CEO of Palo Alto-based Veodia, which operates a virtual "studio" that makes it easy for companies to broadcast videos online. "We make it easy and affordable."

For Michael Abdoulah, president and owner of the Printright Group, video is a way to communicate with customers. He subscribes to HelloWorld, a social network that allows consumers to conduct live streaming webcasts, send video e-mails, and group chat with video IM, among other things. Printright, which sells custom-designed pens, hats, and other objects, uses the HelloWorld studio to present products to clients. Instead of shipping samples to prospective customers, for example, Abdoulah and his employees can showcase them on video; he also uses the technology to get client approval of layouts.

"Every time I get a new product sample, I'll set up an interactive webcast with my clients and sales associates to show it off to them," says Abdoulah, who says that HelloWorld saves him 10 percent in shipping costs and has shortened his sales cycle from a week to less than a day in some cases. "I can now get an item printed and shipped in the time it used to take to send the sample." HelloWorld's parent company, DigitalFX (AMEX:DXN), is also planning to roll out a service called FirstStream, which will allow business users to broadcast videos using their own domain names (HelloWorld subscribers must broadcast under the HelloWorld domain). "I'm salivating over it," says Abdoulah.

Companies also can use video as a creative marketing tool, without resorting to Subservient Chicken-style gimmicks. Frog Design, a design firm also based in Palo Alto, recently began using Veodia's technology to broadcast its "Design Mind" speaker series. About 100 attendees come to the offline events. Frog decided a live webcast would broaden its audience beyond those it could reach with the brick-and-mortar conference, says Tim Leberecht, the company's marketing director. Frog has hosted three Design Mind conferences since January, with between 40 and 100 viewers tuning in to each livecast and thousands downloading the archived versions on Frog's website. The technology also offers the company detailed feedback about what kinds of viewers are tuning in to each broadcast and how long they're staying-feedback that helps improve the next production, says Leberecht.

Live event broadcasting is just the tip of the iceberg. Henry Dewing, a principal analyst at Forrester Research, points to large-scale corporate meetings and analyst and conference calls, where video makes it possible for companies to connect larger groups of people than most traditional teleconferencing setups would allow. Soon, businesses will start using interactive videos, which allow viewers to decide what they want to watch. "Five to 10 years from now, websites will look like television," says Michael Jingozian, founder of AngelVision, a production company that makes three-minute videos for businesses. "It will be much more interactive. We're just scratching the surface."

Training videos are another potential application. "A company might distribute a training video online and be able to verify that everyone watched it," says Veodia's Cohen. And a live training video would allow users to ask questions as they went along. Frog Design, meanwhile, plans to investigate using video to showcase its design portfolios. "It offers a much more emotional way to connect with users than a 1,000-word case study," says Leberecht.

Professional broadcasting services have gotten much cheaper--they can cost $100 a month or less. But getting a video professionally made can cost thousands of dollars. That's why many businesses produce videos themselves--with results that are sometimes less than Steven Spielberg quality. It doesn't always matter; if, like Abdoulah, you're just trying to demonstrate a product for your customer, do-it-yourself might be the easiest and most cost-effective way to go. "YouTube has proved that 'good enough' can communicate just fine," says Dewing.

For companies with a little extra money in the marketing budget, however, a professionally made video is probably a good idea. CPC Logistics has been using an AngelVision video in direct e-mail campaigns and at trade shows to explain its services to potential customers. The video is just a collection of still images, narrated by a professional actor and overset with text. Nevertheless, the company has seen a 50 percent increase in trade show follow-up requests since it started using the video in November, says Bob Boyich, vice president of sales and marketing at the Chesterfield, Missouri-based company, which supplies professional drivers to trucking fleets. The response to e-mail marketing campaigns has jumped 25 percent. "Very few people started it and didn't finish," Boyich says.

Published on: Oct 1, 2007