5 Ways to Put Video to Work for Your Brand

I was invited recently to speak at a retail-focused conference on the topic of social video. Working closely with our internal team and with our fantastic team of clients at JCPenney, I pulled together a presentation of five key lessons learned from our recent work together. Here’s a quick summary of those lessons:

Lesson No. 1: Truly “Viral” Videos are the Exception, not the Rule

Posting a video to YouTube and hoping it’ll take off was a questionable strategy back in the early days of the now-mega-site. Today, with some absurd volume of videos available and something like 24 hours of video being uploaded to YouTube and Facebook every minute of every day, it’s even less likely to work. There has long been a fallacy that “viral” programs are cheap and easy, and that they generate thousands of dollars in “free” media exposure. But “post and pray” is not a strategy. It’s true, there have been a few examples of videos that have simply taken off and engrained themselves in pop culture – some even becoming a meme in their own right.

But those videos are rare (and usually not produced by marketers). More often than not, a successful “viral” video campaign is supported by meticulous planning, smart seeding strategies, paid media support (including TV campaigns, on occasion), great PR, and so forth. In other words, it’s a carefully crafted machine, not an accident. JCPenney’s “Beware of the Doghouse” was a perfect example: a great video idea paired with a solid multi-dimensional promotional plan. Even the latest viral poster-child – the Old Spice man – is another example of a well-planned and executed program, stemming from a TV campaign and supported via promoted videos on YouTube (among many other smart ideas, to be sure).

Lesson No. 2: Video Isn’t Just for Branding

The power of sight, sound, and motion makes video nearly unmatched in terms of its potential emotional connectivity. Thus, it can be very powerful for building brands and shifting perceptions. And for many folks, it ends there. But let’s not be so quick to put it into such a small box. Video has been selling stuff for years – witness the infomercial and the birth of channels like QVC and HSN. But it gets even better when you add some interactivity to it. Overlays, hotspots, and other types of interactivity can help bring video out of its branding shell and enhance it’s already substantial direct-response mojo. It baffles me why so many direct marketers avoid video.

JCPenney’s sponsorship of “Daytime in No Time,” a Web program on Yahoo hosted by Nikki Boyer, is a great example. The hostess is outfitted in styles from JCPenney, and a module at the right hand side of the video player enables viewers to browse and buy her outfits. It’s a simple, straightforward interaction that’s driving sales at an impressive clip.

Lesson No. 3: Embrace the Soft Sell

Although Vince the ShamWow guy and the late Billy Mays made an art form out of it, it’s not necessary to use a hard-sell message in order to make video effective at driving sales.

Instead, find an audience that’s already engaged and bring some value to them. JCPenney has done this for the last couple of years with “Married on MySpace,” an online reality program chronicling wedding preparations for a young couple. The audience is engaged throughout each season, voting on many aspects of the program. The retailer integrates seamlessly into the show, providing the wedding registry experience and highlighting key products in a natural, non-intrusive way.

Lesson No. 4: Relevance, Relevance, Relevance

My hero Howard Gossage said “People don’t read advertising. They read what interests them. Sometimes, it’s an ad.” In other words, you’ve got to find a way to make your ad interesting to the reader – or in this case, the viewer. Perhaps the best way to do that is by being as relevant as possible.

Various dynamic assembly platforms like Visible World, Real Time Content, Qmecom, and others attempt to solve the challenge with technology. But even without such advanced systems, finding smart media placements and marrying them to the right brand, product, and message will go a long way. JCPenney’s American Living brand has a unique partnership with Rascal Flatts, and sponsored the live Web stream of the CMT Music Awards. It was a highly relevant partnership paired with a very relevant media opportunity – and it saw a surprising level of engagement given what we expected to be a lean-back viewer base.

Lesson No. 5: Engage

Digital video begs to be interactive. Increasingly, it begs for connections to social as well. It’s always a good idea to wrap a video experience, whether on a site or in an ad, with interesting and relevant ways for viewers to engage. JCPenney has successfully brought some of its TV spots to the Web as interactive ads. Simple polls can bring basic engagement along with the added benefit of gathering insights from your audience. Encourage viewers to share via Facebook, Twitter, or other social networks. Or, expand the experience with branching interactivity, allowing the user to choose his or her own adventure, so to speak.

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