Video spokesmodels are appearing more frequently on websites. Are they an innovative marketing tool that more businesses should have? Or, do they violate usability best practices and ignore permission-based marketing standards, and turn off audiences. Or maybe, it is both, and still successful? ReelSEO's Grant Crowell interviews Rich Rogers, President of LiveClip, Inc. and VideoSpokesModel.com, to learn about about the benefits for web businesses to have a video spokesmodel, what businesses are best suited to having a VSM, the advantages of working with a professional service like theirs, and how Video SEO enters into the mix.
First, here is my own take on the VSM business…
What is a video spokesmodel?
A video spokesmodel can be referred to, by my own definition: A video of a person that plays right in the web page, with an audio message being shared. Its most common applications are as a greeting, or invitation, or an explanation or demo of a product or service being offered. The earlier and more regularly used definition in the industry is "virtual spokesperson," which can be attributed to back in the days of animation, before typical broadband speeds could allow for high-frame rate video (so as not to make the video appear choppy.) A video spokesmodel is a little more distinct from a virtual spokesperson in that its not an animation, but a actually video of an actual person. They can appear on a website as just a headshot, or a full-torso or full-body shot. They can also appear within an boxed-image background, or appear to be overlapping the web page itself. Video spokesmodel vendors will typically offer a diverse range of "virtual candidates" a customer can choose from – gender, age range, ethnicity, and language being some examples. (Typically women characters dominate the video spokesmodel field.)
Why are video spokesmodels used?
Vendors say that having a video spokesmodel, or "VSM," on a website can make a website feel more personal with visitors, which increases the likelihood of increased sales and conversions. They also servide as professional talent with a quality image and clear speaking voice, and when done right, can imply the image of trust and even expertise by the speaker.
Why do some people complain about video spokesmodels?
The first answer relates not to video spokesmodels in themselves, but on how they are often applied in a website. Many times a VSM will automatically play and blare audio on a website (including the home page), without any advance warning or permission from the visitor. Its impossible to avoid, even if you don't want to. In fact, you have to make a point of click on a button around the speaker to get them to stop. It can have the annoyance factor of a pop-up banner, but rather, "popping out." For someone who its not part of the audience interested in VSM, it can either be anything from a minor annoyance to a very unwanted means of attracting attention from others around you. Rather than just be left with my own assumptions, I decided it would be good to interview one prominent VSM company's President, Rich Rogers of LiveClip, Inc., who runs the site VideoSpokesModel.com.
Q&A with VideoSpokesModel.com's Rich Rogers
Grant: Can you share a brief history on your company? Why did you decide to get into the VSM business?
Rich: I started 360Media, Inc. and have been doing virtual tours and video for clients for 9 years now. I started LiveClip.com in 2003 but could not get funding then decided to do it on my own in 2005. The site was to be a hybrid between YouTube and Ustream, hence the "Live Clip" name. We were in development time at the same time as YouTube and I remember it must have been Nov. of 2005, and getting a link from my programmer to youtube.com, and thinking, oh great.. We never really took off or could get funded but we did have thousands of viewers and videos at one point. I took it down after all the legal issues surrounding online video and decided to focus more on the business side of video.
As for Videospokesmodel.com (VSM), I had already worked on video projects with clients and talent. This service really just evolved from other things we had been doing. So I decided to spin off videospokesmodel as its own brand in 2007.
What are the benefits for a business to have a VSM?
As we say, people usually don't take the time to read through a lot of text but will listen to your message when someone comes on screen and tells it to them. It has definitely helped our customers with conversions and sales, especially online retailers. One thing we also found out was a big increase in submissions if a VSM is placed on a page with a submission form.
Why should someone hire a professional VSM provider rather than doing it themselves?
Our focus is to make it a success for the online retailer and at a cost greatly less than doing it themselves. We also provide the consulting expertise, Video SEO, and reporting metrics to make it a success. Also, the entire production from set design to layout, graphics and especially talent will define their brand so they better get it right. Doing it in-house could be a huge mistake and make them either look cheap or could even lose consumer confidence in them. We make sure we deliver the results from a sales standpoint – conversions, sales, views etc – while also understanding the branding implications.
What types of consulting, Video SEO, and reporting metrics do you do for your clients? We consult on every aspect of Video-Commerce, or "v-commerce." Our specialty is in the product presentation, talent selection, video format and branding. We also provide reporting from number of views each period to length of views, submission or buy now button entries, viewer locations, and performance data of video groups (e.g, housewares vs. electronics).
Does a customer need a special hosting plan to feature the VSM video on their website?
No, we offer Flash Streaming hosting as an option to our clients but they can host it themselves. We give them the video, .flv file, Flash player and applet code to paste into their site. It is almost as easy as adding a jpeg photo to a website.
What business types seem to be a good fit for having a VSM?
Online retailers. No doubt this is the biggest trend in 2009. Adding a product video to a website or a virtual sales agent so to speak will increase their sales. Its proven and for any online retailer not doing this its time they start as they are losing money if they don't. In addition, I have seen it succeed across the board from pool companies to dating sites to pharmaceuticals. Product landing pages with a VSM are also very effective.
How does someone get to be a video spokesmodel?
We work with local agencies and have casting calls several times each year. We look for talent that has QVC experience since they likely have been through their certification program. Knowing how to sell on screen is a big help whether it is a product video or an online ad for a website. We want the talent to really do more than just read a teleprompter.
Are there any drawbacks to having VSMs automatically play on websites? Yes, some sites should opt to include the video within a play box or other area which the client can choose to click to play. This is dependent on the site though. Landing pages are especially good at increasing conversions when it starts automatically.
Usability specialists will almost always say that audio should never automatically play when a visitor comes to a web page. Yet you are saying that some scenarios – like landing pages – are especially good to have automated A/V playback.
When our LiveClip videos started instantly, we did get some objections, but it resulted in more plays and a much more positive result. It does depend on the site. In my opinion an online retailer would be a good example where a product demo video should start as soon as you hit the product page. Capture their attention right away!
What are things you've seen with VSMs that don't work? When it is added to a site and buried. We have had a few clients that get it and place on a link that is difficult to find and then wonder why the overall success is not there. I think it works best on the Home page, products or services pages and of course any order page or contact us page. I also think it does not work when the message is too long and viewers tune out. I think short and effective scripts are best. Online retailer product videos are best at under 2 minutes. It really is important when producing these to convey the message, include all the details and still keep it short and simple.
Any tips you would have for businesses with how to select a VSM? Choose someone that you want to represent your company and image. Our pricing is based on the talent and length of script. This decision alone could impact the success of the campaign so it is important to think through this carefully. We do know that most clients have opted to go with women on their sites instead of men.