“So Chris, any ideas on how important video is going to be for online marketing?”

This question was raised during the Practical Email Marketing course last month. It had me scurrying for a quick response. From memory I came back with a comment that I think was valuable but afterwards it got me thinking. So, how have our expectations changed regarding when video should be used? And where are the hot spot places for it to to be used to help you achieve more online? These are two reasonably chunky questions that I’ll try to begin to answer with these four points.

Point 1 – Video doesn’t have to be a “talking head” to work well.

It can sometimes be a struggle to explain complex products or services by words alone. Adding some pictures can help but still it could take way more time to consume this content than the average “time-starved” prospect is willing to offer.

You could replace all this with a person speaking to the camera – but still that will take too long. All they are doing is reading the mass of words you wrote previously. That’s where some cool animation can work wonders.

Here are some examples. First, look at the way Dropbox explain the features and benefits of their cloud-based storage solution. Visit them here: www.dropbox.com. The picture below of their home page shows their reliance on the animation.

It’s the only way they choose to get their message across. It must work – tens of millions of customers use Dropbox. Google is a great fan of this method of communication, too. Look how they decided to introduce a recent addition to Google Analytics – Advanced Funnel Tracking – see here for this animation clip: http://www.google.com/analytics/analytics-funnels.html

Both examples use animation in a way that is smart, fast flowing and packed with information that quickly imparts the message they need delivered. We have developed similar solutions for a few clients in some of the Adobe Flash game work we have created. Let me know if you would like to see some examples.

Point 2 – If a talking face is required you don’t need CNN production values to make it work.

Zappos is a reasonably sizable North American e-commerce store owned by Amazon that sells clothes, bags, beauty products, in fact a whole lot of stuff catering to the shopping desires of men, women and even those buying for their children.

Browse through their products and you start to see that most now include a short video description. This is hosted by a Zappos staff member, takes just a few minutes and comes across as the ideal conversation you would get from a super-knowledgable staff member in any competing “bricks and mortar” store. Which is quite a challenge to find. Not the competing bit – the knowledgeable staff part!

As an example, here’s a link to some “Ocean Minded Dune Rider Shoes”: http://tinyurl.com/dune-raider. Look just down the screen and there’s the link to the video Zappos have done on them. It’s just 51 seconds long but boy does this guy get through the content in a professional way: http://tinyurl.com/dune-raider-preview.

I read recently that each year Zappos are loading up tens of thousands of videos just like this one onto their e-commerce website. There’s only one reason why they would go to all the hassle of producing, editing and then loading them onto the site – they must improve conversion rates.

Point 3 – Don’t forget your mobile audience – video works well there.

Recently, I co-presented a 50-minute workshop at a customer’s two-day conference on the subject of the growing smart phone market in New Zealand and its relevance for email marketers. We kicked off the talk with an open admission that neither of us had all the answers. But one thing we did know was that times were a-changing – faster for some in the room than for others – and with it their email formats will need to change as well.

This brings me back to smart phones and their ease of consuming video. Just by the nature of full-screen playback on a screen that fits into your palm, video content is a great fit for this market. So, while text and image content struggles with the restrictions of a single-column width format, full-screen video could be a winner.

Whether the mobile space is an urgent or a long-term decision is something your Google Analytics account can help you determine. Just peek into the special “Mobile” section of Version 5 (we covered it during our conference call this month) and there you will see the percentage of visitors that use mobiles and the top-line stats – bounce rate, time on site – on how your existing site serves them.

Point 4 – If you go long with your content, go long with your tracking too.

While on the subject of Google Analytics, why not call on its event-tracking abilities in Version 5 to see if people are really watching the full 40 minutes of the video you may put up? One of our clients uses video really well in their selling process. Nevertheless, a 45-minute video for an area of their website that targets prospects – well, I thought that could be a bit long. So we set up some tracking to let Google Analytics tell us a) if the video was being played and b) if so, how long people were looking at it.

The results were interesting. Yes, there were some people who did look at the whole video, and they did go on to convert quite well for the next steps of the sales process. Nevertheless, there was a larger group that quit after just 10 minutes of video and never went back to see more. So the video’s content was re-sorted to make it more engaging and to do a better job of “selling” them on the next stage.

There you go – four points that I hope make you want to reconsider how video content can be used in your online marketing.

Have fun.