How our eCommerce Company Got to 1000 Product Videos [Part 1]
Why an obscure eCommerce Company Started Making Videos
Most YouTube content creators notice that little bubble in their Video Manager and give themselves a little pat on the back for various milestones. These moments come and go quietly for the first few hundred. But video number 1000 seems like as good a time as any to share a few things we’ve learned here at PulseTV.com — the eCommerce website you probably haven’t heard of yet.
We’re not the most well-known website out there, since we’re a growing family-based company in the South Suburbs of Chicago. So here’s a brief history. In 1996, PulseTV started selling VHS and DVDs in catalogs and Direct Response TV commercials. Remember Riverdance?
That was our commercial back in 1997! So you can thank us for getting bagpipes and tap dancing stuck in your head in the mid 90s. Other titles included STOMP and Muhammad Ali: Skill, Brains & Guts. The followup to Riverdance, Lord of the Dance also had some success on TV.
Customers (and vendors) eventually started suggesting we sell other stuff, so we did!
We now have 300–400 items on our site ranging from electronics, flashlights, and home goods, to the always-popular As Seen on TV department.
Birth of video
We’re a family-owned business with 25 or so employees, and most are Customer Service reps. Their friendly and ever-patient manager asked the high school intern to film a how-to video for an LED belt buckle. With an interest in filmmaking, then-intern Zack made a short explanatory video to lessen the customer calls — which worked!
As a welcome side effect, sales increased by simply displaying the how-to! We iterated quickly with new formats: slideshows with animated text, unboxing videos, and silly montage videos of us using the products. The latter was closer to what we wanted to accomplish, and Zack emerged as a natural pitchman.
When I joined in 2011, there were a TON of Deal of the Day companies, but few utilized video, let alone produced their own in-house. It was pretty much uncharted territory — and we couldn’t wait to see what would work!
Finding our voice
We already had a bunch of As Seen on TV products, it seemed natural to utilize the original ads to help boost sales. But there was a key difference in our mediums. TV commercials compete with a bunch of different ads during entertaining content. We were displaying video content on our site to people who really wanted to research and purchase the featured product.
The typical gimmick employed by these kinds of ads relies on a bumbling actor overwhelmed by some kind of archaic technology: If only there was a better way! We theorized that while hilarious, it doesn’t hold up to the scrutiny of a semi-interested buyer. It comes off as disingenuous and even a little silly. For someone who already read our email copy and saw the bullet points, they’d rather just get on with it and see it in action.
And while we all love guys like Marc Gil (Perfect Pancake), Vince Offer (Slapchop), or of course the late great Billy Mays (OxyClean), we didn’t have them on payroll. So we looked to Zack and our very own COO and founder Anisa, who happens to mirror our female demographic.
Neither one of them had experience reading off teleprompters, and we didn’t have one anyway. (More on our homemade office studio in Part 2) We developed a collaborative freestyle method between the “director” and talent. Before shooting, we basically spit-ball and come up with sections to film and what to talk about. It’s not perfect; it may not even be consistent from take to take, since they are basically winging it every time. But we believe it helps with the authenticity we try to get across.
I instruct the talent to “pretend you are telling a friend about this product you like.” It puts them in a less-pitchy, more honest mindset. We are quick to point out products’ flaws and don’t pretend like everything we sell is the next iPad. The process takes some getting used to, and qualities like confidence and quick thinking certainly help! Besides Zack and Anisa, just about everyone in our office has had a video or two under their belt. Yes, I’ve been in one video, but prefer to remain behind the scenes (for everyone’s sake!)
The director’s role is to support and collaborate with the talent to make it as smooth as possible. We make sure they don’t have to wing it for too long before a stop to regroup. Excessive uhs, ums, and long pauses can get edited out, but we never strive for perfection. Rather than looking like a memorized speech, we want it to look more like a friendly chat about a cool new thing. Product shots or closeups hide all those transitional cuts so no one is the wiser.
Why we do it
Once our email subscribers knew that there was a video on the other side of the click, we saw a traffic increase, and in every A/B test we’ve done, the product pages with a video convert better as well, usually up to 50% better. The numbers don’t lie! It’s safe to say we’ve distinguished ourselves in the industry for our unique approach to video.
There’s a popular phrase right out of Filmmaking 101: Show, Don’t Tell. Video is another way to market without yet another paragraph of text and really gives a customer the option of how they want to research the product. Sometimes pictures and our expository prose isn’t enough to get across just how bright a flashlight is. Or how neatly a plastic box hides away a surge protector and cords. Or just how much fun it is playing with a quadcopter.
We really do have a lot of fun doing what we do — and our customers seem to get that. This is my favorite testimonial sent in to us:
Guys! You are the GREATEST! I’ve ordered from you a couple of times and am so pleased with not only the prices, the quality but also the personal touch you give us with the videos, the home-grown feel of your company. There are so many other great pretenders but you’re the real deal. You can quote me! Look forward to doing business with you forever.
- Lane C, FL
It’s been a blast to refine our craft over here, and after 1000 videos; we’d like to think we’ve got a good system going so far. But there’s always room for improvement — so I cannot wait to see where we’ll be after 1000 more!
In Part 2, I’ll go into more detail on building our office studio on a frugal budget, and the technologies we use now.
See ya then!