Kohler Videos: Inspire, Instruct

By Admin Published on .

Situation: Kohler Co., the kitchen, bath and furnishings company, recently revamped its Web site to feature video from more of its divisions. The videos on the site have moved beyond old favorites that showed products, such as sinks and showers, to productions that look more like home-makeover shows on cable channels.

Kohler has a long history of using video as a marketing tool and has been putting some of that video on its site. The effort wasn't organized until October, when the company launched a new video player using Brightcove's technology. In July, a new version of the player went up that created channels, making different kinds of videos from different parts of the company more accessible, according to John Engberg, manager of global media and Web development.

From October to June, the company had about 2 million video plays on Kohler.com for its plumbing division, and less traffic for its other divisions. More recently, the company had over 300,000 plays in August, the highest monthly traffic to date by at least 15 percent. With the old navigation system, the most popular videos showed products, particularly showers, baths, and toilets, and prior to October, the number of videos being played on the site was quite small, Mr. Engberg said.

Mr. Engberg said that the company is just starting to analyze the use statistics for the new Web video format. The company is also planning to do some e-mail promotion for some of the new video on its site.

The company views video as a marketing tool rather than a revenue generator, Mr. Engberg said.

He notes that there are some people that still prefer to get product information via text and still images. Other companies, he said, have used too much video. That bothered customers and those companies have been forced to dial it back, he said.
But he noted that in Kohler’s category, users get very involved.

“If you’re going to knock down your wall to redo your kitchen or do your dishes in the basement for three months while your kitchen is ripped up, you tend to have some involvement in your decision about what products you’re going to select,” he said. “There’s a reason why there’s all those cable home shows. People have an interest in that and the more we can leverage that, it’s better for us.”

The biggest cost involved in Kohler’s Web video effort relates to production. The company does a lot of its production in house, which keeps cost down. It pays Brightcove to archive, house and distribute video to users based on traffic levels. He characterized the cost as “pretty reasonable.”. The company is also looking at using Brightcove to syndicate its video to its product distributors and showrooms for use on their Web sites.

Kohler is still building its Web video group. At this point, there are about six or seven people who handle the projects. They report to the company’s director of advertising. The staff includes a producer, a content editor, a project manager and support staff. Together they produce between five and 15 videos per month.

Much of the video that goes on the site is shot by the company, mostly using Sony Betacam cameras. Some projects are shot with the Panasonic HVX 200 (HDV), while others are shot on mini-DV format with the Sony DSR-PD150.

Most productions use the Avid Media Composer Adrenaline system for editing. For less graphics-intensive projects are edited with Avid's Xpress DV Pro HD software. For videos that need to be edited on site, the company uses the Macbook Pro and Final Cut Suite of products.

He says he’s trying to stress to people in his company that making video is getting much simpler. Not long ago, you needed to make story boards and production was a big deal. “Now any 13 year old with an idea can get something pretty innovative up there in no time.”

One of the new types of video on Kohler’s site is called “Idea Homes.” Kohler products are often used in magazine spreads featuring a new or rebuilt home, and the company has begun filming those homes. The videos have additional elements that go beyond kitchen and bath products to including shots of the rest of the house and interviews with the owners.

Video clips about a refurbished home in Manhattan’s Harlem neighborhood built for Dwell magazine will be featured in an upcoming newsletter that reaches a half million subscribers.

“That will blow the numbers up really fast,” Mr. Engberg said.

“I’ve been at Kohler for 13 years and long before I was here they were doing video. So we had the capability. We just didn’t have a way of getting it out there,” Mr. Engberg said.

Problem: Mr. Engberg said that the biggest problem was finding a standard format for video that all divisions of the company could use. Across the Web, different formats were being employed, which meant that users had to worry about downloading different players to view video, which in some cases didn’t work. Within the company, there were also differences of opinion about how Web video would be presented. “Every time someone wanted video, it was a design decision,” he said. “What’s it going to look like, what’s the functionality?” By using the Brightcove solution, the company was able to simplify and unify its video presentation and that freed the divisions to concentrate on the content of their videos, rather than the technology behind it.

Solution: Mr. Engberg said Kohler talked to several companies about outsourcing its Web video hosting and distribution. They also considered having a video player custom built and serving clips on the company's own servers.

“We considered doing it ourselves. We saw from experience that if we drove a lot of traffic to the video player, that caused bandwidth concerns,” he said. That led to us liking the idea of outsourcing it.”

He said Kohler views its solution as cost effective, both from a dollars and cents perspective as well as from a time standpoint, because of the work the company’s technology staff people would have had to do had the job been done in house.

Evaluation: Kohler is planning forge ahead with its Web video efforts. It plans to examine what’s working and do more of it, and also expects more of its businesses to begin putting video on the company site.

At this point, Mr. Engberg said it’s a little too early to say whether its Web video marketing is having an effect on the company’s bottom line said.

“We just know that people like it. They watch most of the videos and we’ll start tracking with the new configuration what are the most popular areas,” he said.

The videos on Kohler's site do not have direct response mechanisms, but the company is looking to use Web analytics tools to be able to better gauge whether videos are having a positive marketing effect. Over the next six to nine months, the company should be able to follow a user's click path in order to figure out whether a person who sees a particular video is more likely to actively shop for the featured products or buy them.

Kohler doesn't do e-commerce on its site, but the company has found that if a user searches for the location of a retailer, that’s a sign of intent to buy. Also, the company has found that if users set up folders to store products and projects, they are also likely to follow through and purchase products he’s seen demonstrated on the site."

Mr. Engberg said Kohler is dedicated to providing users of its site a better experience than its competitors. "We’d rather err on the side of giving more and better information, so that's really what’s behind the decision."
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