Show & tell

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Cisco Systems recently celebrated a momentous anniversary: It's been creating and offering video-on-demand customer and product information to its employees for 10 years. Nearly three years ago, the company expanded its use of video by creating and posting video case studies to its Web site as well. Today, the company produces more than 700 video-on-demand clips per month.

There are many reasons Cisco, along with other companies such as Ericsson and Citrix Systems, are embracing online video to disseminate customer case studies. For one, video allows a marketer to explain complex products or abstract ideas by highlighting the real-life stories of existing customers. It allows customers—rather than salespeople—to do the talking.

Plus, for the customers profiled in the videos, the format requires a minimal time commitment, said Erica Schroeder, Cisco's senior manager of marketing for emerging technologies. "It's really an hour commitment," she said. "We show up, do some filming, do a little b-roll [alternate footage for cutaway shots] and leave. With a written case study, it feels more substantial. Video is a more amenable process."

Here are some tips that can help marketers get started creating their own video case studies.

Decide what you want to say. Even before you find a customer, figure out what you need to say, said Jack Smith, VP-product strategy at Internet marketing company 24/7 Real Media. "Decide what kind of video you want and the points you'd like to make. Then find a customer who can help you make those points," he said.

Choose your spokesperson carefully. Having a great speaker can make or break your case study; if the speaker isn't compelling, people will stop watching.

The ideal customer will be excited about your product or service, and willing to chat about it. You'll also want someone as high on the organizational chart as possible, with one exception: "If you're talking to technical people, you might want to get a tech guy to speak to them," Schroeder said. "Video is appealing when you see yourself reflected. … If you're trying to appeal to a financial services audience, it's probably not going to work if you put someone in retail in your video."

Kim Ryden, director of lead generation at ON24, a webcasting and video communications company, said it's also important to find someone who can talk about both positive and negative aspects of your product.

"Case studies [that] are packaged and pretty don't speak to everyone," she said. "Not everyone has the dream budget to make stuff happen. You want to have someone who can talk about problems and the alternative solutions they found to those problems."

Choose your questions and communicate them. Cisco Systems' Schroeder said she provides about a half-dozen topics she'd like her interview subjects to focus on and gives them at least a few days to consider their answers.

Len Ostroff, CEO of Rovion, an online video technology company, said you should avoid having your subject read from scripts or Teleprompters; he also cautioned against using an actor or actress. "There's something about being less polished that's really appealing," he said.

Make your interview subject feel comfortable. Give your interview subject time to get settled, and encourage them beforehand to wear something that makes them feel secure. That said, sometimes you may have to be a little sneaky. Schroeder often tells her subjects that she's doing a dry run without the camera on, but leaves it on anyway. "People are usually much more relaxed when the camera is off," she said.

ON24's Ryden suggests letting interview subjects create their own scripts or questions so they know the subject matter firsthand.

Don't forget to play up your product and service. Too often, companies tell a customers` story without highlighting exactly how the product or service helped the customer. In fact, video case studies can be perfect vehicles to demonstrate a specific feature of your product, said David Hallerman, senior analyst at eMarketer. "You might want to use video to show how a product can be used in a specific industry to give the potential customer the idea of how it might fit into their business," he said.

Employ the rules of TV. There are some things that just work better on video. For example, black and white clothing doesn't show up well on camera, while blue and orange seem to suit everyone. Also, remember that you can always take high-quality video and scale it back, but you can't improve the quality of video once you've shot your case study.

Consider alternative distribution vehicles. While it's probably a given that you're going to post video case studies to your Web site and promote them via your e-mail or print advertising program, you shouldn't stop there, said Chris Sanborn, president of interactive agency Sanborn Media Factory. "Whenever you can live with something being posted publicly, you should consider putting it up on YouTube or your own MySpace page," he said. "We see some people using MySpace specifically because the site lets you create a customized space and leverage the tools needed to make a video viral."

24/7 Real Media's Smith said podcasts can also be a strong distribution vehicle.

Tie your video to other marketing and product materials. Once prospects view your video, they should have more information available to them if they want to learn more. Make sure videos are posted on pages that also have written case studies, product spec sheets and either a form or toll-free number so prospects can contact you directly. And include a call to action, Schroeder said. "You always want to lead them on to other marketing activities."

Don't forget ROI. The best video in the world is useless if no one sees it. ON24's Ryden suggests creating several URLs for each video case study so you can see which of your marketing methods brings in the most viewers. Also, make sure your video distribution platform lets you track not just how many clicks your video gets but how long each person sticks with each stream.

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