E-Commerce Marketers Are All Programming Executives Now

What were you doing in 2006?

It doesn’t seem like that long ago, but it was a lifetime ago for online video. YouTube had just recently been sold to Google. Its monetization strategy was nonexistent. The general consensus was that it was significantly overvalued (now, it seems like a bargain – the $1.65B acquisition brings in $1B in revenue annually). In the wake of YouTube’s acquisition, a number of other video competitors reinvented themselves to stay relevant: Brightcove and Ooyala started building custom players, and Joost ramped up their original content (before flaming out in 2009).

Back in 2006, Marc Cuban wrote about how online content was still figuring itself out. A lot of people were creating a lot of content – videos, podcasts, and blogs – all for free. And everyone was trying to figure out how to get paid for making great content. He said that the best stuff would increasingly get paid for. His argument has pretty much come true, as Peter Kim confirms by looking at the landscape of content production today. Reliable, consistent content production has moved away from the free portals, and behind paywalls, login screens, and membership-only access.

In this context, great content is the biggest barrier to scaling production of your online video presence. There are new services designed to create a large volume of low-cost video content quickly, and these services will continue to become more sophisticated. As the amount of online video continues to grow, the challenge only gets bigger. Standing out from the crowd becomes a full-time job.

But, here is where online retailers and other e-commerce portals have an advantage over every-day video producers on YouTube and other video sites: e-commerce has a built-in audience that visits your site already. They are browsing, searching, and stumbling onto product pages already. Keeping them on site with engaging video content is a natural opportunity to deepen engagement and purchase intent.

In this way, online retailers are becoming their own programming executives. Marketing departments can create their own engaging content, can promote it where they already have traffic, and can use video to drive sales. But, of course, marketing executives have never trained to be programming executives. So this just increases the complexity of the marketing organization.

In many ways, this new reality is a return to the original days of television. In the late 30s, the Texaco Star Theater started broadcasting “America’s #1 Television Star” Milton Berle. The variety show was heavily underwritten by Texaco. Here’s the introduction to the show; note how long the product sponsorship jingle is at the very top of the show:

This type of tightly integrated sponsorship went out of style as television creatives built stronger barriers between the entertainment and the advertising. When the sitcom arrived in the 1950s, the 30-second spot became the standard. Throughout the second half of the 20th century, advertising content continued to expand, increasing from 12 minutes per hour to the current 20 minutes per hour.

With the rise of the internet, and the proliferation of entertainment choices, marketers had to work harder to break through the clutter. That lead to the increase in product placement in popular entertainment. But, since that important year of 2006, we have seen an entirely new infrastructure for content creation. Falling prices of equipment, better technology for distribution, and increased comfort with the medium of video has combined to allow marketers to go direct to the customer with their message.

Clearly, the ability of marketers to use video has increased. What remains to be seen is which marketers will be able to create compelling content that keeps audiences engaged, and grows the fan base of the brand.

So, the role of e-commerce marketers continues to grow increasingly complex. In addition to a strong analytics background, technology credibility, and focus on the top and bottom line, marketers increasingly have to be effective storytellers. In order to create engaging content, marketers will need to wear still one more hat. But, just remember that we’ve been there before, and take a lesson from Milton Berle: getting your audience to tune in next time is half the battle.

Do you feel pulled in many directions working with online video? Please let me know about your own experiences in the comments.

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