“Real World” How-To and Instructional Videos for Retail and E-Commerce

Jon Schroeder - Crutchfield ElectronicsIn our continued “how-to” series on creating product videos in retail and e-commerce, I interviewed Jon Schroeder, Video Director and Editor for Crutchfield Electronics. Jon shared with us about Crutchfield’s own formula for effective ROI and customer relationships with how-to videos, as well as some tips for what other retail and e-commerce businesses can be doing with instructional videos today. (To read more about why I think how-to videos are effective for retailers and brands, and for some tips on creating them, you can read my previous article, “How-To” Product Videos Tips for Every E-Commerce Business.)

Crutchfield Electronics, one of the nation’s leading catalog and internet retailers of consumer electronics (with specialties in audio and video gear), remains an excellent example of marketing with video that other e-commerce businesses should follow. They recently won BizRate’s Circle of Excellence Platinum Award for the 12th time (for the online retailer to do so), and their product and instructional videos (aka, “how-to” videos) total in the millions of views across the social media space and their website.

Last November, I first interviewed Jon about Crutchfield’s video strategy with customer-centric video conversations. In it, I discovered how they utilized helpful how-to videos featuring their product line, and conversations with their own customers (featuring Crutchfield’s product specialists and customer service people, aka, “Advisors,”) for better customer relationships. Jon said that Crutchfield now has about 125 instructional videos live on their site, their CrutchfieldTV YouTube Channel, and on their Facebook site.

Creating how-to videos with a ‘real world’ feel

Last year, Jon shared with me that his plans for Crutchfield included producing more of what he calls “real-life” type videos.  “Where we’re actually out ‘in the wild,’ solving a problem or examining someone’s [electronics device] – say, their car stereo, and getting away from our studio; having more of a real-life documentary feel to our videos,” he said. “Even though we have a green screen, we’re getting around to doing more videos in the real world.”

I asked Jon to pick two real-world how-to / instructional video examples: One that is the most popular, and one that he’s particularly proud of:

Most popular: For a recent video, Jon says one of their most popular is How to Install a Car Stereo. “It’s a video that consistently gets thousands of hits on our site each week,” says Jon.

Best quality: Installing a Steering Wheel Audio Control Adapter is a video Jon is particular proud of because of, “how smoothly the information is conveyed, considering how complex the subject matter is,” he says.

Balancing information and entertainment with how-to videos

“We’re still on a quest to find a perfect balance between being informative and being engaging in our instructional videos.” says Jon. “If our videos are filled with too much techno-jargon, they are akin to a book report, which don’t attract many viewers. So what we do is feature our own talent (i.e., staff), using their own voice, to make the videos engaging. We find we get the most natural voice from our talent when we have them improvise their lines, rather than read a script. We’re also working to find a balance between production value and efficiency.”

“We want our videos to have a professional feel, but we don’t want to toil on them for so long that we limit our total video output.  Even instructional videos aren’t evergreen, so we want to give them respect and have them look good, but not invest hours and hours on them, since they’ll need to be replaced sooner or later.  That’s been the biggest lesson for us this year, that all of our videos are transient by nature, so it’s best to make them quickly and efficiently.”

Updating How-To videos with a built-in audience

On the Crutchfield YouTube Channel, their “LCD vs. Plasma TVs” is a video which has done very well for them on YouTube, in terms of total views and generating lots of comments, as well as How to Wall Mount a TV (with 340,000 views to date). “We recently created a new version of the wall mount video to account for new mounting hardware that didn’t exist less than two years ago. I’m confident that it will be just as well received as its predecessor.” said Jon.

The 2008 version…


And the newer October 2011 version…

Behind the scenes with Crutchfield: The making of a how-to (instructional) video

“I work a great team of internal video producers who are all also writers for our website and catalog, so they have the product expertise that shines through in our videos.” says Jon. “They’ll work to recruit one of our sales advisors to become the talent for a particular video, or sometimes the writers themselves will host the video.”

“On shoot day, we’ll simply create a relaxed environment for our talent to demonstrate the topic at hand, and in their own words. Sometimes we’ll go back and add additional voice over that clearly breaks down what our talent is demonstrating after the rough cut is put together.  We’ll shoot inside or outside, in a studio, or in someone’s home or car depending what the subject matter is.  We discovered about a year ago that limiting ourselves to just one shooting location didn’t do our videos justice.”

Getting customers involved with your how-to videos

Jon said that many of the how-to videos they produce come from getting customers and potential customers involved by answering any and all of the questions they post on our site, on Facebook, or on YouTube. “We have an entire team of product experts ready to pounce on any questions that pop up pursuant to our videos.” he said.  “We answer the questions warmly and in a personalized way, and we usually extend an invitation for the customer to call us to chat more about the subject.  When we see the same question pop up repeatedly, we’ll even create a video response that will help clear things up for our viewers.  Those video responses tend to attract a ton of views for us on YouTube.”

Measuring ROI with how-to videos

Jon says that financial ROI for instructional videos is hard to track because there’s not a one-video-to-one product relationship, and that makes determining a value difficult. “Our instructional videos live on many different product pages, so it’s hard to make the suggestion that they’re pushing the conversion needle as clearly as some of our ‘product spotlight’ videos do, which instead live only on their appropriate product page,” he said..

Despite the challenges with specific financial ROI measurement, Jon mentioned that Crutchfield’s audience metrics have proven that their videos have definitely increased purchases. “Our analytics have proven that when a potential customer watches any video, be it instructional or otherwise, they are more likely to make a purchase on our site,” he said.

Jon also says that the Social ROI is huge for instructional videos. “Our view counts show us that they’re heavily viewed on our site and on social networks. Since they tend to attract so many viewers, they act as a calling card for our brand.  We want people to have a similar experience when they watch our instructional videos as they’ll have when they talk to one of our sales advisors on the phone.” he said.  (Crutchfield uses the Liveclicker Video Commerce Platform to mange, distribute, and report on their video program.)

3 Tips for Doing How-to Videos for Your Own Business

Tip #1: Be authentic to your company’s brand.

“That is, be honest to your brand; and when things are drifting away from your brand’s identity during a shoot, don’t be afraid to turn off the camera and refocus your approach.” said Jon. “Instructional videos will act like a calling card for your company’s brand, so they’ll need to be authentic; and when you start to produce a lot of them, they’ll have to be congruent. You’ll want to set up an expectation for your viewers that they’ll know what to expect when they watch one of your videos – in the same way they’ll develop a familiarity for your brand when they’re on your site, or walking in your isles.”

Tip #2: Make them as easy as possible for people to find.

“In addition to having these videos on your site (and in multiple places on your site), you should post them on YouTube and Facebook, utilize QR codes in your printed materials to gain higher viewership; and when new videos are created, alert as many people as you can using email blasts and Twitter, and now Google+.” said Jon.

Tip #3: Balance speed of production with value of production.

“There’s always something new around the corner, so you’ll want to have an instructional video that’s relevant to viewers for as long as possible. But in order to do so, you’ll need to put it together quickly, and be ready to recreate the video as soon as it becomes outdated.” said Jon. (See the “How to Wall Mount a TV” video example above.)

“Sometimes balancing the speed of video production will come at the expense of the finest production standards, but what we’ve found is that our viewers are accepting of videos that are a tad rough around the edges.  In fact, our analytics have shown us that our videos perform just as well, if not better than, videos that some of our vendors produce (that have astronomically high production budgets), in terms of boosting conversion.  So be wary of making videos that are too slick and too time consuming, because these instructional videos aren’t about showing off your artistic prowess behind the camera or in the edit bay, they’re about supplying your customers with the info they want in a style they’ve grown to expect.”