Why I Hate Boring Video: Interview with Vat19’s Jamie Salvatori
I recently spoke with Jamie Salvatori, founder and owner of Vat19, about his company’s comprehensive video program. Vat19 is an established e-commerce retailer that sells unique and unusual gift items.
In this interview, Jamie talks about Vat19’s approach to video and shares his tips on building a successful video program.
INTERVIEW WITH JAMIE SALVATORI
Amanda Dhalla: Please tell our readers a little about Vat19. What types of products do you sell?
Jamie Salvatori: Vat19 is an online gift store, and we try to find unique items that are fun and functional. We sell a wide variety of products, among the most popular are our oversize gummy items: our five-pound gummy bear, three-pound gummy worm and various others. We have a mug that turns every drink into a Slushee and a putty called Magnetic Thinking Putty with embedded magnets that is really cool. Essentially, we offer a wide variety of gifts for those that are very hard to shop for, 413 master products in all.
Amanda Dhalla: I read on Practical eCommerce a few months back that you create videos for every product that you sell – is it true? How many products?
Jamie Salvatori: We are trying to create a video for every product that we sell but haven’t quite reached that goal. Right now, we probably have just over 400 videos. Since there are products that we’ve had to retire over the years, about 60 of our 413 products don’t have videos yet. We won’t hit that this year because it takes a long time to make these videos. Our goal is to create about 100 videos a year, but since we probably add 100 products to the website each year, we’re a little behind.
Sometimes I think that we have this e-commerce website just so we can make videos all day long. We started out as a video production company for hire, making local commercials and employee training videos for the St. Louis area. Those videos were so boring; it’s just so much fun that we can now be in full creative control.
Amanda Dhalla: I also noticed that you have not just one, but two channels on YouTube. Tell our readers about the second channel.
Jamie Salvatori: Anything that’s related goes on the second channel with the primary channel dedicated to the product videos:
- It’s becoming somewhat of a common practice on YouTube to show ‘making of’ or blooper-type videos. We decided that we had some cool bloopers that we could show so we included them in the second channel.
- We have a video newsletter talking about what’s new that also goes on the second channel. We’ve done 6 episodes so far that are pretty simple, essentially just me just talking to the camera explaining the new products that we’ve added to the site, the new videos etc.
- And for BuckyBalls, we made a regular video and some additional videos showing how to make the products shown in the regular video. Those additional videos are on the second channel.
Jamie Salvatori: We wanted to do something that was fun. I said earlier that we started out as a video production company for hire. Most of the time, clients wanted boring video completely devoid of creativity. Just a talking head. At Vat19 we wanted to have fun videos, because I truly believe that if you can make someone laugh you can sell them something. We’ve all had that experience in a store, where the salesperson is funny, entertaining and informative and you want to buy from them. The Das Beer Boot music video is definitely one of my favorites.
Amanda Dhalla: How long did it take to put together from start to finish?
Jamie Salvatori: We came up with the concept of a guy eating all this food from the glass, and in about a week’s time the team came up with the German character. In another week they had the song completed, and it took about 3 weeks from there to finish the video. All together it was about 1.5 months from start to finish. You can’t find the stuff that guy’s wearing at JCPenney, and we did some custom work on the lederhosen. Plus, I had to go to Sam’s Club and buy 100 eggs.
Amanda Dhalla: Do you make your videos yourselves, or do you use an outside video production company?
Jamie Salvatori: We do them ourselves. Including myself, there are four of us. Almost the whole team is in the Parking Ticket Booklets video.
If we had had to hire an outside team, so many people would be involved that a weird concept like that would never have been made. In my experience, in those situations you try to consensus build. The safest idea makes it through, not the best idea. The safest idea is the lowest common denominator idea. We want to do what we want to do and fortunately can just go out and get it done. I mean in this case, we had to go to a couple of different parking lots and we’re posing with the cars. It’s out there.
Amanda Dhalla: How important is video to Vat19’s marketing and merchandising efforts?
Jamie Salvatori: It’s essential to our marketing and merchandising. Marketing is all about differentiating yourself from your competitors. Other people are selling the same products that we are so we NEED to be different. There are many ways you can do that – through service, shipping etc. Video is a key way that we do it. In a video, you can really show people what they are going to get, and so we have an extremely low return rate.
Amanda Dhalla: How about video SEO: crucial or nice-to-have?
Jamie Salvatori: Your video tags and description allow your video to show up in the search results of major video platforms like YouTube. You want your video to be relevant to what the person has searched for. It can be tempting to tag your video with something that is popular, but you should be accurate about what the content is about. So I think video SEO is crucial because that’s how people find your content. Also, make sure that your videos have a unique tag that is common to all your videos so that the next one starts playing automatically.
Amanda Dhalla: How do you measure success – what are the key metrics you track?
Jamie Salvatori: Since we’re an online store, for us success is how many orders we get. The number of subscribers and views give you an idea of how many people are enjoying your videos, but they can’t be goals in themselves. You can look at your Google Analytics to see how well video is driving traffic to your site. Subscribers can give you an idea if you’re moving in the right direction, but you have to have sales.
Amanda Dhalla: Have you done any A/B testing with your videos? Can you give some examples of the types of testing that you do and their impact on the bottom line?
Jamie Salvatori: We’ve never done a true A/B test, but what I can tell you is that we often have products for sale without videos at the start. I’ve always seen an increase in the conversion rate when we’ve added the product video afterwards.
As I mentioned earlier, we added video to our newsletters this year. When we changed to a video format our email click through nearly doubled from 2,000-2,800 to 4,000-4,500. People see the image in the email that looks like a video and just have to click on it. And the video plays on our website, not within YouTube, which is important.
E-newsletter without video:
E-newsletter with video:
Amanda Dhalla: How important is video quality to success? Is just having video enough to generate sales?
Jamie Salvatori: Just like grammatically incorrect copy, crappy video can harm your brand. If your lighting and sound are terrible, it looks like you didn’t put in any effort. What does that say about your company? Would you buy from a company that doesn’t care?
Quality doesn’t come from using a fancy camera and microphone anyway, but from the content of the video itself. You need to ask yourself whether you really need a celebrity, or if you would get more bang for your buck by being more creative. Look at the number of products that you sell and your margins, and invest your time and energy in defining the concept of your videos. Where can your creativity show through? That’s where quality really comes into play.
Everything begins with the script. You wouldn’t start building a house by buying a bunch of nice materials. You need a plan, a concept. If you don’t know what you’re doing there, then your video is going to suck. So if you can’t do it, then find someone who can. Don’t start with the lighting. Start with what you are trying to accomplish. Before you start the camera rolling, you should know in your mind what the final video will look like. Unfortunately, a lot of the tips out there are about doing the same thing: putting a person in front of a white background. If you haven’t come up with your script, plan and concept yet, don’t buy any fancy equipment. Know what the finished product is going to look like in advance.
Amanda Dhalla: Any final words of advice for our readers just starting out developing their video programs?
Jamie Salvatori: My number one tip: Go out and educate yourself in what’s involved in creating a video. Even if it’s not something that you’re going to be doing yourself, you’ll know the skillsets involved and the roles so you can effectively manage the program. Get proper training.
Just because you can go and make a video, doesn’t mean that you should. Like web programming, video is a skill that you need to learn, though the barrier to entry is a little lower. Don’t put up something that looks awful. If you’re trying to sell a nice product, you need a nice product image and a nice video. Why would you put up a bad video? Get yourself trained or find someone who is trained. I can’t stress that enough or you’ll be insulting the viewer.