YouTube opened a new conduit through which marketers could reach consumers but what they created wasn't just a new video distribution channel like some alternate form of television. They've gone beyond simply offering a different technology for message transmission. YouTube allows marketers to harness the consumer base itself as part of a modern strategy. The once passive receivers of television and radio advertisements have, through YouTube, become part of the salesforce. Private citizens like Lon Seidman, creator of the “Lon Reviews Tech” YouTube channel now volunteer to promote corporate products by creating their own “unboxing” videos or detailed reviews. This is a win-win situation for both the corporate marketer and the private reviewer. The company receives (mostly) free advertising while the private YouTube producer receives ad revenue indexed to viewer volume.
YouTube-based product reviewers like Lon Seidman are the beneficiaries of two of the three guidelines recommended for organizations that want to create successful YouTube marketing strategies: (1) build an engaged community, and (2) get brand placement with prominent YouTube personalities. The third guideline is to create viral video content which is an essentially unachievable goal. (For a complete explanation of why, see Grace Helbig’s definitive guide to creating viral video. )
Seidman has a demonstrably engaged community. He has a large list of subscribers, some of whom directly contribute money to his channel, and he has a relationship with various product manufacturers who want to harness his YouTube fame for their own purposes. Seidman is an influencer who can help manufacturers reach a larger audience than if they operated alone. Sideman solidifies his influencer status by making it clear at the beginning of each of his product review videos that his reviews are not compensated by the manufacturer of the product. They may make a demonstration model of the product available to him free of charge, but they do not require a quid pro quo. He states that no one approves his reviews before they’re posted. He maintains his independence and by doing so, lets his viewers know that they can trust him to make an unbiased evaluation.
By some estimates, website visitors who take the time to watch a product demonstration or review video are 64% more likely to buy the product being featured. Why do private product review videos increase product sales so dramatically? Why are they more effective than conventional advertising? First, there’s an “everyman” quality about them. You don’t get the feeling that you’re watching slick marketing designed to conceal the product’s flaws. Instead, you feel as though you’re getting the full story about the product, warts and all. If the reviewer likes some feature, they say so. They may even get excited about it. If they see something that could be improved, they’ll mention that too. It seems as though manufacturers are willing to live with an honest evaluation even if it doesn’t yield a 100% fault-free review. For the reviewer to be perceived as trustworthy, that excitement has to seem authentic. That authenticity even extends to the environment in which the reviewer is staging their video. In Lon Seidman’s case, he’s obviously filming in his own home in an ordinary room. The fact that we can see this builds his credibility. He’s just like you and me. He’s not a slick shill.
Seeing leads to imagining
The second reason that these product review videos are successful is that they grab the viewer’s attention in a way that a dry recitation of product features can’t. As I watched Seidman’s review an Internet-enabled doorbell, I found myself thinking this might be a product I’d want to buy. Seeing the product in action with all of its features fully explained grabbed me in a way that a catalog listing wouldn’t. There’s a qualitative difference between seeing a photo and a text description and seeing the product being used. Watching the demonstration, I began imagining how the doorbell could be used in my own home. The important phrase there is “I began imagining.” A mental process was kicked off by the video that wouldn’t have started if I had simply seen the product listed on a static webpage. I’m reminded of the creation story of Blendtec’s innovative “Will it Blend?” video series. Blendtec was one of the first companies to make the connection between making a great product and using online video to show customers exactly why it was great. Even though they were blending preposterous items, customers could imagine how well the blender would work on food in their own kitchen.
Seidman solidifies his community further by giving them “shout outs” at the end of his review videos. If you give money, you get mentioned by Seidman. Within a community, there’s nothing better than receiving public recognition for being an esteemed member of the tribe. If you see another tribe member recognized in this way, you just might be compelled to secure the same type of group fame.