July 19, 2005
Case Study

Video Spokesmodel Lifts Ecommerce Conversions 78%: A/B Test Results

SUMMARY: Marketing and site design teams for most ecommerce sites are meeting this month to spec out plans for holiday season 2005. Here's a new Case Study to inspire you if you're in one of those meetings yourself. This spring DiscoveryStore.com ran a series of A/B tests to see if streaming a video spokesperson on their home page would annoy visitors or make them want to buy more. Here's your handy outline of how the test campaigns worked and top lessons learned (plus creative samples of course!).
CHALLENGE Even a so-called "minor" holiday such as Father's Day can lift ecommerce sales. That's the good news.

The bad news is everyone knows it, and competition has grown fierce even for the off-season holidays. Your cost is higher to drive traffic as search click costs go up while email responses go down (due to a holiday glut of offers in the inbox).

The eretail team for The Discovery Channel's online store DiscoveryStore.com wanted to beat the clutter and lift off-season holiday sales. Normally they run themed specials such as their "Gear up and save" home page HTML banners going on during the Tour de France.

But as online ecommerce producer Kathy Greif explains, this year the team wanted to test rich media in addition to standard promos. If the test failed, it wouldn't be a big miss, but if it succeeded, they'd have a powerful new tool to wield during the main holiday season later in the year.

CAMPAIGN Marketing intuition is not always right. Even if you think it's a can't lose promo idea, you can lose. So, the team decided to run an a/b test rather than throwing their rich media promo at all incoming visitors.

The big idea: For Mother's Day 2005 half of the site's home page visitors saw a video image of a woman who spoke briefly about the site's Mother's Day specials. (Link below to creative sample.) The other half of visitors just saw the traditional HTML ad on the home page itself featuring Mother's Day offers.

Five specifics that made the campaign work:

-> #1. Pick a model that reflects the demographic

The model was a 30-something dark blonde woman wearing a pink sweater set and chinos who looked like what you'd expect a middle-class mom to look like. "We wanted her to represent our typical customer," explains Greif. Greif had considered using a male spokesman for Mother's Day (presumably because men are shopping for their wives) "but in filming, we liked it the other way, representing the person you're buying for. So if you think a dad is coming to the site to shop for Mother's Day he sees a woman who represents the woman for whom he's buying."

-> #2. Avoid downloading or pressing "play"

Greif knew she wanted a quick, simple message, without any downloading required. She also didn't want a pop-up.

Instead, the rich media video played on top of existing static HTML content. Two seconds after a new visitor arrived at the site, the video began playing automatically. If a visitor passed the cursor over the video, he or she could mute the sound or stop it from playing.

-> #3. Use a short script, limited motion

The script: "Hi. Welcome to the Discovery Channel Store. Mother's Day is right around the corner. Click on me for great gift ideas for Mom."

During creative development, Greif's team tried a couple of variations on the video; in one, the character was raising her hand as she appeared on-screen from the bottom of the browser. "But we wanted a simpler scenario. The character's voice is mellow, not too excitable, but with spunk."

When she said "Click on me," she pointed toward herself, then dropped her hands to her midsection. After reciting the welcome, the image remained on the screen, "smiling, so people would know to click on her," says Greif. (Note: We can't help but wonder how adult Web site marketers could use this click on me capability.)

-> #4. Limit number of showings per visitor

Because online shoppers tend to return again and again to a site, Greif didn't want to annoy visitors with the same video multiple times. On the other hand, she wanted to maximize the video's effectiveness. The video was shown only once every 24 hours to repeat visitors.

-> #5. Reinforce promotion on landing page

The home page also included an HTML static banner of the spokesmodel to reinforce the message even after the video was over.

Visitors who clicked on the video or the HTML image were directed to an existing subcategory: Bestsellers for Mom. There, Greif's team included a banner that repeated the image of the character from the video to ensure that visitors knew they had arrived at the right page.

The test campaign ran for two and a half weeks (17 days) just before and during Mother's Day 2005. Greif wasn't at all convinced it would be a winner.

RESULTS "We were concerned the video could detract from other promotions on the home page, but the combination of static imagery and interactive video proved to be a successful pairing,” says Greif.

Of the visitors who saw the video, 48% watched it through to the end and 7% clicked through to the landing page for best-selling Mother's Day gifts.

Sales from those who clicked on the the video were 78% higher than sales from visitors who didn't. In addition, Greif notes, "Overall sales on the home page with the video were over 30% higher than overall sales from the home page without the video."

However, conversions were terrible (around .2%) for video viewers who next clicked on the static HTML image of the spokesmodel. Greif says, "We determined it was likely those visitors were looking to replay the video" instead of traveling to another page on the site.

Final test results were strong enough that DiscoveryStore.com ran a similar campaign for Father's Day -- only with a male spokesmodel. And, instead of testing, they rolled the campaign out to all visitors. This promotion got "about a 600% ROI," says Greif.

She adds, "We felt the campaign was quite successful. For Mother's Day, the video itself wasn't terribly lucrative (for Father's Day it was more so), but the combination of elements proved to add sales value."

One final lesson -- Greif's team had wondered how the video would affect home page abandonment rates. The A/B test showed that abandonment rate was equal for both the visitors who saw the Mother's Day video and those who didn't. At least the video didn't annoy folks so much that they left.

Now, of course, we're wondering how the stats will vary for holiday season 2005 when we expect more sites to roll out the tests. The battle of dueling spokesmodels has begun.

Useful links related to this article

Creative samples from both campaigns: http://www.marketingsherpa.com/discoverystore/study.html

Past MarketingSherpa article, 'SPECIAL: Using Talking Heads in Your Online Ads - Test Results, Creative Tips & Useful Links': http://library.marketingsherpa.com/sample.cfm?contentID=2588

Rovion Inc - The rich media vendor DiscoveryStore.com used to create and host their spokesmodel videos: http://www.rovion.com

DiscoveryStore.com: http://www.discoverystore.com

Note: DiscoveryStore.com is a member of Shop.org, a forum for retailing online executives to share information, lessons learned, new perspectives, insights, and intelligence. More info at http://www.shop.org

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