I recently interviewed REI’s Video Art Director, Jason Lohr-Johnson, who spoke on the “Lessons Learned and Best Practices in Automating Video Production” panel at the recent 2010 Video Commerce Summit in Seattle. Jason shared with me how his company is learning to balance their new automated video production tool with both product videos and personalized videos, the importance of balancing SEO benefits with expertise, and a few tips for how you can be more productive and produce better-quality video for e-commerce.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d-NozkWUUTM

E-Commerce Video At REI

REI (Recreational Equipment Inc.) is a privately-held American retail corporation organized as a consumers’ cooperative, selling outdoor recreation gear, sporting goods, and clothes via the Internet, catalogs, and over 100 stores in 27 states. Jason himself is a self-described “long-time employee of REI who learned to make video,” and helped the company move into video online over the last 4 years. According to Jason, REI switched over in April of this year using an automated video technology tool system from Talk Market, a computer/camera combination which helps his team of just 2 people (already with full workloads) produce 25 videos a day on average, and up to 40 videos a day. “That’s with a person talking about our product, with a relatively engaging video, by someone who actually knows what our product is about.” Says Jason.

“We’re working with not just feature-style product videos, which can be a lot more time consuming.” Says Jason. “We’ve been trying to work on some automation of product videos. Our new Talk Market tool allows us to work on some automation of the videos we shoot of our products. We want to shoot video in a somewhat more controlled manner, but still have the system automate the editing for us. It allows us to make a whole lot more video in a short period of time, with way less people involved in the production.”

Watch a video example of an REI on-model product video (no audio), and an REI spokesperson-with-product video. (Click the “Video” tab and then click the link to watch the video.)

Talk Market automated video production tool (bottom right of photo) in a product video shoot at the REI studio

REI’s Scalable Video Strategy: Automation With Customization

Grant – So where does large company like REI have a it’s own online video strategy on continuum of: On one end, you’ve got 10,000 products, and you need to do something that’s really dynamic and maybe use a computerized tool, but it doesn’t carry that feeling of personalization as much. Versus, a company that wants to make everything personalized and tailored, but it becomes really high in costs and not as much quantity produced?

Jason – On that continuum, REI’s interested in maintaining what we have as a brand differentiator. It’s showcasing in our video, expertise and authenticity. The people who work at our stores know about what we do, they know about the products that we well. Just using one of the totally automated versions of video production isn’t really going to do it for our customer. Re-stating what’s already available for people to read and see pictures of? That doesn’t really hit home with our customer as much as having someone who’s used the product, who knows about the product, who can explain that it in a video – that’s the type video that is going to be a lot better for our customer. For that, we need to use a type of video production automation, or streamlining, that lets us get those people in front of a camera and actually help tell the story that’s going to be helpful to our customer.

Balancing SEO With Authenticity And Expertise

Jason explained that REI was looking for a technology tool that would balance out the SEO benefits of automated video, but not sacrifice how they could showcase their brand differentiators to their audience. “If we used a different and faster system to produce more video, we might have gotten more SEO benefit from it. But we definitely want to show off our expertise with our spokespeople.” So what REI decided on was, on the product information page,  including the full text of the product name in the link to watch a product video, with the word “video” always included in the link. (E.g., “See Apex Elixir Jacket on Model video.”)

Looking Toward The Future Of Ecommerce Video

Grant – What’s one thing that’s gotten you really excited where online video is going in e-commerce?

Jason – I think in a general sense, video and e-commerce is really going to be about having more and more products available, but also how it’s being served up and getting out to all the different channels for delivery – like mobile devices,  the ability to have displays in stores. We’re just thinking about that stuff, and figuring how we’re going to move toward that. One of the more exciting things for us is where we’re going to deliver it in the future; and how people will be able to get information they want, plus when and where they want it. That seems to be one of the more exciting things for e-commerce in general

Tips For Doing Online Video For Your Retail Business

Grant – What are a few tips based on your own professional experience, you can share with our audience that is looking to get involved with video in e-commerce?

Jason – Just get started! Really, it’s important to move forward. Even if something is not as polished as you want it, get started.

But before you start shooting anything, you should prepare – do some preparation work to reduce production time. That also includes when you’re actually doing production work. Give the person on-camera (who has something to say) time practice what they’re going to say before they say it. It saves a lot of time with both production and post-production if your talent is rehearsed and can do the video in a single take or fewer takes.

One of the things to pay particular attention to in the very beginning, is make sure your have good sound in your video. Make sure people can hear what you’re saying, and what you’re talking about with the product. The visuals are not as big of a deal. If you can just clearly hear what someone is saying, it’s going to make the video all the more watchable. Some of the most popular videos we have on REI are the how-to videos I shot a few years back. The lighting and camera angles are terrible, but the

Grant – In your presentation you mentioned a quote from a social media maven, who said the first time you ever release something, if you’re not embarrassed by it, then you started way too late? (Laughs.) I would say maybe you shouldn’t be so much embarrassed, because your own standards might be higher than others. But I would add that you get some feedback first, show it to other people before you put it out to everyone?

Jason – Yeah. So prepare, get started, be open to feedback, and then learn from all of it so you can make your video better.