Online video provides a method for small businesses to attract the attention of potential buyers, provide more information about their products and demonstrate how they work. Most small businesses that begin using video start with a YouTube channel because of the huge number of potential viewers it attracts and its ability to present all of a company’s videos in a branded channel.

However, most businesses soon discover the limitations of YouTube—like the inability to customize the YouTube video player outside of YouTube “channel” pages. A new generation of branded video players is filling this gap by providing easily customized branding and clear calls to action that can be delivered on websites and social networks.

The Emergence of Online Video as a Marketing Tool

The ubiquity of online video is making this technology a compelling marketing tool. According to comScore, the average daily unique viewers of web video grew from 67.3 million in December 2009 to 88.6 million in December 2010. The average number of videos watched per viewer grew from 187 to 201 and average time spent watching increased from 12.7 to 14.2 hours over this same period.

An August 2010 report from comScore, noted that shoppers who watched video on online retail websites spent about two minutes more on those sites and were 64 percent more likely to buy compared to shoppers who did not watch video. It should come as no surprise, then, that The E-tailing Group’s “13th Annual Mystery Shopping Study” shows that use of online video on product pages among 100 leading retailers studied increased by 18 percent between Q4 2009 and Q4 2010. This was the biggest increase among all features studied.

Small companies are also rapidly increasing their use of online video. According to WebVisible, an online advertising Software-as-aService company, 19 percent of small business advertisers already used online video in Q4 2009, up from only 5 percent a year earlier and video is their fastest growing website feature. As small businesses begin to harness the power of online video, they typically begin by uploading their videos to YouTube. YouTube is the obvious place to begin an online video marketing effort because of its enormous popularity.

YouTube generates 2 billion views per day, making it the third most visited website according to Alexa, a company that whose products are meant to enhance Internet browsing. More than 24 hours of video is uploaded to YouTube every minute and the average visitor spends 15 minutes on the site per day. An example of the business use of YouTube is the “Will it Blend” series of videos which has generated 65 million views on YouTube and 120 million views on the while increasing helping to increase Blendtec blender sales by 700 percent.

Going Beyond a YouTube Channel

Most businesses begin their online video marketing efforts by posting videos on their own websites and establishing YouTube channels. A YouTube channel provides some basic branding because you can name the channel and change its appearance a bit. However, you can’t customize the YouTube video player for complete branding purposes outside of YouTube channel pages. Links to your website can be included in your channel profile but viewers spend nearly all of their time on YouTube watching videos and very little reading profiles.

This drawback becomes particularly evident when you embed a YouTube video into a social networking or blogging site. The user can click on the screen to view your video but has no easy way to get back to your site to get more information on your products.

Small business marketers can overcome these obstacles by extending their YouTube channels with customizable video players. A key advantage of a customizable player is that it can be branded with one or more links to your website. This makes it easy for you to direct viewers that are interested in your products to your website where they can obtain more detailed information and place orders.

You can also include your company name, logo, ad banner, etc. right on the video player. Some customizable video players also enable you to import YouTube videos so that users can click back to YouTube to find other content from your channel.

Designing a Custom Video Player

The latest custom online video players can be designed without new software or hardware, whether by editing code with platforms like BrightCove or with user-friendly drag-and-drop interfaces like Vitomy’s. The user begins can use any image or ready-made template to provide a shape or theme that is related to the brand message. Many custom video players can be created in any shape by uploading PNGs with transparent backgrounds as the video player’s background canvas.

Using a Custom Player in Social Networks

User-driven social networks, forums and blogs are the primary means by which Internet users interact. Your potential clients hang out in these virtual communities. Social network users love to share content, and their giving your videos a “like” helps promote your product in their personal and professional circles.

Customizable web players have huge advantages in this area. Once your video player is configured to your liking, you can embed it in your website and blog or share it with your network on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and other favorite social networking and social bookmarking sites. When you share video in your custom player, users who share that video will also share the player.

That means that wherever your content travels, it will include your branding as well as links back to your website. These links will increase the number of sales generated by your video content program. They will also increase your organic search position since search engines rely heavily on the quantity and quality of incoming links in ranking web sites.

Your branded video player increases the value of your video content by combining it with powerful imagery and a strong call to action that you can easily share on websites, blogs and social networks. Links in your video player to specific landing pages will increase the conversion rate of the traffic generated by your video. A tailored professional presentation of online video will help your website stand out from competitors’ sites within standard video players and encourage visitors to spend more time at your site.