The Case AGAINST Viral Video for Business and E-Commerce

The Case AGAINST Viral Video for Business and E-Commerce

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I interview Dr. BJ Fogg, Director of Stanford University’s Persuasive Technology Lab, on what insights he has to share on the opportunities and challenges with effective video in e-commerce.  Dr. Fogg also discusses (what I admittedly characterize) the problem mentality of basing success models for Internet video based on how “viral” they may go, rather than understanding the psychological models for changing visitors’ (or customers’) behavior.

BJ Fogg, Ph.D. is an experimental psychologist and Director of Stanford University’s Persuasive Technology Lab. Fortune Magazine recently listed him as one of “10 New Gurus You Should Know.” He was the keynote speaker at this the recent 2010 Video Commerce Summit sponsored by Liveclicker, and presented on how persuasive web design and Internet video play into human psychology and greatly affect consumer behavior.  The following is a transcript of our interview, mixed in with a few of BJ’s comments made during his presentation.

Grant: Explain to us about Stanford’s Persuasive Technology Lab, and what you guys are doing with online video.

BJ: When people hear the word “persuasion,” it has an unethical connotation when associated with business; but it hasn’t always been that way. Persuasion is not a dirty word. Persuasive design focuses on increasing motivation, increasing ability (simplicity), and triggering behavior. Persuasion is also a very valuable outcome you can achieve through video. Right now, Video is the most persuasive medium today, and will be in the future; And for mobile, it will eventually be more so.

My world at Stanford has blended technology with persuasion since 1993. The technology has changed and will continue to change. However the psychology part hasn’t changed. We humans haven’t changed for thousands and thousands of years.

Our lab’s all about helping people understand how to change behavior using technology, and providing tools for designers and brands, and so on, to succeed in changing behaviors. Video is one of the most persuasive channels we have ; and now with online video – just, wow! Everybody watches online video. There are so many ways you can integrate it. Video has become one of the most effective ways to motivate people towards certain behaviors. Video is a highly effective persuasion technology. But we still need to understand the psychology of human behavior. Our research lab’s website also has dozens of short videos showing how companies use the web today to influence people’s thoughts and behaviors.

Grant: Explain to our audience about your own behavioral chart you’ve designed and  titled the “Fogg Behavioral Model.” You created it like the familiar Periodic Table of Elements to help us understand, and comprehend the relations between, types of behaviors and how we become persuaded to act out those behaviors.

BJ: One of the tools that we’ve developed, and what we continue to expand and apply, is called the Behavior Grid (seen below). We’ve defined 15 different ways that human behavior can change. It does look like the Period Table of Elements. With that grid, each of the behaviors has a name, and you can see the relationship between each of the different behaviors. That means you can also start looking at techniques, such as using video, or mobile, or social networks; and using game mechanics, such as point systems and levels up; such as other kinds of social . You can use to figure out how to achieve those goals.

Part of what we have been doing is creating a more systematic, practical way of designing for behavior change; and you’re not just guessing, like throwing a dart at a dart board you can’t see. There’s now a map and a system you can follow.

Remember it’s not just about “buy”. It’s about understanding the different elements in his behavioral chart. What can you do with your brand, your company, and your video, to create a habit in users? You’ll need to think about it systematically.

Grant: What is one of the most exciting things you find right now with online video as it relates to e-commerce?

BJ: Wow – video! #1 thing for effective video in changing behaviors – it doesn’t have to be top-notch quality. It seems like if the quality is super-good, it might actually hurt it! Anybody can produce it, and you can do it fast. Authenticity matters – so if you mess up or stumble, it doesn’t necessarily have to be edited out. Also, if the video’s good, people will share it. It’s sort of like this cost-effectiveness, this low barrier to entry, and high impact. There’s nothing else with quite that mix of things.

Grant: What do you find to be one of the biggest challenges with understanding, trying to comprehend, user behavior and how businesses should take advantage of that with online video?

BJ: Probably the biggest challenge I’m seeing, when I work with brands or large organizations, is that they’re afraid to dive in. It’s not with video itself; it’s that they’re afraid of doing something and not having it be perfect. So you’re seeing the smaller, more nimble companies succeed (with video), or you’re seeing the more innovative companies . When I work with a brand, they say, “Oh, we can’t do that,” or “what if we make a mistake?” It’s frustrating. Not so much as video with a channel, but institutionalized calcification – just moving people forward.

Grant: In your presentation you talked about what are the motivators (to behavioral change). On one end of the spectrum was the negative of fear. A lot of people have excitement about video and are very excited about the opportunities; yet on that same level of excitement is people who are afraid of getting involved, because they don’t want to give up control – control of where it can spread and how it can be interpreted and affect them. Yet aren’t these realistic concerns that people and businesses should still have?

BJ: Yeah, certainly you could make a mistake. But the bigger mistake is not learning how to do it. It’s sort of like a company saying, “Oh, we don’t want to let our workers on the Internet because they might do something wrong.” 10 years later, every other company and everyone in your space has the advantage of being on the Internet, and you still don’t know how to do it. So there might be a learning curve, and they only way you get past that learning curve is to start.

Grant: Share with our audience the negative reaction you have about “viral videos.” I agree with you that the emphasis on viral videos has been way over-hyped and even downright misguided, simply because a video that goes viral doesn’t equate to a conversion (or any other objective other than views and buzz, which often doesn’t meet intended business goals). I’m interested to learn if you know of any studies that can provide a video’s “viral” success to the accomplishment of pre-determined business objectives, or any other actual business goals? Take for example right now, the viral popularity of the Old Spice Guy commercials. There’s a lot of views, a lot of sharing, and a lot of buzz around the Old Spice Internet videos, but we’re not seeing any data yet on if that buzz has actually translated to increased sales of the product.

BJ: There is this natural inclination in video . I don’t know either of any solid data that says this viral video about this product led to more sales. It may exist, but I haven’t seen it.

Did the viral videos for Old Spice help that business? It certainly has changed the brand perception. Yes, its clever and funny, but at the end of the day, there’s no evidence yet to show that those actually videos boosted sales…

Grant: What’s also ironic is other companies and organizations (even academic institutions like BYU), are mimicing the Old Spice videos, although they have never been shown to equate to any actual business success – not yet, at least. Does that type of impression (with viral videos) also heavily influence the students that you teach?

BJ: When I taught my first class at Stanford about persuasive online video, a lot of the students thought that was about viral videos. The very first 5 minutes of that class, I had to explain to the students that this was not a class about making the videos go viral. Later, I showcased some examples of the videos that received 1 million, 2 million, views online. I asked the class, so what behaviors did they change? Well, nothing? Then guess what – it wasn’t persuasive and it wasn’t effective. The millions of videos ended up not making any difference.

So at least for the people I work with and the students in this class, I tried to get them out of the mindset that it’s all about viral. Even if you reach a hundred people with the video, if that’s your target audience and you change their behavior, then you’ve succeeded better than if you reach a million people and you don’t change anybody’s behavior with the video.

Stay tuned for more of our interview with BJ Fogg, where we next cover his persuasive design tips for video in e-commerce.


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