Content Sells Content
The setting in which the benefit of rich content seems least ambiguous is where the content itself is the product that is being sold. Last fall, for example, YouTube introduced its Click-to-Buy program, in which links to online retailers such as Amazon and Apple's iTunes store are overlaid at the bottom of videos that are in some way related to content (movies, songs, games, etc.) or other merchandise that is available for purchase.
"In some cases," says Aaron Zamost, a YouTube spokesperson for Google's corporate communications department, "YouTube receives a small fee if a user completes a purchase, while in other cases YouTube receives nothing."
"We've seen several examples in which Click-to-Buy had a large impact on sales for YouTube partners," Zamost adds. Monty Python's Flying Circus, for instance, launched its own YouTube channel in November 2008, with Click-to-Buy links inserted at the foot of each clip. As a result, YouTube says, Monty Python DVDs climbed to No. 2 on Amazon's Movies & TV Bestsellers list, with increased sales of 23,000%.
Click-to-Buy can be applied even when the poster of a video uses a given piece of content without authorization. In July 2009, for example, YouTube's content management tools identified the Chris Brown song "Forever" in the soundtrack of a popular wedding video that had received 10 million views in less than 1 week. Click-to-Buy links were overlaid to allow the song's owners to benefit from the video's popularity. The result, YouTube says, is that the song climbed to nearly the top of iTunes' singles chart and Amazon's best-selling MP3 list.
While features such as Click-to-Buy can provide bottom-line evidence of rich content's efficacy in merchandising items directly related to the content itself, more sophisticated metrics may be required to establish the most effective ways to use rich media in other contexts. Veeple's system, for example, provides customers with analytics that detail how viewers are interacting with their Veeple videos, including views, locations, and click-through rates (CTRs). "By adding interactive analytics into an online video," Veeple's Greene says, "we can measure the exact points of interactivity at which customers tend to engage. Having that real-time information will be invaluable for marketers."
Digital Content Commitment
However effective rich media may be in the various contexts in which it is used, it clearly involves a serious commitment that can force organizations to consider how far they want to go in modifying their approach to the production and management of their content. "One of the major challenges in changing the mindset of traditional marketers is to get them to shift some of their offline marketing dollars to online channels," says Perry. "And the initial investment of producing a video is normally the hardest sell."
Whether video, animation, or game design, the expense of rich content production involves not only the sum of all individual production activities, but also the effective management of the content produced. "Creating a rich experience," Eckler says, "requires the use and reuse of a great deal more content assets than ever before.It's critical to find a cost-effective platform that enables existing content to be repurposed quickly and efficiently and that provides the most flexibility to scale to meet demand."
It's also critical that the content live up to the increasingly high expectations of today's web user. "Rich media cannot make up for deficiencies in the original source material," Wingo says, "There is nothing that zoom media or a stylish interface can do to dress up product photos shot with bad lighting or poor composition."
Rich content also cannot justify web design that sacrifices usability for bells and whistles. "The problems with rich media sites arise when users aren't taken into account," Huebscher says. "We've all seen navigation systems that are virtually unusable, long loading times, annoying flash intros, and sites that force users to upgrade or install software."
That said, Huebscher is nonetheless bullish about the benefits of rich content. "If used correctly," he says, "rich media will always be effective at driving sales. When you have a story to tell, you are going to use the best means possible to tell it, and that means looking at all the technologies available, including video, Flash, HTML, or a combination of everything."