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Got screen culture? Why nanodocumentaries and mobile video are the brand-building standard for today’s retailers.
by : 

Sara Wiseman

May 1, 2012
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Standing at the counter while her transaction rings through, your customer works her smartphone like a video poker game.

“Flash sale two blocks down!” she squeals to her friend, and instantly, they’re both huddled over the palm-sized screen, oblivious to everything else around them. Even though they’re in the midst of your store, nothing matters except this tiny box of light held between them, emitting a new kind of information.

You’ve seen this scenario before, you think to yourself—except these customers aren’t age 12, pre-teen members of the electronically savvy new generation.

No, these customers are age 32, 42, 52. These are your customers. And if you want to reach them, you’re going to have to show up where they spend the bulk of their time: online … and increasingly, on mobile devices all kinds.

Media habits go visual—and mobile

Customers will no longer scroll through heaps of written words. Their first reaction to a still photo may be to “click” on it to see if it does something. They won’t be tied to their computer either—they’ll take their smartphone or tablet with them, thanks very much.

The way we search and use information has changed, too. Technology has rewired our brains so our attention spans are shorter, we want everything right now, and we prefer our information to be “chunked” (the N.L.P. term for creating bite-sized pieces of information that can be assimilated in an understandable way).

And mostly? We want to be entertained. We want to connect. We want to feel something. And those are all things that make video effective.

But my customers don’t watch video

Yes, they do. Unless your entire customer demographic is older baby boomers, chances are 100 percent that they are watching video regularly—probably daily.

So many times, I’ve talked to retailers who sheepishly admit that “we don’t have a website,” or “we need to update our website,” or “we don’t sell our products online.”

Ten years ago, these answers were plausible. But today, they just don’t fly … by 2012, if you’re not in the internet marketing game, you risk being left out at a level that you may never recoup.

Video is one of the fastest and potentially most affordable ways for you to get the word out about your products and services by posting videos on YouTube or embedding them in your store’s website.

As of this writing, YouTube is the current gold standard for video posting. It’s free, it’s active, and it’s where the whole world hopes to go viral. In fact, over 800 million unique users visit YouTube each month. In 2011 alone, the online video giant reported more than one trillion (yes, “trillion” with a “t”) views—nearly 140 for every person on Earth.

Like I said, it’s active, it’s free—and most people can figure out how to point, shoot, post, and tag with a very short learning curve, making it a great choice for simple interviews, product demos, and vlogs (video blogs).

Attract interest, build brand

You’ve probably heard the adage, “You have X number of seconds to keep someone on your site” (and “X” can be anywhere from 3 to 10, depending on who you’re talking to). Well, one way you can keep visitors on your site is by embedding a video on your home page. And once you’ve got their attention? Don’t bore ’em!

“Which would you watch? A video on recycling your glass bottles, or ‘America’s Funniest Cat’?” asks Jason Carter, co-owner of Wavelength Multimedia (, a Salem, Ore., business that, among other things, creates nano-, or mini-, documentaries for companies the world over. Co-owned by Silver Sorenson, the company is no newcomer to the biz: They’ve been making video since 1998 for a variety of industries, including businesses, non-profits, and music groups.

“People are so visual now, they expect you to provide video,” Carter explains. For one thing, video is a faster way of relaying information to your customer. “People will watch a three-minute video, rather than read a 10-minute article, or they’ll watch the movie rather than read the book.”

For instant brand building, Carter suggests hiring a pro and embedding a nanodocumentary on your home page. “Nanodocumentaries are a trend that’s just starting to peak—it’s an emotional documentary style of video that’s really compelling,” he says. “It’s shot in an interview style, but interlaces visuals, cutting to and from. This shorter style creates an emotional atmosphere, and the message is communicated in a way that lets you really connect with customers.”

As a rule, nandocumentaries are short—three minutes or less. “That’s a magic number for people’s attention span. If you do more than that, you are really asking a lot [for them] to stay engaged,” Carter says.

Nanodocumentaries help you communicate brand, and best of all, they let you take your brand everywhere your customer is—on the Web and on their mobile devices.

“The future is everything mobile,” notes Carter. “Statistically, more and more people get their daily content, read their news, and get their email online, and all forms of the smartphone are quickly taking the lead. As content builders for the internet, video is the technology … it’s where we need to be.”

Hire a pro or do it yourself

James Phillips and his sister Karen Phillips are co-owners of, an online store based in Boulder, Colo., that specializes in Zen home décor and Japanese-inspired living. Initially founded in 1994, the store started with a small retail location in Boulder, but went online only when the pair bought it.

The company started experimenting with video on its website as a way to increase sales a few years ago, and they learned lot in the process, James says. “The first time, I worked with a local videographer to produce our main kimono video. Our objective was to cross-sell, to give away free information; there’s so much background about the history of the kimono, what the styles and patterns mean, where they come from. It was a battle to keep it shorter!”

The video attracted customers right away and continues to do so today. “The video definitely helps to answer customer questions,” he says. “Kimonos are a consistent seller for us, and the video plays a big part—sales are good. It gets a lot of clicks.”

He’s planning on making more videos for his website, but this time, James says, he may simplify his approach and possibly do it himself. “Shooting the first video wasn’t cheap; it’s not a one-day expense. I amortized it out over three to four years, and tracked how many sales, how many people came to our store, and what they purchased,” he explains.

“Going forward, I’d do a simple product presentation. When you get into models … well, actors can be models, but models can’t be actors,” he laughs.

“Because the types of products we sell often have a history or background, they’re ideal for a product documentary. For this, you don’t need a model so much as a good narration. Someone can be holding a product or showing it, and the narration tells the story.”

Overall, Phillips feels video is the place to be. “To me the Web is where it’s at, and now it’s the mobile devices,” he notes. “We’re looking at different platforms, the mobile apps, and smartphones. Optimizing video and our website for that. Even for the brick-and-mortar store, you really want to have a Web presence, because it expands your base.”

Got video? Ten Questions to Consider

Ready to add video to your branding tool kit? Whether you’re hiring a videographer or doing it yourself, here are some questions to consider before you get started:

  1. What’s your core message? What do you want to say?
  2. Are you focusing on overall store brand or a few leading products?
  3. Will your format be documentary, nanodocumentary, or simple interview or demonstration?
  4. Where will you post it on your site? Home page? Product page?
  5. Will you post it on YouTube or other global sites?
  6. How many videos will you do? How frequently?
  7. How does your video connect emotionally with customers? What does it say about your brand?
  8. How will you track video clicks and sales?
  9. What new customer demographics will you attract? How will you track them?
  10. Is your video-embedded website optimized for mobile devices?

Three Reasons to Get Mobile Optimized

  • Eight out of 10 consumers research purchases online. While 42 percent research online and then buy online, 51 percent research online and then buy in-store.
  • Multi-channel consumers who receive information from more than one source (store, online, mobile, or catalog) prior to purchase spend 82 percent more per transaction than a customer who only shops in store.
  • Of the 40 percent of U.S. consumers who own smartphones, 70 percent use their smartphones while shopping in store.

Source: One of the world’s leading trend firms, sends out its free, monthly Trend Briefings to more than 160,000 subscribers worldwide.

Sara Wiseman is a branding expert and author of Writing the Divine, Your Psychic Child, and Becoming Your Best Self (July 2012). She is a contributor to DailyOm, hosts a radio show (“Ask Sara”), and has released four healing music CDs with her band Martyrs of Sound. For more information, visit