ISSUES

There’s No Place Like Home

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One of the primary advantages of home shopping over other forms of direct response television is its sense of immediacy. With live broadcasts selling limited inventory at bargain prices, real-time TV shopping is able to spur compulsive purchase behavior in a way that infomercials simply can’t match. While program-length advertisers may claim their TV offers are exclusive or try to leverage tools of persuasion such as countdown clocks, today’s savvy consumer often recognizes such tactics for what they are: contrivances the marketer pulls like so many levers in a frantic, Oz-like effort to create an illusion of urgency.

 

And yet, as powerful as home shopping is, the gatekeepers determining what does and does not get on the air can be as stingy as that mustachioed guard keeping watch over entry to the Emerald City. With limited time periods and mounting pressure to deliver the highest possible revenue per second, home shopping’s Darwinian environment is an unforgiving one. Enter brandlive (www.yourbrandlive.com), an Oregon-based startup designed to level the playing field by giving every marketer his or her own platform with which to replicate a home-shopping environment, broadcast over the Web.

 

Here’s how it works: brandlive combines live video and chat to replicate the kind of consumer experience one might have via televised home shopping or even a retail store demonstration. Marketers can pitch and sell products in real time over the Internet at the time and place of their own choosing. The platform eliminates the need for a studio; the spiel can be performed from almost anywhere, at a cost determined by the buyer. On a B2B basis, brandlive can also be employed to train supply chain partners on the latest product benefits and features, and forego the time and expense it would take to travel to remote locales.

 

Several trends point to the viability of such a model, such as the prevalence of low-tech and user-generated content (UGC) that trades slickness for authenticity. In an era where everyone can be a broadcaster, it isn’t necessary for advertisers to exclusively mount professional-grade, in-studio productions. The key is that the information—the story—conveyed is compelling, and that the storytellers themselves are engaging. They can employ the technology to mirror a variety of video applications already common in the marketplace. For example, marketers might choose to do a CNET-type product review or demonstration instead of a traditional hard sell. Or they can mount their own version of a home-shopping pitch to introduce a new product or liquidate existing inventory.

 

The key is that the information conveyed is compelling, and the storytellers engaging.

 

In addition to creating near-term revenue based on whatever supplies the marketer has in stock, brandlive also offers the opportunity to glean consumer insights about what works and doesn’t work in the pitches and offers. The audience can ask questions in real time via brandlive’s chat interface, creating a two-way dialogue. Given the expense involved in variable-testing traditional TV advertising or employing a standard focus group, the platform represents an inexpensive and potentially revolutionary way to gather data on consumer preferences. This knowledge can then be leveraged across all marketing communications to increase ROI.

 

The key to brandlive’s success, however, will be attracting the critical mass necessary to fuel sales and consumer feedback at sufficient volumes to ensure that it is economically viable. Advertisers who have done a good job of amassing a tribe of brand enthusiasts stand the best chance of making it work. Certainly, if the offer and price are compelling enough, the platform and its adherents should be able to attract some of the social buzz that has helped fuel the success of flash-sale sites such as Fab.com, whose recent valuation reached a staggering $1 billion. As consumers decouple from broadcast networks’ assigned schedules in favor of content generated across multiple screens, brandlive occupies a valuable position in which any marketer can essentially create its own pop-up network, without the costly overhead.

 

Time will tell whether or not the Yellow Brick Road leading to the company’s rain-soaked Portland headquarters is paved with gold. But amid the sea change that threatens to swamp the direct marketing industry, brandlive might just be the sort of life raft that can help carry marketers to that gleaming place just over the horizon—the one where their products and brands shine with all the luster of the Emerald City itself.

 

 

Rick Petry is a freelance writer who specializes in direct marketing and is a past chairman of ERA. He can be reached at (503) 740-9065 or online at rickpetry.com and @thepetrydish on Twitter.