technology

How to Shoot Professional Quality Videos with a Smartphone

When dealerships first start their video marketing programs, one of the most common questions I am asked is, “Will I have to buy an expensive camera?” The answer is no. Just about everyone these days has a smartphone that can shoot HD video. When used properly, the quality of video produced can be exceptional. All it takes is practice.

Most dealers start with inventory walkaround videos and these are probably the trickiest videos to shoot, so that’s what we’ll focus on here.

First, to ensure a good high-resolution (and non-pixelated) video, adjust your camera setting to record video at 1920 x 1080 and 30 frames per second (fps), unless you plan to extract your still images for the inventory from the video.  In that case you may want to utilize 60 frames per second (fps).

Next, invest in a stabilizer. Most smartphones have a pretty good stabilizer built into them today, but they will only make a good video better. This is the merchandising layer for your inventory that most shoppers are going to view, so invest in the tools that you need to provide the best experience for your shoppers that you can. Don’t fool yourself into believing you can walk around the vehicle while holding the smartphone steady in your hand. The result will be a bouncy video that will make your viewers seasick and result in low video completion rates.

A hand-held stabilizer or tripod is better than nothing, but if you want to produce the best quality video invest in a 3-axis gimbal for a couple hundred bucks. It is worth every penny! For top of the line stabilization a 4-axis gimbal is even better, but may run you a couple thousand.

Currently we recommend using a set-up that includes your smartphone, and the DJI OSMO camera/gimbal combo. This is a really cool camera that takes amazing quality video and connects wirelessly with your smartphone, so you can use your smartphone to view what the camera is recording.

You can find a DJI OSMO starter kit for around $500 and depending on how you want to accessorize it, you may spend $700 to $800. This is a small investment that will make your inventory shine!  GoPro also offers some great camera/stabilizer combinations that cost less and produce very good quality videos as well.

Once you have a stabilizer, the next thing you’ll want to address is lighting. Smartphones have small lenses so adequate lighting is critical. This shouldn’t be a problem if you’re shooting outdoors, but always position the vehicle so you will not be pointing the camera into direct light, such as the sun.

When you first begin shooting walkarounds, you may want to allow extra time to shoot the entire video two or three times. With each ‘take,’ experiment with different ISO settings, which measure your camera sensor’s sensitivity to light. On a sunny day your ISO settings will be lower and on cloudy days your ISO settings will be higher. If you do shoot on a sunny day, avoid shooting midday because that’s when the sun casts the harshest shadows. Instead, schedule shoots for early morning or late afternoon.

For vehicle walkarounds, you want to feature shots panning the side of the vehicle, as well as the front and back so the viewer has a good sense of what the vehicle looks like from all angles. Open the doors and shoot the interior, both front and back.

Then focus on shooting the features that you will use to sell the car, such as the Infotainment system, new tires, safety features, etc. The total length of your walkaround videos can range from one to four minutes. Don’t believe experts who tell you that all videos have to be one minute or less. Though this is probably true for a bad or dull video, if the presentation is informative and entertaining, two, three or even four minutes is okay. There are plenty of dealerships that get 80 to 90 percent completion rates with videos that long, and plenty of dealerships that only get a 50 to 60 percent completion rate with their bouncy and dull one- minute videos.

If you are worried about the audio track for your videos, you can have your photographer shoot your videos and have a data driven audio track added to the video automatically.  If you are adding your own audio while shooting the videos, or if you decide to shoot your walkaround videos featuring a salesperson or spokesperson giving a live presentation, invest in a good noise-cancelling microphone.

Either way you can always go back and replace the audio layer of the video if you want or need to without having to re-shoot the video.  You can even personalize the audio layer of the videos for specific leads (personalized walkarounds) without having to shoot another video, saving you a LOT of time while producing an identical personalized walkaround video to one that was shot from scratch.

Finally, expect that the first few videos you create will probably suck. Don’t be discouraged! Practice makes perfect. Keep doing it and eventually things will click. Pretty soon you will find your own unique style and every walkaround video will become a mini-masterpiece.

What tips do you have for shooting professional quality video with your smartphone?

Should You DIY or Outsource Your Video Marketing?

By: Tim James

So you’ve decided it’s time to differentiate your dealership from the competition, and that video is the way to do it. Your next probable question is, do you produce, distribute and market the videos yourself, or outsource some, if not all of these functions?

The answer to this question is, it depends. We’ve got dealers who are successfully doing both. In my experience there are three factors to consider when making this decision.

1) Motivation

If your decision to implement video marketing was arrived at rather reluctantly, then you should probably outsource. Motivation requires passion. It requires an understanding of the rewards that will be reaped from putting your time and effort towards this undertaking. It requires buy-in and excitement from your staff. It requires commitment.

I’ve talked to many dealers who spend time waffling over whether they should go the DIY video route. Here’s what I ask them: If not you, who? If not now, when?

Video is not a trend. Remember the music video, “Video Killed the Radio Star?” The actual song was released nearly two years before the music video debuted on MTV in 1981. Hardly anyone heard of the song, but once the video aired, the song became a huge hit. That was 35 years ago. Online marketing video is here to stay, and it’s just a matter of time before it kills the static Vehicle Details Page (VDP).

2) Internal Resources

The second factor to consider is what your internal resources are. Even if you’re highly motivated to launch a video marketing program, someone has to take responsibility. Someone has to take ownership to make sure it’s successful. Someone has to learn how to shoot videos, how to get the videos on the right touch-points and how to measure whether the program is successful or not.

The ‘pros’ of producing videos internally are that you already have staff at your disposal. With an established process, inventory videos should take less than 24 hours to upload.

In addition to inventory videos, it’s important to create value proposition videos, customer testimonial videos and service videos. Internal employees are in a better position to spontaneously capture a glowing customer testimonial video, and may have a better handle on how to sell your dealership’s unique value proposition than an outside entity.

However, when analyzing internal resources, be brutally honest. Are your current employees already struggling to keep up with what’s on their plate? If they are, adding new processes may be too much of a burden.

It’s possible to split the responsibilities between internal and external resources. If your in-house staff is currently tasked with taking inventory photos, it’s not much of a stretch to task them instead with shooting a walk around video. Photos can be easily extracted from video, so there is no need to do both. If you use a lot services company to take your photos, task them with shooting a video in addition to taking your photos.

If you decide to use internal resources, distribution and marketing are two important areas to be addressed. Who will be tasked with ensuring that your videos appear not just on your website, but distributed to as many touch points as possible; including third-party auto shopping sites and social media channels?

Who will be in charge of incorporating video into your digital ad and/or email marketing campaigns? Who will be in charge of collecting viewer data and using that data to increase the relevancy of your videos? Meaning, it’s important to ensure that the right video is shown to the right car shopper at the right time.

Another question to ask when evaluating internal resources is what the turnover rate is in your dealership. Are you confident that your Internet Manager or the staff in that department will be with your dealership for a long time? A potential pitfall of producing videos internally is that you’ll have to constantly train new staff.

3) Dealership Volume

Last but not least, volume is another factor to consider. How many units does your dealership move per month? The greater inventory turnover there is, the greater time investment involved and the greater commitment there must be to the video marketing process.

The good news is, a successful video marketing program will increase your overall sales volume, but for some dealers this can present its own challenges. Kia of Puyallup in Washington saw a nine percent uptick in sales after implementing a video marketing program. How many more units can you handle moving per month?

Now, is everything as clear as mud? Good! The fact is, only you can decide what’s best for your dealership. It’s easy to get excited about the idea of video marketing and want to do it yourself. But it’s important to be able to objectively analyze your motivation level, internal resources and overall volume.

I’ve seen too many instances where dealership salespeople will produce a few videos, upload them to YouTube and don’t see any increase in leads or sales. The dealer points to these paltry efforts and claims that videos don’t work.

Well, of course that level of effort doesn’t work! Producing a few videos is nowhere near the same thing as having a comprehensive video marketing program. It’s like deciding that you want to go into space so you build a shuttle in your backyard. Without an actual space program, with testing, logistics, a launch pad and experts to tell you when and where to go, you’re not likely to get very far.

Outsourcing some (or all) of your video process may involve investing a little more in your merchandising budget than you currently spend, but the end results will be well worth the investment.

No matter which direction you choose to go, the important thing is that you start now — Not next week or even tomorrow. You can start slowly if you need to, but you must start in order to find the process that works best for you and your dealership. The end will justify the means.

Come on – Does Video REALLY sell cars?

by Tim James

Technology has drastically changed the way businesses and auto dealers operate. Hey, think about it. It was not too far in the distant past that we did just about everything via fax machine. Leads came in, financing was secured and, well, just about everything was via fax.

Consider this… there was once a time when radio and newspaper were the dominant media for disseminating messages to consumers. Potential customers read the newspaper every day and listened to the radio as a primary form of entertainment.

Then along came this revolutionary device known as television. At first, it was expensive and limited to the more affluent classes. However, it very quickly grew into almost 100% of households. Then along came TV commercials. Many car dealers asked themselves, “Why do we need to advertise on television? How is that going to sell more cars?”

However, they soon saw the results and eventually came around. Television continues to be a major player in most dealerships’ marketing budgets. Radio focuses on listening, newspaper focuses on reading, while television combines the two, making for a much more impactful message.

Then along came the Internet and these curious things named “websites” popped up. Consumers were fascinated and dial-up connections became AOL’s claim to fame. Remember those discs which used to be packaged in every magazine, arriving in your mailbox every other day?

The Internet continued to advance. Businesses started buying domain names and setting up websites. And dealers asked, “Why do we need a website? How is that going to help me sell more cars?”

Fast forward to today and every dealer has a website, whether they want one or not, courtesy of the manufacturers.

Now let’s visit mobile phones. Remember when phones were in big suitcase looking things? They were that way because they had to be. Slowly, as technology advanced, they became the brick phones, then consumer demand kept making them smaller… and smaller.

However, as bandwidth increased, and streaming video became popular, all of a sudden Samsung came out with a phone that was… BIGGER!  Why? What changed the trend away from smaller and towards bigger? Video. Video is easier and more entertaining to watch on a bigger screen. And other manufacturers followed suit.

Of course, we cannot talk about cell phones without talking about the providers. It wasn’t that long ago when just about every provider had an unlimited data plan. Slowly but surely, as data usage by consumers increased, those unlimited plans were eliminated.

But, you have to ask yourself, “What event precipitated the disappearance of those plans?”

The answer is simple. Data usage spiked. The reason it spiked is simple… video. With only 1 GB of data, you could visit 3,000 webpages, receive 1.5 million WhatsApp messages, upload 4,000 photos, send or receive 10,000 emails, watch 310 minutes of YouTube videos or listen to 160 songs.

Once video became the most popular media, data usage spiked, as it takes up a lot of bandwidth. Rather than clog up their networks, cell providers opted to eliminate unlimited plans and, in some cases, throttle speeds for heavy users.

But now the trend has reversed… again. Cell providers know that mobile users are streaming video. Cell companies with smaller market shares began to differentiate themselves from their larger competitors by, once again, offering unlimited data plans. Slowly, the other smaller carriers fell in line until the largest, Verizon, finally began offering unlimited data on February 13th.

The point is that consumers want… and crave… video content. Technology has reversed itself from small to large, cell phone providers have reversed themselves from eliminating unlimited data to embracing it. All because the media of choice for today’s consumer is video.

Let me state that here again — the media of choice for today’s consumer is video.  So, if you are still asking yourself, “Why do I need video? How is that going to sell me more cars?” Well, that’s like just a few short years ago when dealers were asking, “Do I need a website?  How is a website going to sell me more cars?”

Technology is not going to slow down and wait for us just because we aren’t ready to embrace it. Video IS already the most powerful online marketing strategy for those businesses that have already embraced it.  As with any new technology, there are “Leaders,” and there are “Laggers.” Which side of history do you want to be on?

To Sell More Cars, You Need to Get Personal

The chances are pretty good that any email lead YOU receive is also sent to competing dealerships. That means the car shopper will get emails and phone calls from other salespeople looking to sell that customer a car. Unless the lead is on a unique used vehicle, your competitors have the same new vehicles in their inventory.

Therefore, reaching that customer quickly and effectively, while at the same time standing out from your competition, is vital in winning that customer’s business. The easiest way to do that is to build a personal relationship quickly – something every successful salesperson learns. While that may be easy in person, it becomes more of a challenge when the customer’s email inbox is barraged by auto-responders and other generic emails.

So, how do you stand out?

Well, personal video email responses are a very effective way to separate yourself and transform your email from just plain old text into a more dynamic, eye-catching and personal introduction.

Something you did on your VDP got their attention, whether that was on your website or a third-party listing site (hint: If you have video included in your listings, you’ll attract more customers). If that customer were in front of you and inquired about a vehicle, you would proceed to sell the dealership, then sell yourself, and then sell the vehicle. You would work to build a trusting relationship with the customer from the beginning. But, how do you sell your vehicle to a customer that’s not present?

The same, exact way!

The great thing about selling cars today is all of the technology that is now available to assist salespeople in facilitating a better online buying experience for the customer. Because of the Internet, customers are visiting less dealerships than ever – it’s now down to just about one dealership visited before the customer purchases, because now the customer can browse inventory in their pajamas at home.

Today, when you receive an Internet lead, video enables you to literally walk the customer around the vehicle explaining its features and benefits in a personalized way .This video can then be delivered to the customer on a landing page that contains your Value Proposition (Why Buy); and testimonial videos to sell the dealership; as well as your own introduction video to simultaneously sell yourself – all while you are selling the vehicle — just as if they were on your lot.

Dealerships that do take the time to shoot personalized walkaround videos for Internet leads see a 20-40% increase in re-engagement, lead to appointment and lead to show rates. Car shoppers love them. They show a customer, whom you have not yet met in person, that you care about earning their business and will make the effort to get them the information they requested over and above the standard “when can you come in” message that exists in most first responses.  Combining personalized walkaround videos with the value proposition, testimonial, and your personal introduction video, will then multiply the emotional impact of your communication and significantly enhance the “trust relationship” that you so greatly covet.

Being forthcoming, providing information and doing so in a personalized way with the use of video, allows you to “sell” the vehicle, build rapport and make the customer feel more at ease and amenable to coming into the dealership.

The customer will still want to inspect, touch, feel and drive the car and they can only do that in person at your dealership. Video, however, can whet their appetite and grab their interest and attention in ways that pictures can’t.

It may sound like a lot of work. Perhaps you are thinking you don’t have the right equipment. But hold on a minute – the fact is that you can use your existing inventory videos and personalize the audio — all from the comforts of your office and without even having to walk out to the vehicle each time you need to shoot a personalized walkaround. You’ll quickly find out that the few minutes it takes you to personalize the audio of your existing video will pay dividends in increased sales and bigger paychecks.

You don’t have to be content with closing rates on Internet leads hovering in the 8-10 percent range. Maximize each and every opportunity you receive, blow your customers away with your responses, and put your competition out of the race by sending Internet leads personalized emails that use the power of video to sell your dealership, sell yourself, and truly sell the vehicle– then sit back and sell cars.

A Primer on Video E-Mail Response

So, you’ve decided that you want to send video responses to internet leads, but you don’t quite know where to begin. Well, first, congratulations! You have made an excellent decision that will engage more of your customers, build rapport faster and elicit increased responses. Now to the nuts and bolts of how best to do this:

Technology – The simplest tool you need to create video is probably right in the palm of your hands. You may even be reading this blog on it, right this minute. I’m talking about your phone. These days, most smart phones have pretty impressive video capabilities. On the other hand, perhaps your dealership is willing to invest in a little dedicated video equipment. That is great as well. The biggest thing to understand is, regardless of whether you’re shooting video from your smartphone, or from an expensive camera, you need to ensure that you’re familiar with all of the settings that the camera offers and how to use them. Read your manual. And, In the case of an expensive camera, pay attention primarily to the Exposure Triangle (ISO, Aperture and shutter speed). Understanding these three features, and how to manipulate them, will help you produce great looking quality videos.

Deliverability – I am frequently asked about the best way to deliver videos to a customer via e-mail. Should the video be embedded in the e-mail or linked? Well, embedding a video inside an email sounds cool. But, “sounds cool” isn’t functional because only a few e-mail clients would actually play the embedded video. In addition, many spam filters flag e-mails that contain embedded video as spam. This means that most of your customers won’t even see them. A video is worthless if it doesn’t make it through spam filters. Because of this, your best option is to utilize a video landing page and insert a link to the video which is embedded in the landing page.

Creativity – Creativity is an important piece of any video marketing strategy. First, decide how you are going to utilize your video content. Are you going to build a library of stock video responses to send to leads? Or, are you going to personalize each one? Perhaps a combination of the two? Regardless of which strategy you choose, there are advantages and disadvantages to each. That being said, each one can be effective if it is implemented properly.  Here are some fundamentals that apply universally:

  • Use the word “VIDEO” in the subject line.
  • Use e-mail to support your phone call strategy, not replace it.
  • The focus (i.e. the call-to-action) of the video should be to get the customer to call you.
  • SMILE! There is nothing worse than seeing a video with an unhappy face.
  • Use a video landing page that contains the video you created for the customer along with additional supporting videos such as your dealership’s value proposition video, your salesperson’s introduction video and perhaps even some video customer testimonials. Sell the dealership. Sell yourself. And sell the car. All at the same time.

Hosting – One of the most important pieces of the puzzle for an effective video marketing strategy is where your video is “hosted.” All of your video content, including your video e-mails, should be hosted on the same platform so that you can track the viewing data of your shoppers across all touch-points and match that shopper with their history within your CRM. This also allows you to deliver “viewer specific” content to your shoppers based on their history and/or geo-location. Hosting videos on the same platform allows you to see if the prospect you sent the video email to watches another one of your videos on your website, cars.com, AutoTrader, Facebook Video pages, a blog, through another e-mail, etc.

Make certain that your video hosting platform knows what it is doing and can serve up real-time marketing/re-marketing content, or special offers, all based on rules that you can set, in order to return the best results. You can even geo-target your competitor’s lot. This means that if a specific shopper ends up visiting your competitor, but then decides to come back and watch your video e-mail just one more time (or any of your videos for that matter), you then receive a notice that they are on your competitor’s lot, while your video throws up a last chance offer to entice them over to you, before they buy elsewhere.

I hope this blog provides some useful data on the fundamentals of implementing an effective video marketing strategy. With the right tools and technology, you’ll find that it’s not that complicated at all.

How to Use Video to Turn Leads Into Shows

by Tim James

All dealerships get leads that originate from the Internet. Not all dealers, however, are equal when it comes to how they handle these leads. Ever wonder why some dealers are able to close Internet leads at 12+ percent, while others struggle to reach 6 percent? The reason has everything to do with how these leads are handled – from speed of reply to the content in the reply itself.

One of the most powerful ways to communicate to today’s tech savvy customers is with video. It’s a highly effective form of communication because it engages the customer’s senses. It can help capture the customer’s attention and increase the amount of leads that turn into appointments.

There are three basic types of videos that I find work best when created and integrated into any lead follow up system :

  1. Lead Response Videos: When you receive a 3rd party Internet lead, chances are really good that lead also went to multiple other dealerships. This interested buyer then gets bombarded by e-mails and phone calls. Quite frankly, most of these responses are generic, contain no information, aren’t personalized and tend to start looking alike. Gain a competitive edge with your response — rather than simply send a template email, create a personalized video response that thanks the customers for the inquiry. Introduce yourself, mention the vehicle the customer inquired about and invite them in. Your video will stand out and make you the memorable one. Customers will also feel flattered that you took the time to create this video and realize that there is a real person communicating with them, not just a computer.
  1. Appointment Confirmation Videos: When you do get a customer that is interested in test driving a vehicle, it’s important to create a sense of obligation on their part. It’s proven that e-mails that contain videos get opened at a far higher rate than those that do not (especially when the word “video” is in the subject line). Create an appointment confirmation video and you can increase the chance that the customer will open and view it. In addition, use the video to tell them that you’re looking forward to seeing them and make it “personal” so they feel guilty if they blow you off and don’t show up. Let them know that you are doing something “for them” by making sure you have the vehicle cleaned up, pulled around and waiting for them…and offer to have an ice cold bottle of water or a cold Coca Cola waiting for them.
  1. Personalized Walkaround Videos: Nothing is stronger than sending a personalized walkaround video to your customers. The fact that you took the time to video and explain the features and benefits of the specific vehicle they inquired about JUST FOR THEM, can impress them and can also increase their interest level. People appreciate it when others go that extra mile to help them. Make your vehicle AND yourself memorable and you’ll have a better chance of building trust and rapport with your customer and, ultimately, getting them into your dealership.

Give one or two of these a try, I’m confident you’ll be impressed with the increase in the lead to appointment rates and appointment show rates that you receive.

Why “Just Do It” Is A Waste Of Time

by Tim James

In this high tech age, there are numerous tasks that an Internet or eCommerce Director has to tackle in order to correctly market their dealership and its inventory. In the past, you were doing a great job if you were writing custom detailed vehicle descriptions and taking multiple photos of your pre-owned vehicles. You were a superstar if you were also doing these things for your new vehicles. Then video entered the picture. Some dealers embraced video and used data feeds to syndicate video, vehicle descriptions and photos to their website and other third-party sites. Forward thinkers also uploaded the videos with proper tags and descriptions to YouTube.

However, with the fast pace of advancing technology, the number of consumer touch-points keeps growing and it has become an almost overwhelming task to keep up and still try to sell cars.

But one thing hasn’t changed, the key to a successful marketing strategy is getting the right content, in front of the right shopper, on the right touch-point, and at the right time of the buying cycle. The more exposure you get for your content, the more impact that content is going to have on your sales. Content that’s not seen is worthless.

I remember a story from not too long ago about one of the largest volume dealers in the world. This dealer was manually uploading their inventory to their website and every third party website for over 10 stores – one by one – daily. They chose to pay someone $100+ per DAY, rather than use automation and data distribution technology to accomplish the same task at a cost of just $150 per MONTH.

I’m starting to see a lot of this same mentality today with video. Many dealerships have gone out and purchased some great video production tools, and are doing a great job producing some very good video content. They are then manually uploading their content to YouTube and manually embedding links on as many touch-points as they have the time and ability to do so (not all touch-points allow a manual upload). They would rather invest hours of their time to manually place their content on fewer touch-points, than use automation and data distribution technology to accomplish the same task (with more touch-points) for just a couple hundred dollars a month.

I believe that many dealers, managers and Internet directors understand the importance of having their dealership and inventory positioned properly and in as many places online as possible. The problem I see is two-fold: They either don’t understand that technology exists that could transform their Internet marketing and sales without putting an undue burden on their staff. Or they don’t believe that the investment in this technology will produce results.

I can guarantee you this. If you’re simply doing it for the sake of doing it, you’re wasting your time. If nobody sees the content you create, it might as well not exist. The fact is video is “content,” just like any of the other “content” that you utilize to market your dealership and inventory. You don’t spend your day manually cutting and pasting your other content on multiple touch-points all day long — manually uploading photos, and manually writing vehicle descriptions over and over. Why on earth would you try to manually manage your video syndication when producing the content can be time consuming enough.

If you focus your efforts on ensuring that you have great video content, and then utilize technology to get that content on as many of the sites consumers view in the car buying process as possible, then you will be significantly more likely to have the right content, on the right touch-point, in front of the right consumer, at the right time of the buying cycle. This is the only thing that’s going to engage more shoppers and increase sales.

Nike’s old slogan of “Just Do It” needs to be revised when applied to successful marketing strategies today to “Just Do It Right.”