What’s Coull all about then?
Videos never really played a role in affiliate marketing until now. Everybody's talked about who needs to play a role, but building something that scales easily and converts is always going to be the real challenge. I felt a complete focus on video was required and not having video as an add-on to the existing networks. So we just focused on building a video affiliate network/performance network.
One of the big things that media advertisers really want is for affiliate sites to drive demand, not just take the acquisition and then the commission. It's one thing to present a voucher at the end of the sales process and then claim the sale. How do you create demand for that product? Vouchers don't create demand for that product. The merchant does all of that branding and all of that demand-creation. The voucher comes in at the end and picks up the last click and generates the sale. I'm not decrying vouchers; it's a great business and a growing business. I do think voucher sites need to do more to help drive demand and maintain their margins from their merchants and there’s a real desire from merchants to get them to do this.
We're building is a video player that actually encompasses all the functionality a consumer wants before making an actual decision. So if you're watching a video with an iPhone, what are the four or five things you're likely to do before making a decision? Maybe you'll look at a review, do a price comparison, maybe search for other products, check to see if there's a voucher available, see if there's a cashback and then they get that acquisition. We’re pulling in the APIs from those five areas of functionality into the video player. If you look at a video review for the iPhone and then these buttons will pop up with the ability to pull in the search terms. The equivalent of typing ‘iPhone’ into a search engine and clicking on a button to reveal a voucher code. You'd then have to cut and paste that into your browser in order to make that acquisition. It's about pulling in all that functionality to that point where you have the desire to create it. It saves you from opening numerous browser tabs. You'll have it all in one place.
Would you like to explain your new partnership with Getty?
Getty has an interesting business. It's quite new to the affiliate space. It's a B2B business opportunity for them. It’s promoting to anybody who wants to use licensed Getty images offered by the affiliate channels. We were building it out and then trying to implement the ability to redeem a voucher in the video.
You can watch a short video about some of the Getty images within their stock library. Then click on the top right corner of the video to reveal a voucher code and that voucher code would be able to claim a discount using a tracking link. It's the first time the industry has linked a voucher code within video content.
How long did it take you to integrate voucher codes into the videos?
About three weeks. The whole player, the design and the whole infrastructure of Coull is already in place. As long as we have an API from somebody we can implement it in possibly a few days. We use the YouTube API to build out the package and also add layers to video. We also work with Brightcove. We have a price comparison API. The strategy of Coull is to leverage the ecosystem rather than to re-build it. There are enough companies out there with really interesting solutions. We just pull that in and ensure the video's at the heart of it and that's about it. Whether it's clicking the social button with Google+ or Facebook. Whatever it is. It's about liberating this video content through the systems that already link. We take a bit of every transaction.
Where does your video content come from?
We're Google's only video partner in the affiliate space. This means we can leverage YouTube’s branded content sites and channels. Then add affiliate links on top of those branded channels. Sears is one of our partners. It’s a $40-billion turnover company. It's one of the top online retailers in the US. It has hundreds of branded videos on its YouTube-branded channel. So we pull in the product catalog from Sears, maybe 500 000 products, and then we match them to the video content that's on YouTube and make those videos available for publishers to pick up and distribute. We do that with some simple tools. Nobody has to be trained in that process. It's solving the problem of access to content. There's a vast amount of content out there. We’re repurposing it and making it available for an affiliate channel.
Do the producers of the original need to sign off on this?
Well no, because they’re the producers. If Sears has uploaded a video to its Sears-branded channel then there's content. We let the advertisers focus on their own content. We let them create it. We just let them make product reviews, how to videos, all the stuff they do to help promote and drive demand for their product available for third party publishers. So they own the content and there's no issue about that and they choose what affiliate link is added. It's a self-serve platform.
You have a video that's selling an iPhone. You type iPhone into your product catalog. Up comes the link, you drag the link across on top of the video and that's it, the link’s added. It's really as simple as that.
So we pretty much have an unlimited inventory. Our clients are Sears, Dell, Puma, EA Origin, the list goes on really. We have about 100 advertisers. We have about 3000 publishers actively engaged with our network and about 50 000 who have signed up who are yet to find an option for them.
The next phase is to promote it to the publishers themselves so they can create their own content. If you are shooting the video for the site, say you did a video interview, you'd be able to pull and drag an affiliate link on to that content yourself. Therefore there'd be a commercial element within that video content. That works really well. The Body Shop, one of our advertisers, has people blogging about its new products. Now The Body Shop can produce a video. Then show the new product, show how it's used, and drop a Body Shop link on to that video. It means if you're a publisher you have unique content, plus the ability to make money from the video. As that video is shared and distributed on the likes of Google+ and Facebook the affiliate link travels with it. So the publisher enables you to generate sales from the distributed video as opposed to driving people to your site to generate the sale from a banner or a text link.
Do you have any quality control in place for the videos?
We rely on the advertisers to do that. We do the best practice. We talk about what works and what doesn't work in the performance channel. I think the repurposing of a fluffy TV campaign with flowers and music in the background doesn't convert very well in the performance space. What works really well are behind the scenes at a fashion shoot, how to’s and product reviews. Something very simple, not necessarily something that's high cost.
The key is definitely integrity. When you're watching something on a small screen whether that's a laptop or notebook, it's more of a personal experience than a broadcast one. You're picking up on the message more than you would be if you were sat half-watching the TV. You're listening to what's going on. You're watching. You're observing. So I think integrity is a reason why the video's made. Why am I watching the video? I'm engaged. What next? How do I make that purchase, or find out more, or give my email as a lead? From a publisher perspective as well if you're on a video and the video pauses, you're not losing the audience by creating a hyperlink straight off through to that merchants website. They can redeem the voucher code on top of the video in that page as opposed to a checkbox somewhere else.
So the quality is down to the advertiser. We give best practice. We’re seeing massive changes in conversion rates, the sales from a video. That is specific to this rather than a banner.
Would you ever decline a video if it felt too much like an advert?
We've advised advertisers that it's up to them if they make it available to publishers, but it's unlikely publishers will want that on their website. We've never said, "No, we will not take it. Quality's one thing, but who are we determine whether that's the right type of video for a particular scenario. You'd hope their marketing department and strategists would determine that.
Where we do quality control is with publishers. There's no value in us delivering millions of impressions or views on a video on a site with low quality of traffic where we're not getting a return. One of our advertisers would be badgering us for a return. We've recently launched with 7thingsmedia luxury client Agent Provocateur - who are a prime example of an advertiser requiring sensitive and relevant positions; we wouldn't just put their content on a social gaming site where we will likely get a huge amount of views yet very low conversions. It's about us managing the publisher side of the distribution.
I think that what we bring to the party from a publisher side is one of the challenges the affiliate industry is facing in broadening the range of publishers working in it. There’s a lot of competition for the same top 10 sites, whether that's top 10 or vouchers. Merchants are very keen to diversify into different types of publishers, especially content publishers. As a network, we really want to focus on this. Of course we work with voucher sites and cashback sites, but frankly it's about bringing new people into the game, publishers who create great content online. Then we enable them to leverage that content and add affiliate links. That's a great opportunity for us.
We work with the Telegraph Group's fashion pages, a site you wouldn't immediately define as an affiliate publisher. It’s looking at how it can add incremental revenue to its video assets. It has the pre-roll, it has the post-roll, it has the banners. So as an example if you have a video of Tiger Woods putting, why not have a link on that putter to give it an incremental bit of revenue?
How successful is video compared with traditional avenues?
I think it's down to context. We did recent campaigns with Angels Fancy Dress around its Halloween products. We had just under 15% clickthrough rate on the video, which is huge compared to a banner. That was because the video was distributed correctly in terms of context. The timing was right. People were looking on Halloween for fake blood. This particular video showed how to put a stick through your neck with all the gory details.
I think on average we're seeing 2.5% click through rates for video. I think with banners you're probably looking at 0.9%. So the click through rates are very good. We're still working out the best way to scale that effectively. What I mean is that we have publishers right across the range from in-game social advertising on Farmerama and other Facebook games where you can expect there conversion to be a lot lower through to niche content sites like fashion where you have clothing.
The role you have in targeting those videos. The best way of using that is very hot topic right now, but a contentious one. How best do you target without annoying consumers and contravening cookie regulations that are coming out. That's an area we're looking at that will increase conversions, but at what cost? What's the best way of doing that with the video content? What I think our focus is right now is actually delivering what Google calls the zero moment of truth, which is that point when somebody's ready to make that purchase. If you can deliver all that functionality into a video when that emotion is high, when the demand is high, I think that's a better form of targeting than maybe following the consumer around different sites. That's my hunch and we'll see how that plays out.
What are the next phases that you spoke about earlier?
We're looking at the possibility of puling in price comparison information and user product reviews. We look at the analysis of what people do before making that acquisition. You watch the video and you choose to engage that video. A layer of buttons will appear with all the different things you can do. You can buy of course if you want to. All this other functionality will be delivered to you as opposed to you having to find them. Then we make a margin along with the publisher on all those actions. The key thing is that the consumer gets value from within the video.
Have you looked at other video networks? Would you risk your relationship with Google to pursue other alternatives?
No, not at all. Vimeo's interesting. Where Vimeo is at right now is determining how best to leverage advertising without annoying its user base. It has gone after a totally different sector to YouTube and has done it very effectively. Great page design. People have total control over their content and how they distribute it. They're not going to see an AdSense ad popping up in front of their content. I networked with Vimeo in New York not that long ago and they're just figuring out how to implement advertising in their platform whilst differentiating themselves from YouTube and maintaining their paying customers. That's definitely something we're looking at. But things like Brightcove and Dailymotion, there are a lot of companies out there.
The reality is it's becoming the default from a marketing department to at least have a branded presence on YouTube especially with the brands that we're engaged with right now, the Sears and the Dells and so on. They have branded channels and it’s easy. Especially with our Google Affiliate Network. We can take an affiliate network link from Google, add it on to a YouTube branded channel and then make that available to a publisher network. It's simple. We can pull in thousands of videos in a feed and interrogate that list with the meta data provided by YouTube. We can process thousands of videos and make them available. There's no user input. Is there a requirement to really invest heavily in looking at other networks? Not really, not right now.
What are Coull's long term goals in terms of innovation?
Technically we have an exciting time ahead of us. The key for us is our partnerships. Our partnerships give us the scale. Partnering with Google, partnering with Sears and Puma and others like that will give us the ability to scale our video as long as we keep technology enabled and it's leveraging those partnerships which gives the scale. The future for us is really making sure our technology platform keeps up to speed with the distribution. Without getting too technical, as the video codecs are standardised, we're not building with multiple video formats like ten formats from several years ago. We'll only have to build one type of video. We'll then just concentrate on how we scale between platforms like laptops, social, TVs and smartphones.