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Interactive Video Innovations – The WhichPLM Exclusive Interview

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Interactive Video Innovations this month became the latest supplier to join the E-PLM ranks here at WhichPLM.  A Manchester, UK, based company, IVI is the developer of a unique post-production solution that allows consumers to interact with video advertising.  Tailored for the demands of the fashion industry, the IVI solution is dubbed “Point | Click | Purchase” and, as the name suggests, enables retailers and brands to embed detailed product information, catalogues, and a fully-featured shopping basket directly into their video advertising.

With strong cross-platform support and the ability to retroactively add functionality to pre-existing video, the IVI team consider themselves to be some of the fashion industry’s leading post-and-pre-production multimedia specialists.  I recently sat down with Mia Chandler, Sales & Marketing Director at IVI, to share our opinions on the future of sales and marketing – not just for fashion, but for retail as a whole.

Ben Hanson (BH): First of all, please can you summarise IVI’s Point | Click | Purchase solution (referred to hereafter as “the IVI solution”) for our readers?

Mia Chandler (MC): Much of what makes Point | Click | Purchase unique is contained in the name.  In the broadest strokes, is a post-production treatment which converts ordinary video into interactive, e-commerce ready video, by enabling the viewer to purchase highlighted items directly from within the video.  In terms of applicability, the IVI solution is designed to meet the needs of virtually any retailer or brand.  The solution can be applied to practically any high-resolution video (typically a catwalk show or collection showcase) as long as there is sufficient exposure of the desired items in the video.  Most existing fashion advertising is designed for this express purpose, so our solution is suitable for almost advertising avenues available to the retail, footwear and apparel industry.

BH: Typically, then, this is what the solution would be used for?  Emphasising particular products or collections in consumer-facing material?

MC: In essence the IVI solution is designed to highlight keys items that the client has pre-selected from those featured in the video.  So, for example, if the client has a particular collection that they wish to highlight (comprising seven or eight items) they can choose to highlight just one item from that collection – a single piece of apparel or an accessory – or highlight multiple items simultaneously or in sequence.  It’s extremely adaptable.  At the start of an IVI-treated video, users are unobtrusively instructed that a symbol will appear at set points when interactivity is possible, and that they can then access detailed information about the items that appear on-screen.  This functionality – coupled with the client’s existing advertising assets and product information – allows us to replicate a lot of the functionality that is found only on full websites, all within the confines of the video itself.

BH: You mention highlights and symbols: are these just stock graphics, or can these interactive elements be tailored to fit the client’s brand identity or to better sit with the aesthetic of the video itself?

MC: Absolutely.  The solution is completely customisable, and all graphic elements are produced from scratch to meet the stringent requirements that we know brands have.  Each client has complete control.

BH: At what stage does this customisation enter the process?  Could you explain to our readers how IVI would approach a typical project, how the software itself works, and how much input a retailer or brand would have into each stage?

MC: Every ultimate solution starts with consultancy because every client’s needs are different.  Every solution, therefore, is bespoke.  The earlier in the production process our input is sought, the more influence we can have over the production itself: the screen time given to particular products, for example, is something we can work to scientifically optimise.  But that doesn’t mean that the solution can’t work on pre-existing advertising; this is a large part of the consultation process and, indeed, is where many customers are able to realise the most value from the solution.

For many clients, this value is derived from a combination of direct sales and the creation of brand awareness.  For the latter, customisation is absolutely key, and so we work closely with all of our clients to ensure that every aspect of the solution – from the playback controls to the look of the shopping basket – is tailored to their specifications.

[quote]Retailers and brands work so far ahead in terms of design, trend analysis and anticipating and guiding customer desire that any kind of foresight into consumer trends is immensely valuable.[/quote]

BH: We find that many leading brands use video advertising (or, as David Lauren termed it at January’s National Retail Federation show, “merchantainment”) to tell a story, or to sell an aspirational lifestyle.  If a hypothetical brand were accustomed to showcasing their products in this way, how would the IVI solution support that?  Obviously IVI’s solution is capable of highlighting products in isolation, but is it possible to highlight a “look” or a “story” and have each component be interactive?

MC: Absolutely.  The client can choose entirely how this highlighting and interactivity takes place and what information is available thereafter.  We could, for example, have one extremely subtle indication that would bring the entire look to the fore, or we could highlight each separate item individually and simultaneously.  The important thing is that the IVI solution supports multiple layers of information embedded within the same video, so viewers needn’t see everything on the first click.  Particularly useful where full catalogues and looks are concerned, we can work with clients to organise the requisite information into nested layers.  This way we can achieve maximum exposure of a wide range of products in a way that does not feel overwhelming.

BH: Would it be feasible, then, to use the interactivity of one single product to link to related products and styles?

MC: We could even build in a full mini-catalogue, if that’s what you’d like.  So, for instance, upon highlighting a pair of shorts, the customer would be presented with an information box initially showing that those shorts are available in a range of colours, but then also provide links showing that a long-leg trouser version of the garment exists in the same style as well, and perhaps even suggesting a polo shirt or deck shoes that would complement it.  We can also embed video within a video, so where we have video pertaining to either a specific product or, as above, related or complementary items, viewers would be able to view that video within the e-commerce overlay, or even enlarge and view it separately.

BH: It’s possible, then, to create a “story within a story”, highlighting not just individual products or looks, but related products and related marketing assets, too?  If so, where does the IVI solution draw this information from?  Is the solution populated with data at the time the video is compiled, or can it draw from live sources at the time it’s viewed by the customer?

MC: It’s interesting you should say that, because it brings us back to something that I hinted at before.  In many ways the best way to think of the IVI solution is as a mini-website within a video: all of the information a client might want to include on a product page within their e-commerce system can be subtly buried within an IVI-enabled video and made accessible with a single click.  Similar to a website or e-commerce portal, the IVI solution can source its data from the client’s existing stock control or other enterprise system to ensure that the customer is always presented with up-to-date product information and availability.

BH: To draw out our hypothetical example a little further, once the customer has been exposed to a collection, narrowed their selection down to a specific garment or accessory, and chosen the size or colour that they want, how does the shopping basket functionality work?

[pullquote_right]A product that sees very little or no interactive interest at the design and inception stage may be one that it is financially prudent not to produce at all.[/pullquote_right]MC: The customer can add that garment or garments to their virtual basket and then carry on watching the video.  That’s the unique aspect of this software: once a viewer interacts and makes a preliminary decision to purchase an item and add it to their basket, assuming the product is available it can be held in the basket until the remainder of the video has finished.  The basket can then be accessed at any time; customers can amend quantities and sizes and colours, and only once they have made the final decision to purchase will they be directed to the client’s chosen payment gateway.

BH: So it’s not a superficial shopping basket in the sense that customers add some high-level “likes” to a list before being handed off to a separate e-commerce portal to actually manage their basket?

MC: No, it’s all done from within the system.  Real-time data is extracted from the client’s existing e-commerce and stock control systems, and customers are able to add and subtract orders, change sizes and colours, discover related products and more, without ever leaving the video.  In the most general sense they can point, click, and purchase, but the IVI solution is about much more than just shopping, as we saw during our trial with a major international sportswear brand.

BH: I know that many of our readers have already investigated IVI’s microsite here on WhichPLM, so I’m sure they will be interested to find out more about this trial.  I understand that it covered both purchasing and a kind of trend analysis; did this provide you with any insight into how the solution might be used by other retailers and brands?

MC: In the case study you’re referring to, the brand wanted to undertake what we called a litmus test for particular products, and so they invested in the IVI solution to try and obtain more detailed analytics than was possible using traditional, static advertising.  A pre-existing video was used – one that highlighted a small range of products in a direct and engaging way.  There were two colourways highlighted within the video, and the brand wanted to use this opportunity to undertake some unique market research and gain insight into which of the styles was the most popular.  You and I both know from experience that market testing is something retailers and brands devote considerable resources to, and the brand conducting the trial saw the IVI solution as a new and more efficient way to do something that has traditionally cost them a great deal.

[quote]With the right kind of emphasis and the right kind of exposure, it’s the perfect way to read your customers’ minds or shape their buying habits.[/quote]

[quote]Keeping the customer within the world of your brand for as long as possible, and delaying the point of departure for as long as possible, increases the chances of a sale. [/quote]

BH: That’s a fairly key point, I think, and one that takes the applicability of IVI and solutions like it beyond just shopping.  While the e-commerce functionality is obviously key to what you’re doing, making it possible for your customers to be able to interact with video, drill down to embedded data, and for you to gain insight into what they do and don’t engage with – that kind of functionality has obvious uses in the design stage as well.  Do you believe that a company producing a line of products might still undertake traditional market research but supplement it with something like IVI for more direct customer engagement?

MC: Certainly.  Particularly because ours is such a quick process.  In the apparel and lifestyle industries (where products and styles can rapidly and unpredictably between seasons), a brand can develop a virtual collection, expose it to a chosen customer group ahead of production, and gain feedback from them without even speaking to them – based solely on what they click through to and what their mouse hovers over.  So yes, alongside traditional market research we expect even more clients to use direct audience engagement to gauge the potential popularity of a particular item at what we all know is one of the most vital stages of the product lifecycle.  Another holdover from traditional market research (but one that is afforded an extra layer of detail using our solution) is the importance of understanding when there is a lack of interest in a particular item.  This can be even more valuable than its positive counterpart, since a product that sees very little or no interactive interest at the design and inception stage may be one that it is financially prudent not to produce at all.  Or at least not in the near future.

As I’m sure you and your readers know, “future” is an interesting word where fashion is concerned, because retailers and brands are engaged in the business of prediction.  They work so far ahead in terms of design, trend analysis and anticipating and guiding customer desire that any kind of foresight into consumer trends is immensely valuable.

BH: Trend analysis is actually a far more scientific discipline than I think a lot of people give it credit for, and it will be interesting to see how this kind of pre and post-production data is incorporated into that in future.  There is certainly a degree of immediacy with solutions like IVI’s that isn’t available through more traditional channels.

MC: Absolutely, but we believe it’s something the world is ready for – because viewers are so educated about online shopping and advertising.  The most recent industry analytics indicate that we, as consumers, do tend to hover our mice over things that are interesting to us – that the cursor follows our eyes.  So in the same way that television analytics have been used to measure the audience’s collective gaze, we are able to track even subconscious interest based on where the customer’s cursor goes.  This brings us, I believe, as close as possible to being able to read minds.  Now, obviously the click or purchase is a firmer indication of interest – a more explicit request for more information – and so the more levels of information we are able to provide in a single place, the more accurately and immediately we are able to gauge consumer interest and transform that engagement into sales.  In many ways ours is as much of a prediction tool as it is a sales tool, but those two roles are not unrelated.  By combining social media with an interactive advertising solution, companies are able to undertake detailed and comprehensive market research without the cost and organisation typically required, and use the results of that research to advertise and sell their products in an informed and consistent way – one that speaks directly to their customers.

BH: We’ve talked a lot about fashion, and obviously this is an area in which IVI are focusing a great deal of attention.  We touched earlier on the concept of branding and how each of your implementations is bespoke from that point of view, but I know from speaking to many of our readers that brand consistency is often just part of the overall strategy of brand experience.  When companies are speaking directly to their customers, that experience goes beyond simply ensuring that colours and logos are consistent across platforms.  Is this something that IVI have taken account of in the development of your solution?

MC: As a matter of fact this was the original catalyst for building in the shopping basket functionality!  As I’m sure all retailers and brands know from experience, every point of transition is potentially a point of exit for the viewer – whether it’s a transition between static advertising and a traditional website, or between that website and an external payment gateway.  Increasing what we sometimes call “eyeball time” – increasing engagement with your customer – is directly correlated with increasing your brand exposure and your customers’ willingness to engage with you.  In the rawest sense: keeping the customer within the world of your brand for as long as possible, and delaying the point of departure for as long as possible, increases the chances of a sale.  So by embedding the shopping basket functionality and enabling the customer to remain within the video – to keep watching and keep browsing within that branded environment, before they commit to buying – we always expect to see a direct impact on both brand engagement and sales.  It was with this in mind that we added the facility to embed catalogues, too, so that any customer sufficiently persuaded by the client’s video can have immediate and tangible access to all of the products offered by that brand without ever leaving the carefully curated environment that we have worked together to create.

BH: I understand how this kind of bi-directional advertising and trend analysis can benefit retailers and brands looking for a more efficient or exciting way to reach their customers, but how are those customers themselves reacting to the IVI solution and, in a wider sense, these changes in online brand engagement?

MC: We know that the world is ready for a system like ours, and we’ve had enormous positive feedback about how the solution works, how it engages people, and the accuracy of the information it can hold.  That’s one of the reasons that we are deliberately focusing on the fashion industry today – because it’s so perfectly suited to that browsing mindset, and because it works so well on the impulse and desire and loyalty that is unique to the industry.  With the right kind of emphasis and the right kind of exposure, it’s the perfect way to read your customers’ minds or shape their buying habits, true, but for the customers themselves it represents a novel and intuitive way of interacting with the products and the brands they care about – wherever they are.  I should mention cross-platform compatibility here, since it’s something we knew was high on customers’ priority lists wherever brand engagement is concerned.  Irrespective of the video we’re applying it to, the highlighting and shopping basket functionality are currently Flash-based.  We use Flash because it’s a broadly-accepted standard that is deployable across 90% of devices, and because it works extremely well.  While we are working to create an HTML5 version that will roll the IVI solution out across virtually every internet-capable device, we took the decision to put the customer first and target the largest user base.

BH: It’s interesting to me to note that we bounce phrases like “shopping basket” back and forth today without a second thought for the fact that we’re referring to virtual baskets rather than physical , plastic or wicker equivalents.  I know that I’m certainly familiar with the core tenets of online shopping as a consumer as well as in my role here as Editor.  Do you think – as this suggests – that customers on the whole are sufficiently familiar with online shopping and online advertising for the IVI solution to attract them?

MC: I definitely believe so.  What we are doing is merging two processes that people are comfortable with in as seamless a fashion as possible: viewing advertising and buying garments and accessories online.  By approaching advertising in this way you can convert impulses to purchases much more smoothly, leveraging customers’ experience of online shopping and removing some of the rough edges and transition points that have worked against it to date.

BH: Similarly, businesses are becoming increasingly savvy themselves where online advertising is concerned.  Many retailers and brands have well-defined budgets and strategies reserved for digital media, and so some of our readers will doubtless be wondering where they might expect to see the biggest return on investment from a solution like IVI’s.

MC: We’ve already spoken about using brand engagement to avoid lost sales (the significance of which I hope is clear), but it’s important to note that our solution also presents a way to recoup past investment.  Where a company has already invested in advertising content, it may have proven difficult for them to calculate the return on that initial cost; it is not easy to analyse brand exposure and loyalty in a non-interactive medium.  Applied retrospectively, the IVI solution can convert an existing advert into a new revenue stream where, instead of just looking at the company’s products, customers can actually interact with and buy them, all within a carefully-branded and consistent environment.  This completely changes the scope of that existing investment, and provides companies with a chance of recouping the costs of producing the advertising in the first place through additional and unexpected sales as well as by being seen to be investing in the future of retail.

It was clear from talking to Mia that IVI believe firmly in making that investment themselves.  As last month’s International Retailing 2012 event and January’s National Retail Federation show demonstrated, the future of retail is emerging more rapidly than perhaps any of us could have anticipated.  Whether you produce boots or blouses, the technology for eliminating the barriers between your designs, your inspiration, your products and your customers exists today.  It could be a unique in-store experience that differentiates you from your competitors, or, as we have seen with the IVI solution, a new and unique way of adding qualitative, bi-directional data to what has traditionally been an extremely one-way process.

What is important is that it’s online by being inventive and adaptable – and creating a dialogue with their customers – that retailers can hope to increase brand engagement and help pave the the way for the future of retail.

To find out more about IVI and the Point | Click | Purchase solution, visit the company’s microsite here on WhichPLM.Alternatively, watch the company video below.

Ben Hanson Ben Hanson is one of WhichPLM’s top contributors. Ben has worked for magazines, newspapers, local government agencies, multi-million pound conservation projects, museums and creative publications before his eventual migration to the Retail, Footwear and Apparel industry.Having previously served as WhichPLM’s Editor, Ben knows the WhichPLM style, and has been responsible for many of our on-the-ground reports and interviews over the last few years. With a background in literature, marketing and communications, Ben has more than a decade’s worth of experience, and is now viewed as one of the industry’s best-known writers.