The Psychology of Online Video, and 5 Social Video Commerce Tips

What is it about online video that influences our shopping habits? What’s behind how it affects our brains? Here are 5 explanations shared with me by behavior science experts about why online video triggers consumer purchases, and my own marketing tips for how e-commerce specialists can take advantage of each of them.


Reason 1: Oral tradition

In the recently released book, Dancing with Digital Natives, contributing author Sarah Bryans Bongey interviewed Dr. Gerald Cizadlo, biology professor and a campus leader in instructional technology at The College of St. Scholastica. Dr. Cizadlo explained that our thousands of years of oral tradition makes us more responsive when we are in the presence of a knowledgeable speaker.

We have learned for thousands of years by listening to explanations by someone who is more knowledgeable. Our non-verbal clues that are embedded in our voices add tremendously to the impact of the ideas.” ­– Dr. Gerald Cizadlo.

People everywhere would much rather watch and listen to good oral presentations (i.e., the ability to tell a story), especially from people who appear knowledgeable about whatever they’re talking about; and with an Internet connection that that allows for the transmission of video painlessly.

My e-commerce video psychology tip: If you’re doing video for your e-commerce site, even if you have a huge inventory, don’t rely on an automated solution that depends on a computer voice to read back a script. Hire real people that work with the product, who can touch the product in front of the audience, and tell an interesting story behind it, in their own words.

Reason #2: Emotional appeal

Most of our purchasing choices are influenced by our emotional state, sometimes triggering purchasing choices we wouldn’t otherwise make. Video, I will argue, is the richest media we have available for triggering those emotions.

Roger Dooley, author of Neuroscience Marketing, wrote about fellow author and fellow neuroscientist and behavior economist Dan Ariely’s research in his book, Predictably Irrational. (Thanks to my video colleague Kevin Nalts for originally sharing this info on blog, where you can read more about the actual lab studies ). Their video research tests concluded that “the emotional carryover from the video and writing exercise markedly altered their behavior on the unrelated money decision compared to when there was an absence of emotional stimulus.” What this proves is that the impact of an online video with purchasing power can stay with the consumer well beyond the initial viewing, and away from where that video was initially viewed.

My e-commerce video psychology tip: No matter how technical your video may be, try to find some way of incorporating an element that can bring out some level of emotional impact.

Reason #3: Language cues

It’s not just the visual experience we have from the non-verbal cues in a video that sets off triggers; it’s also the choice of text we associate with a video that can increase our likelihood to engage with and share that video with others. Chris Schreiber, Director of Marketing for the social video advertising company, Sharethrough (who’s president, Dan Greenberg, has a strong background in persuasive technology from his days at Stanford’s Technology Lab), says that “there’s certainly a lot of interesting work being done around what we call “semantic natural language processing,” which involves understanding the different tools to read what is the tone behind the comments. That’s a pretty new field, but I have no doubt that it will continue to get more sophisticated.”

My e-commerce video psychology tip: Be a good wordsmith with the understanding that your choice of language, including key words, will also set off an emotional impact that makes viewers more likely to engage and consumers more likely to purchase. (I work with some clients on finding key words in their script that can be put bold right up on their video as graphic text in motion.)

Reason #4: Richness of data

I will also argue that video is richer in data than any other media, and the ability to share that rich data online in so many ways, creates a great feeling of empowerment with the consumer that triggers spending. Here again is Chris’ own quote on that subject:

I think with online video, and probably more so than other medium, the way digital works, there’s so much more data at your fingertips. With online video’s rich data it carries, we have a much deeper capacity to understand what drives sharing. What that rich data does is actually motivate people to want to pass on this content. It’s like a clearer window into the way our brains are wired, and how it actually moves us to share with our networks. I believe that it’s the massive amounts of data compiled into an online video that makes for the biggest difference (over any other media).”

My e-commerce psychology tip: Include calls-to-action around your videos beyond just a “buy” button. Also have share buttons to popular social media networks and email that are either in or near your video player.

Reason #5: Assurance

When we are watching a video of an actual product demonstration, especially with a human in the picture demonstrating it, we feel a heightened sense of confidence that we are getting what we expect with purchasing it. Laurie Williams, Senior manager of Photo & Video at the Zappos Family of Companies, shared with me in an earlier interview here on VCC that their featuring videos of their staff as helpful presenters of their products (and showcasing their personalities) led to a huge decrease in product returns than beforehand. “We have seen rates go down as well as get a lot of (positive) customer feedback about the decision making process.” Said Laurie.

My e-commerce video psychology tip: If you’re doing video demos of any of your products for sale, show a human being actually utilizing the product in the way it is intended for purchase; or at least providing some tangible representation of it.

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