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Are Retailers Taking Full Advantage of YouTube?

March 22, 2013

YouTube is huge. According to a recent post on the service's blog:

  • It attracts more than one billion unique users every month.
  • Nearly one out of every two people who go online visit the site.

According to YouTube, all of Ad Age's 100 Leading National Advertisers run campaigns on the site. Among those with a YouTube presence are Amazon.com, Apple, Best Buy, Gap, Home Depot, J.C. Penney, Kohl's, Kroger, Limited Brands, Lowe's, Macy's, Safeway, Sears Holdings, Target, Walgreens and Walmart.

A number of retailers such as Home Depot and Kroger have their own YouTube channels offering a wide variety of how-to videos as well as commercials and service announcements.

In a video launched yesterday, Sarah Fishburne, director trend & design for The Home Depot, introduces viewers to the chain's Spring 2013 Style Guide. Among the topics: edible gardens along with recipes from Martha Stewart; how to avoid landscape blunders; new patio sets for outdoor living; and creating "gorgeous garden pathways." There is also help for inside the home with a spring-cleaning calendar, kitchen remodeling ideas and creative uses of tile.

[Image: The Home Depot]

Discussion Questions:

What are your recommendations to retailers for effectively using YouTube? What objectives are realistic and which are not?

While we value unfettered opinion, we urge you to show respect and courtesy for people or companies about whom you comment. Keep in mind that this is a public, professional business discussion. RetailWire reserves the right to edit or refuse the publication of remarks that we deem unsuitable. We may also correct for unintended spelling and grammatical errors.

Instant Poll:

How much more or less important will YouTube become as a marketing channel for retailers in the next five years?


The objective for retailers and CPGs alike is to create awareness of their brands. Period. This awareness of goods and services and the functionalities and benefits are the keys to growing true brand value. Create videos that enhance the audience's understanding of what the brand stands for and offer an "open-ended" video that drives the audience to the store.

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Ralph Jacobson, Global Retail Industry Analytics Marketing Executive, IBM

The key here is the word "effectively." Making videos and posting them for the sheer joy of making videos and posting them doesn't help anyone.

To go viral, videos need to be clever and on target. I had a client who posted their (terrible) television ads on YouTube and guess what? They only got "views" from the Ad Department.

It's not enough to have something to say, you have to be saying something a lot of people want to hear and then you'd better say it with style.

I guess increased awareness might be a realistic goal. Exponential sales increases, not so much.

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Ryan Mathews, Founder, ceo, Black Monk Consulting

Retailers can use YouTube in many ways. First, when you want to learn how to do something, it always helps to be able to have someone walk you through it step-by-step. In the supermarket sector, this could be how to prepare certain foods, for example. Second, YouTube can be used to build brand awareness. No point in creating videos just to create them, but if a retailer can come up with a clever way to showcase their banner, brands or other relevant information in a visual fashion, YouTube provides the opportunity.

Of course there is also the viral component versus communicating with one's customers. Much easier to have YouTube promoted via Facebook and website to the customer base versus a "lucky" viral hit. In combination with other marketing techniques, YouTube should be in the mix.

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Brian Numainville, Principal, The Retail Feedback Group

As the article points out, YouTube has become an alternative TV channel for a lot of brands. They can control the content and likely reach each viewer at a lower CPM than sponsoring a "real" TV show. However, they're still engaging people in the same old same old and generally providing the expected kinds of content, with the expected branding messages.

However, most of YouTube is casual, informal, and personal. I think retailers that empower their associates to create videos that are personal, regional, and w/o the expected corporate message, can gain a lot of trust and goodwill. Corporate can set policies and review content before posting and still gain a whole new flavor and insight by sharing messages from the real faces that represent their brand. And for cheap!

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Ken Lonyai, Digital Innovation Strategist, co-founder, ScreenPlay InterActive

If demonstration is an integral part of presenting products benefits, if there is a clever visual property to the material, if there is an appropriate "disruption" factor, a video can be effective. Posting a video just to have one is not effective.

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Camille P. Schuster, Ph.D., President, Global Collaborations, Inc.

It amazes me that marketers continue to talk AT people through these new mediums. We old baby boomers can be susceptible to that, but the younger generations are not. Broadcast marketing is counterproductive. Yet, it continues.

This one is simple. Retailers must provide a reason for users to go to their videos and associate their place on YouTube as an automatic click.

Oh, yes, one more thing...take the attitude of Kris Kringle from Miracle on 34th Street. Help the viewer. Do not try to sell.

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Gene Detroyer, Professor, Independent

YouTube is a very cost effective method of putting a lot of good video information in front of the consumer. The problems that happens along with these efforts are noteworthy. A small retailer with only advanced Information Technology (IT) user skills can put a lot of good information where nobody can find it. Larger companies with IT savvy are tempted by the cost savings that YouTube brings to the table only to face the reality of the competition getting in front of the prospectus as well.

Damaging materials from anonymous donors can and are being uploaded and placed to run along with company created messages. Many of the materials presented contain derogatory information which can in fact be false, but are in fact a distraction for the consumer.

YouTube is a lot of fun to explore and see how new video uploads are evolving for present day use. As long as these issues are present, I'm not so sure it is ready for corporate advertising and customer support. I do however remain willing to observe and learn.


YouTube is powerful for building a community. Two ways to go:

  1. Blatant promotion - BAD: The retailers that blatantly promote products will have very little return.
  2. Helpful and engaging videos - GOOD: The retailers that teach how to better use their products (less promotional and more helpful) will see a great response. Also videos that are fun and engaging will see increased viewership.

The key are videos that are helpful and/or fun versus completely promotional. Think in terms of the "Law of Reciprocity" - The more you give, the more you get.

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Shep Hyken, Chief Amazement Officer, Shepard Presentations, LLC

YouTube can make great sense for retailers, but you need to address 3 basic issues before you start shooting.

  1. What's the objective? Awareness is the obvious answer. But the image projected by the content is also critical. Like product quality, customer service, and even the colors on your website, the image created by the videos contributes to the Total Customer Experience and plays a part in the consumer decisions on whether they want to shop your store.
  2. What kind of content do we need? Trying to sell typically won't work. We suggest content should aim to help viewers Laugh, Learn, or Love.
  3. How are we going to get anybody to view the content? The most cost efficient way to drive viewers initially to your YouTube videos is probably through your employees and through your current customers. Even if your content is great it's a numbers game that's tough to get started. Give customers and employees honest reasons why they want to see it, and they'll tell 10 of their friends, who will tell 10 of their friends, and so on.

Doug Pruden, Principal, CustomerExperiencePartners.com

It always goes back to who your customer is and what they are looking for from you. Think about each of your customers and the possible touchpoints they may be looking for online.

Do they need instruction? Do they need a closer, more detailed look at your product? Would they enjoy a runway show?

YouTube is not the place to simply run ads. So if you can't do better than that, YouTube is not for you. However, if you can add value to your customer and their experience through this dimension, you should be!

Lee Kent, Sharing Insights for Success in Retail, YourRetailAuthority

YouTube is an effective medium for additional marketing and information for a retailer, but it is not a prime or major marketing tool by any means. It should be used to point consumers to information and education, instead of being a promotional marketing and advertising medium.

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Kai Clarke, CEO, American Retail Consultants

If you have something to say, YouTube is a great place to say it (e.g. it's perfect for reviewing some catchy ad you only got a glimpse of on TV). But if you don't really have anything to say, and want to be on YT just to be on YT, there isn't much point...kind of like most retailers being on Facebook.


I like checking into RetailWire—very thought provoking—and I wouldn't say I was qualified to answer this, but what the heck, this one is interesting. I recall that in the early days of radio, many of the licensed stations were connected to retailers.

First the question: what is a brand today? What is your brand today? What is your brand in the context of YouTube? What is YouTube?

Evolve your programming, there are many examples of broadcasters trying to package their content, find yours. Examples: "top 10 today" "5 @ 5" "12 days of xmas countdown" "This is Retail Co - 30 second update."

Informational videos are a great fit (as mentioned) (this is long tail) just evolve the format, trust the force.

Tap into your local flavor - got a place in Boston? Atlanta? Let's see and hear your people?

Zero budget is doable—if you give your employees a venue. Creativity is everywhere—production is a pain, but the passion to produce is so great among some.

Vahe Katros, Consultant, Plan B

YouTube is now a mainstream marketing channel. Like all channels, the content ranges from exceptional to appalling. Companies that have synergy between operational management and marketing are finding ways to leverage the channel to their benefit—matching the ethos of the brand to all the platforms: digital, in-store, etc.

Most importantly, the best players are using the power of this quick, content-rich platform to provide real value to the viewer and often resulting in not only viral viewing, but connections to the brand and ultimately to purchases.

Mike Osorio, Senior VP Organizational Change Management, DFS Group

Any communication and engagement with best prospects and clients is positive. YouTube has become a primary communication tool for many brands.

My recommendation to retailers is to learn how to leverage video and start using it immediately.

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Christopher P. Ramey, President, Affluent Insights

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