What Worked: Embarq uses video strategy to reach customers

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Embarq, a high-speed Internet provider, wanted to use social networking to appeal to its customers online and form relationships with them. It operates in 18 states including Washington, Nevada, Florida, Pennsylvania and New Jersey, so finding its 3.5 million customers also presented a challenge.

“We're spread across different geographic locations, so we were faced with the question, ‘How do we reach customers?,”' saidKevin J. Cobb, interactive brand manager at Embarq. “High speed Internet customers very passionate about our product. They are out there talking on social networks and there's an expectation that companies need to be there and need to be part of that conversation. We wanted to join our customers in these communities, as well as provide service and content to them.”

Embarq actively markets its services in online display ads and paid and natural search, but the telecommunications company felt social media would be the best way to raise brand awareness, let customers know it listens to their concerns and react to their needs. “We were really looking for another way to connect with our customers and have more in-depth interactions with them,” Cobb said.

Embarq, with its interactive agency iCrossing, decided to launch a YouTube channel and a video contest. Despite the site's reputation as a catchall for wacky homemade videos, Embarq was reassured by doing research on other companies that use YouTube as a marketing vehicle.

“We realize the perception of YouTube is that it's a whole bunch of videos of cats falling off counters,” Cobb said. “We began to look into it. It's the second most popular search engine.”

Cobb and his team first tested 15-second video display ads on YouTube's home page that had already run in standard online advertising, and the ads were geotargeted to the markets where it operates. “We did find that our customers were there and willing to click through and engage with us on YouTube, and decided a video contest was a meaningful way to join and introduce ourselves to this community,” he explained.

Cobb launched an Embarq-branded channel on YouTube, and created a contest to stir interest. It asked users what they could do in 48 seconds — the amount of extra time it takes to download an average Web page with dial-up Internet vs. Embarq's service. iCrossing created the brand identity, YouTube template and video scripts for the contest and worked with Embarq's production team to bring the site to life with sample videos. Three hundred people submitted videos within four weeks. After Embarq narrowed them down to five finalists, more than 15,000 people voted for their favorites.

ICrossing then created an integrated marketing campaign, including display ads and natural and paid search, to drive people to the channel. Augmenting that was a word of mouth campaign to drive awareness and submissions, while also laying the foundation for ongoing relationships with influential bloggers.

“We didn't want YouTube to be a single campaign,” Cobb said. “Companies joining social media has more to do with joining the community and having conversations your customers want to have. It has to be a long term strategy.”

With iCrossing's help, Embarq also created a series of how-to videos based on the top concerns raised in its call center, such as problems installing the technology.

The company initially created 10 how-to videos on the channel. “We wanted to let people know coming to visit our channel that there would be ongoing content to provide value,” Cobb explained. “It was built around the top customer service calls we received, and we continue to make how-to videos based on feedback.”

In the latest six month period, Embarq found consumers spent 12,000 hours with the brand watching videos. The videos are also well-received and get an average rating of 3.9 stars. “They continue to interact with us there and ask questions and have conversations with us,” he said.

Customer service representatives also point customers to the videos for help. The channel has 744 subscribers, and in the six-month period measured, Embarq connected 5,200 orders with video viewers. "We tracked people visiting the YouTube channel and that made an order within 30 days," Cobb said. "Our goal in creating the channel was brand awareness. The orders were a surprise and obviously a welcome addition to the channel.”

The telecom company continues to make how to-videos; it current has 39 up on the channel. The latest batch, launched in August, was the start of a “101” series, covering more general questions from customers, such as “how do you refresh your IP address.” Ten videos were created.

“We're currently writing the second in the 101 series,” Cobb said. “We're going to continue that content strategy of providing valuable videos and build on that so that we can continue to be an ongoing participant in the community. We're taking the feedback and responding to what our customers are asking for, rather than throwing things at the wall.”
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