Welcome to the Live Ecommerce Podcast, where we delve into the world of video commerce, bringing you insights and discussions from experts in the field. In this week’s episode, we are thrilled to have Ronald C. Pruett Jr. as our special guest.
Ron has a remarkable career in the world of consumer, digital entertainment, ecommerce, and direct response brand companies. He has founded and served as CEO, CMO, Board Director, and Advisor for several renowned companies, including As Seen on TV, Mercury Media, eDiets, Taste Buds Entertainment, and many more.
In this episode, we focus on Ron’s extensive experience with Direct Response Television (DRTV), infomercials, and home shopping. We explore the similarities and differences between these channels and discuss how they are evolving in the current digital landscape. Ron highlights the importance of fun and entertaining content to the success of any video commerce strategy.
We also delve into a recent post by Ronald, where he advises brands that want to grow at scale to go to TV. We discuss the effectiveness of TV advertising, how it’s evolving and its potential in reaching a wider audience.
Finally, we touch on the nuance of the US market and the importance of building a community. We explore the benefits and challenges of building on rented land versus owning your channel.
Join us for this insightful episode where we learn from Ronald’s experience and expertise in the world of ecommerce and direct response brand companies.
About eStreamly: eStreamly is a Livestream & video shopping SaaS. Your video content is shoppable on your site, a blog, email, SMS, a 3rd party webpage, and now also shoppable on social media too (Instagram, Facebook, Youtube)! It’s your data, your ecommerce. Each video become an extension of your ecommerce with in video checkout.
Connect with Ronald C. Pruett, Jr. on linked https://www.linkedin.com/in/ronald-c-pruett-jr-98ba791/ or on his website: https://www.bostonassociates.com/
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The US livestreaming market is expected to hit $25 billion by 2023. That’s why now is the time to build your skills, understand the medium, and ensure that your livestreams are successful.
Direct Response TV And Beyond: Navigating The Digital Landscape
In this episode, we have a special guest, Ron Pruett. He has been a Founder, a CEO, a CMO, a board director, and an advisor of several renowned companies, both publicly traded as well as private. He has extensive experience in consumer, digital entertainment, eCommerce, and direct response. We’re going to talk a lot about that in this episode.
Pruett’s career run has spearheaded the success of many prominent companies, including As Seen On TV, Mercury Media, eDiets, Taste Buds Entertainment, and so many more. His innovative ideas and strategic vision have earned him industry-wide recognition, making him a highly-sought speaker and advisor. His contribution to the industry has paved the way for many aspiring entrepreneurs. I am so excited and delighted to have you around. It’s going to be a fun conversation. I can’t wait to dive into the topic. I’m super excited to have you.
Thank you. I love this topic. Thank you for that very nice introduction. I appreciate that.
Before we get in, I have a very quick update about eStreamly. We are super excited about the work going on. We have talked about in a couple of episodes that we’ve released some fun things on the analytics side. Something that I’m super excited about is we have launched swipe up and swipe down on video. We are almost getting closer as much as possible to a TikTok feel. You can get your video on your phone and then swipe up and swipe down. I know it’s more like a gadget but I love the feel. It makes it close to what the video is. It’s swipeable. It makes me very excited about that. Let’s stop talking about eStreamly and dive into this super topic.
I discovered you on LinkedIn. You were very active in talking about As Seen On TV, which is an entertainment infomercial. I was like, “This is a fascinating space.” First of all, I didn’t even know at the time that As Seen On TV, pardon my ignorance, was a company. I thought it was some kind of a logo that people were using. I started diving into it and then realized this whole space. I would love to start from that standpoint. You have over twenty years of experience in DTC, internet consumers, and brand growth. What is the state in your point of view of the space from the infomercial? What kind of key insight have you gained so far on this business? I’d love to start from there.
Thanks a lot. You covered a couple of things there. There is a logo As Seen On TV, which was started by A.J. Khubani. It then morphed into a company as well. A number of people in the industry use it almost as a generic but it was a category that was created by a couple of individuals. I got started on the web in the mid to late ‘90s and got hooked because of my international career, which was what I was doing prior in emerging markets.
I started to realize I could leverage the web to do a lot of what I was doing on an airplane. That led down this path to where we are, which spilled into direct response television, somewhat through serendipity, and then into infomercials and home shopping. They’re all related but yet, they’re all very distinct. As we’ll talk about the missing link, I thought in all of it at one point particularly was live commerce live streaming. They never disappear. Each one of those remains and they morph a little bit into something slightly different. As a brand or someone who wants to grow their business, you have to understand all of them and apply them as required for your business.
Speaking of difference, you talk about those as different dimensions and channels in some way. For me, I’m always thinking it’s more of an evolution than a difference so I’m curious to see that perspective. What do you think are those main similarities in some way? What’s the difference? How would you approach a brand? How would you encourage them to think through those differences and similarities?
When I started in this whole area of direct response and direct marketing, I fell into it. My learning curve was huge. In every one of these channels from even direct mail, billboards, or radio, each has its nuance. We were pretty early in the web. We got involved with launching a company in ‘97 and ‘98 on the web, and then in ’99 a much bigger one. We did a number of consecutive web companies.
When you’re building a web company, you’re thinking about pixels and maximizing every single inch of the page. When it comes to television, TV, or anything that’s video, it was very much driven by time. I realized some folks understood the web but they couldn’t quite grasp television and vice versa, particularly with an agency.
There are very distinct nuances from time versus almost land and then also the types of product or advertisement that will work on one versus the other. You see that, whether it’s TikTok or YouTube short versus something that’s longer versus a television commercial. You can’t necessarily throw it onto one platform versus the other. You can try. My experience is to maximize. You have to tweak each a little bit.
It is this notion that you have to create content not only for the platform for your audience but also for the platform to make sure that whatever that platform conveyed has conveyed the best way to that specific audience.
A lot of it is the response that you want. If it’s passive, television might be a little bit better but then there’s home shopping, which is more active. The web often tends to be active. Yet, people are sitting around watching hours of YouTube passively or videos. A lot of it has to do with the creative, which is always critical that I’ve learned over the years, and the types of presenters one uses. When we talk about live commerce or home shopping, there’s real art combined with the science to create the efficiency and success that one needs to have to sell a product.
In some way, what you’re saying is that you can have as much technology as you want. The technology can help but what’s going to drive the sales is the human element underneath the camera.
I’m glad you said that because storytelling, which is somewhat an overused phrase often, is best conveyed by those who understand the audience. It doesn’t mean you can’t be authentic or on TikTok using shorts and rapid-fire types of video but to get someone to take an action requires skill and some training often. It is very much an art. It’s overlooked too often, frankly.Storytelling, which is somewhat an overused phrase, is often best conveyed by those who understand their audience. Click To Tweet
In the world of infomercials before technology arrived and all that, it is my impression that infomercials were working because it’s a message that you see many times. You are seeing the same image as many times and at some point, you are taking an action. Since technology is here and people are creating more content that they’re watching and tuning it down or out when they see an infomercial, do you feel that infomercials still have effectiveness as they used to be? How do you perceive that?
The infomercials were brilliant. I also worked with Kevin Harrington who many consider to be one of the fathers, and Ron Popeil as well, of the whole space of infomercials. It is what they call long form versus short form, which tends to be the shorter commercials one would see on TV. Long-form infomercials tend to be 30 minutes or 60 minutes long. They are programs. Their ability to convey a story is critical but they also present a solution to a problem. That is part of the formula.
When you watch them, they lay out, “Here’s the problem you have. If this is happening, here’s your problem again. Did you know if you buy this or do this, you’ll solve that problem?” It’s a story. At the end and in the middle, they’re hoping whoever produces it that you’re going to buy their product or service or follow them along. It’s very human. It’s an art that is somewhat lost with a lot of the video and live stream programming that I’m watching as much as you are. That’s why a lot of them haven’t been successful.
In a way, for me, when I look at live streaming, the bigger element that we are missing with livestream shopping is this entertainment piece. It has to have this entertainment. I need to be enjoying the time I’m here. “It’s me. How are you?” It has to be more than that. It has to be something that excites me and that I want to learn something. I feel that there are very few companies that are able to create or shop entertainment as they say.
I was with someone and they said, “One of the problems with the home shopping channels is that they’re not fun anymore,” which is why a lot of them are suffering. At the end of the day, it’s entertainment commerce. If you remove the fun or entertainment, it’s a bland sell. Since we are also bombarded, the ability to slow down, maybe tell the story, or provide a solution to a problem is missing. It’s data-driven entertainment. That’s the other thing that home shopping showed a lot of us in infomercials to the same extent. The presenters have earpieces so that while they’re doing something live, they’re getting information as to what is working and what is not working.One of the problems with the current home shopping channels is that they're not fun anymore, which is why a lot of them are suffering. At the end of the day, it is entertainment commerce. Click To Tweet
There’s a lot of almost magic behind the scenes. That was developed over years of trial and error. Some people have perfected it. It has moved to different platforms and new platforms. There’s always someone coming in that’s new. It’s inevitable. Maybe someone will come back. Maybe it’s going to be Twitter live again to be a sales platform. SHEIN came into the marketplace area. It is another marketplace platform. You have to look at what’s over the horizon but the same tenets of what has worked are the same on all of them regardless of where they’re presented.
When you say the same, what we are talking about here is much the show rundown in a way. You have to adapt it to what the public wants. Maybe they want a younger crowd. Entertainment is done in a different way than it used to be done years ago but in the end, the magic and recipes remain fundamental of that. They are still existing and are still available in the QVC of the world. The HSN and all those folks know the keys to the castle. We have to adapt it and make a modern twist to it.
I have historically focused on and written about this in a number of places. I’m a big believer in mass hits so more mass broadcasting. It’s great to start with a niche perhaps but inevitably, businesses, products, and even individuals, everyone wants to grow their personal brand or whatever it is. To do that, it’s great to have a core audience. If you want to get big, you have to go mass. That’s where the hits are.
You inevitably have to move to bigger platforms and adjust your message accordingly. At the end of the day, you have to build audiences because you can be the best but you might be on a platform where there’s not a big audience. The application and the way one does it is the same across all of them, in my opinion.
You wrote about this on LinkedIn. You said that if a company wants to build a massive audience if they’re on the internet or in retail, they ultimately have to go on TV. That’s what you said. We had a Joe Gagliese from Viral Nation. He was making the example of this lady from a very large multinational company that says, “This building was born on TV ads.” He said, “It’s my people that are going to make you the next building,” in some way. He was talking about creator marketing and creator economy.
I looked at some data and was seeing that the younger generation is not on cable. This is not a new thing but there was an inflection point in mid-2018 where the mobile device was gaining 1.5 hours of watch time to be close to 4 hours a day while the TV was down to 3.3 hours and 20 minutes from 4 hours and 20 minutes in 2014. What we’re seeing here is that TV people are watching less TV and are more mobile. If people are watching less TV and you still are a promoter of TV and on the other side, we have the creator economy, do you feel still that TV is the medium or is it the medium for the next years? How do you feel about that?
That did get a lot of responses. It was interesting. I talked to others about this. If I had written something that said, “To build a brand, you have to be on the internet or the web. You have to go on social media,” everyone would’ve said nothing. I brought up a point and said, “You have to be on TV if you want to go mass.” This is proven true time and time again. If you want to build a massive brand, have a massive hit, and have people talking about you in the street or at the water cooler, if anyone has a water cooler anymore at their office, you have to be on TV.If you want to build a massive brand, have a massive hit, and have people talking about you, then you have to be on TV. Click To Tweet
What is TV? It is probably Roku and Hulu. We can throw in a lot of acronyms and buzzwords like OTT, AVOD, SVOD, and fast channels. Call it whatever you want. I saw something that YouTube, when they reported their numbers, said that half of their viewers were on TV. On my smart television, I have YouTube. That is what I meant.
Television, historically, has been more passive. You come home at the end of the day. You want to sit down and relax. You’re going to get lots of input. On a lot of the channels that I watch, and we could go through the whole long list of them, some serve up ads. Some people pay not to have them. Almost 50% of people enjoy or don’t mind watching ads.
To promote yourself or your brand, understanding and applying television in whatever form it is that we want to argue about is the way you’re going to get big. There are very few, particularly direct-to-consumer brands, that have been able to build up and be successful over time without going to the bigger platform.
You may or may not remember Vine. Years ago, when we did a lot of work with Viners and Periscopers in New York, which are great platforms, inevitably though, they all wanted to be on YouTube because it was bigger. Every YouTuber that we work with, and I still work with a number of them, wants to be on television. It’s inevitable. It’s coming back in my estimation, which is why I use the As Seen On TV logo. The point was you can’t just build a brand on Google or Facebook, or hope that someone clicks on Instagram. You have to look at it holistically. What ties it together to be big is TV. I’ve believed that for a long time. I’ve experienced it.
It’s certainly interesting to think about that. You think that TV is here to stay. What you’re saying is it’s not just TV. It’s OTT. The streaming channels and all that are here to stay, like YouTube. I agree. My daughter is plugged in. When YouTube is on, she’s not watching any of the things. It’s YouTube on TV.
The content is great. We’re all deluged with channels. It gets complicated. Is it on Apple or Netflix? I don’t think most people know and very often, they don’t care. At the end of the day, to get big, you have to go big and go where the bigger audiences are.
To the credit of that is also the quality of the data has improved as well. With OTT, the quality of the data is much better. You can target much better and all that.
My bias has always been toward commerce. We started live streaming in 2015. There was no way to buy. You couldn’t click and buy on a live stream platform. Even with the work you’re doing, you’re simplifying it. Sometimes, it takes a while. They were live streams. The notion of live commerce other than calling into a call center or maybe going through a clunky process on a home shopping channel were your only options.
For a long time, not quite a decade but close to it, the home shopping channels have generated more of their revenues online than through just TV. It was easier to buy, frankly. The television industry spent many years trying to figure out how to allow people to click and buy. It’s still quite clunky. Smart marketers and smart brands know that they have to understand where their audience is or where their customers are, and then they have to go toward them. You got to think about live streaming and live commerce as part of your overall marketing mix, not just one piece.
I love the fact that you brought the phone to the story here. I was talking with a company. It’s an infomercial company. They identify themselves As Seen On TV as well as part of the company out there. They are infomercials. That number by itself, I was blown away by it. Twenty-five percent of all their orders are still coming from the phone.
Do you mean people dialing in?
Yeah. I was first like, “This is still a huge number.” You went from that space, As Seen On TV. You are constantly looking at the evolution of live stream, live commerce, and all that. How would you advise a company that has still this kind of behavior from their shopper? What would say is the next step for them? In some way, how do you not alienate your customer base in some way? If they’re calling from a phone, they’re probably more on the older side. If you want to cater to a younger audience, you want to remove that friction. It is a fine balance because then, the content is different from what you need to provide. How do you do that?
I spent a long time developing web companies or helping web companies turn around, hopefully, some cases before we got into television. Television or TV, direct response TV specifically, to me, was eye-opening and mind-blowing. I immediately fell in love with it. If you go back to Ogilvy and all these other classically trained advertisers, and I suggest folks go back and look at some of these companies and individuals who built advertising and marketing, a lot of them were direct marketers. They changed with time and ultimately became more brand-oriented. You can build brands through sales. The question is how do you do that? You have to know your audience.
You’re right. A lot of the older demographic still watches a lot of television in the traditional sense, like linear cable TV but that’s also changing. I watch on OTT in AVOD devices and I see the commercials. At least 50% or maybe 80% of them are what I would consider to be direct response television drive to the web versus drive to the phone because they’re going after a younger audience.
It might be Bridgerton, Succession, or Yellowstone. All these other great shows, if you’re watching ads around them, they’re trying to prompt you to some action. If I were running a company or one of the marketers, you have to understand that and be prepared to promote the right creative on the platform and make sure you’re driving the right response.
I’m still amazed, frankly, at how little cohesion there is in a lot of the marketing programs or marketing spends. I’ve always equated it to investing. You might go long on equities and have some bonds or venture capital in alternative areas that you’re trying. It could be energy. Whatever it is, you have to have a whole mix. Some respond in return to you faster than others. I feel the same way about channel selection and creatives for those.
To answer your question, a lot of people like to talk on the telephone. We’re talking live. Why? It’s because we’re human. You get a high close rate when you’re talking to someone. If you’re letting someone drift around on Instagram, you might not be getting the same conversion rates. I’ve seen that time and time again. Facebook is a classic example. It has extreme targeting but not always the best conversion rates. Each brand and company will flow a little bit differently.
It’s all about creating that conversation in some way. One of the things that is missing in this whole equation is the notion of community. With where the future is heading, how do we foster our customers to drive into a community where people find a space where we talk to each other about the things that we love and are passionate about?
Nike has done a great job over there. There are very few companies that have been able to give an extension for their shoppers to find a space where they feel comfortable, have those conversations, and find themselves among peers. In some way, we’ll drive conversion and livestream is one of them amongst other topics of where you can drive that conversation.
Content is one thing. A lot of content creators consider the next C, Commerce, as being crass sometimes. I have found it easier to work with commerce-centric folks to create stories or content than content folks to move towards commerce for whatever reason. It was my analogy earlier of time versus pixels. It’s a different mindset.
In almost every instance where I’m working, there’s content and commerce around a community. If you don’t have the community, which is the glue to all of it, it’s more short-term. If you can build something like Nike, which had a movie made about it, and you can create that as Ben Affleck did, that’s an incredible asset that you’re building over time.
The other C that I would add around where I’ve been involved in is Celebrities. Sometimes, celebrities are good. Sometimes, they’re not if you’re involved in the commerce side of it. The other C is Channel. Is it live streaming? Should it be on a television centric, a TikTok short, or whatever the next one’s going to be? I don’t think there’s a one-size-fits-all. There’s always the next shiny object. In all those other forms that we’ve talked about, radio isn’t going anywhere. It’s steady. It’s live very often. It’s usually very effective when it’s repetitive frequency. It depends on the situation you find yourself in.If you are involved in the commerce side of show business, you will realize that there are times when celebrities are good or bad. Click To Tweet
Before we wrap up, I want to ask you one last question. It’s related to the live stream commerce space. In China, what we see working is streaming on massive platforms like Douyin, Taobao, and all that. I’m biased there because I have my financial preference. In some way, where you want to be is on your site. You don’t want to be on rented land. You want to be on your land so build your land.
In some way, what you’re saying and what we have heard from you is you need to go where the audience is, which is the distribution. This is like, “How do we get to distribution?” I wonder. From your experience, would you advise a brand to build on rented land or build on your land, or a mix of both? What’s your perspective on that from where you see live streaming going? How can you leverage the best video commerce for the next years?
I became fascinated with live streaming probably around 2014, 2015, and 2016, in that area, when I was at As Seen On TV. We were also working with a lot of the home shopping channels here and in Europe, QVC Italia. Live streaming was taking off. Prior to my trip, when I went over to China to check it out, I was blown away by what the platforms were doing over there, which included commerce. You mentioned a couple of them. Whether they were JD, Tmall, or Alibaba, it was amazing. Unlike here, you could watch or buy the platforms. It was very commerce centric. I thought it was amazing.
To your point, why were they effective? They had audiences. Distribution, at the end of the day, is supercritical. A parallel to that is crowdfunding. Crowdfunding was huge a few years ago because people thought, “If I promote whatever it is, cause, product, or company, I’m going to be able to raise millions of dollars.” That wasn’t true because you had to bring your audience or create an audience to come over to the platform you were on to find you and then give you funds. People were dismayed. Their programs ran out and they never raised any money. Why? They had no distribution and audience.
You want to talk to your target market and be where the people are. Often, they’re on bigger platforms. You should be on many platforms. You can be on Amazon, Amazon Live, Facebook, Twitter, or Poshmark. We could go through the whole list. It’s a very long list. Where you’re going, and it’s true, the more control ultimately over time you have over your business and audience, which is where you’re building, that’s always a positive thing. It’s like building your email list and then being able to communicate and share to do what. It’s to build the community. If you’re not building that, it’s a difficult long time. There’s no glue or long-term value to what you’re building.
I’ve looked at 20, 30, or maybe 40 live commerce platforms, not in this country but in other countries. You’re doing it right because being the first mover is not always the smart place to be. There are a lot of first movers in this space, particularly in North America, which culturally, for me, in my experience, has been very distinct from what’s happened in China and other parts of maybe even Southeast Asia where I’ve spent a fair amount of time. It’s a different evolution.
The ones here that are pure plays have focused on certain verticals, like collectibles on some of these other platforms. Others have tried to shop shops or talk shop live. I was starting to look at this network on YouTube. They weren’t able to get enough in one particular clear vertical. As a result, a lot of their efforts were diffused.
Live commerce as a standalone can be very effective if, to your point, you build a community and an audience that has a certain glue or an interest that is also transaction-oriented. Collectibles are one of those. I’d argue there are a couple of others as well. Beauty is another one and hobbies also. It is things like that where there’s an interaction embedded in the community element to it.
Over time, as in any channel, you want to build your vision of the future and retain as much control over that as possible. I’ve seen in my many decades that sometimes, you become beholden to one platform. If you’re a company that’s only selling on Amazon, that’s not so good because algorithms change daily. You want to be aware of the risks.
I’m bullish and going long on live streaming and live commerce. To sum up, I’ve been interested and passionate about it as you are for a long time. It’s longer than I’d care to remember. I feel like it’s having a whole second wave here. I’m more interested and energized about it now than I have been in years because entrepreneurs like you are refining the offerings. Probably, we’ve all learned a lot. It’s going to have this resurgence again soon.
What a closing. I love that. Thank you for taking your insight to us, sharing your passion, and sharing so much of this space. One of the things I was telling you about one of the reasons why I was so excited about inviting you is that I feel that sometimes, too many of us in this space are looking at what’s going on in China and not looking at what has been going on for years with the QVC and HSN.
There is a power to bringing a voice of that experience from people like you that have looked and worked at this evolution, are seeing the market, and then making headways to make that whole transition. I love this conversation. It’s been interesting. I’d love to ask you one last question. Where can people find you if they wanted to connect with you?
Thanks. I work with The Boston Associates. Go to our website, BostonAssociates.com, or connect with me on LinkedIn or Twitter. I’m always in need of additional followers. Often, the topic matter is eCommerce, direct-to-consumer, which both of us love consumer brands and direct-to-consumer wine. You want to combine all of it. You can reach me there. I love this topic. Thank you for spearheading a lot of the conversation around it. It’s great.
If you want to join our community and continue the conversation, feel free to join. It’s Community.eStreamly.com. We have a lot of former guests that are on this community as well as brands and creators. These are people that are passionate about this space. They are talking and exchanging with each other about the space, what’s in it for them, how they can evolve, what’s the future, and what’s the eCommerce news as well.
We talk quite a bit about the eCommerce news and some of the creator economy news. If you want to join, please head out to the community. It’s a private community. We make sure that you are a real human before getting you in. When you’re in, you can chat and engage with a lot of amazing folks in the community. Thank you for your time, everyone. Until next time. See you then.
- Ron Pruett
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