Direct Response TV And Beyond: Navigating The Social Commerce Landscape

TLEP 81 | Direct Response TV

 

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.

Ronald C. Pruett

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.

Firstly, we focus on Ron’s extensive experience with Direct Response Television (DRTV), infomercials, and home shopping. Exploring 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.

Secondly, we 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.

 

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Direct Response TV And Beyond: Navigating The Digital Landscape

In this episode, we have a special guest, Ron Pruett.  I can’t wait to dive into the topic. I’m super excited to have you.

Thank you. I love this topic and thank you for that very nice introduction.

Before we get in, I have a very quick update here at eStreamly. We have launched swipe up and swipe down on video. Getting closer to a TikTok feel. It’s swipeable and 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, “This is a fascinating space.”   Diving into it and I then realized this whole space. Let’s 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?

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. Starting 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, 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.

Direct Response TV: As someone who wants to grow their brand, you have to understand every digital platform and apply them as required for your business.

 

TLEP 81 | Direct Response TV
Direct Response TV: As someone who wants to grow their brand, you have to understand every digital platform 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 and the difference? 

How would you encourage them to think through those differences and similarities?

My learning curve was huge when I started in direct response and direct marketing. In every one of these channels from even direct mail, billboards, or radio, each has its nuance. We got involved with launching a company in ‘97 and ‘98 on the web, and then in ’99 a much bigger one.

When you’re building a web company, you’re thinking about pixels and maximizing every single inch of the page. And 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. You see that, whether it’s TikTok or YouTube short versus something that’s longer versus a television commercial. And 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.

What response do you want? If it’s passive, television might be better but then there’s home shopping, which is more active. The web tends to be active. Yet, people are sitting around watching hours of YouTube passively or videos. It has to do with the creative and the types of presenters one uses. When we talk about live commerce or home shopping, there’s real art combined with science to create the efficiency and success that one needs to have to sell a product.

 

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 and overlooked too often.

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 , 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. Making it an art that is somewhat lost with a lot of the video and live stream programming. That’s why a lot of them haven’t been successful.

In a way, for me, when I look at live streaming, 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?” We need more than that,  something that excites me and that I want to learn something.  There are very few companies that are able to create or shop entertainment .

I was with someone saying, “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. It’s entertainment commerce. If you remove the fun, it’s a bland sell. The ability to slow down, tell the story, 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. 

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 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. What we are talking about here is much the show rundown. You have to adapt it to what the public wants. Entertainment is done in a differently than it used to be but in the end, the magic and recipes remain fundamental. They still exist and are still available.

 

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

 

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. To do that, it’s great to have a core audience. If you want to get big, you have to go mass.

You inevitably have to move to bigger platforms and adjust your message accordingly. You have to build audiences 

You wrote about this on LinkedIn, saying 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. We had a Joe Gagliese from Viral Nation. He illustrated it from a 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”.

I looked at some data 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.

 

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. 

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.  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 and 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.

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. You can target much better.

My bias has always been toward commerce. We started live streaming in 2015. There was no way to buy. The notion of live commerce other than calling into a call center or a clunky process on a home shopping channel were your only options.

For a long time, the home shopping channels have generated more of their revenues online  through just TV. 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’ve got to think about live streaming and live commerce as part of your overall marketing mix.

 

TLEP 81 | Direct Response TV
Direct Response TV: Smart brands know where their audience is and go towards them. Therefore, consider live-streaming and live commerce as part of your overall marketing mix, not just one piece of it.

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.  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.

 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.

TLEP 81 | Direct Response TV
Direct Response TV: You have to understand that the audience is consuming media differently these days. Be prepared to promote the right creative on DRTV and make sure you’re driving the right response.

 

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. You need the community, which is the glue to all of it.  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 and it’s live very often. Making it usually very effective when it’s repetitive frequency.  

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. You don’t want to be on rented land. 

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.

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. Such as 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. You need to build your  community for the long term value.

TLEP 81 | Direct Response TV
Direct Response TV: Talk to your target market. You want to be where the people are. Most of the time, they are on bigger platforms.

First Movers

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.

Channel Ownership

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 reasons why I was excited about inviting you is that I feel that, 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. 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. 

Important Links

What is Live Shopping?

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