Google’s new real-time video service, Helpouts, has the potential to end campaign focused marketing and allow consumers to engage with brands when it suits them.
Launched earlier this month, Helpouts connects people with experts in various fields with users choosing who to get help from through availability, ratings and reviews.
Brands currently using Helpouts, an extension of Google+ Hangouts, include Sephora and Weight Watchers.
According to Hardhat Digital’s Sarah Ling the new service is a “great way for consumers to engage with brands on their own time”.
“There’s already a big feeling amongst those in the industry that campaigns are an outdated way of serving information to consumers because it is often done on the brand’s terms,” Ling, digital strategist at the Melbourne agency, told B&T.
“But really, our marketing should be led by the consumer.”
Helpouts could allow brands to establish themselves as experts within their categories and add a new level to their customer service.
The live, and recordable videos, would give brands the opportunity to show off the expertise that goes into the production of their products.
“Big food brands have whole culinary teams, food scientists, highly trained customer service representatives and even agricultural experts who are very knowledgeable in farming techniques,” Ling said.
“Connecting their consumers with these types of people in their business would definitely shift the perception of a brand from just being a low cost provider, to a brand that focuses on aligning experts to create a perfect product.”
Offering ‘how-to’ videos would be another option, as demonstrated by cosmetics retailer Sephora which created one of the first Helpouts by showcasing makeup tips.
There may be the opportunity for affiliate programs once Helpouts are more established, according to DT’s strategy director Tim Evans.
“Home improvement brands could bring on board local contractors and knoweldgable people to take service requests,” Evans told B&T.
“Supermarkets could host cooking classes with local chefs. It’s similar to how auto insurers currently use local mechanics as mobile response units.”
Helpouts would work best for categories with long consideration phases and brands that have service as a key value proposition, he added.
“To begin with, it will appeal most to premium purchases such as Amazon’s Mayday service for the Kindle HDX.”
The Mayday service connects owners of the Kindle Fire HDX tablet to a tech support via video chat within 15-seconds of hitting the button. It is always available.
“Amazon’s Mayday ensures customers get the most out of their expensive purchase, which mitigates buyer regret, and of course drives lifetime customer value and advocacy.”
Matthew Crook, Aegis Media’s chief digital officer, believes that at this early stage any brand that offers this service in a physical environment could trial Helpouts.
“Any category that requires advice of a legal nature, detailed financial recommendations, taxation or financial planning should be a little cautious,” Crook added.
“My advice would be to firstly assess any potential negative outcomes before proceeding.”
If brand’s Helpouts staff are not sufficiently trained their sessions could easily morph into mini crises.
“Google Helpouts are live, and can be recorded by the consumer, so representatives need to feel confident about what they’re saying and how they’re saying it,” Ling said.
DT’s Evans says any brand venturing into the service needs to ensure their Helpouts are “baked-in to the product, not tacked on”.
“The risk is that brands set the expectations of a premium service experience, and don’t have the infrastructure to deliver.”
Helpouts are offered with different price points. They can be free or creators can charge viewers by the minute or session, payable via Google Wallet.
However Aegis Media’s Crook says brands should not bill their consumers for Helpouts.
“As a way to deliver a deeper interaction between a brand and a potential customer as an advisor rather than a direct sales technique. I don’t think brands should charge for this.”
Ling believes it depends on the service being offered. She agrees that if used as an engagement, or customer service tool, it should be free but premium services, such as consultations with medical experts, could come with a fee.
“For example real estate agents that might have a half an hour consultation telling you how to better prepare your house for sale,” Ling explained.
“This type of interaction would have a greater value than one about how to lace your runners.”
The biggest barrier blocking brands from using Helpouts will be resource costs, according to Evans.
“Call centres are increasingly hosted off-shore. It’s one thing to write a place-dropping, localised script for the phone, but it’s a lot harder with video.”
Ling believes brands would not have to be available 24/7 on Helpout, instead they could schedule blocks of time when they are available.
“To maximise ROI, brands would be better off scheduling a block of time during peak online hours to reach consumers.”