Last year, BMW garnered plenty of attention for a series of Web-based films designed to entertain buyers and win sales. The effort cost a reported $15 million, much of it paid to big-name talent in front of and behind the camera. Yet even as the auto division readies a sequel, the company's motorcycle unit has decided to take the road less traveled.
Using low-resolution video technology from Vendaria Inc., BMW Motorcycles will eschew high production values in favor of no-nonsense product information. Starbucks, Eddie Bauer, and other companies have taken a similar step.
To some degree, this is symptomatic of the failure of broadband. Indeed, with so many consumers still content to log on through conventional phone lines, sophisticated Web-presentation technologies may not be smart investments.
Instead, Vendaria's technology allows companies to present streaming video without performance problems or technical complexities. The software will scan a Web user's computer for browser, operating system, connection speed, media player, and other technical settings, and automatically deliver video in the proper format.
The video it delivers won't win any Oscars, that's for sure. To keep performance levels up at low connection speeds, Vendaria-based video typically features white backgrounds and static camera placement to keep the amount of visual information as low as possible.
That's just fine with companies like Bodum AG, the Swiss manufacturer of a line of coffee, tea, and kitchen products. Nils Lindblad, president of Bodum USA Inc., says that simple video demonstrations of the company's products are effective selling tools; Bodum's online sales are up 20 percent since it added video tutorials.
And while Lindblad says it's impossible to know how much of that is directly attributable to video, the company plans to add more video to its site. It will also use the Vendaria technology to provide video tutorials to retailers, sparing it the expense of sending field reps to every retail outlet that offers its products.
Vendaria CEO Scott Ferris says that low-resolution video has applications beyond Web sales. A company could, for example, send a video E-mail (or V-mail) to a new employee, providing rudimentary training so that he or she arrives ready to be at least marginally productive.
Bodum, in fact, directs new hires to a Web site that features video walk-throughs of some of its products. The no-frills videos are inexpensive to produce and universally accessible, and Ferris says that whatever may happen with high bandwidth, this stripped-down approach to video will find a multitude of uses.
Identity Theft: Good Names Gone Bad
How can you be sure your customers are who they say they are?
Last year, fraud cost the financial-services industry $35 billion as credit was granted to people who looked good on paper because they were pretending to be someone else.
Plucking a credit card from another person's mailbox is a time-honored way to indulge in such criminality, of course, but today the Internet makes "identity theft" even easier. By grabbing such personal information as Social Security and driver's license numbers from poorly protected data-bases, thieves can wreak substantial havoc.
Companies are fighting back, and they're enlisting technology to help. Credit bureau and reporting service Experian created the National Fraud Database (NFD) in 2000 and promptly signed on some big players, including American Express, Toyota, and Dell Financial Services.
Essentially, the NFD is a repository of bad deals; members relay information about fraudulent credit applications so that other members don't make the same mistakes. Experian says a recent analysis of the service showed credit applications that matched fraudulent ones contained in the NFD were 7 to 12 times more likely to be frauds.
"Today we make credit decisions instantly," says Roger Kidwell, senior director at Dell Financial Services, "and when done via the Internet it's a faceless transaction, so we need to leverage technology to help us weed out people engaged in ID theft."
Lyn Porter, vice president of fraud solutions at Experian, says it's difficult to assess how much of today's fraud can be laid at the door of the Internet. But anecdotal evidence suggests that ID theft has risen dramatically in the past few years, in tandem with increased Internet use.
Whatever the cause, identity theft isn't going to stop anytime soon. The Federal Trade Commission says the number of weekly calls to its Identity Theft Data Clearinghouse has risen from 445 in November 1999, when it was launched, to 3,000 as of last December.
Market Intelligence: Greatest Hits
Who wouldn't want a way to sift through reams of information looking for something that's actually useful?
Search engines are constantly improving, of course, and Business.com, famed for the record-setting multimillion-dollar price it paid for its URL, offers a business-oriented portal used by 12 million people each month.
One company, OneSource, offers a subscription-based service called Business Browser that aggregates information from 2,500 sources and parses it based on user needs. A sales force, for example, might use the "track watchlists" feature to monitor news reports on prospects or competitors, while a business analyst might use the "profile company" feature to look at a range of data on a specific company.
Vander Kaay & Associates Inc., an M&A specialist, uses Business Browser to help clients find viable acquisition candidates. Staffing firm Administaff uses the service to identify key decision-makers at prospective client companies.
Given that a Google' search for the phrase "information overload" returns 137,000 hits, anything that shortens the distance between question and answer would seem a likely hit in its own right.