How Startups Can Use Video for Customer Acquisition

Customer acquisition for an entirely new product or service offering is hard. Video - done right - can make it easy. Here's how Reverb's Peter Schu did it.

Peter Schu is Director of Content from, an online marketplace for musical equipment and gear. Below is a transcript of his November 11, 2016 presentation at the first Here’s How Startup Marketing Conference, where he shared his expert tips on using video to enter new markets.

My name is Peter Schu and I'm the director of content for

For those of you who are unfamiliar with, we are a marketplace for anything that makes music. We've been around for about three years now and we are, by traffic, the largest dedicated music gear site in the world. We had about 6,000,000 unique visitors come through in October 2016.

And so, our product is a marketplace but a lot of the content that we do isn't necessarily marketing for the marketplace directly. Surprisingly, we haven't really done any videos or commercials, like you see for Walletpop, where we show you how to actually use the marketplace portion of our site. Our content has really become almost a product in and of itself, similar to a music gear publication that you'd see out there. And I think partially, that's the results of our early efforts to really build authority and credibility with our core audience. We're based on the premise that we are a marketplace by and for musicians, and that's still true today. Even the people who write the code for the site all play music. It's a great environment to work in.

So early on, a lot of our content that we put out was just trying to relate and empathize with our audience around the culture of music gear, to bring in artists to celebrate the act of music making. And it worked. It grew from there. However, a struggle we had recently was that we hadn't used a lot of content to bring in new users in an intentional and strategic way. In the beginning, most of our inventory was around guitars, and amps, and pedals, and bases. Very typical garage rock, indie rock type, classic rock gear.

And we had the advantage of being started by someone who owned Chicago Music Exchange and knew a lot of dealers there. So we had a cumulative advantage with that group. And we would bring in new users by building inventory, getting new dealers and sellers onto the platform, and then pushing all the inventory out through Google Shopping and Google Search. People would find us who were looking for that gear and come in.

But as we started to build more inventory around software for making music and synthesizers, that approach hit a wall in that the key words around that and the bids on shopping were extremely competitive.

And just to be clear, the way that we make our money is through a take rate on any transaction that happens, which is 3.5%, kind of narrow margins considering that we are competing for those key words with people who are making a lot more on every transaction and who are selling those products directly. So as a facilitator of those transactions, we had to be a lot scrappier and figure out a better way to break into that market.

This was an opportunity for us to think about how could we use the content strategy that we had developed to bring in new users in a more intentional way, specifically around the synth and the software crowd. So, what did we do?

1.  I looked at and emulated what had worked before

First, we looked at what we had done before that worked, and we could see a line of best fit through some of our best performing pieces of content that involved things that were instructional, so like a how-to. Musicians love to know how to do new things with their gear and that had been effective in the past, things that would demonstrate our authority in the field. And then also things that pierced the membrane of pop culture and inserted something that was relevant to our company into a larger pop culture conversation that was happening.

In the past, some of the big things that we had done were 100 TV themes on guitar in 60 seconds. We do a lot of our content in-house as well so we had someone who works with Reverb practice tons of times in one take with no editing how to do 100 TV themes on guitar. And we scrolled the music and the tablature at the bottom so that people could follow along, pause, try to do it themselves. And because even if you weren't a musician and you know the theme song to "I Dream of Jeannie", people love this, right? And it got shared and went viral.

2.  I identified what resonates with the audience we were after

And so we thought, how can we do something similar to that for an entirely new segment that's not built around guitar? How could we build our authority? How could we do something instructive and insert ourselves into a pop culture conversation? Obviously, what was the biggest hit of this past summer on Netflix, Stranger Things, which had a soundtrack that was completely built off of synthesizers so we were like, this is perfect. Perfect opportunity. However, because it was so big, there was already a lot of content out there about it.

3.  I found the gap in what was already out there related to the idea

We knew we couldn't just contact the band that did the soundtrack, their name is Survive. And they'd already done a bunch of interviews with other outlets just describing how they had come up with the soundtrack, things like that. So we had to find a gap in what was already out there to really place our content to the left of all the other conversation going on about Stranger Things in general and the soundtrack that it was done. Thinking back to what we had done before, we thought, why don't we actually show people how you could do the sounds of those synthesizers in the soundtrack in the spirit of the way the band created it. And place it in historical context for people, just given that the people who made the soundtrack for Stranger Things are huge fans of John Carpenter and Stephen King, and all the canon of 80s horror films that were synthesizer based with their soundtracks.

4.  I stayed true to our brand and mission

We knew we also had to stay true to our brand and mission when we were doing this. We didn't just want to have someone sitting in a room doing a very dry instructional film where they're pounding out keys on a synthesizer with music scrolling at the bottom and saying this is the main theme, here's how you play it. We always try to have a lot of personality in our videos and have palpable enthusiasm from the person who's playing it. So it's clear that they work for our company. They love this. You love it too, building a rapport there to celebrate the gear as much as trying to sell it and show you how to use it.

5.  I added an inexpensive but desirable give-away

We also knew that it had to be more than just the video if we wanted to capture long-term value out of this and get users who knew that we weren't just a media company doing this just for kicks, but we also do have a value proposition in our marketplace and that they can get gear through us as well. So, to get them in the transaction funnel, we had a giveaway, and the giveaway that we had, the video which you'll see in a bit here, has one of our employees playing these vintage synthesizers and showing you how to get the right sounds with that. But vintage synthesizers are thousands of dollars and we knew that that's not the best way to get people in your door.

So to hit on the software crowd as well, we had some developers create plug-ins so you could actually, whether you have Garage Band or whatever software on your computer, you could use this plug-in that would automatically have the pre-sets of the exact sounds that he had used in the video with these vintage synthesizers, which in itself was kind of instructive and showed people how plug-ins worked.

6.  I recruited an expert to ensure authenticity

And then I had to recruit an expert to ensure authenticity, and I think part of this we got very lucky. We didn't have to call anyone outside the company. Our director of digital is one of the biggest synth-nerds you'll ever meet and was excited to do this and was the one who pitched the idea, and happens to have an apartment loaded with the right gear where we could do this. But I do think it's important to know that if you're gonna try something like this, the authenticity has to be there.

It can't be something strung together where you're stretching and trying to convince people that this is your wheelhouse, especially with the idea that we're bringing this new crowd into the site. But it couldn't just be a one off. Once they landed on our site and started sniffing around, they had to realize that we did have authority in the area of music software and synthesizers.

7.  I reached out to affiliates with sharing opportunities

Once we put this out, we didn't just rely on organic sharing. We reached out to publications, to friends of ours, to dealers who shared, who where selling a lot of synth things on our site to share this with their stakeholders as well to try to network as much as possible.

8.  I planned for how I’d capture value

We wanted to make sure that before we pulled the trigger on this, we'd have some way to capture value. We knew we were going to get a lot of eyeballs on this, hopefully. How could we keep them coming back to the site or get them on our email list? So that we could prove to them that this wasn't just pandering but we have an ongoing stream of content around digital software and synthesizers that would then entice them to keep coming back and eventually work them down the funnel to the point where they might buy a synthesizer themselves or sell one on our marketplace.

So in just six weeks, we got 120,000 views on YouTube all around. Just after 2 weeks, we got 1,000 new synth-loving users that we could track back to the engagement from this video and going through with the giveaway. And if you're curious to see what the video looks like, enjoy! Explains the Sounds of Stranger Things