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For marketing strategies intent on "going where the masses are," video is not to be overlooked. That's because each month some 75% of US Internet users view well over 13 million videos online, according to comScore's monthly Video Metrix report.

But while video viewing is way up, so are video postings (some estimate that over 200,000 videos are uploaded daily to YouTube alone), and these days it takes more than a dancing baby to attract eyeballs and gather viral momentum.

Celebrity Apprentice fans likely gained a little perspective on what not to do, thanks to a recent episode involving a viral-video competition to promote All Small & Mighty laundry detergent from Sun Products Corporation. One team's video was overrun with sexual innuendos related to "doing the laundry," while the opposing team's featured little people decked in All-themed spandex and scrubbing a grubby Jesse James clean before storming off in a fit of bleeped profanities.

Though blogger Perez Hilton said the Jesse James video, however off-target, certainly held viral potential, executives at Sun Products opted to nix both videos because, they said, neither was a strong representation for their brand. As a result, The Donald doubled his layoff quota for the week, dismissing one member from each team. Apparently, even the stars of traditional entertainment have a thing or two to learn when it comes to viral video.

Nonetheless, hidden among the moments of drama were a few best-practices. To provide you with a straightforward guide for netting your audience's attention, we've combined those best-practices with learnings from organizations that are working video to their advantage.

1. The Hook

The first trick is to figure out what will pull your audience in, what tease they won't be able to resist.

Like email marketing, first impressions are key, since the rest of your efforts won't matter a bit if viewers never press "play," so an intriguing title is pertinent to getting the ball rolling. "Jesse James Dirty With Midgets" was a solid attempt, aside from being politically incorrect. In another example, Serena software, was able to capture its audience's attention with a series of videos entitled "Just @#$% It!!"

Before a winning title can be concocted, however, there's the task of extracting just what it is your target market will consider riveting subject matter. Start by brainstorming what appeals to your audience and makes them tick (researching the most heavily searched keywords can help clue you in). Then, determine how your message should be presented to exploit your audience's fervor to your best advantage.

"The most successful virals make a deep-seated connection with viewers, who feel compelled to share and evangelize about the content," explains Sarah Wood, operations director at Unruly Media, which specializes in viral-video seeding.

Sheer humor tends to be an effective approach, so long as it matches your target audience's brand of comedy. Sun Products executives considered the two Celebrity Apprentice videos too vulgar to connect with its market, for instance. But a cute joke isn't going to cut it either.

"Extremity is the common denominator," continues Wood. "The most successful virals commit to an idea and are unafraid to push it to the limit." For example:

  • 3M Canada's viral campaign targeting students for its Command Mounting Strips, for example, "punks" unknowing participants by decorating their homes with detestable art and filming their reactions.
  • A video for the UK's Institution of Engineering and Technology engages potential scholars with a safari exposition gone terribly wrong when the monkey clan hijacks parts from the sightseers' vehicle to build its own getaway transport.
  • Nonprofit JBooks.com appeals to donors with an arguably crass performance by Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky.

Humor isn't the only viral trigger, however, says Wood. "Successful virals are as likely to be extremely sexy, spectacular, surprising, or moving." Subjects wrought with controversy or related to current events can also stir response. And one need only quickly browse the supermarket check-out stands to realize the lure of celebrity revelations.

Ice.com, for example, was able to capitalize on both celebrity charm and the approaching Mother's Day holiday in 2007 to attract viewers, build hype for its sweepstakes, and ultimately generate more than $20,000 in sales via a video campaign in which Founder Pinny Gniwisch candidly interviews the likes of Three 6 Mafia and Kevin Sorbo (aka TV's Hercules) on their plans to honor mom.

2. The Line

An effective dissemination strategy is especially essential in the beginning, before the video has had a chance to catch on and spread virally on its own.

Posting the video on sites such as YouTube, Hulu, Vimeo, Revver, MySpace Video, and Facebook is a start, but in order to really start making waves it takes some promotional muscle, as well.

"It's not enough to stick your video on YouTube and hope that people will find it. There are over 300,000 videos a day uploaded to video-sharing sites. Without strategic viral planning, it's unlikely that anyone will find your clip, even if it is a gem," explains Wood.

Effective approaches for getting the word out include the following:

Schmoozing on the networks

Getting in with the "who's who" of YouTube can really increase your odds of reaching the site's 100 million+ unique viewers.

This was the core strategy for Ice.com's Gniwisch, who realized more than 80,000 total YouTube views for his videos after spending three months interacting and chatting with the "big players" (i.e., those with the most subscribers), joining their networks, commenting on their videos, and eventually asking them to comment on his.

To find these giants, simply go to the "Channels" tab in the top navigation bar then click on the "Most Subscribed" tab for a complete list.

Placing targeted ads

In addition to your usual channels, you might consider Facebook, which offers the capability to micro-target users by interests as well as demographics. Video holds a fair chance of being well received by Facebook users since it mirrors regular user activity and expectations on the network.

Leveraging influencers

After you've introduced the video to all your circles—employees, customers, friends, family, social media contacts, etc.—consider who else can sway your target market.

Bloggers provide a ready example, and you might increase your chances of getting a plug by...

  • Providing custom, ready-made content that matches their usual style and reader experience and is delivered in a format that can be posted directly without modification if desired
  • Offering a widget so that the video can be displayed directly within their blogs

Unruly Video has also found success by initiating pay-per-post and pay-per-view programs for bloggers who feature its clients' videos. The "Beware of the Monkeys" video for the Institution of Engineering and Technology, for example, was picked up by over 100 UK bloggers and achieved more than 250,000 views via this process.

Getting back to basics

If you've produced something catchy and can serve it up as enticing bait, chances are someone will cover it—from The Daily Show to Fox News, industry press to independent subculture pubs.

Ken Gordon, editor of JBooks.com and co-writer of the Pinsky-starring screenplay, managed to garner write-ups in The New York Times, The New Yorker, The Boston Globe, and The Forward by emphasizing two newsworthy angles in his pitch: "our novel approach to fundraising, and the fact that had we some incredibly self-effacing video of the former Poet Laureate."

3. The Sinker

Procuring viewers is one thing; capturing the golden ticket that is "viral" is quite another and will largely depend on your execution within the video.

That's not to say you need to rip a hole in your pocketbook. Ice.com's candid interviews cost only $1,295 for film and editing expenses, and JBooks.com called in some favors to produce its video for a whopping $68 (an advantage of representing a charitable cause). 3M Canada was also able to conserve costs by hiring unknown actors and using a local university program for editing.

But your content had better deliver on that "WOW" factor all the way through so that the video is not only viewed in its entirety but also considered by viewers to be too cool or crazy not to forward on.

"The comic timing needs to be right if you're telling a joke, a visual spectacle needs to be meticulously shot and directed for maximum effect, and casting can make or break a clip," says Wood, who suggests checking out viralvideochart.com to see what you're up against.

Additional tips for maximizing share-ability:

  • Adding share features such as direct emailing capabilities and links to post on Digg, Facebook, etc.
  • Encouraging viewer involvement. 3M Canada's video campaign, for example, feeds viewers' desire to make it more personal by allowing them to nominate friends for future pranks.
  • Avoiding overly branded content, but preserving authenticity. 3M Canada also does a great job of demonstrating the benefits of its product without succumbing to an overt ad promotion. That said, it doesn't hide the fact that the videos were developed for promotional purposes.

    A separate example: Viewers were led astray when a video portraying a young woman attempting to reunite with a mysterious man was revealed to be none other than a slick ad for Witchery Fashions. Until that point, the video had achieved a good deal of press coverage and viral spread, but that quickly dissolved and was replaced with blogger backlash when the truth eventually emerged.
  • Keeping it short and ending with a bang. Cater to short attention spans by editing your content to include only the "best bits," paring it down to 30-60 seconds (two minutes at most), and culminating with a big ending that immediately spurs viewers to share the excitement with friends.

Looking for more video inspiration? Check out The Obama Playbook: How Digital Marketing and Social Media Won the Election to learn how the Obama campaign successfully used streaming videos, viral videos, and fan-generated videos during the campaign (along with other digital marketing tactics).

Premium Plus Members may also enjoy viewing YouTube for Business, Part 1: Making YouTube Part of Your Online Marketing Strategy and YouTube for Business, Part 2: Creating Effective YouTube Business Videos, a YouTube video "how-to" seminar doubleheader in the MarketingProfs Seminar Library.

We hope these resources help you make videos an effective part of your marketing mix.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kimberly Smith is a staff writer for MarketingProfs. Reach her via kims@marketingprofs.com.