Viral Marketing Videos: Two Big Misconceptions to Avoid


So, you want to create viral marketing videos for your business? Of course, you do. For years now, the idea of viral video has loomed as a kind of holy grail or unicorn over the digital video marketing world – captivating the minds of business owners as the ultimate prize and measure of success. It’s little surprise then that the interwebs remain awash with articles aiming to unlock the secrets to creating your very own viral video.

I don’t want to write another one of those articles here. Instead, as a video marketer whose goal is to demystify the production process and help my clients see strategic business results, I want to clear the air on two big misconceptions about viral marketing videos that are not directly addressed in many think pieces on the subject.

Misconception 1: The Formula

The first misconception relates to the virality “formula.” Most online advice about this goes something like the following: If you think back to the videos you most recently clicked on or shared, you’ll probably find that what stands out about them is how they made you feel. You were amused, wowed, surprised or touched. In other words, entertaining, emotional response is frequently the virality formula’s special sauce.

Generally speaking, this is great advice, but it fails to distinguish between the best practices for viral business-to-consumer (B2C) videos versus those for business-to-business (B2B) videos. If we drill down into the successful content for these two segments, it becomes obvious that are vital differences to consider stemming from the differing interests of the audiences.

When it comes to B2B marketing, while emotional hooks and entertainment value are important, they aren’t enough for a successful video. Your core message as a B2B vendor is the business solutions you offer. B2B videos go viral not because they are funny or otherwise emotionally engaging. They go viral primarily because they are:

  • Relatable vis a vis a business problem and, therefore, entertaining. What makes them so authentically engaging is that people can relate to the situations depicted;
  • Useful vis a vis a business need and, therefore, engaging and worth sharing;

So, if you want to go viral with a B2C video, remember to make it entertaining, but put the product or service solution front and center in the video narrative.

Consider this video from Cisco that went viral nearly 12 years ago. It hits the mark as far as shareable entertaining content goes, but as Hubspot points out, it falls short as a conversion driver because it does not help the viewer understand the product and what makes it more compelling than other options out there.

For examples of viral B2B content that hits all the marks, look no further than the handful of videos recently released by the web-development startup Webflow. These videos have racked up millions of views across YouTube and Facebook, and they work so well because they are short, humorous (because relatable!), perfectly sum up their value proposition, and are beautifully produced to boot. If you haven’t seen any of these ads yet, here’s one of my favorites to check out:

Viral business-to-consumer videos, on the other hand, are not as restricted by the need to center the product or service. Indeed, they often seemingly have nothing to do with the product or service at all. Just consider the immensely popular GEICO ads, which while intended for TV use a formula that many viral B2C videos imitate. From a narrative perspective, videos featuring anachronistic cavemen or talking animals have absolutely nothing to do with insurance before the tagline at the end. These are pure brand awareness videos. Like jingles, they are intended entirely to burn the company’s name and value-prop tagline “Save 15% or more on car insurance.” into your brain.

The differences between what works in viral B2B vs. viral B2C videos remind us of the critical importance of defining our audiences and their motivations. So, while business audiences ultimately tend to be motivated to buy from brands that can deliver business results, consumer audiences tend to be much more motivated to buy from brands that reflect their personal values, their culture, or a particular lifestyle image. Accordingly, that’s why we see ads like the super viral spot from Nike, shown below. No particular Nike product is even mentioned throughout its 90 second run time. Instead the focus is entirely on values like endurance, perseverance, and diversity that Nike wants to be associated with.

Misconception 2: Success Metrics

The second common misconception is that virality is the ultimate metric of digital marketing video success. While going viral is never a bad thing (with the notable exception of content that goes viral for the wrong reasons), the truth is that the focus on virality can make you overlook your more relevant, immediate business goals and other types of content that often serve as the real workhorses of video marketing.

Remember, viral-style videos are top-of-funnel (TOFU), awareness-building videos. They generate buzz, drive initial clicks, and help viewers discover and remember your brand. But before investing in viral style content you need to ask: is brand awareness your relevant, timely goal? Maybe you already have sufficient brand awareness and traffic, but you are having trouble with your website visitor retention and conversion rates. In this case your video strategy should relate to middle and bottom of funnel (MOFU and BOFU) content like explainer videos, customer testimonials, instructional videos, FAQ videos, and product videos, to name a few.

This also means your primary metric of success will not necessarily be the number of times your video was viewed or shared, or even the amount of traffic that it sends to your site. Rather, you’ll measure success with KPIs such as changes in page dwell time, bounce rates, or conversions after videos have been added to the target areas of your site. To learn more about MOFU and BOFU content that will help you optimize your site, check my article over at The Content Marketing Institute blog.

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