There’s lots of advice online about how to make marketing content “go viral,” which is another way of saying, “quickly become popular.” But there’s surprisingly little about the business case for doing so. Why should content go viral? Who says so?
I’ll lay it out straight. A lot of this advice is coming from folks who don’t understand B2B marketing. One article recommends asking for likes and using subliminal advertising to supposedly “trigger sharing.” Another proposes offering prizes for content that gets the most social media shares in a given timeframe. A third enthusiastically invokes the “Charlie Bit Me” video as a model for doing it right.
Look, I’m not here to throw shade on viral content. I like it (some of it) as much as anyone. I just don’t think it’s a B2B marketing issue.
B2B businesses prosper by solving hard problems. A hard problem is one where your buyer lacks the capacity to deal with it efficiently. The better the buyer understands the problem, the more they’ll want to fix it and the more effectively they’ll be able to work with you.
So going viral is irrelevant to B2B marketing efforts. If your content is broad enough to become that popular all of a sudden, it’s probably too broad to be useful to your target audience. Worse, if you must resort to manipulation tactics to artificially inflate activity measures, you’ve lost sight of what B2B marketing is really about.
That’s not to say distribution doesn’t matter. Quality content is hard to create; of course you want yours to reach as many as possible in your target market. But B2B buyers don’t look at content when they’re asked to, they look at it when they’re ready to. Given that, an initial pop of activity matters less than performance over time.
Consider two B2B marketing videos. The first, from Company A, is an entertaining live-action spoof of the professional services recruiting process. Upon release it went viral, meaning cumulative downloads rose steeply and then leveled off. This is shown in the chart below.
Company B’s video is an animated tutorial on a type of cloud computing technology. It did not go viral. Instead, cumulative downloads began a gradual and steady climb that leveled off after a few years.
Daily activity offers another perspective. Views of Company A’s video spiked early on, then fell off dramatically and stayed relatively low from then on.
Company B never had the spike. Activity is spread out more evenly, with dropoffs marked by years rather than weeks or months.
Now Company A’s video does have many more views overall. But Company A is also a much bigger organization than Company B. That makes a difference, because you should hope and expect that employees will drive a lot of activity. After all, the harshest critics are your own people. They wouldn’t give a piece of content a second look, much less share it with others, if they didn’t think it had value.
That said, Company A’s video still doesn’t have as many views as the company has employees, even though it’s been more than seven years and had initially gone viral. By contrast, Company B’s video has 10 times as many views as it has employees, just three years later and despite never going viral.
A possible weakness in this whole comparison is that Company A’s video was intended to attract new employees, not commercial buyers. Company A considered it a marketing initiative anyway though. That’s logical enough if the offering were a good place to work. In that case the target market would be highly competent professionals.
People who excel in their fields want to work someplace that recognizes and enables excellence. However, Company A’s video features a series of job candidates who are surprised to discover the hiring manager is a child. The child asks a series of zany questions that throw candidates off. It’s funny, but it’s hard to see how the video helps Company A attract outstanding candidates.
On the other hand, Company B’s video promotes a subscription-based, self-serve technology offering. The target market is business unit leaders with limited budget for technology. The video explains the technology in lay terms, then outlines the options for subscribing. It not only addresses market need, it shows the target audience how simple it is to make a purchase.
The biggest lesson in all this is that activity measures are just that. They gauge activity, not effectiveness. There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with B2B content going viral, but there’s no particular reason for it to do so either so long as the content helps potential buyers move forward to a decision.