Be careful what you wish for.

Posted by Mike Schrader

It seems like the term “viral video” is on the tip of everyone’s tongues these days. We all want to be entertained. Funny cat videos, slips and falls, or high-flying daredevil attempts gone wrong circulate the Web like wildfire. And they often attract hundreds of thousands or even millions of viewers. But here’s the question:

Are viral videos a reliable business marketing strategy for your company?

The answer: It depends on your business, your brand and your marketing strategy.

Some businesses can really benefit from a viral video if the video is truly in sync with their brand and a solid, well-conceived marketing campaign.

A skateboard company can attract customers with a viral video showing a boarder using or even crashing epically on one of their products.

A blender manufacturing company can attract millions of viewers by showing their product blending and destroying everything from broomsticks to smart phones.

A beauty products company can draw millions of views with a short behind-the-scenes look of how a fashion photograph is photoshopped and manipulated beyond reality by the time it arrives in your magazine or on your billboard.

All of these examples of successful viral videos were created as part of a larger, successful marketing campaign targeting a specific, well-defined audience demographic.  They worked because they fully supported the brand and were based on a strong overall campaign.

Now, here’s the bad news. For every wildly successful viral video, there are thousands of failed attempts that cost tons of money and are seen by only a handful of viewers. And often, these viewers are not the intended audience at all.

Many businesses want to jump on the viral video bandwagon without fully considering how a viral video will support or detract from their brand identity. Another consideration is the target market – will a viral video resonate with your audience? Is your audience likely to see the video based on their Internet usage patterns? The truth is, even when a video does goes viral, the chances of your video being seen by your specific target audience are still slim. It’s just a numbers game.

While viral videos can be successful marketing tools, they are not always the right tool for marketing your business. This is especially true in the business-to-business space. Don’t throw out the proven business practice of aligning strategy with clear-cut tactics to ensure your target audience receives your message.

Instead of aiming to have your video go “viral” and focusing on the sheer number of people who watch it, sometimes it is better to take a more practical approach and aim to produce more frequent, meaningful content on a regular basis. It’s also important to create content that is specifically tailored to your prospects’ needs and interests.

Forbes released a white paper in December 2010 on “Video in the C-Suite” that found more than 75% of C-Suite executives surveyed said they watch work-related online videos on business-related websites at least weekly. 65% of C-suite executives report visiting a vendor’s website after watching their online video.

It’s a fact that videos help sell. More people are likely to visit your website or take action after watching a compelling video about your product or business. So how do you incorporate video into your business communications toolkit? Here are some ideas:

1.)   Develop a series of online videos that answer your customers’ most frequently asked questions and post them on a regular basis. Make the responses relevant yet keep them entertaining to hold your viewer’s attention.

2.)   Instead of using text to describe the features, value and benefits of an offering on your website, take time to produce a series of videos that showcase and demonstrate these points in compelling, visual ways. Keep them fresh, short and to the point.

3.)   Motivate your employee base and give customers a sense of your culture by developing short videos that highlight actual employees on the job doing something exceptional each month. A picture (or a video in this case) is worth a thousand words.

4.)   Breathe new life into your regular customer newsletter with a video that shows real-life customers using or benefitting from your products and/or services.

5.)   Customer testimonials work! There is no substitute for having a key prospect hear important comments from one of your satisfied, raving fans.

While viral videos may seem like the end game, they may not end up moving the needle for your business. Instead, first consider your brand, determine who you are trying to reach and with what message, and then develop that content accordingly. When done correctly, it just may turn out to be a multimillion-dollar idea.