Saturday, February 2, 2008

Viral Videos

Last spring, I had the opportunity to study Linkspank Marketing with my Marketing Communications classmates. We did a thorough study of marketing tactics for Linkspank. We came to many interesting conclusions. One conclusion was obvious and yet still striking: it was that viral videos are far and away the most effective way of reaching people online. People know this, yet we were still amazed, in the financial model, just how superior is successful viral video is compared to any other form of advertising, marketing or other expense to get peoples attention

Our experience in creating Linkspank TV made it relatively simple to create a viral video. We already had a team in place to create videos and to create video content. Bur TV show is different strategically from the viral videos. Our TV show is intended primarily for current users of our site. For this reason it makes sense that our television show would be more mainstream, less risky than our viral video, which in turn would be more offensive and more risk taking. Why? Because on one hand, for our television show we have dedicated viewers that we want to keep and make happy. On the other hand, our viral videos have to cut through a lot of noise out there and reach people who are not yet spankers but who should be spankers.

Viral videos appear to have indicated that the main way to cut through the clutter is to be so offensive that you stand out. Or probably “outrageous” is a better word, because viral videos don’t seem to have to be NSFW. To act on this opinion, a viral video is going to play a key role in our public launch this month. We have created a video that we will be sending to our users and and asking them to forward to their friends.

Viral videos are hard to make "stick" or make successful. But I don't think the failure rate is the real deterrent to companies - it's the cost of failure. A weird or outrageous video will alienate some viewers, maybe even many viewers.

Here I think it is key to have a strategy, if you have a strategy that is your guide to determine what you do and even what detail of what you do. I think a lack of strategy is why more companies don't create videos – they don’t know where to start. Do we make a funny video? What should do your video be about? Who should it reach or impress? The world is much more open probably, in that of conservative traditional advertisement. Linkspank, on the other hand is a young startup with a crazy name. We don't mind being weird and we might not mind even being defensive at least sometimes and it wrong as we are too offensive. For our company, this represents a big opportunity. One reason companies have trouble creating viral videos is because they are constrained in a way that we are not or at least should not have to be. That constraint is that big companies are reluctant to do weird or offensive things – while viral videos are actually usually maybe almost as a rule weird and offensive at least to some people.

In my opinion (and this has been my opinion for a long time) it is much more important to win over a small number of users—rather than simply not to alienate the larger audience. It is true that our site has special appeal to a great audience and I would like to be able to serve that large audience. But in this early stage it is important to target and win over early adopters, who will appreciate unusual messages more.

This might lead you to ask, as Linkspank grows, will its communications and brand become more mainstream? I think the answer is yes, to a degree. It is important to evolve to accommodate growth, but is also important to maintain our own identity. Part of my personal agenda is that I would like to create a vibrant large community but that I do not want to grow the community beyond its natural size. I think many successful websites have been pressured to do this to keep growing, and while they have proven that it is possible, I still would contend that it is not necessarily good business. But I shouldn’t be getting ahead of myself – it’s still time to make crazy YouTube videos.