You Oughta Be in Pictures


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Prior to YouTube making video commonplace on the web, you’d only see small forays into corporate video and usually these efforts were mundane and predictable—things like a broadcast of the CEO speech at the annual meeting. Well, okay, some people might watch, but unless the CEO makes a dramatic gaffe, a video like that is unlikely to go viral (develop pass-along value). However, I’m increasingly seeing effective forays into viral video marketing.

Organizations that deliver products or services that naturally lend themselves to video have been among the first to actively use the medium to market their offerings. For example, sports teams, rock bands, and churches routinely deliver video as a way to interest people in buying tickets to the live game, encourage music downloads, or draw visitors to a church for services. And with the current presidential campaign now in full swing, some candidates have jumped in with video. Perhaps the most plugged-in is John Edwards, who in December 2006 announced he was running for president with just a blogger, a videographer, and a Flickr photographer to spread the word.

The idea of companies using video for web marketing is still new. Video follows both blogs and podcasting on the adoption curve at organizations that don’t have a service that naturally lends itself to video. Some companies are experimenting, typically by imbedding video (typically hosted at YouTube) into their existing blogs. I have begun to see video snippets of CEO speeches and quick product demonstrations on corporate blogs. For example, Guy Kawasaki, managing director of Garage Technology Ventures, uses occasional video clips to great effect on his blog, How to Change the World (http://blog.guykawasaki.com).

Organizations of all kinds are now posting video content on YouTube and sending people a link to the content (and hoping it goes viral). Creating a simple video is really easy. All that’s required is a $300 digital video camera, or just a well-equipped mobile phone and a YouTube account. There are all sorts of enhancements and editing techniques to make video more professional, though some organizations go with the grainy and jerky “homemade” look. However, there is danger in this approach. Some companies attempt sneaky, stealth insertions to YouTube of corporate-sponsored video in a way that makes it seem like the video is consumer-generated. A typical case is a group of happy twenty-somethings at a party doing fun things while enjoying, consuming, or wearing a certain brand. The YouTube community is remarkably skilled at ratting out inauthentic video, so this approach is likely to backfire and cause harm to a brand.

On the speaking circuit, I often get questions or comments about video use by corporations. People say things like, “But we’re a ____ company. We can’t put video on YouTube!” (Fill in the blank with “big” or “famous” or “conservative” or “business-to-business.”) The fact is that some of the best online video comes from unlikely sources. One of my favorites is a series of “mockumentaries” produced by IBM called, “The Art of the Sale” (www.youtube.com/watch?v=MSqXKp-00hM), which wonderfully spoof corporate training videos. You don’t even know who produced the videos until the end and you actually applaud IBM. Another example is Smirnoff’s “Tea Partay” video, which features old money New Englanders rapping. (You have to see it: http://youtube.com/watch?v=4y4-5Zouvjs).

Another approach is to create a regular series of video content that might be delivered through a video blog (“vlog”) or an online video channel at a company site or a “vodcast” (a video series tied to a syndication component with iTunes and RSS feeds). For example, BMW offers a weekly vodcast series of 2–3 minute videos about what’s going on at BMW (http://vodcast.bmw.com), and Weber Grills’ Weber Nation features video grilling classes (www.webernation.com).

One of the most effective ways to use video to drive viral marketing is when companies develop a contest for people to submit their own video, which then is made available for others to see. Would-be directors are given prizes and the best are usually showcased on the company site. In some cases, the winning videos are also played on TV as “real” commercials.

Video content on the web is still very new for marketers and communicators. But the potential to deliver information to buyers in new and surprising ways is greater when you use a new medium. And while your competition is still trying to figure out “that blogging thing,” you can tap into the world of video and leave the competition behind.