The problem with most case studies into how social videos become a viral success is that they only look at what's worked; failing to explore what hasn't. Replication is the key to rigorous research. A result must hold over a range of conditions before it can be used to make predictions. As such, Dr Karen Nelson-Field's study of around 1,000 videos for the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute is rather unique. Her book, Viral Marketing: The Science of Sharing, offers practical advice on video sharing. In the process, she also demonstrates that the old scientific laws of buyer behaviour and advertising still apply to social media. A colleague of Professor Byron Sharp, her findings will be familiar to those who have read his seminal book on marketing, How Brands Grow.
Here are four key lessons for marketers:
1) Aim to evoke high-arousal positive emotional responses
Videos that draw a high-arousal positive are shared more. If the reaction to your video is one of amusement or surprise, rather than hilarity or astonishment, it's much less likely to be shared. Within the different emotional responses, videos that evoke feelings of exhilaration tend to be shared the most. Although high-arousal negative reactions can also lead to higher sharing, little is known about the long-term consequences for brands.
2) Within the different types of creative device, personal triumph stories work best
While many marketers continue to see babies and animals as the key to success, only 3% of branded videos use personal triumph as a creative device. However, even when they fail to generate higher levels of arousal, tales of personal triumph still attract more average shares than most other types of creative device that did evoke high arousal; including comedy, parodies, animals and dancing videos. We recently worked with Allianz on a video that illustrates the story of a couple who were pushed around from country to country during WW2, suffering unimaginable hardship, and it's been viewed more than 1 million times in the past month.
3) Feature the brand early and often, and say its name
There is no evidence that obvious brand presence hampers sharing or restricts the ability to achieve high-arousal positive emotional responses. Despite this, marketers continue to believe the brand needs to absent from the screen to appeal in social. On average, 90% of people only watch the first 10 seconds of video, but just 46% of videos reveal the brand in the first 10 seconds. Additionally, just 6% of social video branding occurs in verbal and visual mode, compared with 90% on TV. Verbal mentions combined with a visual cue are proven to give the brand a better chance of being noticed and being remembered. If you fail to achieve these two ambitions (and it remains extraordinarily difficult to do so), your video won't have an impact.
4) Invest in paid distribution and aim for quality reach
Anyone who has read Sharp's work will be aware of the fact you can't grow a brand by increasing loyalty; it's simply a reflection of market size and category norms. The only way to achieve growth is by increasing penetration and that means (quality) reach is the primary goal. Les Binet and Peter Field's IPA study further demonstrates that reaching a mass audience remains the most effective campaign format. Anyone who tells you engagement is more important than reach is wrong. The biggest opportunity Facebook presents marketers is large, paid reach. To hit light buyers of a category, you have to invest in paid distribution beyond brand communities (which inevitably skew towards heavy buyers). Frequency of exposure is also far less important than taking someone from zero to the first impression. A video that is viewed by relatively few people cannot be shared by many - more than 90% of viewers don't share - which is why paid media is critical to create enough initial exposure to even give your brand that tiny chance of achieving virality. However, if videos are shared, peer-to-peer recommendations not only help disseminate the content, they also improve brand perception. An Unruly study found a 14% increase in the number of people who enjoyed a video following a recommendation - versus discovering via browsing - and a 97% increase in likelihood to purchase the product featured. The goal of marketing is to build mental availability by cutting through and reaching brains, not shifting opinions. The advent of social media hasn't changed that.