Technology / When it comes to getting your brand across, going viral is the marketer’s holy grail

When it comes to getting your brand across, going viral is the marketer’s holy grail

As with radio and cinema before it, television has found its dominance being challenged. People may watch channels and catch up with shows online, but alternatives are clamouring for their attention too.

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Millions of people watch and share videos online, from iconic Christmas adverts to clips of Charlie, a baby, biting his brother’s finger, and even Japanese politicians crying. These, given the right push, can sweep across the internet in a short time.

For marketers and advertisers, “going viral” is one mark of a campaign’s success when it comes to reaching, and potentially influencing, consumers. But achieving this – and measuring it – could be less straightforward than some imagine.

One person visibly excited about all of this is Sarah Wood, pictured, who is sitting in a room at the top of her east London offices – which, she tells me, used to be a toy factory – enjoying the sound of the rain dashing against the building.

Wood has been in the midst of the world of shareable video for some time. Unruly, the marketing technology firm she co-founded, has been focusing on getting videos watched and shared, as well as tracking their progress, since 2006.

Wood’s enthusiasm is palpable, and contagious, and it’s not long before she launches into a brief summary of the industry’s development, and the rise of branded video.

“Back in 2006, viral was in an experimental early stage and brands would have a small budget behind bits of content,” she says. “Now we are seeing a conversion, and we see a more holistic approach.

“We have seen an explosion in people sharing branded content. You think of examples like the Dove Real Beauty campaign, which had millions of shares. We have seen more brands putting digital views at the heart of their visual campaigns.”

She notes that shareable video could be the next medium with the power to engage individuals. “We found that video was the medium that had the power to bring that combination of image and sound,” she says. “I think that video can engage an audience in a way that others mediums can’t. Think of cinema and then television in the 20th century.

“Sometimes with written content, a headline distorts a story. You can’t distort a video. Images can also be used to capture the essence of a story – think of Instagram and Vine.”

And Wood is not the only one who’s enthusiastic about this. Keen to engage consumers across social media such as Facebook and Twitter, companies have been piling in with their own videos aimed at harnessing people’s emotions, from shocking them to pulling at their heartstrings.

Wood notes that, with this shift, the industry has become more cluttered, but also warns that spending money alone will not guarantee success. “Before, people were saying ‘Why do we care about shares?’” she says. “Now, the space is more cluttered because brands are creating more content, and people have to work much harder. The quality of content has increased. When I talk about the quality of content, I’m not talking about production values and budgets. People don’t care if it has high-quality cameras and high definition. They want a strong emotional connection. It’s about giving them the reason to share it, whether it’s inspiring them or shocking them. These are the psychological triggers.”

This can mean appealing to how people feel, in both a positive and negative sense. In some cases it can even mean deliberately offending consumers – though Wood warns that this could be a risky strategy.

“There are risks of offending people,” she says. “Brands need to be confident in who they are and what they stand for. This is why the brand authority is important.

“You need to know your brand and understand your brand and know your audience. You also need to know at what points you feel comfortable alienating and offending the general public. It’s a dangerous strategy and one where you should consider who your audience is.”

Past the content itself, Wood sees further change in the world of video. For Unruly, which employs around 150 people, 2014 has been a year of aggressive expansion.

In March the company opened an office in Singapore, where video advertising spending is predicted to have a compound annual growth rate of 37.5 per cent. Beyond London, it has offices in major cities including New York, Hamburg and Paris.

The battle for viral content is being fought across different continents, but also across multiple platforms and devices. This, and the variety of metrics available, can make it hard to measure success. Wood says: “There are tablets and mobiles and it’s harder for lots of people to measure what’s going on. There are many different types of shares.”

Apart from her industry, Wood is also passionate about the technology scene, particularly in London. But she is not convinced by concerns of a technology bubble forming in the capital – though she worries about British scepticism.

She says: “People ask whether there is a bubble, but what I see is a maturing market. What we see now is a move from the start-up to the scale-up, though you still have companies that want to start up.

“We have people that are committed to building and delivering real technology, but I think we are more grounded in reality. That’s not always for the best.

“The Americans will embrace a dream. In London, investors and the press are often far more realistic. There are certain moments when that can be helpful and keep us focused, and times when it doesn’t help.”

Wood, at least, seems charged with optimism for the future. The former toy factory and its occupants have lots in store.

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