After a two-year study in which she tracked the effectiveness of more than 1,000 marketing videos, Dr. Karen Nelson-Field of the University of South Australia Business School said everything you thought you knew about Web-based marketing is probably wrong.
According to her research, virality is a myth, strategic seeding is vastly more important than creative in video reach, great creative promotes video sharing, and customers don’t seem to mind overt branding.
“When I started I was guided by the fact that everyone thought that content was king,” Nelson-Field told CMO.com. “So I went looking for evidence that content was king, but I just didn’t find it. Instead, I discovered that great content helps, but distribution is the main factor in the success of an online video.”
Drill Into Distribution
For her research, Nelson-Field rated and classified branded videos in terms of impact and content quality, then tracked their progress. Her statistics reveal that even the best examples of creative campaigns average about one share to every eight views, while the average rate of shares to views is one share for every 24 views.
“The analogy that viral marketing is somehow like a biological epidemic fails because it suggests that good creative will spread to millions from a very small base, and that’s just not true. What we actually see is a negative diffusion curve,” Nelson-Field said. “Videos we think have gone viral due to excellent creative have simply had great distribution strategies.”
According to Nelson-Field, this misunderstanding has led to a substantial skew of investment into creative and away from distribution. Good quality content, especially a story that produces high positive arousal, does improve the chance of a video being shared, but only in a handful of cases, she added.
“Videos that get incremental shares well above what we would expect from seeding efforts, we’d refer to as viral, but this is only relevant to a tiny number of ‘superstars,’” Nelson-Field said.
Nelson-Field was also surprised by the lack of evidence to suggest that overt branding would have a negative impact on whether videos would be shared.
“While TV advertisements are typically well-branded, marketers dial down the marketing when it comes to social video and are less likely to reveal the brand overtly in the video,” she said. “But there is no evidence for this. Poorly branded advertising is like throwing away your marketing budget–you may as well give your marketing directly to your competitors.”
Ditch The Cute Stuff
In addition, Nelson-Field looked into the impact of different creative devices and states of arousal in an attempt to establish which of these devices has the greatest impact on video sharing. She found little, if any, difference among the impact of devices such as babies, kittens, or dancing pandas; all rated equally in terms of resulting shares.
Similarly, the research found only small deviations when it came to different states of arousal. The important exception were stories of personal triumph, which were more likely to be shared regardless of whether the level of arousal was high or moderate.
“Stories of personal triumph are linked with exhilaration and inspiration and are very popular,” Nelson-Field said. “Yet very few marketers use this approach–it was only present in about 3 percent of the videos we sampled.”
Also of note: While Nelson-Field recognized that humor is also an effective state of arousal, she warned that jokes do not translate well across different cultures.
In addition, Nelson-Field said content strategists should think seriously about how they allocate campaign budgets and strategically employ seeding techniques.
“Sharing is all about good seeding and high arousal. Then we can think about creative,” she said. “This doesn’t mean that creative isn’t important. It just means that it’s like the icing on the cake.”
The results of this first round of research are captured in Nelson-Field’s book “Viral Marketing: The Science of Sharing,” which was launched in London and New York earlier this year. Nelson-Field is currently working on a second round of research that engages more deeply with video-based branding.