The concept of going “viral” — a piece of content quickly making its way around the internet — used to have a mystical, unattainable quality to it. Nowadays, it’s common as brands shake off the corporate chains and add some personality to their content. Just think back to the first and most recent viral video you saw.
I vividly remember “Charlie Bit My Finger” as my foray into the internet, but I’ve been sitting at my desk for the past 10 minutes struggling to pinpoint one recent viral video in particular. However, a sample size of one is never accurate, so I posed the question to various colleagues to circumvent the obvious bias. With the exception of our Creative Director announcing she’s not on “TikTak,” everyone I asked couldn’t pinpoint a single asset either.
Even with all the options floating through our heads, not one came from a B2B brand, which brings us to the question at hand: Can B2B go viral, especially in the face of content overload? The answer is yes — but it’s difficult.
“B2B can go viral because we have the technology and the research that helps us understand our customers,” said Jen Spencer, President of inbound marketing agency SmartBug Media. “It's just a matter of the creativity and it’s on us as marketers to unleash that creativity.”
As someone who’s spent the past year trying to get her dog to go viral on Instagram and TikTok, I know it’s not easy — and it’s not something that can be forced, either, as it’s a matter of chance. When gymnast McKayla Maroney qualified for the 2012 Olympics in London, she never expected to become a meme — her “not impressed” face was the result of a perfectly timed picture that captured a brief emotion and sent Maroney into virality. She even snagged a picture with former President Barack Obama recreating the look.
While it's clear that you can’t manufacture virality, you can do what B2B does best: Take an analytical look at successful campaigns and create relevant assets that break the mold and resonate with customers. As 62% of marketers rely more on content to research and make B2B purchase decisions than they did last year and 80% of B2B buyers indicated that a vendor’s content had a positive, significant impact on their buying decisions, it’s time B2B modifies its content strategies to stand out in an increasingly crowded marketplace — and potentially goes viral in the process.
Why B2B Struggles To Break Out Of The Box
Though B2B and B2C marketing has overlapping elements, the key difference is in budget and targeting. B2B marketers have sales teams that sell their products, whereas B2C operates without the middleman and, consequently, more budget for creative opportunities. Additionally, B2B tends to focus on selling their products and forget another human is consuming their content.
B2B’s penchant for analytics, while helpful, also serves as a hinderance in many circumstances. Spencer continued that oftentimes brand marketing is confused with demand gen marketing, even though they have distinctly separate purposes. It’s not just analytics and targeting that’s holding marketers back, though — formality is also engrained in the B2B mindset.
“There’s a measurement problem where B2B is concerned with connecting initiatives to pipeline or determining how they’ll result in revenue,” said Taylor Harruff, Sr. Director of Brand Marketing at ABM platform Terminus. “Making the case for fun stuff is hard in a B2B setting because everything is so over-measured and over-indexed on pipeline and revenue. It’s hard to go up to a CMO and say, ‘I need to start a TV station, but I’m unsure if it’s going to contribute to revenue or pipeline; it will just help our brand.’”
Harruff pointed to Terminus’ “Break Sh!t” event and the launch of Terminus TV as two instances where her colleagues had to approach their C-suite and attempt to sell them on a campaign that they couldn’t guarantee would positively impact the company’s bottom line. However, Terminus’ executives had faith in its employees, the power of streaming services and "Break Sh!t's" saxaphone-playing Sasquatch and ultimately green-lit the initiatives to impressive success — “Break Sh!t” saw 2,525 sign ups, a live attendance rate of 1,003 and, as of May 2021, another 1,024 people access the event on-demand.
Or take Duolingo, for example. The internet of the early 2010’s took a seemingly innocent owl mascot that reminded users to take their language lesson into a mischievous, borderline sinister, figure. Though that image was definitely not what Duolingo intended, the company’s now leaning into the meme across its social media channels and racking up millions of views each time it does so.
Changing The B2B Mindset
It’s clear that B2B needs to shift its thinking and embrace the more emotional side of marketing. B2B’s hesitancy to experiment with different campaign formats and strategies likely stems from the seriousness that’s typically associated with the industry.
“A lot of people think they have to put so much pressure into, ‘Oh, it’s B2B, we have to be super traditional,’ or, ‘We need to be more enterprise-focused; they don’t want to hear from us in a fun way,’” said Harruff. “That’s not true, because B2B buyers are still consumers at the end of the day. We’re seeing an interesting shift where more brands have a fun tone and voice, because generally, B2B buying committees are attracted to a brand they can relate to.”
In fact, 55% of buyers want content that tells a strong story that resonates with buying committees. However, when venturing outside the B2B norms, brands should proceed carefully as there are two types of virality: Good and bad — and it’s easy to fall into the latter category.
“Companies have this mindset that they have to get attention, but it’s not worth the efforts and can harm your brand if it’s the wrong type of attention,” said Harruff. “Sending out a silly tweet jumping on a trend is fine, but people will see right through you if you try to make a full-blown campaign that has nothing to do with your business just to play into something. I remember earlier in the year, the Las Vegas Raiders posted ‘I can breathe’ after Derek Chauvin was found guilty, but it was in such poor taste and received a ton of backlash.”
Going, Going, Viral!
While there’s no recipe for virality and it’s a matter of luck more than anything, there is a cheat code of sorts — research. Organizations need to understand what buying committees are looking for and identify prospects’ and buyers’ content preferences when putting campaigns together. According to DGR’s “2021 Content Preferences Survey,” buyers look for:
- Short-form, easy-to-consume content;
- Content that’s light on sales messaging and heavy on product value;
- A balance of imagery and copy; and
- Relevant/shareable links that allow for immediate sharing across social channels.
Sharing across social channels is key in both virality and content marketing in general, as it guarantees you’ll receive the most eyes on your content and generate interest. However, multichannel campaigns should tread carefully as it’s easy to drop content in an inappropriate channel.
“You have to know your customer and consider the channel,” Spencer said. “Let’s say you want to promote a video — you have to identify where your buyers are and where you want to be seen. If you know a target spends a lot of time on Instagram, then you should make sure your content is consumable on Instagram. A big piece of going viral means understand the kind of content that performs best on particular platforms.”
Going viral is never planned, and it’s not something marketers can force. Rather, it’s the result of compelling, relevant content that strikes a chord with humans.
“When something goes viral, it means someone just had the right message reach the right group of people at the right time, which is what marketers should always strive for,” said Spencer. “Best case scenario? You go viral. Worst case scenario? You’re still driving brand visibility and reaching targets with relevant information.”
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