Content marketing is a world of exciting new trends, technologies and ideas.

One trend that, though not exactly new, continues to grab the headlines is that video is usurping the once almighty written content. Video certainly has the wind in its sales; output has exploded in recent years. I suspect actually written content will probably remain King for a while yet, but that is perhaps just as well if you’re still getting to grips with video. Time yet to hone your skills.

And that is precisely what I want to talk about in this blog. In fact, it is one question in particular I want to look at – the question which Shakespeare himself would surely have asked – if video existed in his time – as he held aloft his GoPro cam in preparation to start shooting, and declaimed, ‘Viral: to be or not to be?’.

Do I want this video to be a viral phenomenon that is going to take the world by storm (à la ice bucket challenge), or do I want this to have a small circulation, but to really resonate amongst my target audience is a question all video marketers should ask themselves prior to launching into any new recording.

As a starting point, this may seem a little simplistic, but actually this question encapsulates some fundamental thinking on video marketing strategy, in particular: what is the purpose to producing this video and who do I want to engage with it?

First off, let’s give a little substance to the topic by imagining a scenario. Let’s say you are a manufacturer of cardboard boxes which you sell on to other businesses and also directly to the customer. As you sit around your boardroom table scratching your heads over the next big marketing campaign, you might think: how can we leverage digital media to grow our company as quickly as possible? What about a viral video, you think. How about if we showcase all the weird, wacky and hilarious ways in which our cardboard boxes might serve some purpose, however ridiculous….riding your bike off a tall building and landing on a bed strategically placed card boxes, perhaps, or dressing up some cute little kids as cardboard box robots? That sounds like the kind of video that could probably go viral, right? After all, comedy seems to trump all in the viral video stakes.

This could massively elevate the status of your business, making it an overnight global phenomenon. But, there might also be one or two downsides to consider.

Rewind to the Ice Bucket Challenge. This was a video clip started by the ALS, an American non-profit association that carries out research into the degenerative disease, Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis. They struck upon the seemingly bright idea of daring a bunch of celebs to dowse themselves with a bucket of ice-cold water. The videos which spread across the web came to almost define the viral internet success story.

Before long though, comments were being posted underneath these videos labelling them insensitive ‘slacktivism’, or worse. Others simply wearied of a meme that seemed to be endlessly clogging the internet. But, do you know what? Off the back of these videos a reported $115m dollars was raised in one month alone for the charity to help with important research! So, was it worth it? You’d have to be a bit of a Scrooge to say ‘no’. Okay, it became a little grating (but then a good chunk of viewers would never associate this with the ALS anyway), but its positive impact was absolutely enormous.

Why do I mention it? Because there is still a cautionary tale to be leant here. A charity and a business are two very different beasts. As a business, you cannot expect the internet-viewing public to be so accomodating if your viral campaign turns sour. Think about another business which recently had a broadcast ad get massively trashed: Pepsi. They cashed in on a very raw and current topic: race relations in America to promote a fizzy drink. The timing was bad and the content was even worse, and boy did they feel the backlash of that one. They went viral for all the wrong reasons. Or, how about the Mountain Dew ads featuring the goat that went on the rampage after drinking the fizzy soda and then assaulting a waitress? That was deemed very misogynistic by some. And who among you remember the Benetton ad from way back featuring the oil-covered seabirds: an important point they no doubt raised, but in trying to leverage a brand off the back of that distressing image, they came across as insensitive opportunists.

Which all brings us back to your innocent-faced little cardboard boxes. What possible harm could they get into? An ad with a guy or girl jumping off a tall building and landing into a pile of cardboard boxes seems fine, doesn’t it? Or does it? Hmmmmmm. If you are not sure of the answer, perhaps take a pause to reflect.

Okay, time to re-think. Viral video now seems a little fraught: to create a clip that is likely to go viral you need to go a little extreme, but by doing this you are opening yourself up to all kinds of criticism, not least those lovely little internet trolls who await with baited breath the next corporate slip up.

Conclusion? Viral sharing can make a brand, but it can also break a brand. Only venture onto the ice if you know exactly where to tread!

Let’s take at a look at targeted video content instead. Known otherwise as narrowcasting, this is the idea of delivering highly specialised but valuable video content to a small, targeted community of people. Ever heard of ‘the riches in the niches’? Well, it pretty much sums up the thinking behind narrowcasting.

A good example of narrowcasting would be a business like Indium Corporation. They work in the wonderful world of solder metal. Yep, a tall order for any marketing manager trying to find a new spin on the product. But, instead of trying to make the brand seem cool, sexy etc, their marketing team thought, let’s just give our customers all the information they could possibly wish to know about solder metal and its applications, and address all their pain points in the process. That way our business can deliver value and thereby earn trust and goodwill amongst potential clients. And that’s what they did. They produced something like 200 hours worth of video content going over every conceivable use, problem, challenge and solution to do with solder metal, and they have earned themselves a great following in response. It’s content marketing in a nutshell!

The company has become a text success story of how to do content marketing well. So, are there any ‘buts’? Only this: pretty much everyone is doing, or very soon will be doing, content marketing. All your competitors will soon enough jump on the content marketing bandwagon and basically starting earning the trust and goodwill of your customers also. Some people are going to be doing content marketing well, others are going to be doing it badly. Unfortunately, all those people doing it badly are going to impact those doing it well: customer spam filters will go up, thereby making life harder for everyone. As far as pitfalls go, its not a biggy, but it should give pause for thought.

So, those are pitfalls. Enough now with the negativity. Let’s move onto the positives and a concluding roundup.

Viral is fantastic. It can deliver untold riches in just the blink of an eye. But, it’s also a hot potato. Handle it with care! Do it if you have content that works for the medium, and do it if you think you can be both funny (…..shocking, emotive, inspiring) or whatever it is you want to emote, as well as relatively free of backlash risk. Perhaps easier said than done, I know.

Narrowcasting, on the other hand, is probably a safer bet, but as with all content marketing, doing it well is more important than just ‘doing it’. If you really want to capture market share, then its not just your product that has to better than the competition, its also your content.

And now over to you.