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Viral Content: 5 Truths You Need to Know

Viral Content

Viral content has been the subject of constant attention. Business, marketers, and the media are fascinated by videos and other types of content that spread like wildfire and generate attention (and business) for the creators.

And while viral content sounds great when thinking only about the success, you also need to understand the pitfalls. It's easy to get caught up in the planning and production of potential viral content, which will hurt your ability to view things realistically.

In this post, we'll go over five hard truths about viral content that will introduce you to the other (dark) side to this popular form of marketing.


It Rarely Works the Way You Expect

The problem with viral marketing is a lot of business owners and marketers think they can catch fire if they just follow a formula or put a lot of money into a specific campaign. Unfortunately, there's no viral content formula for business. Even if you have a great product or service, a passionate audience/customer base, and an incredible campaign, that doesn't mean you'll see the level of success that took Dollar Shave Club from an idea to a business valued at $615 million in just a few years.

Think about it like Super Bowl Ads. Each featured company is vying for the country's attention, but only a few really stand out enough to be remembered the next morning. And those are ads with massive budgets behind them (not to mention the cost to air).

There's merit in trying to do something different or innovative in order to grab your target audience's attention. However, the goal should be concentrated solely on that mission instead of creating the next "viral" sensation.

Won't Make Your Products/Services or Other Marketing Better

I think of viral content as an act of desperation to some extent. A lot of businesses really suck, or fail with other marketing initiatives, so they devise viral content plans as a way of "standing out" or "going rogue."

But if your existing marketing isn't working, focus on what you can do to improve upon that instead of looking for a win with viral content. Maybe your website sucks. Maybe you need a new logo or slogan.

Or maybe your products/services suck.

You need to really examine your business now. Are you really better than your competition? What makes you better? Is your quality better? What about your prices?

Some people will tell you that marketing can make up for a crappy product, and I tend to agree, but only if you're an established brand and your prices are amazing. Otherwise, you need a better product in order to succeed.

Your Business is too Niche

The biggest problem most businesses face when trying to tackle viral content or marketing is that their products or services are simply too niche.

Going back to the Dollar Shave Club example: their business has a huge potential customer base in men and women who shave. Euromonitor estimates the razor and blade business takes in $2.8 billion (based on 2013 numbers).

Is your business in an industry with that much cash up for grabs? If not, it's unlikely you'll ever see the benefits of a viral content campaign. I'm going to guess this rules out the majority of you out there, as you're likely local businesses, B2B operations, or are just trying to innovate in a small market.

It Takes Focus Away from Other Efforts

While this is simply an assumption, the money and manpower that goes into creating a single viral content campaign would likely be better served in other departments. You could use that to do A/B testing on more traditional campaigns, beef up your PPC spend, experiment with social media, or seek professional SEO services.

It may only be $4,500, which is what it cost to produce Dollar Shave Club's video, but what if it was $50,000 or more? (In fact, that was the more reasonable estimate from the company that helped produce the popular Dollar Shave Club video.)

In order to achieve high production values in video, and high quality standards in other types of content, you'll need a budget. And unless you have a ton of money to burn, it's always safer and more beneficial to put that money into more secure efforts.

Viral Content Tends to Fade Quickly

Most viral content has an expiration date, so don't expect to see a lot of residual business from these campaigns (unless you pay/continue to pay for large-scale promotions). Here's a play-by-play of what typically happens:

  • Content is created
  • Promoted by creator
  • Promoted by blogs/media
  • Shared by target audience/fans
  • Popularity lingers for a few days
  • Hype dies down once new shares fade
  • New shiny thing is released and all is forgotten

Once it's over, it's over. Hopefully you picked up a lot of new business, or at least collected a lot of emails!


This may come off as a fairly negative post, and that's because it is. If you have a great idea, I don't want this to dissuade you into thinking you can't succeed. I just want you to lower your expectations and think about your marketing efforts critically before investing in creating viral content.


Originally Published to on August 31, 2015. 

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