Voodoo Viral: Rich Video Content

Robert co-founded Voodoo Viral, which provides users an extremely effective platform from which to run video-centric marketing, using rich video content.  He and his partners have thought through how distributed sales teams (direct and indirect) use content to engage customers and drive sales and Voodoo is structured so that it can handle the complexities of affiliate and agency programs.

A transcript of our conversation follows the video.

The Video Interview


Robert:            Sure. Number one word for my background is eclectic. As you well know, Hugh, I am from the Midwest. I am a University of Michigan grad and I had a funny combination of things that I studied. I was studying English and Art History, and I was performing as a singer/songwriter every weekend to support my college habit. Of course my father thought I was crazy. English, Art, Music, what are you going to do with any of that stuff? Ultimately that little mash up turned out to be a pretty good one. I realized the other day I had actually graduated 30 years ago from college, which was a little bit shocking. I really spent most of that time in marketing, starting at a midsized ad agency where I wrote copy for a while, I touched on graphic design, and I did music and broadcast production. Over that first year or two I was realizing I was a little different than a typical creative. The difference was I cared about result, and I always ask, ‘What are we trying to do with this campaign? What are we trying to make move? What are we trying to make happen?’ Pretty quickly they corralled me and moved me right into account services and I became the director of small accounts for this ad agency. That turned me into a de-facto marketing and PR strategist. I never expected it, it just happened.

5 years into that world, it became clear that working for other people was not necessarily the best path for me. I opened my own ad agency, and since then, it has been a crazy ride. It is very interesting, touched on just about every industry. When I look back I am happy to have helped literally hundreds of small and midsize companies. My focus has always been, ‘How do I help them grow?’ The bigger clients, I have had plenty of them: People, Sprint, Logitech, Touchstone, Viacom, Amway, GM, and people like that. It is harder to make a big difference in that world, so a lot of times the small to medium business ends up being a really rich place to be. I did a little sidebar into music again. I had an indie record label and then got into film production doing music videos and fundraising films for nonprofits. We gotten eclectic enough yet? Ultimately, that fundraising work and that music videos that pulled me back to film, back to video, and ultimately to the web.

Hugh:              That is great, man. That is eclectic. I like that. Tell us about Voodoo Viral, the company that you are working with now. I would love to hear more about that. Where you have ended up and what are you working on these days

Robert:            Sure. The elevator pitch is that Voodoo is a Cloud-based online marketing and sales platform with a strong emphasis on video. Of course, that is just a bunch of technical gobbledygook to me, ultimately. What we are really talking about is how do you communicate effectively on the internet? A lot of people do ask us, ‘Why did Viral work its way into your name? Voodoo Viral, what is that all about?’ The answer there is that, literally the company came about because of a referral generation tool that a friend of mine and I masterminded, we call it Referral Magic. We were sitting in a sushi bar one day and we sketched it out on a napkin. I said, ‘That is amazing. We could build a business on that.’ The next thing you know we literally built a business on it. We have been in business for about 5 years.

I have realized that over time, as we have developed our platform and try to make it as robust a platform as possible for using email connected to video or even connected to anything else that you may want to send somebody to communicate effectively. It is really almost like Voodoo has become more of a philosophy. It is how do you communicate effectively and automate as much of that process online? There is a ton of really advanced marketing platforms out there and we do not really even try to compete with most of those. They are no better than the content you put in them. For us, it really relates a lot to content. Let me think of an example. Say an email campaign, platforms are going to be giving you templates for beautiful graphics, logos, and all the other things that they think are professional and push around identity and all that. In our case, the Voodoo way is more about personalization. It is about making it look like that email is coming from a real person and written by a real person because our measurements [inaudible 05:03] that approach, true personalization, is going to produce greater response, there is going to be greater satisfaction and loyalty. Ultimately, there is going to be more sales. That is what it is all about, it is back to results.

Hugh:              That is right. What is it about using video that is so compelling, that you found so powerful? What makes it that way with people there using it for marketing?

Robert:            To me it is pretty simple. Video lets you tell a story and engage whoever this person is; whether you call them your visitor, reader, viewer, whoever they are; video engages them in a different way because it has a multidimensional quality. You got all these different senses you can play with: You have got the visuals, words, music, and sound effects. When we are on the web, we have interactivity, which is great. What is interesting about video though, is what is not compelling on the web is hype or traditional interruptive TV commercials; they do not work well on the web. We still have people trying to push them through this relatively new medium, and it gets to be interesting to me, as someone standing both in the thick of it and then occasionally looking at it from the sidelines. I always think, ‘Really? You are going to try to push a commercial and think that is going to engage me, make me happy, and make me want to interact with your brand?’ It does not seem to work that way.

From the Voodoo standpoint, we have some really unwritten rules. For us, it is all about pushing content. If we are going to be pushing content we want to make sure it is relevant, it has to be meaningful, there needs to be some urgency, a legitimate call to action. Ultimately, we are balancing this thing; you are either going to be very personal or very professional. Either of those can work pretty well. What does not work is all the stuff in the middle. We tend to push for the very personal and find that that produces the greatest results and long-term benefits to the clients.

Hugh:              Right. That is interesting. You have done a lot of things; you ended up working at a software company that focuses on marketing. You have seen big changes in technology in the last 10 or 15 years. In what ways do you sense that marketing really has changed a fair bit from back in the day? Talk to us a bit about that.

Robert:            When I started as a copywriter, this is now 30 years ago, we were still reading David Ogilvy. [inaudible 07:35] and hold them. He was the master of the long copy: Explain yourself. Tell the whole story. Shia Day was on the rise. Trout and Reese had just written ‘Positioning’, and that was a big switcheroo for us. We were like [inaudible 07:50] finding that place in the mind of the viewer or the listener.

I think that radical change has been the online world. It is primarily because now we can really measure things, we have real analytics. On the one hand, I thought really the online world, to me, in all the challenges faced in all my years of marketing; it was the answer to our prayer. We could justify the expenditures; we could put them right up against the sales they generate. Even if we were talking about things like customer satisfaction and loyalty, we had tools. We could say, ‘Yes, we will look at the Net Promoter score.’ There are these tools we have now. Of course, here is what is funny, when all that stuff first came out, we thought it was all so awesome and now you can still go to Dreamforce and you can be wallow in analytics galore. It is a little like facts in a political campaign; any of the facts can be bent and twisted. I think they can be extremely misleading.

One example, a lot of times when Voodoo is in the initial sales process of talking [inaudible 08:55] and helping to convert them into a client for us, they will ask these open ended questions, or actually they will be very specific. They will ask, ‘What open rate do you generate on your emails? What is the click-through rate to the videos in your campaigns?’ I get it, those are good questions. Here is an example of how this can be twisted, if you think about an open rate for example. This just happened last week, so it is very fresh in my mind. We have a client and we helped them design a campaign that had an email with a very specific subject line. The subject line was both personal and trying to determine that this viewer, this person who might click to open it, actually was interested in this topic. Better yet, if they click-through to watch a video, we really knew they were interested.  They said to us, ‘That subject line is way too specific. We have found that a general subject line like ‘Checking In’ works much better.’ Yes, you may get a higher open rate with a line like ‘Checking in’, because people do not know what they are opening. ‘What am I opening? Checking in? Sure, I will check that out.’ That might be something someone would send you, a friend or something like that. Of course, when they find out it is some company they do not care about, it did not matter that they opened, ultimately.

We said to them, ‘Be a little bit more specific.’ We told their biz dev reps, ‘We are going to be specific this time. That means you are going to get a little lower open rate. However, when people do open it, we are going to know they care about this topic. If they click-through to watch this video, we know they really care.’ When you get your report tonight that says, ‘These 50 people opened, and these 10 watched the video,’ now you know who to call.’ Of course, the business development reps, once they got that, they really got it, and they got excited.

Hugh:              That is great. That makes sense, it does. I think you are right. I think there is so much data now through the web about how people behave and what they do; it is hard to know what to make sense of it at times. I guess the last question to wrap up; I asked you what is changed in the last 15, 20, or 30 years since you started working in marketing. What stayed the same for you? What is, at that core, still true?

Robert:            That is actually a funny question. I think it is still an art posing as a science. I think it still has innumerable variables, and there is a whole lot of BS flowing around. Ultimately, and on this I am being a little cynical here, it is still a bunch of creative geniuses trying to push messages at people who do not really want to hear them or be [inaudible 11:29]. That plays back to me, about a different way of approaching this. This is why I believe that the more you can give people a real choice and respect them and their time; the more successful you are going to be. That is really the philosophy that we have built Voodoo on.

Hugh:              Robert, that is great. That makes sense, as somebody who receives a lot of marketing stuff through the web, that makes a lot of sense to me. Thank you for taking time. It was great to catch up a little bit and learn something about Voodoo. I hope we will get to circle back with you to get more detail.

Robert:            I would love it. I had fun.

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