Last week my aunt texted me to tell me to check my email. This may have been digital overkill, but clearly there was something I needed to see. Who would have guessed that the important thing I had to drop everything to watch was a video from an airline?

The now viral WestJet video is exactly the kind of magic marketers are asking Santa for (and for good reason). It’s got great production value, a charming story, and the secret sauce that has aunts and friends hitting the share buttons.

While you can’t plan a viral video, I want to explore what marketers can learn from this Christmas story.

WestJet Crafted an Experience for People

While most people watch this video and think, “what a great thing for an airline to do!”, a lot of B2B marketers think, “That’s cool, but I can’t do this with my brand; there’s no audience for this kind of message in a corporate space.”

Fortunately, this just isn’t true.

Tim Washer, Senior Marketing Manager at Cisco puts it best in a recent video: “In B2B sometimes we get stuck thinking we need to be complex in our communications because we have a complex buying cycle, but it’s not companies that are buying from us, it’s people“.

WestJet succeeded because the storytelling resonated with real people. From the whimsical, purple-clad Santa who knows everyone’s name to the Night-Before-Christmas-esque-narrator, WestJet branded an experience evoking emotions from childhood. Moreover, the main takeaway is that they care.

And They Really do Care

This video wasn’t slapped together overnight; this was a planned gift to customers. Just watch as WestJet vice-president Richard Bartrem explains why they made the effort (especially around the 1:19 mark where he gets into the production details):

The coordinated campaign required more than 150 WestJet volunteers, more than a dozen hidden cameras, 3 different airports, various internal teams, an external agency, and a partridg– well, you get the idea.

Lessons for Marketers

Give Your Customers a Gift (and I’m not talking about a TV): Although B2B companies need video throughout the sales funnel to support the buying process, skip the pitch and take the advice of Tim Washer:

“A few times a year, produce a video that’s simply entertaining…It still amplifies your message because you’re going to put it in blog posts, etc. but it’s just a gift and there’s a good chance that you’ll bring more people into your community who will engage with you further down the road.”

Walk the walk: Communicating the over-arching message that WestJet goes above and beyond only works because it’s authentic. Not only did they spend the time to create something awesome, but they promised that if the video got over 200,000 views, WestJet Cares for Kids would give away more than 7,000 flights to reunite families or bring sick kids to dream destinations. The social sharing will indeed reunite families in need as the video has received well over 28 million views to date.

Overall, if your video message is that you are environmentally friendly or you’ve got the best service, you better live up to your claim and provide some social proof.

video splashscreenChoose a click-worthy splash screen: When I asked friends if they’d seen the WestJet video a surprising amount of them asked, “is that the one with the lady in the purple hat?” Ensure that when you release a video you A/B split test your splashscreens. This will help you increase views, and because it’s often the image people instantly associate with your video, you’ll want to know it’s statistically drawing the most clicks possible.

Use storytelling devices: WestJet could simply explain their real-time giving concept with plain text over a black background or with a fairly average voice over, but instead they use rhyme as a storytelling device in the classic “T’was the Night Before Christmas” narration. By using something familiar, they infuse the whole video with the spirit they’re trying to convey.

Think about how you can present your next video in a familiar way. If your target audience loves a particular TV show, spoof it. If they will recognize a song from their teen years, fashion it into a branded music video. Use the familiar (and thereby already share-able) to package your content.

If there are other tips you want to share, or even other Christmas video campaigns you enjoyed, let us know with a comment below. I’d love to see examples of what your brand has done for the holidays!

Jennifer Pepper