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Building brand buzz when you're small

CHICAGO (Reuters.com)—It started as a lark. Warren Werbitt, founder and chief executive of Montreal-based printing company Pazazz, thought it would be fun to send an irreverent video bemoaning the public perception of the printing industry as an outdated business to a small group of clients, suppliers and friends.

Casting himself as the “print fanatic”,Werbitt and members of his staff spent 12 hours on a cold October day last year in the parking lot of his company’s printing plant shooting a video eventually called “Printing’s Alive.” The spot is a punchy defense of everything Werbitt reveres about the industry with a surprisingly touching and hilarious conclusion.

Dressed in a navy printer’s shirt with the name tag “Warren” sewn on, Werbitt delivers a standup routine, with lines like “You think I don’t see people roll their eyes at a party when I tell them what I do?” After favorable feedback, the company launched the video on YouTube, where it’s been viewed over 142,000 times and is now linked to countless other websites.

Werbitt, 41, has become somewhat of a celebrity in printing circles, dispensing his autograph at trade shows and fielding requests from competitors for use of the video. Big wigs in the printing industry have called to congratulate him and bloggers have written about the campaign.

“It put Pazazz printing and myself on the map,” says Werbitt. The video “Googleized” what many still regard as a stodgy industry, he expects. “Everybody is calling me up and saying, ‘Hey, you got it right’.”

Marketers at small to mid-sized companies, often restricted by tight marketing budgets, are paying close attention to this kind of success. As channels for video distribution build - Yahoo photo sharing site Flickr recently began offering 90-second video sharing for its users - entrepreneurial businesses are seeing an affordable means to build some brand buzz.

“Small businesses are realizing that they can use online video to reach new customers,” says Aaron Zamost, a spokesman for the San Mateo, California-based video distribution portal, which is owned by Google.

Sometimes these video promotions become a small company’s sole means of brand building; more often they are worked into broader marketing efforts along with traditional advertising. Regardless of the strategy, the most talked-about videos appear to share some common traits: they’re inexpensively shot; they’re authentic and feature real people who often work for the company; they’re funny; and most important, they don’t promote products or services outright.

“No one has ever forwarded a TV commercial to a friend,” says Andy Sernovitz, author of “Word of Mouth Marketing, How Smart Companies Get People Talking.” “The thing you’re looking for is for someone to look at your video and say, ‘You should see this’.”

Joel Warady, an Evanston, Illinois-based marketing consultant who created viral marketing campaigns for oral hygiene product TUNG brush, agrees. “People who try to sell on a video or who try to convince people to buy a product on a video are making a big mistake because that video will never become viral,” he says. “That’s the job of the Web site, not the video.”

It doesn’t mean there shouldn’t be any references to the brand within the video. The Pazazz video uses a subtle company reference by way of a logo on Werbitt’s shirt. The video concludes with a slide with the company’s website address.

Comedy is often the driving element and it plays particularly well to the spirit of small businesses, where everyone learns to roll with the punches on a daily basis.

“Humor and entrepreneurs should go hand in hand,” says Siamak Taghaddos, a cofounder of Needham, Massachusetts-based GotVmail, which offers a virtual phone system, including 800 numbers and call forwarding, for entrepreneurs.

GotVmail recently enlisted actor Gary Busey, best known for his role in “Lethal Weapon”, for a series of short humorous Internet videos addressing the topic of entrepreneurship. The videos, part of a broader marketing campaign, will launch in mid-July.

Warady, Sernovitz and other marketers don’t believe companies need to spend a lot to deliver a successful campaign. In fact, one of the most revered viral marketing efforts to date was put together with a handheld camera for $50 by a small company in Orem, Utah, that makes high-quality drink blenders for commercial and home use.

It was there at privately held K-Tec Inc. that the marketing department took note of founder Tom Dickson’s unusual means for testing the strength of the company’s commercial-grade Blendtec blenders, including his attempts to make smoothies out of two-by-two boards and other unlikely materials.

Today the Will It Blend videos featuring Dickson have become legendary. Wearing a white lab coat and safety glasses, Dickson, an engineer by training, blends everything from golf balls to iPhones. The ensuing publicity “has generated more for us than any advertising dollars we could spend,” says Jeff Robe, K-Tec’s marketing director.

Since October, 2006, K-Tec has produced more than 70 of the low-budget videos. Internet sales of Blendtec blenders are up 500 percent since the first video launched. K-Tec has even been contracted by other companies for its viral marketing expertise.

“We aren’t advertising,” says Robe. “We don’t have a large budget.”