An Aspiring Tongue Mogul’s Guide to Online Marketing

It’s hard to go to any networking event in Silicon Valley these days without hearing some self-dubbed expert on social media marketing holding court on the wonders of YouTube and Facebook as customer acquisition channels. But seek out examples of companies that have generated documented revenue for a consumer product using those channels, and the list is distressingly short.

One of the few to make that list is Orabrush, the creator of a halitosis-eliminating tongue brush and string of YouTube videos to promote it, which announced on Tuesday it raised a $2.5 million funding round from VCs including True Ventures and 2X Partners. Salt Lake City-based Orabrush, which says it has attracted more than 34 million channel views to its dedicated YouTube site, plans to use the money to continue developing its online video campaign and expand sales at traditional retailers.

Looking for some insights on how to make social media marketing work, I caught up with Jeff Davis, Orabrush’s newly-hired CEO and former general manager at P&G, a few hours after the funding announcement. While he’s quick to credit the company’s video campaign strategy to its 20-something chief marketing and operating officers, brothers Jeffrey and Neal Harmon, Davis says he’s also learned a thing or two about social media marketing from his time at Orabrush. Following are some of my questions, and his replies:

Q: What’s your advice for anyone considering using YouTube and social media as a platform for launching a product?

A: I like to refer to what our CMO, Jeff Harmon, calls the four C’s.

First, there’s content. In order to be successful in any medium–but in particular on social media such as YouTube and Facebook–you have to have good content. It has to educate as well as entertain. Our first video, for instance, is two minutes and 13 seconds long. Who watches a two minute advertisement unless it’s interesting?

The second C is consistency. What we mean is you have to be consistent with those consumers you’re engaging, with your branding, with your messaging, and with your approach. For most viral sensations, it’s a one-off type thing. But we’ve been very consistent with this idea that we’re going to cure the world of bad breath.

The third C we talk about is collaboration. For instance, we collaborate with other YouTubers, basically collaborating on content for their channels and for ours, so we get subscribers to grow in both places.

The final C, which I think most people who do online video have not done, is we also include a call to action. We ask them to subscribe to the channel, to buy online, to go to a retailer, or to click and find retailers in their area. It doesn’t sound like rocket science, but at the end of the day, to execute is not that easy.

Q: Do you think potential of social media as a means for generating brand awareness and loyalty is over- or under-hyped?

A: I think there’s no question that it’s an efficient model. If you can do it right, social media provides a means for a fairly large group of entrepreneurs and small businesses to create pretty good levels of awareness. But awareness is not purchase. The challenge still is to engage someone with those levels of awareness and get them to do something.

Q: You’re probably best known for videos of the guy dressed up as a tongue. But by now you’re got a pretty big repertoire of clips. How has your video strategy evolved?

A: It’s one of the challenges and one of the things I worry about: How do we manage to keep engagement and entertainment as we grow the company? When Jeff Harmon came to me and said he wanted to do a weekly video, initially I was skeptical. But certainly he was right. We have 115,000 subscribers, and they’re turning in weekly for our “Diary of a Dirty Tongue” series.” We’ve produced 50 videos in the last year-and-a-half.  And we have some great writers and a team in their twenties who do the video production. But it’s one of the challenges in any medium – the question of how do you stay relevant.

Q: What’s changed in the marketing space since you began the video campaign?

A: I’m not so sure we could replicate the success if we started today because advertising rates on YouTube are higher, and there’s more demand for online advertising. Still, if you look at what’s going on, there’s a major shift going on in the 15 to 30 crowd. The vast majority of that crowd is spending unbelievable amounts of time online and watching unbelievable amounts of video. My 16-year-old son, for instance, doesn’t ever watch traditional television. When he’s watching a show it’s off YouTube and his laptop.

Q: Any thoughts on how online brand awareness will translate into offline sales?

A: We had revenues of close to $1.5 million in 2010, and over a million of that was online. The plan we have is that, as we take our online model offline over the next several months, our revenues will quickly scale. We’re now distributed at about 50 retailers in 5 countries – including Boots in UK, in Walmarts in Utah (with plans to scale), and the product has been accepted for a number of other chains.