According to YouTube, over 4 billion videos are viewed every day. The video-sharing site also receives over 800 million unique visitors every month. With numbers like these — even larger when you include other video-sharing platforms — it’s no wonder why so many businesses want their products showcased on video.

Indeed, promoting your products, services and your brand through online video is an excellent marketing strategy. The trouble is, many people tend to think that the terms “video-marketing strategy” and “viral video” are interchangeable. They are not.

While a sound video-marketing strategy usually involves a thorough assessment of your offerings, your target audience and your overall business objectives, creating a viral video (or attempting to do so) is usually just about maximizing the number of views a video gets. While there are some exceptions, it’s generally not a great idea to create a viral video for your business. Here’s why.

It’s Unoriginal

You might think that videos go viral because they’re so original. The irony is that many of the most popular viral videos contain very similar themes and imagery. For example, it’s surprising how many videos from this list of the 100 most iconic Internet videos contain images of animals, kids, or dancing (or some combination of all three). Of course, not all viral videos are of dancing cats, but the overall viral video format is well known now. Viewers are no loner as surprised and impressed as they once were with grassroots attempts at generating popularity through online video.

Even wildly successful viral videos, like the “Old Spice Guy” or “Kony 2012” have seen lackluster results in follow-up videos attempting the same success. So, instead of trying to think about how you can create the next copy-cat video, spend some time thinking about how you can leverage the next big thing, rather than the last big thing.

It’s Impossible to Predict

Though the most successful viral videos often share common themes, simply including these themes in your online videos is obviously no guarantee of success. So, are there ways to increase the chances that your video will go viral? The Harvard Business School seems to think so. Recent research presented in the Harvard Business Review, offers a number of theories on what elements are necessary to include (and to avoid) if you want to create a viral video.

Though the research is compelling and offers some really great suggestions, you must consider that video contains facets of both art and science. Given our sometimes irrational and fickle human nature, some things resonate with us and some things don’t. No matter what your brand benefits are, or how many funny, shocking or awe-inspiring clips you include in your video, there’s no way to really know whether your video will be shared on a viral scale.

If you’re going to create an online-marketing video, consider all the available resources (including the recommendations from the Harvard study) and craft a video that you feel best represents your brand. Promote your video in as many different ways and places as you can. Release it to the world and measure the results. Draw whatever conclusions you can about its popularity to help make your subsequent videos even more successful.

It’s Ineffective

From a sales standpoint, some viral videos have clearly been successful. However, these results are exceptional — and difficult to replicate.

Think about the last viral video you watched. How many views did it have? More importantly, do you know the name of its creator? Did you visit a website or buy anything as a result of viewing the viral video? Chances are that you enjoyed the video, perhaps shared it with some friends and then went on with your everyday business. In other words, not only do many viral videos fail to produce tangible increases in sales, in many cases they fail to produce long-term brand recognition as well.

Creating a viral video should not be a goal in itself. What’s more important is to create a video that represents your brand in the best possible light and that can help achieve your marketing goals. If your video goes viral, great. If it doesn’t, you’ve still created a very effective piece of marketing content for your business that can be used again and again.

What do you think of the viral video phenomenon? Is it a viable goal, or more like trying to catch lightning in a bottle? Share your thoughts below.

[Image credits: Greg Schechter, Bud Caddell, Outdated Productions, ePublicist]