Viral marketing (VM) initiatives can make or break a brand, product, person or service overnight – perhaps over lunch if the content compels enough people to comment on and share it with key influencers. Before social media (SM) was respected and utilized as a viable communications channel, ads during the Super Bowl, Emmys, and other events drawing millions of viewers were required to help a brand ‘go viral’. How many Super Bowl commercials can you and your friends recall in 10 minutes? Why do you remember them so well? A key part of any viral marketing message’s success, is the message. The marketing strategy’s message, characteristics of the product or service, ways the message is shared with others, and platforms used to do so also influence viral marketing campaigns’ reach and results.
“Viral marketing” is defined as the process of encouraging honest communication among consumer networks. SuccessfulVM messages have the power to incite emotional responses among people exposed to related content. Strong emotional hooks like surprise, curiosity, amazement and astonishment encourage hyper-accelerated sharing. TD Bank hit a home run with customers through its “Automated Thanking Machine” campaign. Customers who thought they coming in for a focus group for a new ATM were met by a machine dispensing gifts as part of the bank’s annual customer appreciation day.
Not all products and services are suitable VM “stars”. Marketers must consider pricing, features, availability, current promotion and ad strategies, and customer support structure before placing their newest offering before millions of eyeballs around the world. If, for example, a company notorious for its abysmal customer service practices invites consumers to pre-order an expensive smartphone with features readily available on competing, cheaper products, the VM campaign may underwhelm its target audiences…and the C-suite. The firm opens itself up to further scrutiny and scathing press if it fails to deliver pre-ordered products to customers on-time!
SM is a boon to VM efforts because it allows social commenting and makes it easier to share information, pics, video, and other multimedia with people within a customer’s social network. Some SM platforms are better than others-depending on what a marketer wishes to convey to an audience.
Lay’s potato chips are one of my favorite snacks, second only to Haribo Gummi Bears, which is one of the reasons I clearly remember its 2012 “Do Us A Flavor” SM campaign. The company let fans create a new flavor of chip by submitting suggestions via Facebook and Twitter, paring selections down to the top 25 flavors, which were then manufactured and tested. The top three-Cheesy Garlic Bread, Chicken and Waffles, and Sriracha, were on store shelves in 2013, prompting customers to buy, try, and vote for their favorite flavor on SM, deciding the million dollar winner.
One of the reasons the company’s campaign went viral was social commenting, which allowed voters to “like” a flavor and comment on it. Comments were shared on with the voter’s social network, which includes a link to Lay’s Web content, encouraging engagement. These posts influenced the purchase decisions of others in the voter’s network because they are viewed as credible referrals from friends, family, and colleagues.
So, we selected a great product and crafted a compelling, emotional message that will deliver the “wow” factor expected of our company. How should we share it with the world? Facebook? Twitter? MySpace?
It depends on what people need to see/hear/feel to call them to action-buy products, save the whales, or otherwise. The selection of tools is based on consumer needs and usability. Facebook’s “share” buttons, widgets, RSS feeds, social commenting make sharing opinions, images and other electrons a community deems necessary to convince others to agree or disagree with a brand’s messages.
There isn’t any magic formula or checklist a marketer can follow to create viral content-some products thrive while others fail, depending on current events or other factors beyond a company’s control. However, considering the tips above while focusing squarely on your audience can help better your odds of creating the next piece of contagious content!