How to Create a Viral Effect

Marketers who witnessed the success of the Old Spice video campaigns are familiar with the positive impact the ‘viral effect’ can have on marketing outcomes and are keen to replicate those successes. Two things are worth  bearing in mind when considering such a campaign.

First, viral effects are not about the Internet. Despite increasing time online, people still spend most of their time offline and most conversations are face-to-face. Viral content has to be something people actually want to talk about and share, whether it’s over the dinner table or on Facebook.

Second, brands must focus on their objective – to turn existing customers’ into advocates. Whether you have thousands or just tens of customers, if each one of them talks positively about your brand and attracts new customers then your business will grow. And fast.

So is there any way of creating this massive word-of-mouth spread?  Consultants might tell you that some content just gets lucky and goes viral. But research into this area has found that the viral content of successful campaigns share attributes that are identifiable and replicable.

Malcolm Gladwell brought the idea of viral into the mainstream describing the conditions and processes that produced the rapid spread of ideas. “The tipping point is that magic moment when an idea, trend or social behaviour crosses a threshold, tips, and spreads like wildfire.”  He identified how advocates can make a big difference, describing them as connectors (people who link people together), mavens (information specialists), and salesmen (persuaders). He also recognized the potentially  ‘contagious’ impact of emotion.

Chip and Dan Heath focused  on viral content. Their 2007 book, “Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die”, argued that sticky ideas and products are usually simple, surprising, trustworthy, solid in detail, and involve an emotional underpinning combined with a memorable story.

Most recently Dr Jonah Berger describes the ‘science of conversation’ as what drives people to talk and share things. His research found that positive (emotional) content tends to be shared more than negative content. But it’s more complex than that. Content that creates a deep emotional response (such as awe or anger) is more viral than low arousal or deactivating content (sadness, or boredom). He identified six principles that help make things go viral:

·      Social currency – making people feel that they are cool insiders

·      Triggers – everyday reminders of an item or idea

·      Emotional resonance – making people want to share the experience with friends

·      Observability – a highly visible item advertises itself

·      Usefulness – people like to share practical or helpful information

·      Storytelling – embedding a product or an idea in a narrative enhances its power.

The message for marketers is to think less about advertising to drive sales and more about conversations and what drives them. Campaigns should be designed to encourage people to talk about ideas, not to ‘direct sell’. If done well, your brand will go along for the ride. And it can be a game-changing ride, just ask the Old Spice marketing team.

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