It's Gone Viral!

Successful marketing is critical to any business. Being able to inform potential customers of your presence, and attract them to your products or services is important. While some industries may be more interested in particular audiences, others may rely on being able to spread their message as far as they can across the general population.

In either case, viral marketing can be a means of spreading that message by delivering it to individuals, and encouraging those individuals to spread the message, themselves, amongst their peers. When people share this viral message, they don't do it out of an interest to provide free marketing for your company; they are simply relating a message they found entertaining or insightful to people they already know will find the same. In this way, your message is spread naturally to the same demographics you need to communicate with.

So how can you bring this method to bear on your own marketing communications?

The anatomy of viral marketing is still a hot topic of research, but there are a few tips and trends many successful campaigns have found to have in common, as we will discuss below.

Free Stuff!

For viral marketing to work, a message needs to be created such that it will draw in potential consumers and compel them to share it with others. A common but worthwhile technique is the use of free services or products motivate consumers to spread your message. This requires that you supply the free service or product to everyone who encounters and interacts with the message. However, the result may be a much larger consumer base. Hotmail’s success, for example, can be attributed to this very strategy. By offering a free email address, and then passing that offer in the emails sent by said addresses, it was able to spread its services to a wide audience. Whether you had a Hotmail address or not, you've surely heard of it. You're probably also familiar with, today's incarnation of the Hotmail entity.

Stand Out!

An essential facet of viral marketing is the uniqueness of your message. Data is ever-present, and can get repetitive. If your message is unique, it will compel consumers to share it. For example, Old Spice’s advertising campaign in 2010, where they displayed a man speaking to the female audience about how they could get their partners to smell like him using Old Spice. The message of the advert was asking women to stop getting their partners feminine “for men” brands, and get them Old Spice instead. What made the advert, and its sequels, so unique was the comedic and fantastical elements that came with it, which propelled their message across a wide audience.

Trigger Warning!

Another secret of viral marketing is the emotional response it can trigger. While Old Spice’s commercial series may not have had an emotional draw to it, other messages have spread well by inciting the emotions of the audience. These emotions are especially useful for motivating the consumer to share the message, especially amongst their loved ones. In 2013, Dove released a video, where people were asked to describe themselves to a sketch artist, and then describe others who participated. Their sketches would be compared and brought to them. The emotional impact of this message was drawn from the audience’s appreciation of beauty, and how they perceived themselves.

Create the Stuff of Social Currency!

When you are looking to create this kind of content, think in terms of value-added. Whether it's truly altruistic or simply for the sake of making oneself look better to one's peers, people in social networks have a tendency to share things that make life easier or more entertaining. If you want your message to be shared in this way, you need to create the stuff of social currency and lean on this kind of behavior.

Use Social Proof!

Having a movie star raise a glass of your company beverage can make for a decent advertisement, but it does tend to appear as exactly that. In the age of the Internet, the use of this kind of endorsement has found new forms. With so many people and so much information at our fingertips, a new breed of celebrity has emerged: the influencer. Like any other form of celebrity, their endorsement or participation in your marketing message is a form of social proof -- the illustration that a model individual approves of the behaviors you want to see from your target markets. But unlike your average movie star or politician, the power of the influencer can often come from being more relatable, more human. Likewise, their involvement in your message or its distribution may be easier to solicit and cheaper to fund. Jessie Leimgruber of NeoReach goes into greater depth about creative content and the use of influencer marketing in helpful series of case studies on his website.

Forget About the Machine!

You're looking at viral marketing with a specific goal in mind, but in order to achieve it, there's a point when crafting that viral content where you almost have to ignore it completely. Your marketing machine is designed to get you business, leads, name recognition, even new assets and partnerships, but your viral message simply can't read that way. You have to focus on the content itself and the humans who will share it, and allow for a more subtle sense of promotion to work as that content is passed from person to person.