As already discussed in my previous article viral marketing can be beneficial for large organisations such as Cadbury’s or Nike and also for individuals like the inspirational comedian Judson Laipply or small businesses like BlendTec “will it blend?” on the B2C level.
All of those “brands” have something in common: they succeeded in putting an excellent idea into practice. Viral marketing has the power to spreads a message like a biological virus by taking advantage of existing resources and thus keeping the delivery costs at a minimal level. Due to the population’s terrific rate of internet adoption, billions of individuals all over the planet are within reach by only the click of a button – a speed that cannot be topped by any other communication means.
Now, what is the key to success then?
Three and a half years ago successful entrepreneur Seth Godin discussed factors in his blog that make an idea viral. He concludes that the visual effect is a key element of a message and also highlights the importance of creating ideas that catch people’s interest, make them excited and wanting to tell others – ideally, forwarding the message to all they know. Marketing speaker David Meerman Scott highlights the importance of creating content that is important to the target audience, exclusive and solving the customer’s problems, rather than promoting a brand’s strengths or features. Basically, the principle is quiet simple. Ask yourself, what sort of story would motivate you to tell it to as many people you know? Reviewing additional academic literature, my conclusion about factors that increase the success of a viral message could be as follows:
- Decide which objective should be fulfilled (image improvement, brand awareness, greater market share, sales increase, etc.) Even though that may be considered as an old-fashioned view – the application of the SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timely) approach can serve as a useful guideline.
- Identify target segments, research their interests, latest online trends and networks they are actively involved.
- Create something outstanding, unique and special
- Be creative and surprise your audience
- By telling some kind of story, that will give you the opportunity to continue with your next campaign (given the condition that the previous one was well received)
- Identify online opinion leaders that are relevant to your campaign and make them give you feedback, generate their interest (brand representatives, opinion leaders or even, get your friends involved and excited – as soon you can infuse someone with your excitement, half of the job is done)
- Spread your message amongst strategically selected networks by applying appropriate tools
- Support your campaign by credible facts
- Try and involve your advocates into NPD
- Don’t try to control the effect – you can’t
- Be prepared for the unforeseen!
Same as word-of-mouth viral efforts are not “a sure bet”. There is no guarantee that by getting all mentioned factors above right it will help to get an idea accepted by the target audience, but it certainly assists by getting closer to the campaigns’ objectives.
What about return on investment?
ROI factors for viral campaigns are not easily assessable. Well-placed campaigns that are calculated and provocative can unleash a wave of long-lasting buzz. Viral Marketing is great tool with the side effect of digital word-of-mouth information distribution. Launched successfully, a viral campaign has the ability to improve brand awareness, image creation, corporate identity creation, web presence, etc. In addition, there is the opportunity for an immediate linkage to the corporate web page and all that can also lead to increased sales.
I can identify two major types of viral marketing campaigns; the intended and the unintended one. Given the rising popularity of viral marketing and the immense amount of creativity out there it becomes increasingly difficult to differentiate whether it was a tactical move with commercial objectives or not. Moreover there are the intended campaigns that are tailored to look like non corporate ones with the aim to get some buzz. Nevertheless, once such information is revealed negative publicity is not far, because people feel punked. But bear in mind: negative publicity may also be a strategy for media coverage!