Having a campaign “go viral” and begin spreading among one’s target audience on its own, without further work or expenditure of resources, is the dream of every marketer. Actually getting a campaign to take off like this, however, is very difficult. Those whose plan for funding a campaign consists exclusively of “hoping it goes viral” are likely to end up out in the cold.
Nothing beats traditional marketing for sheer reliability, but it’s important to always keep in mind that virality is probabilistic and can happen randomly with absolutely no planning at all. We can increase our chance for success, but we can never guarantee it among new audiences.
It still takes planning.
A lot of novice marketers think that if they make a reasonably charming video and upload it to YouTube or Vine, the rest will take care of itself. This couldn’t be further from the truth: a viral video requires the same amount of research, planning, and development time as a traditional marketing campaign, even if it might not require as much money to reach people once it takes off. Researchers have put a great deal of effort into figuring out the best approach to planning a viral marketing campaign, making sure the resources that go into it don’t end up wasted.
As with any campaign, a viral marketing campaign must know its target market. The knowledge necessary to craft a successful viral campaign, though, extends beyond their basic interests and the traditional product, place, price, and promotion that form the marketing mix. Those who want to use the power of a viral campaign have to know what their customers are willing to share with each other. Rather than having to consider which messages the target audience will merely accept, marketers must consider a new axis as well.
What will your target audience transmit?
The term “viral” comes from biology, and in the context of viral marketing, indicates that the message is intended to spread from customer to customer once initiated, rather than relying on transmission from the marketing organization. To spread as a viral campaign, then, a video must be the sort of message that customers are willing to share with each other.
As a result, the first major step in any campaign with serious intentions of viral transmission is thorough research of the target audience. What messages do they already transmit to each other? How do they share with each other – and how do they share with lots of people very quickly? Answer these questions before getting started, and then tailor the campaign to the answers. If all the campaign boils down to is a promotional video that happens to have a few good jokes in it, it’s likely to peter out quickly.
Why will your target audience transmit it?
In some ways, a viral campaign is more like a product than a piece of marketing. The marketer is asking the consumer to take an action; it’s just that the action is “transmit this message” rather than “buy this product.” This, in turn, means that the customers have to see some kind of benefit in taking the action. How will undertaking the activity you intend them to take improve their lives?
These benefits can be intangible, of course, and indeed the best viral campaigns usually provide an opportunity to be seen as knowledgeable, charitable, or funny for passing them along. Others provide games, surveys, or other unique pastimes as part of the experience, providing customers the benefit of fun or distraction, as well as something to talk about with friends and colleagues. Some successful viral marketing programs, called “alternate reality games” or ARGs, encourage customers to form a community around the campaign, and subsequently, the product. To solve challenges in the game, they connect with other users, sharing expertise and participating in a long-running event.
How fast can your target audience transmit it?
To make campaigns like those successful, however, it must be easy for users to transmit information about the campaign to each other, and get information once they hear about it. Many sites offer easy sharing of content with others with only a single click, while others provide ways for users to port the information to common social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook with a minimum of fuss. Make it as easy as possible to find a potentially-viral campaign, and make sure it can be shared on as many platforms as fit the brand’s image.
In a world where trends come and go almost daily, time is of the essence in creating a viral hit. Users need to have the possibility of encountering the video or campaign as soon as it’s up, without that much change in their daily activities. This often means paying for sponsored video status or becoming a sponsored link. As seductive as banking on pure-strain luck can be, luck often needs that little extra boost.
What do you think?
By carefully planning the campaign and implementing it appropriately, companies can significantly increase the odds of it going viral, and at least ensure that enough people see it that the expenditures involved weren’t a total waste. Have you had a campaign intended to go viral succeed? Have you faced difficulties with a campaign you were hoping would go viral? Let us know your experiences with viral marketing in the comments.