In recent years, viral marketing has emerged as one of the most effective strategies that can be used to increase engagement with your audience.

Today’s technological and social landscape allows content to be shared with hundreds of our friends with the mere click of a button. If harnessed correctly it can spread like wildfire among social circles, rapidly gaining exposure and in turn, spreading the brand message.

Viral successes

Kony 2012 is arguably the most famous viral campaign of all time. The video, created by American NGO Invisible Children was styled as a documentary on the Ugandan warlord Joseph Kony. It was trending on Twitter internationally and was covered in traditional media globally. The video became the fastest growing YouTube video of all time, with more than 85 million views accrued in just 25 days.

The campaign focused on appealing to the emotional touch points of the public through the use of confronting footage of child soldiers and the impact Kony has had on their lives.

Another example of a viral campaign is ‘Isaac’s Live Lip-Dub Proposal’. Although less known, this has also received extensive exposure with nearly 14 million views in 20 days. While it is unclear whether this is a subtle marketing video, or a real proposal, the video’s success is easy to see.

The five-minute video shows Isaac’s girlfriend riding in the back of a Honda CRV and watching her friends and family perform a synchronised routine to the song ‘Marry You’ by Bruno Mars.

Again, this video’s success can largely be attributed to its ability to appeal to our fundamental emotions of love and happiness and joy.

What can marketers learn from the success of these videos?

Central to any viral campaign, is a deep understanding of what appeals to your audience – you must know what will make them laugh or cry – it is appealing to these base emotions that will cause people to share the video with their friends and family.

1. Market research is a given. However marketers might benefit from a new approach to this task. In addition to focusing on numbers and statistics and market segmentation, marketers should also look at the habits and behaviours of their audience in greater detail.

2. Incorporate the principles of sociology and psychology into marketing decisions when trying to reach the audience in a meaningful way. This means finding ways to analyse the audience’s thinking and how it affects their decisions.

3. Find their pain point and providing a solution: another way to connect with an audience can be to identify an emotionally charged problem and provide a solution.

4. Understand the principle of the meme. A meme is an image, a quote or a video that spreads virally, in a way that’s similar to a viral video. Memes are often universal truths that a majority of people can relate to. If you can become skilled at coming up with memes in a way that’s relevant to your brands, they can significantly increase the emotional connection the market feels with your brand.

Avoiding viral mistakes

The very nature of viral marketing requires the brand to break down the traditional commercial walls and appeal to the audience in a personal, emotional way. If the campaign goes wrong, consumers don’t just lose a little faith in the brand, they feel a deep rooted sense of anger and betrayal.

As with any public debate, there will be at least two sides. In using viral marketing to open up a dialogue with consumers, especially one that is emotionally charged, you run the very real risk of dividing your audience – some people will love you, and some will hate you.

If marketers are not prepared for this, it can cause them and the campaign to break down – as was the case with Jason Russell, creator of Kony 2012. His public mental breakdown diverted much of the public awareness away from capturing Kony, and onto potentially positioning him, as well as Invisible Children, as frauds.

Emotion can be a powerful concept in marketing, just as it is in other areas of our lives. In blurring the divide between brand and individual, it is possible to open a two-way dialogue with consumers, significantly increasing engagement and awareness.

It does also mean, however, that the brand has become a trusted member of society, and must tread carefully, so as not to leave the audience feeling as though their trust has been betrayed.

 

Lauren Brown
BY Lauren Brown ON 18 July 2012
Lauren is the managing director and founder of Pulse Marketing and a Telstra Young Business Woman of the Year. Her full service marketing and advertising agency has won multiple national and international marketing effectiveness awards.