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Viral marketing best practices


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Viral marketing can generate a lot of buzz—but that doesn’t always translate into conversions, return on your investment, or real value to your loyal customers and clients.

We’ve taken a look at the factors driving the most effective viral marketing campaigns, and distilled them into our latest Jack POV, The New Viral: effective, not just infective.

Using New Viral techniques, your marketing campaigns will reach exactly the right people and create the right conversations, strengthening your brand’s image and fostering consumer loyalty—in pandemic proportions.

In fact, we used these methods in our work with Eaton, who saw a 1028% return on investment and a 34% increase in brand awareness from the campaign.

So read our POV, and learn how to create campaigns that are not only infective, but also extremely effective.

Published in: Marketing

Viral marketing best practices

  1. 1. Effective, not just infective.
  2. 2. How are we going to make it go Oh, the early aughts. A time when marketers became obsessed with the idea that “going viral” was the cure to all marketing ailments. Thankfully, that time has passed. Google Trends says that since 2004, search queries for “viral marketing” have decreased by 80%. Concurrently, marketers’ appetite for marketing accountability has been rising. Today, it’s not enough for marketing to be infective. It must be effective. This dawning of a new efficacy-obsessed era has inspired us at Jack to consider how far we’ve come since the early days of “viral marketing,” to document some of what we’ve learned and to share how we—and our top clients from around the world—are thinking about the future. We call it the New Viral and look forward to hearing your thoughts. – Jack Morton Worldwide Finding an answer to the perrenial question: Thought leader: ­— Ben Grossman VP, Strategy Director, Boston 2The New Viral
  3. 3. Contents The problem with virality.............................4 Old Viral vs. New Viral................................8 The New Viral landscape...........................10 Introducing the New Viral approaches.......12 How to accomplish the New Viral..............22 About Jack Morton....................................27 Stop focusing on technology and start thinking about psychology. – Jonah Berger Author of Contagious 3The New Viral
  4. 4. virality
  5. 5. Sabeer Bhatia and Jack Smith, the creators of free email service Hotmail, first popularized the term “viral marketing”* to describe the company’s rise to primacy in 1996. In its first 18 months, Hotmail signed up over 12 million users with less than $500K in marketing, a dramatic feat when compared to Juno’s $20MM spent yielding a fraction of the users. How did it happen? Every single email that went out of the system included a simple advertising message: “Get your free e-mail at Hotmail.” Without looking at the email address, the recipient knew that the message had come from a Hotmail user and, thus, that the service was working. It was bolstered by a tried and true word-of-mouth principle: there was an implied endorsement that came with each message by someone who the recipient knew personally, lending second-party endorsement. What led to this technique being dubbed “viral” were its virus-like qualities: A) Involuntary: The word-of-mouth endorsement spread involuntarily. and B) Peer-to-Peer: The service spread contagiously, an effortless transmission from human to human. *Two other sources are cited for the term “viral marketing”: 1) A 1989 PC User Magazine article describes the rapid adoption of Macintosh SEs instead of Compaqs: “It’s viral marketing. You get one or two in and they spread throughout the company.” 2) A 1996 Fast Company article called “The Virus of Marketing” cites tips as well as the term: “When it comes to getting a message out with little time, minimal budgets, and maximum effect, nothing on earth beats a virus. [...] It’s time to stop shying away from the ominous sound of it and embrace the enemy: viral marketing or v-marketing, if the term is too harsh.” Hotmail’s spawn: The New Viral The problem with virality 5
  6. 6. eyeballs efficacy As the late 1990s and early 2000s gave rise to viral marketing buzz, brands took notice. Agencies and clients alike became obsessed with the pass-along value, talk- worthiness and, of course, the virality of their work. A dangerous assumption started to form: getting lots of eyeballs (or impressions) meant a highly effective campaign. In 2000, Budweiser dominated pop culture with its breakthrough “Whassup!” campaign, deemed a viral sensation, won every major industry award, including the Grand Prix at Cannes. “Whassup!” had captured unimaginable eyeballs globally. But this buzziest effort did not necessarily correlate to efficacy. During ”Whassup!”, Budweiser’s US market share fell by 1.5– 2.5% and its barrel sales dropped 8.3%. So while these early initiatives may have been infective—spreading involuntarily and widely—eyeballs gained by viral initiatives were never a straight line to efficacy. Do not give Facebook a single dollar unless it’s driving business value. I don’t care about driving likes, comments and shares. – Carolyn Everson VP Global Marketing Solutions, Facebook The New Viral The problem with virality 6
  7. 7. Again. There’s no debating that, while virality may not be the holy grail of marketing success, it has also been associated with success. Just ask Blendtec about what its “Will It Blend” video series did for its business. 150 videos and 250MM views later, Blendtec’s retail sales are up a reported 700%, and its YouTube channel has over 800,000 subscribers. Major mainstream outlets like The Today Show, The Tonight Show, The History Channel, the Wall Street Journal, and others picked up on its popularity, furthering the brand’s reach through media coverage. Asking for a campaign to “go viral” was and is the wrong ask. Increasingly, the best viral marketing is just the best marketing period. Strong creative that’s deemed worthy of people’s attention and influence can indeed be effective as well as infective. The “New Viral” era is one of increased rigor and discipline, demanding brands do much more than count views. The New Viral The problem with virality 7
  8. 8. New Viral
  9. 9. Achieves success by becoming rapidly popular due to mass peer-to-peer sharing and the accumulation of views. Achieves success by gaining targeted engagement through advantageous contexts to achieve business goals. New Viral Broad: Relying entirely on peer-to-peer sharing meant that brands messages were inherently spread indiscriminately. Content that reached the broadest possible, and thus untargeted, audience was considered successful. Targeted: By leveraging new native advertising capabilities and increased targeting capabilities, brands can carefully reach the people that matter in the right places, rather than relying on haphazard spread. Risky: Because brands prioritized rapid spread and popularity of their content, they believed “shock value” and big risks were synonymous with virality. “Free” Media: Old Viral thinking was that brands were getting a deal by earning or—in less savory contexts—forcing the spread of their content regardless of who it reached. Managed: Modern research demonstrates that strong positive emotions are far more powerful than shock. Additionally, the New Viral calls for brands to be calculated with content, prioritizing efficacy over popularity. Amplified: A diverse set of digital platforms, influencers, and native advertising, mean brands gain traction through a combination of earned and paid media to amplify their content in a more calculated way. The New Viral Old Viral vs. New Viral 9
  10. 10. New Viral Big Bets: Brands intent on having initiatives “go viral” placed big bets on individual ideas or pieces of content—many of which flopped. No surprise given the rate of content virality was below 1%. Passive: Most early viral efforts consisted of a fairly shallow experience whereby audiences viewed content and chose whether or not to share that content. Remarkable: Old Viral approaches often relied on a level of novelty or incredibility to incentivize users to share the content. Diversified: Top brands invest in creating diversified and serialized content that curbs risk by addressing increasingly splintered audiences. This builds more sustainable audiences instead of reliance on one-hit-wonders. Active: Today, users are engaged through a broad variety of interactivity that creates experiences with brands that are far more powerful than previous models. Brands now respond to users and co-create with them. Memorable: Today the focus for brands goes beyond simply getting consumers to share—they want individuals to remember the brand, shift their perception and, increasingly, buy into a movement. The New Viral Old Viral vs. New Viral 10
  11. 11. landscape
  12. 12. Despite the disappointing results after viral marketing’s initial hype (eMarketer Senior Analyst Paul Verna calling it “art and a crap shoot”), the core concept behind gaining incremental reach though peer-to- peer sharing is not dead at all. Microsoft’s Daniel Goldstein and Sharad Goel point out that, “while things don’t go viral like the flu, they can get a 20 percent return— for every 10 adoptees of a conventional marketing effort, another two people will adopt something organically.” Today’s landscape is particularly prime for achieving those gains thanks to three trends: 1. Content marketing’s rise: Brands recognize the power of storytelling; 90% of organizations now market with content. But ROI tracking remains elusive for most. 2. Digital video’s rise: People have a seemingly endless appetite for video. Consumer internet video traffic will be 80% of all internet traffic by 2019, up from 64% in 2014. 3. Higher demand for word-of- mouth advice, especially face-to- face. Peer-provided recommendations (not just digital sharing) cut through the clutter, helping consumers navigate more options than before. So, as New Viral marketers, we must be vigilant about creating initiatives that do more than gather eyeballs. They must be shared among the right people to get the right result. Long live viral. The New Viral The New Viral landscape 12
  13. 13. New Viral approaches
  14. 14. New Viral? Microviral Targeting: Brands with specific, targeted audiences are favoring deeper engagement and targeted pass- along over surface exposure to broad audiences. Conversational Carriers: Brands that have broad audiences can still create ideas that are designed to spread and impact the bottom line; the key is thinking about the conversational context that will allow for the right conversations. Pandemic Proportions: Brands are focusing efforts on creating huge quantities and various manifestations of content across a plethora of different channels and optimizing in real- time. Chronic Content: Renewed focus is being placed on establishing relationships where consumers turn to brands for more than just a one-hit-wonder, instead seeking out the brand’s content. Here’s how these New Viral prescriptions are working in the real world... There’s no need to blindly stumble around for guidance on reaching today’s audiences. New models for the New Viral are emerging, each with distinctive goals best suited to particular business challenges: 1. 2. 3. 4. The New Viral Introducing the New Viral approaches 14
  15. 15. Microviral targeting can include: Audience: Many brands have a very specific, niche audience to pursue (e.g. IT buyers or parents of children with gluten allergies). An approach that reaches millions of random people may rack up a lot of views, but wouldn’t be very effective. Instead, brands are focusing on how to resonate with, then generate pass-along within, targeted audiences. Topic: Some topics are not relevant to all consumers at all times. But just because it’s a topic that isn’t broadly interesting, and thus won’t accumulate millions of views, doesn’t mean it’s the topic the brand should skip. Brands are creating content that serves a very specific purpose without mass exposure. Moment: As consumers integrate devices into their daily lives, brands that are there with them the moment a consumer realizes they have a need or an interest, are brands that become their go-to solution. For example, a consumer frustrated with their internet service provider is a prospect ready to make an immediate purchase decision. 1. Microviral Many brands stand to benefit more from content with smaller distribution, but bigger impact on business, rather than striving for Super-Bowl-sized reach for reach’s sake. Specificity is king here. The New Viral Introducing the New Viral approaches 15
  16. 16. My IT Empire In an effort to generate brand familiarity and leads amongst IT professionals, Eaton launched a digital tool that created custom infographics representative of its buyers’ IT Empires. Through the engaging digital process of making infographics, IT pros divulged 48 data points per user— generating quality lead profiles and creating valuable content that spread through IT-focused social network Spiceworks and Reddit forums to other IT pros. The initiative generated 1028% return on investment (ROI). Gillette BODY Launch When Gillette needed to target a rapidly expanding audience of body-grooming men, it generated a series of tutorial-style videos that men would naturally find via personal research and through targeted native ads that were optimized in real-time. The campaign drove awareness for Gillette BODY among true prospects, delivering more than 500K clicks-to-buy and surpassing sales expectations by up to 4X across seven markets. Microviral The New Viral Introducing the New Viral approaches 16
  17. 17. 2. Conversational Many mass-market brands can still benefit from mass distribution of content. The key? Using powerful insights as a springboard to that content. Provocative ideas, potent evidence, counterintuitive findings, clever comparisons, anything to spark a new thought, and then a word-of-mouth, media- fueld conversation that carries the brand. Now, creating marketing that serves as conversational carriers isn’t easy. Expectations need to be managed. Thinking a consumer is going to share something with her entire social network is delusional. The mean size of a sharing tree is 1.1–1.4 (meaning most content reaches one recipient who does not share it). Perhaps the best tactic is to aim for each person to share with one or two others. Simple maneuvers like adding a ‘share’ link can bump up returns by 30–40%. So instead of swinging for the fences every time, think about how to start a smaller conversation that will be sustainable. Going viral isn’t the goal for most people … what you really want to do is get each person you’ve reached to tell just one or two more people. – Jonah Berger Professor, Wharton The New Viral Introducing the New Viral approaches 17
  18. 18. Dove’s Real Beauty Sketches Back in 2006, Dove’s seminal “Evolution” campaign defined what Old Viral success looked like. Times changed and tactics needed to as well. It took almost eight years for the brand to achieve another massive hit, Real Beauty Sketches, which struck a conversational nerve about how women perceive their own appearance versus, carrying the brand forward with it. With over 163MM views and 4.6B media impressions, the 2014 initiative leveraged a heavy paid, earned, and owned amplification plan to drive its success—a key trait of the New Viral. Biggest 7th inning Stretch Ever T-Mobile leveraged its sponsorship of Major League Baseball during the World Series, which is the highest conversational point of the year. It launched a crowd-sourced effort to create the Biggest 7th Inning Stretch Ever, by asking fans to grab their phone, grab their friends, sing “Take Me Out To The Ballgame,” and upload a video selfie to T-Mobile’s custom tool for the chance to be featured in a 60-second spot during the World Series. It worked, generating over 231MM social media impressions and 500K engagements. Conversational The New Viral Introducing the New Viral approaches 18
  19. 19. 3. Pandemic Google data show that 90% of users start an activity on one device and finish on another. Meanwhile, consumers encounter 18 or so brand touchpoints prior to making a purchase. In this fragmented media environment, to achieve meaningful scale— Pandemic Proportions—ideas and content must be optimized for transmission through a variety of channels. An effective content diffusion strategy needs to address a higher quantity of different environments/devices/media and do so with customized content best suited to each channel. In other words, just posting a video to YouTube doesn’t cut it anymore. Once brands have a proper diversity of content, a careful communications plan must be put in place that properly leverages a combination between earned, paid, and owned media to distribute that content. It’s also important that brands realize that 80% of the work happens after an initiative is launched. In a digital ecosystem, optimization and responding to the tides of public opinion and attention is critical. The New Viral Introducing the New Viral approaches 19
  20. 20. I Will What I Want Under Armour flipped a negative viewer perception into a powerful viral campaign that transcended channels and attracted pandemic attention. Consumers didn’t connect with TV spokeswoman Gisele Bündchen citing her as “just a model.” The company created a reaction video with Gisele called “I WILL WHAT I WANT,” showing her punching through the negative feedback. With 3MM+ YouTube views,1.5B media impressions, and a 28% increase in Under Armour sales, the response video surpassed the original commercial’s popularity and impact. Piper Moments Piper-Heidsieck champagne needed to be viewed as an affordable luxury to be enjoyed frequently, not just on holidays. The brand created a year of “Piper Moments.” This content lived through a diverse set of channels including digital video, social media presences, influencer events, and public relations outreach. The campaign generated more than 6.3MM media impressions and contributed to a 25% sales increase in the first seven months of the year, demonstrating the power of varied distribution of a single concept. Pandemic The New Viral Introducing the New Viral approaches 20
  21. 21. 4. Chronic Providing consumers with helpful, interesting content is a great way to start and grow relationships with them on an ongoing—chronic—basis. This technique has become even more important as consumers interact continuously with digital media; brands need to be where their buyers are—physically, digitally, and psychologically—along every stage in a purchase journey. This New Viral approach emphasizes the importance of being prepared to reach and deliver value to consumers when they’re most susceptible to the brand’s message and cause. As Marriott’s David Beebe puts it: “If you give them content that adds value, they will allow you to market to them at that point because you did something for them first, rather than going straight for the sale.” Marriott is so committed to producing consistently engaging content targeting next-gen travelers, it has started a content studio dedicated to filling its New Viral pipeline. It’s not about one- hit wonders. It’s about finding a sustainable audience that jumps at every new song you release (or in this case, video). – Tara Walpert Levy Managing Director, Google The New Viral Introducing the New Viral approaches 21
  22. 22. Mom’s Champion of Health Lysol has launched a content ecosystem designed to position the brand as an ally to mothers as they tackle the daily challenges of their growing families’ lives. The campaign includes content meant for moms-to-be, new families, parents of kids going to school for the first time, and beyond. By tightly aligning with mothers’ needs and emotional states, Lysol has seen a 30% sales gain, over 301MM added value impressions, and a 13X increase in monthly engaged users on its Facebook page. Red Bull Media House Created in 2007, the Red Bull Media House operates as its own, independently profitable media company. It employs over 400 people, runs over 900 domains, and offers web TV, web radio, online games, newsfeeds, and digital databases. Its fierce dedication to producing Chronic Content has made it one of YouTube’s top 5 sports content producers (over 1B views) and has led to 7% spikes in sales with efforts like Red Bull Stratos. Chronic The New Viral Introducing the New Viral approaches 22
  23. 23. accomplish the New Viral
  24. 24. extraordinary. Having models of the New Viral is all well and good, but how do brands accomplish it? At Jack, our experience with some of the world’s most admired brands has proven that it pays to do something extraordinary. Too often in an era of social media demands, brands end up obsessing over what they’ll post next rather than thinking about what they’ll do next that’s worth posting about. The New Viral starts with an extraordinary idea. A way the brand can stand out and stand up for something that’s meaningful and memorable to people in their lives. But good ideas aren’t enough. Truly extraordinary impact is the product of careful communications planning, measurement, and optimization. It’s about resonantly reaching the people who matter most to the brand. When, and only when, extraordinary ideas and extraordinary impact come together do we believe the New Viral is done right. The New Viral How to accomplish the New Viral 24
  25. 25. extraordinary ideas. So how do we know an idea is ripe for sharing? Researchers like Jonah Berger and Karen Nelson- Field, among others, have established common traits for promising viral ideas: 1. Care-able: Ideas must have stand-out power in consumers’ minds and feeds. This power derives from high-arousal content that seizes people’s emotions—whether it’s soaring positivity or simple entertainment. 2. Badge-able: People share things that shape others’ perceptions of them: “You are what you share.” Consumers widely admit to sharing content to make themselves look good, whether that means supporting a cause, being helpful, or showing savvy. 3. Share-able: Ideas must be translated into easily transferable social artifacts with clear storytelling. Videos, infographics, listicles, and more have all provided seamless ways to share information. Once optimally packaged, momentum and popularity can take over as users seek to jump on a bandwagon in motion. Why do people share content online?* * n=1,000 ages 18+ Source: Fractl,”The Link Between Content Sharing & Identity,” November 10, 2014 1% To learn something about friends 44% To entertain 25% To educate 20% To share something that reflects who they are 10% To support a cause The New Viral How to accomplish the New Viral 25
  26. 26. extraordinary impact. While producing highly- sharable content is the first step to New Viral success, achieving truly extraordinary impact requires content with disciplined attributes of efficacy: 1. Distributed: Content must reach the right people at the right scale for the brand. As such, it’s crucial that marketers assemble strong communications plans to ensure proper distribution. 2. Memorable: “Viral videos” can gain great pass-along numbers, but without memorable branding, but those videos are unlikely to truly work for your business. Effective content must be memorably branded—cleverness is fine so long as viewers have no doubt as to the content’s brand origins—to attain mindshare and stickiness capable of changing peoples’ perceptions and behavior. 3. Measured: View-counts and impressions are okay as a snapshot evaluation. But rigorous measurement that demonstrates brand health lifts, full funnel impact, and/or lifetime value must be implemented to truly understand how well an initiative performed. The New Viral How to accomplish the New Viral 26
  27. 27. extraordinary brand. From our POV, New Viral success depends upon establishing and maintaining high-quality brand behavior. The following proven principles help us establish a due North, creating a path for joining some of the world’s most admired brands: Invite participation: Is there a way for people to get involved and make this a two-way interaction? People-driven: Is this initiative inspired by a human insight, rather than your brand’s agenda? Be a destination: How can your brand be a person’s destination—or at the very least on, not in, the way? Add value: Does a non-purchase interaction with your brand leave consumers better off than when they came to you? Inspire sharing: What would motivate a person to share this, and what would they get out of doing so? If your initiatives pass these criteria, then chances are you have an Experience Brand on your hands—one that consistently fulfills its brand promise by delivering tangible proof. If not, it may be worth bringing in some fresh perspectives to nail down a brand experience worth bragging about. Clearly, there’s a lot more to the New Viral than just eyeballs, but with the right idea, the right impact, and the right principles, efficacy is in sight. The New Viral How to accomplish the New Viral 27
  28. 28. w Talk to us – Contact Peter Sun VP, Brand Marketing +1.212.401.7015 Read our blog at Follow us on twitter @jackmorton Visit us online at About Jack Morton We’re a global brand experience agency. We generate breakthrough ideas, connecting brands and people through experiences that transform business. Our portfolio of award-winning work spans 75 years across event marketing, sponsorship marketing, promotion and activation, experience strategy, employee engagement, digital, social, and mobile. Ranked at the top of our field, Jack Morton is part of the Interpublic Group of Companies, Inc. (NYSE: IPG). © Jack Morton Worldwide 2015 Bibliography: 1. Demand Metric, 2015 2. Track Maven, 2015 3. Content Marketing Institute, 2015 4. Brain Shark, 2013 5. SocialBreakers, 2015 6. Social Media Examiner, 2015 7. Viral Marketing: The Science of Sharing, 2013 8. Unruly, 2014 9. Contagious: Why Things Catch On, 2013