Viral Marketing: How to Succeed

Online media have been overloaded with content aimed at attracting the attention of the widest possible audience. Due to the information overload, only content of superior quality reaches its target audience as widely as possible. “An increasingly competitive media landscape favors increasingly competitive content,” observes Douglas Rushkoff, a media theorist and writer. Content of superior quality thus means that it is competitive enough. The competitiveness of content could be perceived in terms of its virality, i.e. its shareability on online platforms. The promotional potential of content virality has actively been explored and utilized by marketers, as it is reflected by an ongoing discussion on how to launch effective viral marketing campaigns.

To create viral content, Johan Ronnestam, a brand strategist, suggests using the viral triangle model. It is based on 3 possible entry points (hooks) for a target audience:

  1. Brand / Product. Every communication activity of a company should have a brand or product as its core component.
  2. Celebrity / Partner. You should associate your solution with an ambassador who is well-known among your target audience. 
  3. Culture / Lifestyle. To establish an idea within a community, it is necessary to communicate it by its rules.

At its core, the viral triangle model has an innovative idea. You should provide your target audience with something unseen before and a unique entertainment experience. Otherwise, people will not be willing to share it within their social circles.

Jabed Hasan, a digital marketing specialist, also agrees that one of the most effective viral marketing techniques is doing something unpredictable. If you just copy something that has already been done before, your message will not attract much attention. To attract interest, you need to show something completely new. Hasan notes that making things look cool or promoting your service or product as great is pointless as it is a cliché. 

Martin Lindstrom, a consumer branding specialist, claims that online marketing will not be effective without an authentic value match. If you launch an ad containing only the necessary product or brand information, people are likely to watch it, but a few will help you spread your message. By contrast, if you launch an ad that corresponds to their values, they are more likely to share it with others.  

Mads Holmen, Founder of Bibblio, a content recommendation platform, draws attention to the fact that content distribution should not be seen only as uploading content to an online platform. In his opinion, the right approach is to engage an audience in a timely fashion on a large scale. That can be achieved “by reaching out to hundreds of blogs, communities and contextual websites”. Since peers respect and listen to these environments, they have enough influence to boost a marketing campaign. To achieve the right content distribution, it is thus necessary to combine ‘solid media planning’ with suitable technology.  

Marketer Deep Patel argues that viral content should provoke strong reactions. Without the element of surprise, it is often very challenging to get noticed as there are many messages online competing for viewers’ attention. Patel notes that marketing campaigns should not be made too overblown as they could easily disappoint viewers. In many cases, a little mystery is sufficient to attract attention. For example, an intriguing thumbnail image or title could attract interest and anticipation of what comes next.

Brent Barnhart, a B2B content writer, observes that what most viral content has in common is that it is humanized. “Anything you can do to remove the corporate taste of your content is a plus,” he notes. In his opinion, humanized content becomes more relatable because it seems more authentic. “Marketing via authenticity is essential to reaching Gen Z and younger millennials who are often the arbiters of what goes viral,” Barnhart explains. If content is humanized or at least gives the impression of a company’s honesty, it is more likely to be shared online. 

References:  Douglas Rushkoff, | Johan Ronnestam, | Jabed Hasan, | Martin Lindstrom, | Deep Patel, | Brent Barnhart,