Viral Marketing: What makes something go viral?

Viral marketing is any marketing technique that induces websites or users to pass on a marketing message to other sites or users, creating a potentially exponential growth in the message’s visibility and effect.

Before going in details of Viral marketing, you should understand that what exactly viral is. May be you remember this ?? Gangnam Style Viral

Or the winking girl Priya Prakash Varrier from India who recently broke the internet. ??

Priya Prakash Varrier

Or Some cat video. Every day somethings get viral on internet But when we are talking about “Viral Marketing” then we need to understand the science behind the virality.

One more myth I would like to bust is Viral thing is not just Internet phenomenon, It is happening since evolution of human. Internet just accelerate the intensity and made it more obvious.

When one person share something to other person and other person share the with some more people and so on, this word-of-mouth thing is also qualify as a viral thing, now when person use technology to share something then the intensity of distribution grows dramatically high and creates everywhere effect.

Though you may be thinking that why Advertisement is not considered as viral, the answer is simple, People don’t trust advertisements, they listen to their peers. But why do people talk about certain products and ideas more than others?

Why are some stories and rumours more infectious?

And what makes online content go viral?

Wharton marketing professor Jonah Berger has spent the last decade answering these questions. He’s studied why New York Times articles make the paper’s own Most E-mailed List, why products get word of mouth, and how social influence shapes everything from the cars we buy to the clothes we wear to the names we give our children.

Traditional marketing suggests that quality, price, and advertising are the critical factors to determine a product or idea’s ability to achieve success or popularity, but Berger argues that this misses the full view – social influence and word-of-mouth transmission are far more essential to drive “virality,” and ultimately account for 20-50% of all purchasing decisions.

In fact, “word-of-mouth,” he explains, is effective because it is more persuasive (people trust what others tell them much more than they trust ads they see on T.V.) and more targeted (people share stories with those who are actually interested in the topic).

Berger in his book Contagious: Why Things Catch On explains six factors

1- Social Currency –“We share things that make us look good”

People share content that makes them look good or rather cool in front of others. After all, no matter what we might say, all of us care about what others think of us.

Whether through a post on Facebook or Twitter, or telling an engaging story at a dinner party – people “self-share” experiences, ideas, and topics to make themselves and their lives appear more fascinating and interesting to others.

Berger describes this form of word-of-mouth tool as “social currency,” or the “currency” we use to buy and sell people’s opinions of us. What we talk about, inevitably determines what others perceive of us, which leads us to share things that make us seem more entertaining, clever, smart, and/or funny.

The human brain is hot-wired to use this so-called “currency” to make a good impression on others.

Companies and individuals can use this to their advantage, by providing their customers with products, experiences, and content that connect directly with them in a way that encourages sharing with others, while promoting the company’s ideas, causes and/or products simultaneously.

To do so, it’s important to create one of the following three things:

  1. “Find inner remarkability” – generate something unique, quirky, surprising, or novel. Think about ways to make your product or idea stand out by breaking from tradition and what people expect from an experience; i.e. JetBlue (low cost airline) offers first class amenities to all passengers: quality snacks, comfortable / roomy seat, DIRECTV for all.
  2. ‘“Leverage game mechanics” – use elements of a game to make something fun, interesting, and hook the consumer. “Good game mechanics keep people engaged, motivated, and always wanting more.”
  3. “Make people feel like insiders” – scarcity and exclusivity drives desirability. people love when they feel like “insiders” i.e. Ru La La is a member-only (originally invite only, now they allow for anyone to sign up) online flash sale clothing website providing daily deals on high fashion at discounted prices to those who are on their distribution list (aka the insiders).

The key to being successful across all of these factors, is to build intrinsic motivation within people – if something is truly successful, people will want to talk about or buy into your product or service if it means they will gain value from the product or experience, as well as look good to others.

If you get someone bought in, they will likely tell their friends and family about it, thus beginning the cycle of creating something viral. 

2-Triggers –“Top of mind, tip of tongue”

Trigger is a stimulus that keeps people sharing your content. You might be hungry when you share a food porn video. Your hunger is the trigger here.

While social currency gets people to talk about things, “triggers” keep ideas and products fresh in the minds of consumers, ensuring that they keep talking about your idea.

“Triggers” are stimuli that connect thoughts and ideas together. By designing products and ideas that are linked to our surroundings, it helps to set off frequent “lightbulbs” or “triggers” in people’s mind.

When people think about your product, they will likely talk about it, share their experience with it, and become repeat customers over time.

In fact, more frequently trigger-associated products can increase word-of-mouth by 15 percent, and because it is top of mind, it generally means someone will be more likely to act on what they are thinking about.

For example, in 1997, The Mars Candy Company noticed a spike in their Mars candy bar sales. They had not changed their marketing campaigns, yet sales were up. It turned out that during that same period, NASA was organizing a mission to Mars to collect samples and data from the planet – and with the continuous news cycle featuring NASAs and the planet Mars (the candy/company is named after the founder, not the planet), the news triggered the idea of the candy in people’s minds, and sure enough sales spiked.

It is also possible to create a trigger by expanding the “habitat” that people exist in – meaning creating new habits / further associating your product or idea with things we do on a daily basis.

For example, in 2007, Colleen Chorak was the Hershey brand manager tasked with revitalizing the Kit Kat brand. The candy bar’s jingle had been around for 21 years, and had run its course.

To get consumers thinking about the brand again she looked at when people ate Kit Kats the most… during breaks and usually with a hot beverage. She began releasing ads that tied Kit Kats to coffee breaks at work, specifically eating them while drinking coffee.

The spots did exactly as she hoped, and soon sales increased by 8% by the end of the year.

Effective triggers are caused by frequency (how often we interact with a trigger i.e. coffee vs. hot chocolate – people see and think about coffee every day, whereas hot chocolate is more seasonal, so associating with coffee is far more effective) and strength of the link (more unusual links are better than those that are associated with too many things, i.e. the color red is linked with roses, Coca-Cola, cars, Valentine’s Day etc. – too many weak links, whereas when you hear the word “peanut butter”, “jelly” usually is the first link we think about).

Thus, it is important to think about context of the environment of the people you are trying to target: whether seasonal (candy corn and Halloween).

3- Emotion –“When we care, we share”

“When we care, we share”. People tend to share stuff that is emotionally arousing. Content with positive emotions is shared much more than that with negative emotions.

Emotional content evokes feelings, both positive and negative, that drive people to share and act on those emotions. Tax hikes, price increases, new iPhone releases, elections and policy stances – all evoke positive and negative outbursts that drive people to talk about it with those around them.

In many cases, it can drive activism in politics, switching from one product to another, or writing a Yelp review online to encourage people to eat or not eat at a certain cafe.

Berger explains that certain emotions evoke action while causing others to stifle:

Awe, excitement, humour evoke as much arousal as anger and anxiety, while contentment and sadness leave people to do nothing at all.

Understanding arousal can help you drive viral content and products for yourself, by focusing less on information (features and benefits) around your product or idea, and focus on how people think, feel, and react to certain messages

4-Public –If something is popular already, chances are it will shared further

If the participation in that thing can be made public, even better.

If you are not sure how to feel about your Minister or his performance but there is a popular opinion doing the rounds, chances are you will end up propagating that opinion further. We all like to be part of a community and feel accepted.

5. Practical Value – “News you can use”

Practical, useful stuff gets instantly shared. That is why “How to” videos work so well.

People like helping and feeling useful to others. Practical value is all about sharing useful information that will help others save time, energy and resources.

When there is is a product, services, cause or article that provides practical applicability for someone you know, you will likely share with them.

Moreover, products and ideas with practical value is passed along to help others despite geographic distances.

That’s why parents often send useful articles, coupons, as well as cooking & cleaning advice to their kids – it strengthens social bonds, even when distance makes things difficult.

The key to being successful for companies is to position this useful information in a way that stands out to consumers.

Practical value relies heavily on buyer behavior, and Berger explains that people use “reference points” to determine the value of a good, service, or discount.

Companies understand that this is how their customers make purchasing decisions, and use it to their advantage to encourage customers to make selections easier and faster for them.

For example, when buying a book from Amazon, the website posts the original price next to the discounted price to make people think that they are getting a good deal – Amazon benefits from that contrast.

When it comes to pricing, “diminishing sensitivity” can influence buyer behavior, which is where the “Rule of 100” becomes handy. It helps merchants increase the likelihood that people buy your product and share with others. The general rule:

  • If the product sells for less than $100, sale price should be set in terms of the percentage reduction (discounts as a percentage seems more impressive on low priced items)
  • If it’s greater than $100, discount the price in dollar reduction (discounts as a dollar seem more impressive on high cost items)

 6. Stories – “Information travels under the guise of idle chatter”

People love stories, especially if they are emotionally arousing. If you can tell a compelling story through your content, people will recognize and share it.

Stories are the most effective way to share ideas and information.

As Berger explains,

“Information travels under the guise of what seems like idle chatter.we need to embed our products and ideas in stories that people want to tell by making our message so integral to the narrative that people can’t tell the story without it.”

Humans think in terms of narratives, which is why we frequently recall and share stories. If you find a great bargain, you will probably describe your entire experience when you recommend the deal to your friends.

A few years ago, Dove skin products created a viral video that showed how unrealistic professional models look in advertisements – showing how much make-up, hairspray, and photoshopping went into creating a “beautiful” advertisement. The video encourages the viewer to be natural and to be happy in one’s own skin.

The story was only a few minutes long – but it told a positive story, while simultaneously plugging the Dove brand. Dove asked customers to send in videos of their own stories under the rubric of “Real Beauty.”

Thousands of video stories were sent in, which generated millions of views. Analytics showed that the sales response functions of all promotional activities were enhanced by this program.

Most people miss superfluous details, so to get customers to think about your product or idea, weave it into a story with key factors critical to your brand and add other “sticky” factors: humor, creativity, quirky.

Standing out in today’s market is harder than ever as advertising clutter projects 4,000 – 10,000 ads and brands at consumers every day.

But the most effective and prosperous ideas have been empowered and supported by one or more of the 6 STEPPS in some way.

Leveraging good stories that are useful, engaging, and that drive value will help you and your product, idea, cause increase social influence and word-of-mouth transmission and propel it to be the next big thing.

Final words: Berger says all viral content have five traits in common: Surprising, Interesting, Intense, Positive and Actionable.

The most shareable content evokes strong positive emotions and offer practical, actionable advice. As an emotion, awe works the best. Although anger and anxiety work well too, awe is a more shareable emotion than them.

So, Kindly ignore the idea like using cat in your video will make your content viral, rather plan and test your viral marketing program on scientific aspect of virality.



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