If you’ve ever seen someone complete the ice water challenge, then you’ve seen what viral marketing is all about. For those of you that don’t know what that is: the ice water challenge is something people put each other up to in the name of advancing amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) research. ALS is more commonly known as “Lou Gehrig’s disease,” and it has no known cure.
The viral marketing goal was for people to become aware about ALS and the need for more funding. Within a few days the campaign exploded, as people from Oprah Winfrey and Taylor Swift to Bill Gates took part in the challenge and challenged other famous people themselves. At times, over 50,000 tweets were coming in each hour about the ice water challenge. Since the start of the campaign on July 29th, more than $53.3 million has been raised from 1.1 million brand new donors. What’s even more surprising is that this “viral marketing campaign” was merely started by a group of friends that knew a man with ALS.
So what does that mean for businesses? What is viral marketing anyways, and how can businesses create such campaigns?
The Hard Truth about Viral Campaigns
If these sort of campaigns were so easy, where you invest in marketing and then the marketing audience keeps tripling every day without any further investment, everyone would do it. But you can’t just walk into a marketing office and ask for a viral marketing campaign. The marketing team would laugh.
The reason these sort of campaigns are so tough is because you need to create a message, or campaign, that resonates with a large portion of people. If the ice water bucket challenge was about diminishing algae populations in an obscure Alaskan lake, not a single person would have cared. But since many people can sympathize for those with ALS, those who could not donate at least did the challenge which educated more people about ALS and its diminishing research funds. Those who could donate, could also do the video and still educate others.
In addition for viral marketing campaigns needing to resonate with a large amount of people, they also tend to be silly. Just look at the Kickstarter project for “Making a Potato Salad.” The founder of the project claimed he didn’t have enough money to make a salad, and asked for $10 to make a potato salad. He ended up raising over $55,000 within 30 days. As with the ice water challenge, the potato salad campaign was successful because it was silly. As much as people want their friends to see that they dumped water on themselves for a notable cause, they also want to brag about they were the one guy that founded the making of a potato salad. When you create a viral marketing campaign that everyone wants to take part in, then it really helps spread the message further. Making it silly or fun will go a long way in bringing viral marketing success, because no one will want to do something that’s average or mediocre.
Ideas too can go a long way in creating viral marketing. You don’t necessarily have to get your audience to interact with a challenge, or to fund a silly Kickstarter goal to succeed in viral marketing. As long as you provide your audience with an idea that they can share, then it will go far in terms of marketing growth. Just look at Esther Honig’s “Before & After” beauty project. In order to show how different the standards of beauty are across various countries, and how Photoshop also impacts those standards of beauty, she had her face photoshopped by over 40 Fiverr sellers. Within days she was featured on Buzzfeed which received more than 2.5 million views, as well as on TIME, The Alantic, Vice Magazine, and the Chicago Tribune. She gained so much exposure that she can probably now get any job she wants, anywhere in the world. Just having a worthy idea can do really well in viral marketing.
Now the other truth about viral marketing is that there is no exact plan to follow to succeed in it. With Facebook paid advertising for example you can say “Step one, align your targeted audience with Facebook’s audience selection. Step two, create a few ads. Step three, fund the ads and keep optimizing until you find one that is profitable.”
With viral marketing, you can’t really describe what it takes to go viral. Anyone can set up a potato salad Kickstarter page and ask for $10, but not everyone can come up with that idea. As long as you know what goes viral, silly things like dumping ice on yourself or potato salads, or serious talks about skewed standards of beauty, then you’re on the right track for creating your own viral marketing campaign. All it takes is a simple but revolutionary idea that the masses can take and run with. It helps if you know someone famous that can promote it in the beginning so that it gets a lot of exposure, but once it takes off, there is really no telling to how far a viral marketing campaign can go.
It’s tough finding that idea, but if you keep your eyes peeled and look at what works with the people in your target audience, you can come up with dozens of viral marketing ideas within a year. Starting them off isn’t that hard, and once one of them takes off, it will pay back thousands of times in terms of exposure and lead generation versus what you invested to test various viral marketing campaigns.