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Going Viral: Is it a Goal or a Lucky Break?

A few middle-aged executives sit down at our conference table. Reports on marketing trends and competitive analysis are spread across the mahogany tabletop. We shake hands and trade a few casual remarks. Then, after a few sips of coffee, the first one to speak blurts out:

“I want my brand to go viral!”

This scene plays itself out on a weekly basis in my office. I fully admit to giving off the hipster vibe, but I’m really just a down-to-earth marketing consultant. And, even with viral expectations, it’s my job to craft a strategy that helps brands invest in the right kind of marketing.

In the c-suites of many medium-sized businesses, the term “viral marketing” has, pardon the pun, gone viral. Every few weeks there’s another brand that’s managed to saturate both our social media feeds and traditional news and magazine covers (I still read a few when I’m at the doctor’s office).

And, for whatever reason, middle-aged executives associate “viral marketing” with “hipster ad agencies”. I choose to go with the cosmic force on this one, instead of fighting it. So, here are the broad strokes of what I cover with these clients.

Start-ups should pay careful attention to these points.

Start With Ensuring the Most Sharing Audience Sees Your Work

They say, “Sharing is caring.” In marketing, this corny phrase holds real power. Social media is a treasure-trove of followers, shares, and likes; assuming you can get your ad-copy in front of your most passionate fans.

Having a strong social media presence should be a given in today’s digital world. But, with some companies, this is the first step in building a long-term marketing foundation.

Based on my experience, these are the top 5 social platforms brands should invest in:

  1. Facebook
  2. Twitter
  3. YouTube
  4. LinkedIn
  5. Instagram

This list can vary in both content and priority based on the type of industry. For example, a fashion designer would want to first focus on Instagram, while a blogger would need an extensive Facebook presence to drive targeted, passionate traffic.

After Social Media, the Next Most Passionate Audience: Industry Blogs

In an ideal world, the content you use to build a social media audience can be found on your company’s blog. Early-stage blogs and social media profiles rarely catch fire in a vacuum. There’s a real opportunity to look beyond your own assets, and leverage the popularity of blogs where your most passionate audience already spends time absorbing the information they share.

Consider one of this week’s most viral sensations: The Mercedes-Maybach G650 Convertible is one of the ugliest (yes, my judgement, but I’m not alone), ultra-luxury vehicles to hit the market. Maybach and Mercedes merged forces in 1960, but the Maybach brand was revived in 2014. This nearly one-hundred-year-old brand managed to go viral a few days ago.

That’s kind of like your great-grandfather besting the rest of his family at social media.

The recipe to their viral success is transparent:

  • Create something so insanely ugly/beautiful and unique that it demands attention.
  • Use existing media channels to spread the news in a flurry of high-quality data dumps.
  • Ensure that high-resolution, photoshop enhanced photos are available for sharing.
  • Leverage existing brand power to gain influence over industry influencers.

At the core of this viral sensation is a vehicle that is in a category of its own: a convertible SUV designed for the chauffeur class. It’s almost…

Laughable: The Power of Funny Videos

I’ll close out this article in the same way I like to end my client meetings: with a laugh.

Success in viral marketing is a combination of hard, strategic work and a little luck. And, it turns out, one of the Founding Fathers of the world’s most powerful start-up engines got it right.

“I'm a greater believer in luck, and I find the harder I work the more I have of it.” -Thomas Jefferson

Brands that are willing to dig deep and find a powerful truth that’s worth sharing, and then communicate that truth in a funny video, will generally find success in creating viral content.

Examples of videos that generated millions of shares and impressions while communicating a powerful message in a funny way:


Photo credit: W.Scott McGill