When you hear the words “viral marketing” you may think of your brand becoming instantly internet famous all thanks to a clever meme or compelling video you share.
And sure, we’ve all seen stories of that happening. But…
…they are anecdotal outliers not consistent blueprints for success. So the real question you should be asking is – “what can I do to give my brand incremental organic attention and word-of-mouth reach?”
We hope to spark your thinking by bringing you examples from BEER NUTS, university research, a family-owned jewelry business, a lawn care platform, an agency, a startup, and an app.
This article was originally published in the MarketingSherpa email newsletter.
“Add drama to your online videos by telling a complete story. The results are increased shares and views irrespective of company size,” advised Keith A. Quesenberry, Associate Professor of Marketing, Messiah University.
Quesenberry and co-author Michael Coolsen, Professor of Marketing, Shippensburg University published research in the Journal of Interactive Marketing analyzing 155 viral marketing videos. They coded the videos for story development following the five acts of Freytag’s Pyramid – introduction, rising action, climax, falling action and resolution.
On average, four- and five-act videos gained more than four times the shares of zero- to three-act videos.
“Base the story around characters and situations your target audience can relate to or is relevant to their life. Yet add a twist or surprise of the unexpected to create the fascinating familiar. The resulting emotion they experience from the story and surprise is something they will want to share with others,” Quesenberry said.
For years, Moriarty’s Gem Art put out content in videos, but nothing ever took off. In 2018, the team found a unique gemstone called Hyalite Opal – it glowed because of the radiation inside of it. They joked about how it looked like Kryptonite.
That gave them an idea for a video. They spent about 10 to 20 hours on this video and even brought in a radiation expert. They made an in-depth video about this rare stone, really pushing the amazing glow.
“We then posted the video on YouTube and made a clever title on Reddit,” said Jeff Moriarty, Marketing Manager, Moriarty’s Gem Art.
Creative Sample #1: Viral video for family-owned jewelry business
The video was viewed more than 3,000,000 times in its first few weeks. After three years, the video now has 5,323,222 views.
“My advice to anyone trying to get something to go viral – find something unique and exciting you can really go into depth about, then spend more time than you want on creating the content, whether it’s video or just textual content,” Moriarty said.
While the team hasn’t had this big of a hit since, the success inspired them to change the way they make videos and they now get ten times more views than they used to. Instead of a quick setup and one-hour block to complete a video, they spend more time and put more effort into the creation of the videos. “While this was very time consuming and more stressful, it paid off for us!” he said.
“Unexpected, exceptional customer service should be every business’s best practice to bring a smile to a customer’s face – or their pet’s face – to ensure a viral marketing campaign. These acts can also be done at a very low cost,” said Gene Caballero, Co-founder, GreenPal.
The team brainstormed an idea to win over customers through their pets by tapping into data they already had. When a homeowner signs up for the service, they provide information on if they have pets, and if so, the pets’ names. This information enables the platform to tell lawn vendors to be careful when entering the lawn.
They decided they could also use this info about customers to send a personalized gift to customers’ pets, addressed to the pet.
“This really wowed our customers, we received personal thank you notes, videos of their dog chewing the bone we sent posted to Facebook, and thank you tweets. It worked really well for the time and money we invested and even landed us a few TV interviews. Monitoring our social media accounts gave us great insight into how this program was working,” said Caballero said.
Creative Sample #2: YouTube comment about lawn care platform
The company saw an uptick of five to ten percent in homeowner sign-ups in a specific market if a homeowner posted on Facebook. “Over 20 to 30 markets, we could see that this was working. Our goal was for our customers to promote us on Facebook or Instagram and socially vet our service,” he said.
“Having a successful Product Hunt launch can catapult your new startup to quickly get visibility and new users, provided that your startup is one of the most-hunted products on the day that it launches,” said Andy Cabasso, Co-Founder, Postaga.
Postaga’s product launch garnered more than 1,000 new user signups for its app in the first week, several requests for interviews from media, as well as outreach from investors. Its app was rated #1 Product of the Day and #2 Product of the Week on Product Hunt after receiving 1,275 upvotes. Here is Cabasso’s advice for using Product Hunt to create a viral launch based on this success:
“Most people still aren’t posting funny content on LinkedIn, and contrary to popular belief, most business professionals DO have a sense of humor,” said Jackie Hermes, CEO, Accelity. “I wasn't showing my or my company’s true personality on LinkedIn by making exclusively serious content, and that felt inauthentic. Some of my most popular content includes humor.”
For example, Hermes posted a video on LinkedIn about working from home with kids during COVID, and got 1,553 reactions and 282 comments.
Creative Sample #3: Humorous video posted by agency on LinkedIn
The team used to shoot with a professional camera and mics but found that level of production was not needed for social content. Since COVID started, Hermes shoots all of her videos on her phone. “Then, we use Zubtitle to caption and voila!” she said.
“I posted it on LinkedIn and Instagram. I focus heavily on LinkedIn – I think brands/personal brands should only do what they have time to do well and a lot of people make the mistake of starting a YouTube channel and trying to have a big presence on every social site,” Hermes said.
Prospects mention the funny videos in the agency’s sales process and the company has signed more than one million dollars in business from LinkedIn. “Outside of that, my funny sales-related videos earned a connection to Ryan Deiss of DigitalMarketer and I have now been on their stages at Traffic and Conversion Summit and Digital Agency Expo,” she said.
“We see brands apply this tactic all the time around sporting events such as the Super Bowl and big-time holidays such as Mother’s Day. With many moments to come in 2021, how brands strategize around activating their big moments could result in brand loyalty, increase the share of voice, and ultimately big sales,” said Sanja Komljenovic, Founder and CEO, ONA Creative.
For example, the agency activated the #EATGREEN campaign in service of its client Lettuce Grow for Earth Day 2020. Last year’s Earth Day theme was climate action. As part of brand planning, the team focused the startup’s messaging around sustainability since Lettuce Grow’s product allows consumers to grow family-sized vegetables at home, thus reducing greenhouse gas emissions added by the global food system which directly contributes to global warming. The global food system – including farming and grazing, transportation, packaging, and feed production – produces 37% of greenhouse gas emissions according to a UN report.
“As part of our overall brand strategy, Lettuce Grow is making fresh, tasty and nutritiously alive food easy and fun to grow at home, so leaning into Earth Day’s 50th anniversary was a no brainer,” said Jacob Pechenik, CEO, Lettuce Grow. “We worked with the team to activate our #EATGREEN campaign, taking advantage of the milestone to make a meaningful connection with and – more importantly – to grow our community of fresh food enthusiasts.”
The #EATGREEN campaign leveraged influencers and celebrities to challenge and inform consumers, showing them that their food choices can impact climate change and support the health of our planet. “We created a campaign with its own look and feel, carefully strategized which influencers to use – we opted for athletes, doctors, and nutritionists – and obsessed over the details that went into the Instagram stories and posts, focusing on share-ability every step of the way,” Komljenovic said.
Creative Sample #4: Instagram post for startup’s viral Earth Day campaign
“[Lettuce Grow] Cofounder Zooey Deschanel, fitness expert Denise Austin, Olympian Julia Mancuso, and bloggers Whitney Morris and Koko shared their #EATGREEN commitment. Earth Day is both a challenge and a celebration. These posts captured just that,” she said.
To get the influencers involved, the team leveraged personal and business relationships, sent free products to select influencers, and never asked them to sell anything…just promote eating green for the health of the planet.
Creative Sample #5: Social media posts from influencers in support of startup’s Earth Day campaign
The viral campaign not only grew brand sentiment by communicating the brand’s values but also drove conversions. At the time, Lettuce Grow saw record sales of the Farmstand product at full price – a 60% increase above the 30-day average – with many first-time buyers and visitors to the site.
“Take advantage of moments with existing energy. This is a strategy every brand should have in their marketing playbooks. However, these moments have to be authentic to the brand. Mother’s Day for mom and baby brands. Earth Day for sustainability brands. Sports moments for athletic brands. Brands also need to think through the details and the messaging carefully. Utilize the right positioning. Make sure they connect with the right kind of influencers that care about these moments as well,” Komljenovic advised.
“Marketers know that favorable product reviews can help with conversion, but they should also think about supporting marketing efforts further up the funnel. With an understanding of reviewer motivations, brands can devise winning strategies to win over their advocacy and generate more user engagement and ratings and reviews,” said Andrew Smith, Vice President of Marketing for PowerReviews.
PowerReviews’ recent survey research into the motivations of 10,000 shoppers revealed 40% of Gen Zers said they were motivated to provide photos or video in their review submissions on the chance their image might be subsequently shared on a brand’s website. More than three quarters (77%) of Gen Zers polled said they were motivated to provide reviews for the purpose of guiding and helping others.
Smith continued, “Brands can also leverage user-generated content as a valuable customer feedback source to improve your business. Above and beyond its obvious conversion power, brands should also leverage the analytics value of this content. It’s a highly valuable form of customer feedback that can drive improvements in products, customer experience, and overall marketing and messaging efforts.”
For example, review content has helped BEER NUTS engage with consumers and align its ecommerce efforts with how Gen Z shops.
“Most consumers today shop by reviews and ‘social proof’ – they care about what other people think,” said Jonathan Strupek, Marketing Manager, BEER NUTS® BRAND SNACKS. “Ratings and reviews are a big part of building an ecommerce experience that consumers have come to expect via their interactions with companies such as Amazon and Walmart.”
“We know that five seconds is the average attention span,” said Strupek. “So how much content can we give them in a well-organized manner and in a format that is as high-level or in-depth as they like, along with transparency in highest versus lowest reviews? This creates multiple touchpoints with the customer and gives them confidence to purchase.”
BEER NUTS was traditionally found in bars and taverns all across the country. Like many retailers, they have pursued a new direct-to-consumer sales channel and their website is the anchor for this effort. They’ve used product sampling for a reviews program to gain consumer ratings and reviews and new product imagery since they recently changed their packaging.
The company went live with PowerReviews in March 2020 – right during the start of the COVID pandemic shelter-in-place mandates, which ushered in significant changes in consumer buying behavior.
“We wanted to understand how consumers buying habits were shifting post-COVID so we could put forward the best pricing and product availability and Shopify Plus® and PowerReviews helped with our understanding of that. Consumer behavior is always changing – having the ability to have our finger on the pulse of that is critical,” says Strupek. “As we are building BEER NUTS’ direct-to-consumer business, we are taking advantage of this significant opportunity to have a conversation with consumers that our giant retail sales arm doesn’t have. They can’t get real-time feedback or understand what consumers are saying about our products. This is incredibly vital to tap into this Voice of the Customer since we physically can’t be across the nation,” he says.
BEER NUTS was able to generate a 9.8% conversion lift when website visitors interacted with customer-generated media – photos and videos – that customers submitted in conjunction with reviews.
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