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October 12, 2009

Can Viral Marketing Be Manufactured?

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I’ve been pondering the question in my head ever since I attended SMX East last week. How can a marketer improve their chances of striking viral gold? After all, viral content, by definition, seems not to lend itself to the manufacturing process. I mean, how can you bottle lightning?

So a Mashable post I ran across on Twitter today got my attention, thanks to a catchy title and the promise of a great video: The Fun Theory: Volkswagen Masters the Viral Video.

I figured if “viral” is a skill to be mastered, it must be quantifiable and thus teachable, right? In that spirit, what can a marketer take away from this video?

Now rewind back to last week when another memorable video floated my way. This one, from Disney, takes us on a brief journey to the happiest place on earth. It’s there we find ourselves part of an elite club — witnessing a passing and unexpected moment that only a few will be so lucky to ever experience.

Last week I attended the SMX East panel Pumping Up YouTube, and I’d recommend that liveblog post as required reading for any marketer in the digital space. While the presentations focused on making viral fare of videos, the lessons around what makes content susceptible to sharing on a massive scale pertains to all kinds of content — video, text, image, audio and otherwise.

During the presentations we learned from speaker CiarĂ¡n Norris that there are several categories that viral content typically fits into. They are that which:

  • is funny
  • is unbelievable
  • is informative
  • poses a question
  • or piggybacks.

May I add one more characteristic that often results in viral success?

  • Exposing the audience to a rare and fleeting moment.

I suppose there’s nothing on the Web that really falls into the “rare and fleeting” category. It’s all out there for people to call up, whenever and wherever they want. But the essence of rare and fleeting still lives on.

gold bars
CC BY 2.0

That giant Mickey head painted in water lasts in the real world for less than five minutes. The wiring and speakers of that piano keyboard staircase have long been hauled away. And like the short-lived painting or the temporary keyboard, the human experience lasts but a moment. The memory — and with it, the positive sentiment and the loyalty gained — live on in the heart and mind.

That’s how we end up touching people with our brands, with our products and with our services, and gaining a customer for life. We create a tiny, happy remembrance in a person’s memory with their experience of that brand, product or service. The act itself may be as effortless as a smile or a sweep of a broom. The time it takes could pass others by in the blink of an eye.

But the lasting effect of a brand evangelist who spreads news of her experience through word of mouth to family and friends the world over…

The lasting effect of that rare and fleeting moment multiplies beyond itself and transforms with it a lifetime advocate…

That rare and fleeting moment is the real, enduring viral gold.

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One response to “Can Viral Marketing Be Manufactured?”

  1. Christyleh writes:

    One viral video that got stuck to my head is the one with the scene in Central Terminal, people just stopped moving while others were wondering.

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