For any brand, a viral marketing campaign is the holy grail. It’s what to aim for when it comes to expanding brand awareness, improving sales and achieving better visibility. While viral marketing might seem like one of those buzzwords you hear in comparison to more solid strategies, ‘going viral’ can be vital to achieving success as a business.

Often, we consider viral marketing to be a fluke; something that can’t be replicated with method and strategy. But this couldn’t be further from the truth. With a good understanding of what makes something go viral, it’s entirely possible to create campaigns that can lead to that much-coveted spike in views or increase in sales. You just have to know how.

Read on to find out more about precisely what viral marketing is, how ‘going viral’ is achieved, and how it can be implemented as part of a marketing strategy effectively and practically.

What is a viral marketing campaign?

The concept of ‘going viral’ is almost mythical among marketing professionals. Viral marketing is so-named after the way it spreads in a rapid and all-encompassing way; much like a real virus. While viral marketing is best-known as a product of the digital marketing age, the concept has been around far longer, by way of word-of-mouth marketing. While we’ve all heard the stories of brands or individuals going viral accidentally overnight, in many cases that viral effect is cleverly engineered. Using marketing tools and industry understanding, it’s possible to create campaigns that appeal to many and lead to rapid growth and success.

A viral marketing campaign is an overarching type of campaign that covers many forms of marketing. Whether it’s a television advert, print promotion or social media ad, the results are always the same: explosive growth in views, brand visibility and often sales.

How viral marketing can impact a business

While other forms of marketing campaigns aim to provide a steady and consistent increase in sales and visibility, viral marketing seeks to provide very quick, reliable results to a campaign. Often, brands that achieve the goal of ‘going viral’ are touted as achieving overnight success. While 24 hours is a short window to execute such measures, the reality is that viral campaigns can deliver results in days that other campaigns are unable to achieve in a whole year.

For businesses, this can mean a massive spike in views on their website, public awareness of their products or services and an increase in sales in many cases. As the name suggests, viral content is infectious, but it also has a relatively short life-span. However, the way viral marketing expands – rapidly, through the creation of shared, accessible information – makes it a highly viable model for many businesses. Word-of-mouth has been around forever as a successful marketing strategy, and viral marketing is an evolution of this model.

The benefits of viral marketing

For the average business, there are many advantages to viral marketing. If your company goes viral for the right reasons, then it’s possible to reach a much, much larger audience than your existing customer base in next to no time. Marketing campaigns that achieve viral status also benefit for a lower cost to the business. Since viral marketing works through word of mouth, most commonly from the mass sharing of content such as imagery or videos, a great deal of the work and expense of marketing is not required in comparison to a classic campaign.

While viral marketing does have many benefits, getting it right is vital for tapping into that market. That means creating content that’s highly on-trend, easily share-able and relatable to the audience of your choosing. All of these factors suggest that viral marketing can be incredibly useful. It does also mean, however, that understanding the latest trends and having a handle on what people like to share is essential for success. While viral campaigns through luck or chance – such as the Vans and the “Damn Daniel” trend – many require hard work and investment before the content is even placed out there. While this increases risk, it also provides a stronger chance for success overall.

What are the real-world successful outcomes of viral campaigns?

As with any other form of marketing campaign, the goal of viral marketing is to improve sales, drive traffic and increase awareness of a brand. We can see how these outcomes have been achieved in the past in a range of different existing campaigns. There are countless examples of modern viral marketing campaigns that have achieved real success by delivering a trending status. One of the critical viral campaigns that marketing experts consider an excellent example of old-school viral marketing is Nike’s famous ‘Just Do It’ campaign. This slogan continues to be associated entirely with the brand, sometimes even more so than the name of the company itself.

The ALS Bucket Challenge is an excellent example of a modern social media-led viral campaign, where clear communication and celebrity endorsement led to rapid growth in views and awareness. Creating trending content may not be an exact science. But by understanding how other brands have achieved viral status in the past, we can better understand how to achieve such success in the future.

How to measure if something is successful and viral

How to measure the success of a viral campaign, or even see if something is reaching virality, depends on your goals for that campaign. As with any other form of marketing campaign, the purpose you have in mind for your content can affect the results you see. For many social media campaigns, the top goal is engagement, as well as an increase in views or volume of likes. But how do you tell if your campaign is simply successful, or viral? Essentially, you have to watch for the spikes.

A significant spike in any statistics – whether it’s views on your website, the number of hashtags for your brand or amount of sales – can be an excellent indicator of whether a campaign has gone viral. A slow and steady incline is the typical result of a successful campaign. But for a viral campaign, this rise should be steep and will often quickly taper once a trend is completed. The process is far faster and often doesn’t lead to consistency further down the line in the same way less trend-focused content might.

How is a viral marketing campaign achieved?

Now you understand what viral marketing is, and even how it can be defined and measured, it’s time to take a closer look at how to achieve viral status on your marketing campaigns. We now have a better understanding than ever over what causes a trend or craze, thanks to the copious evidence and historical marketing knowledge we possess. As such, we know that many factors can influence whether a campaign achieves that coveted viral level, including:

Identifying a target audience

The first step to creating any form of successful marketing is knowing your audience. But for viral campaigns, which need to resonate with your target demographic, this is even more vital. By having a clear idea of your audience, and knowing what they enjoy sharing and talking about, it’s far more likely for a campaign to go viral. Looking at past successful viral campaigns within your chosen demographic is an excellent place to start.

Creating visual aids such as data visualization

It may be surprising, but visual aids, such as infographics and data visualization, are one of the most popular forms of viral marketing. These highly visible ways to communicate information have all the requirements for viral campaigns. They are easy to share – via social media, email or even instant messaging – they provide value to your audience, and offer a way to gain knowledge. Data visualization is an area of viral marketing that has plenty of room for expansion and is well worth investing in.

Creating content that’s driven by design

Design is a vital element for any form of marketing, and it goes far beyond how something looks. Campaigns that really stand out and go viral are ones designed not only to be visually appealing but for a specific purpose. Social media is an excellent example of design-driven marketing. There’s a reason SnapChat, Vine, and now TikTok are amongst the most successful social media platforms in the world. Content created on these platforms is relatively short, snappy, and very stylized. While in the 1950s long-form advertisements were popular, the modern social media user has a far shorter attention span. Marketing should grab their attention and look great doing so.

Using emotional and psychological promotional appeal

All people are led by their emotions and psychology in just about everything they do. From the food we eat to the music we listen to, our feelings play a huge role in our choices. As such, the success of many viral marketing strategies relies on tapping into that emotional connection. Whether it’s bringing joy, warming hearts or hitting hard with a message we feel strongly about sharing, going viral is wholly connected to the emotions.

Making use of advertising and sponsorship opportunities

For viral marketing to be truly accessible, taking a slightly different path to success can be vital. Making use of social media influencers, product promotion and sponsorship opportunities can help to drive that marketing push. Advertising is a vital part of any marketing strategy, and shouldn’t be underestimated when it comes to achieving viral status.

Developing well-researched content and information

Offering high-value data is an excellent way to encourage content to go viral, especially when it comes to the creation of long-form text and information. Articles based on recent studies and research relevant to your audience of choice often results in a high number of views and greater levels of shares, thanks to how valuable their information is. While this approach is less design-driven, it still plays on your audience’s desire to share information and experiences, especially when it is on a topic that’s new and exciting.

Implementing viral marketing campaigns

There’s a difference between actually knowing how to create marketing campaigns that have the potential to go viral, and putting them out into the world. If you want to improve sales, increase visibility and achieve that top viral status, then how you implement your campaign can matter just as much as the content you’ve created to go viral. Here are some things to consider when putting that potential viral content into play to give you the best possible chance:

When, where, and how

For effectively driving sales through viral marketing, you need to provide the best possible environment for your content to be successful. Firstly, knowing where to place your content is the first factor to consider. Based on audience research and demographics, it’s easy to find where best to place a campaign to improve its chance to go viral. For a younger audience, for example, social media such as TikTok or Instagram might be the ideal choice. For longer-form video content or marketing aimed at an older audience, Facebook might be a perfect choice.

Once you know where, knowing when to post your content can be just as important. This can also be decided by looking at the demographics of your audience, to understand when they are most likely to be on their phone, watching television or on their computer to view your content. Finally, the ‘how’ is how your content can go viral. Whether it’s the share button on a social media platform or a quick and easy way to place something into an email or message, knowing how your content can spread is equally essential.

Innovate, don’t copy other brands

While we can learn from existing marketing campaigns that have achieved viral status, it’s unlikely that a copy of something that already exists will have stellar success. Instead, try to innovate and do something new that’s going to engage your audience, whether it’s a new form of marketing, a completely new design or something highly brand-specific. Riffing on existing content works, but only when it’s different enough – or enough of a parody – to be successful.

Know when to stop

If you’ve put great content out there that’s achieved excellent views, and you think a little extra push might take it even further, then you might end up with worse results than when you started. One of the most significant issues with viral marketing is knowing when to stop. The incredible success of a campaign doesn’t necessarily mean doing more of the same will achieve equal or greater results.

Key takeaways

Viral campaigns can be a shining achievement for any brand or business. It can be an incredible way to raise awareness as well as increase sales tenfold if executed correctly. But it’s important to know the right way to do it, and the best content to create, to achieve those stellar results. Brands like Dove and Old Spice understand how to develop formulaic content that meet the requirements for viral marketing. Follow in their footsteps, and learn from what’s out there, and you’re far more likely to succeed.

Ready to go viral?

If going viral is the goal of your next big marketing campaign, then you’ve come to the right place. This guide and all the other guides we create are designed to give you the insight you need to get started on the right foot. Take a look at our other guides to discover more about digital marketing and the strategies you can use to do more for your business.

If you need a company that knows digital marketing inside-out, then get in touch with us today. We’re the experts when it comes to creating content that goes above and beyond. With our guidance, going viral has never been easier.

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