One of the things I enjoy most about working in the advertising & marketing industry is the ability to grasp fundamental truths about human nature (or even those moments when long held beliefs about human nature are shattered before my eyes).
This industry of ours is a fickle beast. It requires an unbending resolve to learn more and more about your target audience, so that you can effectively communicate with them (and allow them to communicate with you as well as fellow consumers) in a manner that leads to the sale of your product and/or service. It also requires the right form of promotion; anything from direct response to branding is fair game, and each of these promotion styles is filled with hidden pitfalls that can sabotage your efforts to achieve ROI.
And then there’s viral content.
Viral content comes in many forms (folks in SEO circles typically prefer to call it link baiting) and formats. Anything from a funny photo, to an eye-grabbing infographic, to an infuriating blog post, to an alluring video qualifies. Most would agree that this type of content leans more towards the branding/engagement side of the equation than the direct marketing/conversion side (although smart SEOs know how to leverage this type of content to garner inbound links that can lead to SEO positioning that leads to direct conversion). Though still in its infancy, this particular form of content marketing is beginning to reveal itself as a legitimate and sustainable marketing tactic.
Still, most marketing decision-makers (not just CMOs, as the title of this post suggests) still struggle to truly grasp the nature of viral content. And they also seem to struggle with some of the most basic ways to plan and successfully execute a viral content campaign.
In terms of grasping the true nature of viral content, I think that Michael Gray’s recent post does a good job of summarizing. In it, he likens viral content to an “Olympic Level competition for content creation”. This is an important distinction, because in my experience (mostly with enterprise-caliber brands, although I’ve seen with smaller companies as well) too many marketing folks out there think that if content is good or even great, a little push via an email blast or media buy will be enough to get them to the viral promised land.
Guess what? It isn’t and it won’t.
In order for a piece of content to go viral, it needs to be truly remarkable. And by remarkable, I’m not referring to remarkable because your team thought of it or because it somehow has something to do with your product and/or service. I’m amazed at how often I see marketing teams beam with pride at a concept that simply has no chance at eliciting the type of primal, emotional reaction that would make a normal human want to share said concept with friends, family, and work acquaintances. And I’m even more amazed when I see a marketing executive request that a piece of content be both “viral” in nature while also having an explicit direct-response call to action. 9 times out of 10, those two elements (viral and direct response) don’t mix.
As for planning, I could go on and on about some of the tactical elements that make for a successful viral strategy, but fortunately, plenty of folks have already laid out a lot of said tactics in the past.
What I will say is this; make sure that your plan for viral content includes multiple actual pieces of content. In other words, don’t plan on creating a single asset. Instead, plan on making a series of assets over a period of time.
Why? Because most attempts to go viral fail. Moreover your marketing team will learn with every successive piece of content that’s rolled out and promoted, but that can only happen if you continue rolling out viral content attempts over time. And even if just one out of every ten attempts go “viral” the ROI will be worth it (especially if you understand how to leverage said viral effect for SEO purposes).
If you do nothing other than plan on creating ongoing content, then you’ve already made one huge stride in the right direction and you’re likely on your way to viral content bliss.