Viral Marketing And The Search For The Holy Grail

These days when I turn on the news there is an 80% chance that a reporter will have a clip from YouTube on his or her show. Sometimes it's a funny clip about kids doing crazy stunts, or a blooper of some notable TV on-air personality. The viral nature of the Internet is such that we can now count on viral marketing as a viable way to promote products and services.

That doesn't mean that you're going get a hit every time. It means that when planning an online strategy, be sure to include viral marketing in the mix.

1: Viral marketing has to incite strong emotion

The greatest effect of viral videos now is comedy. Intense laughter will prompt the viewer to take the action to pass on the video or program. Sometimes the work is shocking or sexy. The work has to pull the viewer into a different state than the one they were in prior to watching the piece. People love to be grossed out, sexually stimulated, horrified, brought to tears; laugh intensely, or in some cases, scared witless.

Viral marketing is not for everyone. The material is not going to make sense to everyone. The real beauty of viral marketing that the folks who love your piece, will send it to people who they know will love it too.

2: The element of surprise is the key to great viral marketing.

I saw a clip about a dancer doing Michael Jackson moves and doing so quite well. The British judges were impressed. That wasn't the kicker; that was the setup. Soon a rotund cleaning person enters the stage and interrupts the dancer. The judges are surprised and before you know it there's an altercation on the stage. What happens next is the unexpected part. No, I'm not going to tell you; check it out yourself on Youtube.

That's the power of viral marketing. I sent this one to everyone on my email list that loves American Idol.

3: Viral videos are entertainment spots... period.

When was the last time you saw a really good viral video that featured the product or service of the company that produced it? You might remember the company, but chances are you'll never see the product in the video. The most effective viral video makers know that the product will distract from the effectiveness of the piece. No one wants to think about the features, advantages and benefits of a product when they are experiencing an intense emotional shift.

4: It's about branding at this point, not selling.

A crucial point to remember is that you aren't selling anything here. You are using emotion to brand your image. You are taking a slice of the market and making them work for you. The point of making your viral video is to get others to enthusiastically move it along. The temptation to sell is great but you will fail. Don't even bother.

5: Make it easy to access, easy to download and easy to pass along.

Your work needs to be like a piece of candy. You can't make it difficult for people to find. Make sure that your video is accessible and downloadable. You've got to keep the download time on the program or video low and the file as small as possible.

So you get a hot viral video going and people are checking it out on MySpace TV and YouTube. The people are eating it up and loving it. They are passing it around like candy. So what's next? If you don't have something for them right there and then to keep their interest, you've lost them. You've got to have a follow-up. You're like a comedian on a good night. If you've only got one joke, you're sunk.

Take the time to plan your viral strategy for maximum effect. Have a follow up video or some out-takes or perhaps a making of or back story. The worst kind of publicity to have is the kind that catches you off guard. You'll need to be prepared for success.

If the viral campaign does not take off, don't give up study the effects, do a little more research. Were you original and innovative or were you imitating some other campaign? Were you playing it safe or was it bad timing?

There are a million reasons for not succeeding in a viral program, a lot depends on your intended market and your subject matter. Hey, if it was easy; everyone would be millionaires. Don't give up.

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