How To Make Your Business A Viral Sensation

It's not easy, but it's possible to produce

by Jason Falls |

Can you create “viral?” For a few years after the business demand to “make me a viral video,” became part of the marketing nomenclature between clients and agencies, many of us corrected the assumption. You — the company crafting the video — do not create virality. The audience’s reaction to the content is what makes something “go viral.” It can’t be manufactured.

But actually, it can.

No, I’m not talking about faking it to make it — the method B.J. Mendleson bemoans in his book Social Media is Bullshit. He aptly points out that many “viral” videos we look to as social media case studies were seeded with either celebrity endorsement, YouTube editorial staff placement or system gaming to produce X hundred thousand views using a pay-per-view service which pre-seeded the appearance of popularity, thus launching more organic interest.

I’m talking about you, the company, planning and building and editing and polishing to produce virality among your company, products or services. You can manufacture it.

But it’s not easy. Which means most marketers will either fail trying or not try at all.

Let’s distill the notion of pass-along value down to its core points.

Why do people share?

Think of why you would share a video. Now take that question larger and think of the reasons you would stop and tell a friend about a product or service. Here’s my list:

  • The product is good. It does what it promises to do and perhaps more. It solves the intended problem. Examples? Bose headphones. Skechers shoes. Ben & Jerry’s ice cream. Ford trucks. And yes, Maker’s Mark bourbon.
  • The product makes you feel good. It gives you an aspirational quality that makes you think other people think better of you. If you share it, it brings some light to the notion you’re an informed consumer and better friend. Examples? Beats by Dre headphones. Cole Hahn shoes. Häagen-Dazs ice cream. BMW cars. Laphroaig scotch.
  • The product is cheap. It performs exceptionally well when considering the value of the solution and the price paid. Examples? Panasonic headphones. New Balance tennis shoes. Baskin-Robbins ice cream. Kia cars. Evan Williams bourbon.
  • The service is outstanding. It stands out despite the product being average or easily obtainable elsewhere. Examples? Zappos online retail/shoes, Chick-Fil-A chicken, Southwest Airlines, Enterprise Rental Cars.
  • The marketing is outstanding. Yep — sometimes a product or service gets passed along because of its marketing first. Whether funny, insightful or just plain captivating, there’s something to getting the message across so good, the delivery is what you remember. Examples: Dollar Shave Club, Geico Insurance, Dove, Old Spice.

Now think about whether or not your product or service falls into one of those five categories. Probably not, right? That’s why you’re not viral.

But some of you are saying, “Jason?! Our product is good. Our service is outstanding. Our marketing is outstanding.” According to you. If you think so and you’re not viral, then the people you’re asking if they agree aren’t being honest with you. Or, alternatively, the product isn’t good enough, the service not outstanding enough to push that viral button.

So how do we make “viral?”

The simple answer is that you keep working at it. Is your product better than all of your competitor’s? If not, make it so. And make sure you’re using the opinion of independent, industry-aware audiences, not just your CEO’s. I can promise you 99.9% of all CEOs think their product is far better than their competition. And only about 10% of their customer base probably agrees.

Is your service outstanding? You may very well have 98% good or above on your customer service survey scores. But you need 99.9% outstanding or above. Get better. Or throw in the bells and whistles that take customer’s breath away: Free shipping, no question returns, a free kitten with every purchase, suckers for the kids and the like.

Is your marketing outstanding? Does it make people talk about the company, the industry or even the root problem your product solves? If not, challenge your marketing department and agencies to make it so. If you sell the best white board markers on the planet, then your marketing better damn well leave the audience of your marketing saying, “Damn. I never really thought the quality of my white board markers meant something!”

And yes, with advertising it’s okay to make them say that despite the fact it might be 100 percent, manufactured bullshit. Dollar Shave Club isn’t the only and, according to some, best low-cost alternative to razors on the planet. But when you watch their video, you think, “Damn! I have to join this club!”

As for the cheap and aspirational reasons, you have to decide which you are. And if you’re neither, focus on the other options. For aspirational brands, do well-to-do folks in your target demographic want your brand? Would they stand in line for it? Would they wear your logo on their shirt as a statement of pride and identity? If not, you’ve got some work to do. For the cheap, are you delivering the value your customers expect to pay more for? Are you able to overcome the perception you’re cheap because the stuff just works? Work on that angle.

Marketing isn’t hard, but it’s hard work

I’ve never thought marketing to be hard. Your job is to identify the most ideal audiences for your product or service and find ways to communicate to them how it solves a problem in their world. As Chris Heuer says, good marketing isn’t about selling, it’s about helping people buy. Identifying audiences, developing messages, delivering messages and reading/reacting to the process isn’t hard.

But at the end of the day, there is no Easy button. To market well, to produce virality, to make people so passionate about your product or service or brand, you have to work hard.

And when you do, magic happens.


About the Author

Jason Falls

Jason Falls is a leading thinker, speaker and strategist in the world of digital marketing and is co-author of two books, No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide To Social Media Marketing and The Rebel's Guide To Email Marketing. By day, he leads digital strategy for Elasticity, one of the world's most innovative digital marketing and public relations firms. Follow him on Twitter (@JasonFalls).