Viral marketing has been a common tactic for several years. The idea is to create something, an online video, a web game, a clever tweet and op-ed, really just an experience or story, something that people will find sufficiently worthy, that they will forward it to others or talk to others about it.

Easier said than done

So, these friends and families will then push that content onto others in the marketing message will spread like a virus until it is infected the whole market. As you can imagine however getting viral marketing to work is easier said than done. Most often when a company or ad agency announces its intention of starting a viral campaign they mean a communication effort that they’re not willing to put any money behind.

I once heard someone say that viral is just a code word for “fueled by prayer”. Like successful PR campaigns successful viral marketing campaigns must serve to customers or rather two different customer needs. There must, of course, be the message about the product or service or brand the marketing message else why are we doing this in the first place but there’s also that additional social need that must be met with the communication effort.

People need to derive some value from sharing the message. Most often that value comes from amusing others by sharing funny videos or articles but sometimes people derive value from sharing content that is emotionally moving or profound or insightful or just plain interesting. There are several particular needs that can be met by viral content but in order for it to be successful it must meet some social need for those consumers.

What is important to the company getting across the message that will sell the product or service is often not at all important to the customer that you want to spread that message. So, the key to viral marketing is this gives your consumers content that they will want to give as gifts to their friends.

Destination content

Another big change in marketing communication over the last few years is the increasing prevalence of destination content. Increasingly companies are looking to cut through the clutter of advertising by creating on message content that people actually seek out.

One version of the strategy is to just create advertisements that are so entertaining, funny or moving her amazing that people will go online and look for the ads because they hear people talking about them because they want to see the ads themselves again.

One prominent example was the Volvo truck add that feature Jean-Claude Van Damme standing on the side mirrors of two moving trucks would slowly drift apart until the action movie stars doing the perfect split between the two trucks rolling down the asphalt.

If you sought out that commercial on YouTube as millions did then you are familiar with destination marketing built. In cases like this only a small fraction of the total viewership comes from airing the ads on television, most of their reach happens later online when customers seek out the advertising content as destination entertainment.

Double duty advertising

Double duty advertising that is advertising that is meant to air in traditional media channels and also to be sought out as entertainment and nontraditional channels this is not the only way to develop destination marketing content. Increasingly firms are creating entertaining content that is designed to live just online.

One of the most prominent examples of this was a series of short films BMW produced and distributed over the internet. Starting in 2001 BMW hired some of the most talented directors from all over the world to make short films featuring BMWs and starring Clive Owen as the driver.

The films were written by top Hollywood talent produced by the likes of David Fincher on Lee and Ridley and Tony Scott. The series also ran the gamut of styles and tone from lighthearted slapstick comedy to dark and mysterious noir to tense action drama and each of the films as it just so happens featured a different aspect of the BMW brand and a different set of product features.

The short films were successful in part because they succeeded as films. Time Magazine in the New York Times were among the outlets that lavished praise on the BMW shorts and because of the quality these films became destination entertainment. People sought out the movies and watch them and then forward them on to friends.

The shorts were watched more than 11 million times in the first four months after they were launched. But more than just a critical critical success, the series was also a marketing success. Sales of BMW cars went up a whopping 12% in the year that the films came out.

Bac to basics

That seems basic, but traditional advertising is primarily about delivering the message and that is completely different from destination marketing where the entertainment value of the communication must be the primary concern.

If people don’t choose to go and go back and tell their friends about it then it won’t matter what the message is, so you must create something worth seeking out. Creating something that’s entertaining without delivering the marketing message just throwing money away.

Also consider the way in which the message is made to be entertaining, successful campaigns were able to entertain in a way that emphasized the marketing message.

Using social media as a marketing tool

Ss a communications tactic social media offers several advantages. Firstly, it’s cheap. Much of the word of mouth that come companies court nowadays comes in the form of social media word-of-mouth. Getting customers to tweet about your product or say something about it on Facebook can be very influential to other customers and can cost you very little.

Social media also has the advantage of being a two-way communication channel. If you pay attention you can learn as much from your customers as your customers are learning from each other. Social media is thus part marketing communications and part marketing research, but despite its power reach and low cost there are easy ways to screw up your social media efforts.

Common errors

The most common error I see among firms engaging in social media efforts is the failure to base social media strategy on the larger marketing goals of the company. Often, especially when it medications medium is new and not well understood companies will hire specialists to design and implement their social media strategy.

Recent years have seen the rise of waves of specialty firms that do just web communication or just digital communication or just mobile communications or just social media communications and there’s nothing wrong with getting experts involved in helping you meet these new challenges.

The problems arise when these groups are largely autonomous from the rest of your marketing efforts. The result is digital or social media campaigns sometimes very successful campaigns that don’t advance the company’s overall marketing strategy.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with getting people to like your brand on Facebook open the channel for further communications with those customers it increases the chances that their friends will see that association and become more interested in the brand but Facebook likes are not an end unto themselves. Just because they’re easy to measure doesn’t make them an appropriate metric for campaign and certainly not justification for seeking them out.

Some advice on using social media

The first bit of advice for social media marketing is don’t chase irrelevant metrics. Make sure that whatever you are doing is going to further your specific marketing plan including reaching your customers with your positioning message.

A related bit of advice is to not fall into what I call the shiny objects trap. There’s a strong bias among some marketers to think that they have to be a part of every new platform every new medium every new forum for exchange of communication

These decisions should be made on a case-by-case basis and should depend on things like do our target customers actually participate in this particular social media platform? Will our target customers be open to our messaging on this platform? If the answers to those questions are no then there’s really no reason to rush into that social network.

Perhaps it’s not actually necessary to have campaigns running simultaneously on Twitter and Facebook and Instagram and Imgur and the dozen other new social media forms that have been developed in the time since I started speaking the sentence.

You should always have your eyes open for new opportunities and if your customers are congregating in some virtual space you should try to be there, but just because something is new doesn’t mean you must rush in or be left behind in short virtual spaces are like real spaces.

Most companies recognize that their brand should not be everywhere in the real world there are some things that don’t make sense to sponsor some locations that don’t make sense to advertising the same is true of virtual spaces. Your brand just doesn’t belong everywhere online.