Professor Jonah Berger from Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania has spent time analyzing brands and advertisements. An expert in viral marketing, he has researched world-famous brands and ads to find out how they manage to generate so much word-of-mouth popularity.
He shared his findings in his book, Contagious: Why Things Catch On where he lists six characteristics that make ads/brands more viral and shareable:
Take a look at these six characteristics, each with an example to illustrate:
Make your customers feel good and give them something to brag about.
Everyone wants to appear cool, funny, or impressive to their peers. When you can provide them with bragging rights to knowing or owning something, they will gladly share to benefit themselves (and your brand).
Vollebak is an adventure gear brand that focuses on using the latest technology to make your explorations safer and cooler.They have cool gear such as a solar charged running jacket that illuminates you at night and a t-shirt infused with ceramic so it’s nearly indestructible. These are too cool not to share and make for great bar conversation.
How you can apply this: It’s great if your product has a huge “cool” factor like Vollebak. If they don’t, fret not. Focus on how it will make your customer feel or look (looking really cool). This contrasts with simply telling them the product features (jacket glows in the dark). If the customer likes that end result (in the case of looking like a badass), he won’t need another reason to buy his bragging rights.
Associate your brand with something that people will encounter often.
Triggers are mental cues that help remind you of something associated with it, like burgers and french fries. So the goal of utilizing this tip is to associate your brand with a trigger that your customers encounter often.
In the case with laundry detergent brand Tide, it was the Super Bowl. They showed clean clothes in every ad during the Super Bowl.
Super Bowl is one of the biggest sporting events in the country. Tide ensured that everyone who sees an ad with clean clothes during the Super Bowl will think of them from now on.
How you can apply this: Associate your brand with something that your customers will encounter often, and make that trigger really strong. Each time they encounter it, they will think of you. However, it is important to link it in a manner that’s unique to your brand and won’t be easily confused with another brand.
Create an emotional connection between your customers and your brand.
We love to share things that are emotional: epic, funny, angry, sad–you name it. P&G understands this and is really good at using that to their advantage.
As a brand specializing in household products, mothers are definitely their biggest customers. Each time the Olympics arrive, P&G makes an ad that shows that they are the proud sponsor of moms.
There is a proud mother behind almost every athlete. They have put in just as much effort, if not more, for their children to perform at their very best. Even if you aren’t an athlete, watching the ad will remind you of your own mother, and probably give you a bit of that emotional feeling they are trying to evoke.
P&G acknowledges the sacrifices made by these mothers, and celebrates them during such a monumental event. This makes the brand feel extremely relatable and “human.”
How you can apply this: It can be very easy to link your brand with any strong emotion, but it can have a short-term effect. Instead, have a clear idea about who your customers are and how they are using your product/service. Build a strong emotional connection that is relatable to them (e.g. sacrificing for their children). When they feel that emotion, they will also think of your brand.
Make your brand extremely visible so that people will notice and want to follow it.
Apple has a history of designing really iconic products that are instantly recognizable, such as the colorful iMac, the iPhone, and the beautiful brushed aluminum finishing of their current iMacs and MacBooks.
Their design stands out instantly from the competition, and anyone can recognize them from a mile away. Add to that the cool factor that they were able to associate their products with, and you have yourself a very iconic and desirable brand.
How you can apply this: Product design is a great way to distinguish yourself from the competition. Shopping bags are also a great way to advertise your brand. If your brand also has that “cool” factor, then it will also give customers social currency.
Offer useful tips to help your customers get better at what they’re doing.
In social media, it is a common sight to find videos of home DIY fixes or “hack” videos. These are nice to share because they are useful, and they also provide social currency.
Shukuu Izakaya is a Singaporean-based Japanese restaurant specializing in all things sake.
While they are known for their amazing food and sake, Shukuu Izakaya is famous for giving customers tips and insights into how to differentiate and appreciate sake.
Co-founder Luis calls it “educational selling”:
If I teach you something today, you are proud of it. You will teach these things to your friends. And you will put me in your favorite list. And you will come back to me again, hoping to get more information you can tell your friends.
How you can apply this: Provide useful and entertaining content that your customers will need and enjoy. The more value you give, the more they will like you and come back for more.
Embed your brand message within a compelling story/narrative.
Stories are amazing tools for carrying knowledge and they are easily shared between people. Think about Aesop’s Fables and how we still know them more than 2,000 years later. Narratives are easily retold and remembered because they involving emotions.
In 2018, Nike released an ad featuring ex-quarterback Colin Kaepernick:
The ad was controversial because of the narrative surrounding Colin Kaepernick. He took a knee during the playing of the national anthem before football games as a protest against police brutality and racial discriminations. But his actions were also interpreted by others as disrespecting the flag and nation.
Nike stocks initially dipped after unveiling Colin as the new face of Nike, but eventually rose to earn $6 billion for the sportswear brand.
As the topic that was top-of-mind for everyone at the time, it was emotional and triggered those who felt strongly about it to act. It sparked conversations that brought awareness to the brand.
How you can apply this: Wrap your brand or message within a narrative that customers will care about deeply. When we care strongly about something, we will share it and talk about it with others.
With these six viral insights and examples, you are now ready to bring your marketing to the next level. If you would like more examples of viral brands and campaigns, check out our post on ReferralCandy here.
If you are interested in another concrete way to build customer loyalty and improve return sales, then check out our digital loyalty app, CandyBar.
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