Viral Marketing: Marketing Tactics For Viral Success

Going viral: The unrealistic expectation every business aspires to as everyone wants to be a quick overnight success. As a marketer, your main goal is to share your brand but viral marketing is easier said than done.

Chances are that most of your material, even if it’s marketing gold, doesn’t make it big, but why?

You eat your veggies…

You call your grandma every week…

You got a degree in marketing…

You work hard…

…WHY?!

Many people think viral marketing requires big money, lots of time for stellar content and needs lots of luck. As a marketer myself, I can say it’s not 100% luck but more so the right balance of right place, right content, right time.

Although I do not have the code to business virality, there are techniques and tactics you can use to improve the likelihood of success and maximizing your results. These techniques don’t require lots of time, large budgets and they most definitely do not rely on luck.

In this article, we will talk about the difference between viral and buzz marketing but will also share viral marketing techniques that will help you to drive more traffic and sales.

What is Viral Marketing? How is Buzz Marketing Different?

You might be wondering, “Aren’t they the same thing?”

Well, not exactly.

There are terms frequently used in marketing: word of mouth marketing (WOM), buzz marketing and viral marketing. Although a lot of these are used interchangeably, they are fundamentally different. So, to draw the lines and clearly define them, let’s take a look at the difference between the three before we dive into the details of viral marketing.

Word of Mouth (WOM)

When you think of word of mouth, you want to think of organic reach.

WOM marketing is when a consumer’s interest for a company’s product or service is reflected in their daily conversations. Since the goal of every marketer is to start a conversation about their business, it’s an easy one to recognize.

For example, have you ever gone out with friends where they ask you for a suggested business, service or product? If you recommend a business, service or product that you love, you’ve just done WOM marketing for that business. They then might take that information and continue a chain reaction by suggesting it to others and so on and so forth.

This is also easily done over the internet now with people suggesting and reviewing on platforms like Amazon to even sharing products on their friend’s social media feeds.

Buzz Marketing

Buzz marketing takes WOM marketing to the next level. With buzz marketing, businesses try to wow, shock or excite conversation about their business. Buzz marketing is all about getting people talking, not just waiting for people to suggest your business.

Buzz marketing can work with any and all types of marketing, including content marketing, guerrilla marketing, and social media marketing. An amazing example of this comes from my roots of living in Virginia. Busch Gardens hit the marketing goldmine with a buzz marketing effort that went wrong but then went so so good.

Busch Gardens introduced its new roller coaster, Apollo’s Chariot. The concept of the ride came from mythology, so to introduce it the park they brought in the closest thing to a Greek god— Fabio. He was to take the first ride on Apollo’s Chariot—front row center, surrounded by ladies dressed as Greek goddesses (quite the visual, am I right?).

Although this alone would have been enough for a “buzz,” but something went wrong. A goose flew into the path of the speeding coaster car, leaving Fabio with a nasty cut across his nose.

The story, which started out as a simple promotional photo op, suddenly turned into a headline craze. The park got tons of free publicity and people were talking about this freak accident (I mean, who wouldn’t want to ride the coaster that took out Fabio?!).

Imagine, if this happened in the age of social media, how much more coverage would it have received?

Like this example, buzz marketing goes beyond building brand awareness and relationships, it’s also a great way to spotlight your business in impactful short-term spurts (no animals or models need to be harmed in the process, though).

Viral Marketing

Viral marketing is a little bit different. Viral marketing is reserved for content that spreads like wildfire across the internet. The goal is to get a marketing message out and enable people to send something along to everyone they know. It is in some ways a mix of WOM and buzz marketing set for digital platforms.

For example, Melbourne Australia’s Metro put out a fantastic viral video: “Dumb Ways to Die” that was also paired with a free mobile game.

The campaign centered around a melodic music video featuring “monsters” who die in comically brutal, unintelligent ways, before finally highlighting that due to train predictability, accidental death with trains is quite possibly the dumbest way of all.

Something as boring as public transit was made viral all due to catchy jingles, cute graphics and violence: perfect stuff for catching people’s attention. In fact, the results were amazing:

  • This video sits at 170,775,325 views since its posting in 2012.
  • The game became No. 1 free app in 21 countries including USA, UK, Canada, Australia, and Germany and it reached top 100 in 101 countries, top 1,000 in 148 countries.
  • In six weeks, DWTD gathered an estimated $60 million in earned media.

It was a genius plan to entertain, inform and strategically continue to evolve across different platforms.

Virality at its finest!

Whether it’s products like fidget spinners, ASL bucket challenges or dumb ways to die, there are many factors that went into these campaigns to make them a viral success.

In this next section, let’s talk about viral marketing techniques that will help you to drive more traffic and sales just like these examples.

Key Viral Marketing Techniques

For viral marketing to work, you need to get people talking about you. And, to get people talking about you, you need to give them something they’ll be excited to talk about.

Now, before we get into key viral marketing techniques, it’s fair to say that some viral marketing techniques might work better than others, especially depending on your business vertical.

Choosing the right appeals and the right strategies will be an important first step, but you can also use other tactics to improve the likelihood of success. A viral marketing strategy need not contain all these elements, but the more elements it embraces, the more powerful the results are likely to be.

Target, Target, Target

The first step to developing a viral marketing campaign is to find out who your targeted audience is and where they live online. Nothing goes viral on its own, you need to send the right message to the right people.

The channel is equally important because if you are marketing in a wrong channel then you won’t be able to reach your target audience. If you can’t reach the targeted audience, you won’t be able to grow the interest.

Since viral marketing is closely tired to social media, look at what content performs the best by monitoring these social media analytics:

  • Audience Engagements
  • Trending Topics
  • Keyword Traffic
  • Page Impressions
  • Clicks and Reaches
  • Demographics

Each of these above will give you insight into top performers on your social media pages. From there, you will know what to do.

Don’t Be a Fence Sitter

Viral marketing is all about evoking action. As a marketer, you need to accept that you will not be everything to everyone so forget trying to please everyone. Take a stand!

Develop an option and inspire strong emotions to be felt through videos, blog posts, ad copy or social content. You want people to either love or hate you. You want extremes most of the time as that ignites passionate conversations, thoughts and feelings people want to share. I mean, just take a look at the uproar the Nike commercials made with Kaepernick:

The internet could not stop talking about the Colin Kaepernick Nike commercial! Both good and bad press made it so Nike saw a spike in their sales and their media attention. What a win!

Just like them, though maybe without people burning your products, you can create a emotional conversation that will inspire your audience to share, engage and talk about your business.

Be Unexpected

The title explains itself, do something different!

A lot of the time we get so caught up in doing what the industry has done that we get stuck in blah campaigns that do not get results. We frequently might copy industry leaders, but a lot of the time we miss out on opportunities to be different.

So, if you are a yoga studio, feature a man in full business attire doing yoga in your advertisements with a slogan that says something like “A refresh after the hardest parts of your day…” This would shake things up as typically women in yoga gear are the “poster children” for any yoga business.

Just know, people won’t bother to look if they know someone has done it before. People always want to see or learn new things. Two awesome examples of this is Dairy Queen and Holy Crap Cereal.

Typically when you eat ice cream, you want to avoid holding it improperly because it might melt, drip or fall out of the cone or cup. Well, DQ shakes things up with advertisements featuring their ice cream blizzards upside down to show their thickness and quality of ice-cream. Yes, it actually works in real life!

Was it expected? No, Not at all! Ice cream upside down is not typical and this really sets them apart in the fast food and ice cream market!

Holy Crap cereal also killed it with the unexpectedness. Originally called Hapi Food, one of their first customers exclaimed “Holy crap… this is amazing!” Sales increased by 1000% after changing their name to Holy Crap cereal.

Crazy, right?

Although, crap and cereal should not be in the same sentence, let alone a business name, it worked for them. This name set them apart in the cereal industry and created a name many can remember!

Like these two examples, shaking things up is sometimes not a bad thing. Think about your market, your competitors and what is typically done, then try to create something different that obviously is still relevant and valuable to your customers.

The ingenuity will be appreciated as it gives them something new to experience.

Budget Isn’t a Factor…Sometimes

A lot of the time, people might feel like they need to have the best content writers, videographers or photographers to make things go viral. This is simply not true, because its all about the content, creativity and personability.

For example, Furkids Animal Rescue and Shelters, an animal rescue organization in Atlanta, Georgia that made a hilarious online commercial that has over 5 million views!

The video, titled “Kitty Kommercial,” features a man trying to get cats adopted like a used car salesman.

The entire video was completely improvised at one of Furkids’ facilities and was shot in about 30 minutes.

Good lighting? Nope.

Professional actor? Nope.

Trained animals? Nope.

High-quality props? Nope.

Just raw, humor in the reality of their shelter. By using humor, creativity and pop culture jokes people watching this commercial can easily connect and enjoy—therefore moving traffic to their website and facilities. People appreciate authenticity!

Make it Shareable

Viral marketing is all about your campaigns taking the internet by storm—spreading like a virus would. Make sure your content is easily shareable and that it doesnt make your viewers register or take an annoying action to view your content. Viral marketing is not about exclusivity, it’s about the masses.

It’s smart to make sharing as seamless as possible. You can make it easier for your audience to share your campaign by:

  • Providing several different routes to share.
  • Speaking to triggers
  • Ask questions to your viewership
  • Scale your campaign across all platforms
  • Do not restrict your content
  • Use meaningful hashtags

Do not be afraid to ask people to share content! Jay Shetty, one of my favorite motivational speakers, does a fantastic job at making his videos viral, shareable and even promotes shares by simply asking for them. At the end of every video, he promotes the idea of sharing by stating things like:

 “Share With Someone You Love”

“Share Today”

“Share With Someone Who Needs This”

“Share Now”


These are easy asks and a lot of the time, it works!

Also, be sure to share content yourself! Include content in all of your platforms: social media, email campaigns, blogs and ads.

Give Them The Feels

Viral marketing can’t make much of an impact unless it gives off feelings. Viral marketing is 100% about emotions and clever campaigns will take advantage of that human truth.

Eliciting an emotional response is an essential element of successful viral campaigns. It’s human nature that people want to share the experiences that make them feel something. For example, this article of a teacher that got fired for giving kids zeros for not turning work in…this can easily be shared amongst teachers who think this is unfair.

When people develop strong, deep feelings like surprise, anger, fear, disgust, sadness and happiness around a message, social sharing becomes impulsive. You just cant resist saying something!

Another great example of this is “Adam Ruins Everything” which is a video series from CollegeHumor that takes controversial issues and talks about the facts. Adam was even brave enough to make a video talking about breast milk versus formula, a topic frequently sparking heated discussions across mommy blogs everywhere! They even include a lot of the controversial opinions, comments and thoughts shared in this heated topic like “breastfeeding is gross, you “NEED” to breastfeed… etc etc”

Mommas are passionate! This video in one channel got 6,105 comments and over 3 million views.

Like these videos, the emotional drive of any viral campaign must be strong enough to succeed in grabbing attention.

Give a Solution

People want solutions to modern day problems, so if your business or product can give answers, people will love it and share it. A great example of viral product solutions are those dang fidget spinners.

Fidget spinners, the bane of all teachers’ existences, emerged as targeting a viral problem in the digital age: attention deficit disorder. Allowing people to fixate their nervousness, anxiety and ADD into a handheld device, of course, would see awesome results!

The product spread like wildfire through schools and students but later expanded its market to adults. Fidget spinners were seen everywhere!

This little fidget spinner simply became viral by providing a solution to a problem many felt. Like them, you too can look for ways to solve a modern day problem with your business and products and sell it that way!

Engage and Comment

Connecting with your audience is a vital part of viral campaigns.

Old Spice is a perfect example of how they took a viral sensation of the beautiful Isaiah Mustafa’s ridiculous commercials and took it to comments. Viewership went up when they started to customize their videos based on viewers’ comments and questions.

Engagement is the way of the future!

In the past, customers had to go to great lengths to get a hold of the brand to be heard. While there are still ways in which businesses are hard to reach, businesses are getting better at making themselves more engaged and apart of their customer community—whether that’s through social media, content replies, promoting brand enthusiasts, etc.

If you want to go viral, engaging with your customers! They will share and engage knowing that they matter!

Slip Some $

Now, virality does not 100% happen on its own, sometimes it might require some money backing to help move your efforts forward. The best way to amplify content early on is through PPC.

To generate sufficient traffic for your campaigns, you need visibility, and that won’t happen on its own. Using platforms like Facebook Ads or LinkedIn Ads to promote your content will help it get a lot of views and earn more social proof.

Since social proof is a powerful force of its own, this is well worth the financial investment.

Pick a Time

As with many things in life, timing is everything.

When should you post your viral content? Rather than blindly following advice from some blog post you find, dive deep into your social and campaign insights to see when your target audience is most active.

Test different posts at the most opportune times to see which content gets the most engagement from your intended audience. Look into website and social insights to see data you can use!

When you decide to share your viral content, timing will be a critical factor if you expect lots of people to share your post! Be smart and strategic!

Viral Video: Community and Participation

Any one of us could be famous by next Sunday, but with 500 hours of videos being uploaded to YouTube every minute, how can we? Only a small percentage of videos make it big so what’s the catch?

To learn, let’s take a look at a popular sensation video, “Friday.”

This video has been viewed 125,652,239 and it became popular being featured on Tosh.0. From there the world had a hay day.

The key to videos like this was having a feature that shared the content with a wide audience AKA Jimmy Kimmel, Tosh.0 and many news sources. That audience then took the video, shared it, parodied it, and ultimately created a sense of community all in on the “inside joke” of what we call Rebecca Black’s career (the video actually continued to see spikes of viewing on the weekday Friday which kept the joke alive).

So what worked?

There was a community participation in the popularity of this video where people engaged, talked about, recreated and shared it. We can see a community creation also in the viral video Nyan Cat where they not only enjoyed it, they participated and engaged with it by creating a pop culture piece that would last forever…I mean, look at all the fun stuff they did to customize the Nyan cat experience.

Viral videos need features, community, engagement and a sense of unexpectedness. Friday had all of those elements:

  • Featured on Jimmy Kimmel and tons of publications
  • High community and audience engagement
  • Community adaptation and experience
  • The unexpectedness of being a terrible song

Like this video, you too can create a viral video with those elements which will boost its chances of going viral.

Viral Here We Come!

If your viral marketing campaigns take off, there are obviously plenty of benefits to be had. A lot of people are talking about you and your campaigns, which builds up brand awareness and therefore means SALES!

But like any marketing, there are risks involved that require testing, growth and calculations, even for viral content.

Again, it’s fair to say that some viral marketing techniques might work better than others, especially depending on your business vertical. Choosing the right appeals and the right strategies will be an important first step, but you can also use other tactics to improve the likelihood of success.

With these viral marketing tactics in mind, you should be able to raise your chances of becoming a viral business sensation.

Have you ever used viral marketing for your business? Which appeals have you used? Share your thoughts and questions in the comments below! 

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Cydney is a polka dot wearing business owner, photographer, cupcake enthusiast and writer, who through her work, shares her personal passions about visual marketing, branding and business strategy.

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