Make Your Message Contagious

Make Your Message Contagious

by Bruce Sachs

According to a recent study on viral marketing, the most popular videos online are successful because they trigger high-arousal emotions, such as humor and anger. Beyond viral videos, this study provides a good lesson in how to think about all of your marketing content. If you want your message to catch on, then you will need to evoke an emotional response from your audience.

Selling More Than Burritos

Chipotle has become known for providing quality food from sustainable sources. They aren’t just selling burritos, they are selling the idea of “food with integrity.” This message is reinforced on their beverage containers with playful stories about their process. The company also sponsors local farmer’s markets and community events. To spread their message even further, Chipotle created two videos about the perils of factory farming: Back to the Start  and The Scarecrow. These animated videos feature loveable characters, highlight problems in the farming industry, and end with a positive message, “Cultivate a Better World.” The campaigns went viral by garnering very strong emotions, both positive and negative.

Why Things Catch On

Jonah Berger, marketing professor at the University of Pennsylvania, studies how products, ideas, and behaviors become popular. In his book, Contagious: Why Things Catch On, Berger lists six principles that lead to something catching on:

  • Social currency: People like to talk about things that make them look good (for example: high-end products and early adopters).
  • Triggers: We discuss things that are on our mind (for example: Superbowl ads, new parents discussing baby stuff).
  • Ease for emotion: We like to share information about things we care about (for example: grassroots campaigns, Chipotle’s videos).
  • Public: We are drawn to popular things that others are doing (for example: iPhones, food fads like kale).
  • Practical value: We like to share helpful information with others (for example: helpful articles, coupons).
  • Stories: This ties to all of the above, because we’re more likely to share something if it’s part of a bigger story.

It’s Not Just a Phone

Apple has done such an excellent job of getting their products to catch on that the iPhone could have served as an example in nearly all of the categories above. The company has transitioned from an underdog computer company, to a digital music innovator and the maker of smartphones used by a third of Americans. Of course, great leadership and innovation drove Apple’s success, but they’ve nurtured this by giving people things to talk about for 30 years. From their 1984 Super Bowl commercial to their  ad featuring a monologue from Dead Poet’s Society, Apple aims to inspire — their campaigns trigger emotions. Devotion to Apple products spread slowly at first among brand loyalists. Now, it spreads quickly because we carry our smartphones everywhere and we like to talk about the newest features or coolest apps.

Success, Stat!

Stats have become tied to viral web performance and marketing success. YouTube videos prominently show number of views, Facebook posts show how many people “Like” you, and you can track your followers and retweets on Twitter. These are all easily monitored metrics, which can make them seem more important than they are. However in Contagious, Berger states that only 7% of word of mouth happens online. He adds, “It’s easy to find examples of social contagion, it’s much harder to actually get something to catch on.”

Get Them Talking

Online videos aren’t the only path to viral marketing success. When you’re trying to get your product or idea to spread and grow, you need to think about more than YouTube, social media and your website. Don’t discount any part of your brand including the packaging, sales collateral or tradeshow presence. These are all opportunities to tell your story and get people talking.

If you want contagious content, set some parameters when developing your message.

  • Is it something that evokes humor or anger right for your audience? If not, what’s the response that you’re looking for?
  • Is it substantial, engaging, entertaining?
  • Is it something that someone will care enough about to share?
  • Will people be talking about this after they see it?

Not everyone has the marketing budget of Chipotle or Apple, or the know-how and luck it takes to create the next viral video. But, when you develop content for your brand, always think about trying to make an emotional connection with your audience.