The Consistently Overlooked Component To Going Viral

In a world seemingly obsessed with operating online, could a key component of the offline experience be the secret to content virality?

The Consistently Overlooked Component To Going Viral
[Image: Flickr user coolio-claire]

In the era of digital marketing, brands are increasingly focused on the latest trends from memes to consumer-generated content to mobile everything. Facing an oversaturated landscape of selfies, videos, infographics, and white papers, marketers are constantly striving to develop that piece of custom content that will go “viral,” leveraging the power of technology and human emotion to spread their brand message like wildfire.


While there is certainly no magic formula for virality, there is one key element that is consistently overlooked: 90% of consumer conversations are still taking place offline.

According to Nielsen, despite the landscape of reach metrics, influencer scores, and geo-targeted advertising, more than 92% of people still trust reviews and recommendations from their friends or family members more than any other form of marketing.

Although 25 billion brand impressions are created via social media every year, good old in-person conversations generate more than 30 times that and provide credible recommendations that are more likely to influence consumer behavior.

So how do you achieve viral impact with your messages in the real world? Word of mouth.

The next time you want your brand message to go viral in the real world consider integrating strategies that drive word of mouth into all of your programs and tap the emotional drivers that motivate consumers to share brand stories with their inner circles and extended networks.

Here’s how you can get started:


1. Define your story

People share stories. To make a story worth sharing it has to be interesting, relevant, and personal. Start with clearly defining the story you’d like consumers to share about your brand and work back to create the experience that will inspire them to deliver that message.

For the Lincoln MKZ, the story we wanted L.A. insiders to tell was that this was a like-minded luxury brand worthy of consideration. To get them there, we developed an intimate and premium event series called The Lincoln L{A-List} that immersed influencers in engaging experiences with hand-selected lifestyle partners around the brand’s core values of design, fashion, architecture, culinary arts, and photography.

Far from the standard party, they tapped into the targets’ thirst for knowledge by providing content–whether it was learning how to shoot photos like a professional or how to curate an eclectic collection of antiques for their homes. They gave attendees a rich experience worth sharing and wove the brand subtly throughout so that Lincoln MKZ was seen as the purveyor and connector behind it all.

2. Connect your brand to its followers

One of our most basic emotional needs is to feel connected to others. Having our emotions validated by feeling seen and heard is hugely powerful. This happens (or doesn’t) between individual people every day and the same goes for people and brands.

Looking for the human truth and common ground that connects the benefits of your brand to the needs of your consumers is a step many brands skip over in favor of quickly getting to what they want say and how they want to say it, which may not be the best way for a consumer to understand it. What a missed opportunity.

Intuit QuickBooks Simple Start had a plethora of product benefits that were important to convey, but first they had to get the attention of their audience. Gleaned from pages of research, they leveraged the emotional insight that a large percentage of consumers dream of being their own boss to develop a national campaign that invited people to take the pledge to quit their jobs and start their own business. Most importantly, Intuit gave them the tools and resources to do so.


This acknowledgement and support, which included a range of local resources, positioned Intuit as a brand that deeply understands the passion behind becoming, and succeeding, at being an entrepreneur.

3. Ignite people to spread the word

People love to be in the know and provide advice that makes the lives of friends and loved ones richer and/or easier. Everyday influencers–those go-to people in our lives who we tap for recommendations on a range of things from books to wine to fashion to travel–are particularly excited to unearth new discoveries and share them with others.

To tap into this natural motivator, in addition to creating a compelling story for them to share, you need to provide a compelling call to action and tools for them to easily spread the word to their networks. This can be anything from exclusive access to an experience or product to education on a relevant topic to special incentives or custom deliveries they can share with their peers.

You can even tap into their naturally competitive side as Levi’s did when they brought their Curve ID jeans to college campuses across the country. In addition to getting fit for their perfect pair of jeans and then glammed up for a photo they could share on Facebook, young women were challenged to get as many of their friends involved in the experience as well to beat their rival campus to secure a grant for their school.

Next time you want your brand’s story to go viral, consider creative ways to spark real-world conversation, in addition to online, to amplify word of mouth in a way that consumers can’t help but share.

Gabrey Means and Cassie Hughes are the cofounders of Grow Marketing, an engagement marketing, social media and publicity shop in San Francisco. Means serves as the creative director and Hughes is the strategy director.