I've written quite a few articles about building and launching a viral marketing campaign over the past couple of years. In general, I write about the brainstorming process or how to put your pitches together. In this new series, I'll be looking at the six key components that make people remember a message and therefore, make it more likely they'll pass it on.
(I've pulled these six components from Chip and Dan Heath's Made to Stick and put my own spin on them.)
Part One: The Need for Simplicity
If there's one thing people are used to doing today, it's ignoring advertising messages. We switch the radio station when songs give way to commercials, we TIVO our favorite shows and play them back later without the commercials. We surf the web with "banner blindness" and we flip past the first twenty pages of a thick magazine because we know it's all ads.
This is exactly why viral marketing has snagged so much attention lately. Companies are getting tired of spending tons of money on advertising that will simply be ignored by consumers. These same companies realize that viral messages are inherently stronger because the ad message has the added boost of a friend's backing.
One of the best ways to catch their eye is to do something they aren't expecting.
Deliver the Unexpected
The challenge to catching someone's eye is to deliver a message in a way they aren't expecting, but in a way that makes perfect sense. If your unexpected delivery is perplexing, it's unlikely to work. Instead, your message needs to surprise them, but leaving them thinking "oh...yeah...that's right."
One of the best examples I've seen of this in the last few years is the Volkswagon "Safe Happens" campaign. The ads did something auto ads simply don't do. They showed people getting in heart-stopping accidents in the commercials. It was shocking and unexpected because we're conditioned to think any car commercial involving a car accident will include crash test dummies.
The first time I saw one of these commercials I jumped. It genuinely shocked me. It also stuck with me. I remember having conversation about these commercials. Some people loved them, some people hated them, but pretty much everyone was impacted by them.
But here's why the message worked...
Surprise Them, but Support Your Core Message
The message didn't deliver a surprise or a shock simply to get our attention, it did it to make a point. Everyone knew Volkswagens were the car trendy, successful GenXers drove...but not everyone thought of them as safe. GenXers were now growing up and thinking about issues like safety when they considered which cars to buy. After all, they were no longer twenty-somethings who were invincible. They now had spouses and children and people they cared about. That means safety was an issue to be considered when it came to buying their next car.
The Safe Happens ads got this point across brilliantly and did it in a way that supported their core message. The ads still played to the same audience of GenExers as the previous VW ads, it just delivered a new message. Simply surprising someone without connecting that surprise to interest in what you have to say won't work. The two have to be intricately tied together for this tactic to work.
In part three, I'll explore the need to be concrete in your message.
Jennifer Laycock is the Editor of Search Engine Guide, the Social Media Faculty Chair for MarketMotive and offers small business social media strategy & consulting. Jennifer enjoys the challenge of finding unique and creative ways to connect with consumers without spending a fortune in marketing dollars. Though she now prefers to work with small businesses, Jennifer’s clients have included companies like Verizon, American Greetings and Highlights for Children.
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