We all know the viral campaigns that travel the furthest and carry the most impact tend to be the ones that leave the greatest impressions. Viral campaigns are, by their very nature, remarkable. Otherwise they wouldn't carry the emotional impact required to make us pass them on. With that known, the challenge becomes whether or not you should build a remarkable campaign or a remarkable company.

In this three part series I'll dig beyond the hype of Viral Marketing and look at three key lessons companies need to learn before diving into this style of outreach. Part one covered the need to know your customer and to speak to their desires. Today's article will talk about the need to be remarkable.

Why Remarkable Matters

Think about the number of items you use in a month. The number of people you meet, the number of meals you eat, the number of clothes you wear. As humans, we experience an absolute overload of exposure to people, places and things on a daily basis. We absorb far too much for all of it to have a lasting impression. It's why we have favorites.

cereal.jpgFavorite people. Favorite foods. Favorite outfits. Favorite movies. To really catch our eye, things have to be remarkable. So why does the average business expect things to be any different? Yes, you've got a good shot at running a solvent business by coasting along somewhere close to average. After all, we all wear the outfit that isn't our favorite when the laundry is piled up. Every last one of us has eaten a bowl of cereal for dinner because it takes too long to make something we'd rather eat.

And yes, someone will shop at your company even if there's absolutely nothing extraordinary about it.

But you won't go viral unless you're remarkable.

Build a Remarkable Message

When Volkswagon decided to shift the focus of their commercials from "hey, we're what the cool kids drive" to "hey, we're the car that keeps you and your friends safe" they did it in a remarkable way. While certain car companies (like Volvo and producers of minivans) have always put an emphasis on "crash test ratings," few car makers had been willing to depict a non-slow motion crash in a commercial. After all, no one wants to buy the car they've just seen get in an accident.

Or do they?

Volkswagon's "Safe Happens" commercials created sort of a love it or hate it reaction among marketing critics and consumers. The spots were fairly jarring, especially the first time you saw one, but all did a remarkable job of getting across a message. "Car crashes happen. VW drivers walk away."

While the commercials sparked both positive and negative feedback, the results were indisputable. Within three weeks of launching the commercials, brochure requests rose dramatically and online quote requests rose 59%.

Volkswagon's campaign worked because it was remarkable. It took a concept that had been used for decades (our cars are safe) and presented it in a way no one ever had (we'll scare the daylights out of you and make you feel REALLY uncomfortable). While the ads could have backfired, they were remarkable enough to have worked.

Of course there's nothing that says you have to create a remarkable campaign. Sometimes the most remarkable viral success stories are the ones that are consumer sparked in response to a remarkable company.

Build a Remarkable Company

Sometimes you're stuck with a product that isn't very interesting, like ball bearings. Sometimes you're stuck with a company that has neither the time, nor money to put toward creating remarkable advertising. That's ok. It doesn't mean your company can't or won't experience viral success. It simply means you need to stock up on your Seth Godin philosophy and focus on making your company remarkable.

One of the single best examples of this strategy is online retailer Zappos. What launched as an online shoe store less than a decade ago is expected to generate one billion in sales this year. Even more remarkable is how that growth happened.

heartzappos.jpgZappos relies almost exclusively on repeat business and word of mouth marketing. In fact, more than 60% of their sales come from repeat buyers. The companies growth is mostly credited to the sheer remarkableness of the company. Aside from offering free shipping and free returns on all orders, (allowing customers to try products on before buying at no extra cost) Zappos also empowers their customer service agents to create a great experience for buyers.

Zappos has done such a good job of building a remarkable company the web is simply full of customers singing their praises. In fact, the now famous "I Heart Zappos" post may be one of the most impressive odes to Zappos' corporate philosophy, but you'll also find fan stories here, here, here and here. (And that's just what I found in three minutes of searches.

Granted, it's far more work to build a remarkable company than it is to build a remarkable campaign, but the results last longer.

Coming up...

In part three of this series, I'll take a look at the third commandment of viral marketing: Thou shalt try, try again. After all, marketing is a never ending process. What doesn't work this time, may well provide you the clues you need to run the perfect campaign next time.

August 26, 2008

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.


Another timely post. You are sooo right here. There are too many companies looking to be clever and cutting edge with the markeing message, but don't have the steak behind the sizzle so to speak!
Viral marketing has become the go to new thing people try to integrate into a campaign and it just doesn't work that way. Going "viral" isn't soley a marketing function - you totally nailed it.

Jennifer, Great topic, thank you for your insightful posts.
Something for folks to consider, being remarkable requires courage, which shouldn’t be underestimated. Even the simplest items require you to step out from the norm, be looked at as different, take a leap of faith, because your idea may fail, may cost money, yours or someone else’s, may not be popular, may offend someone, may offend a lot of folks, but maybe, if you can drive back the fear long enough to be creative, to be remarkable, your idea may Break from the Pack of commodity. But, listen to the pundits too long and even the best of ideas become diluted mush.

A remarkable article! I hope more companies listen to this advice, and I hope in addition to remarkable they are moral. To me that would be even more remarkable.

At this point, I'm speachless . . .

You just get better and better each day with each post. I don't think there are any compliments left for me to share about your brilliant mind. So instead I will wish you a FABULOUSLY BLESSED DAY! :D

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Search Engine Guide > Jennifer Laycock > The Second Commandment of Viral Marketing - Thou Shalt Be Remarkable