Redefining What Makes A Campaign Viral

Ivan Askwith, Director of Strategy at Big Spaceship, recently offered an insightful perspective into how brands could best engage consumers over the long-run.

Ivan Askwith, Director of Strategy at Big Spaceship, recently offered an insightful perspective into how brands could best engage consumers over the long-run by ceasing to refer to “viral” as merely a campaign objective – but rather as a deliberate choice to share quality content that a consumer will be motivated to share with others.

According to Askwith,

It’s time to accept a difficult truth: viral isn’t a quality that we, as marketers, have the power to bestow. In fact, viral isn’t an inherent trait that advertising can have at all. Viral isn’t what a marketing campaign is, but how that campaign spreads. And when a campaign does achieve viral propagation, it’s not simply a function of what we do as designers and planners. Instead, it’s a function of deliberate choices that each consumer makes about what is worth sharing and why.

The ultimate challenge for brands is to understand their consumers and their motivations well enough to offer them something valuable enough to share.  Askwith suggests that, rather than focus on creating something – anything – that might spread like a virus – brands should focus on offering their consumers gifts so valuable that they’ll want to share these with others.  And what makes a gift – or content – worth sharing?  Askwith poses three specific scenarios – each with unique purposes, motives and behavior patterns – in which people share content:

1. Contributing (1-to-Many): Sharing relevant content is often more casual and less deliberate, as in an online community.  Anything that might be interesting or useful has a good chance of being shared;  making valuable contributions is an important way to “prove” that one belongs, and the pride of being the first to discover something of value offers a powerful incentive to share.

2. Broadcasting (1-to-World): In more public spaces like Twitter or Facebook, the act of sharing is more about the person sharing than the person receiving. Sharing an opinion or thought here makes a statement about who the individual is, what they like, and how they wish to be perceived. In this context, consumers are likely to share anything that expresses their identities, opinions or strengths.

3. Gifting (1-to-1/Few): More private channels like email, IM and real-world conversations allow for sharing that is closest to gifting. The decision to share depends on relevance and value to both giver and recipient, since sharing is intended to strengthen relationships and reinforce shared values. Consumers here will be likeliest to share anything that helps generate, strengthen or sustain connections.

Ultimately, effective long term brand building – via “viral” campaigns or not  - depends on finding opportunities to serve consumers by appealing to their needs and motivations. The challenge for brands (and their agencies) becomes creating services, experiences, products and content that consumers will take a personal stake in sharing because it helps them express their own personalities, identities and values via social connections. And not just to make consumers carriers of our taglines and brand propositions.

Big Spaceship: “Getting Past Viral”

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