Editor’s note: What are the latest viral marketing trends? What are some best practices, tips and tricks to do your viral marketing campaigns just right? To find out, eM+C hosted an eChat with three leading viral marketers. Below, you’ll find highlights from the discussion. If you have an idea for an eChat or would like to participate in one, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Melissa: Welcome to eM+C’s second eChat. Today, we’re going to be discussing viral marketing programs. Could each participant briefly describe a recent viral campaign you’ve done?
Scott Madlener: Performance Communications Group helps organizations sell their products in ways they have not been able to before, and with proven effectiveness. We were called in when Chicken of the Sea wanted to create a viral impact at the School Nutrition Association’s Annual Conference. The goal was to create a viral marketing campaign around a new single-serving Chicken of the Sea product that meets the new demand for healthy choices in school lunchrooms.
Scott Madlener: We used our video postcard product, which allows for real-time video authoring for a video postcard that is then e-mailed to a recipient of their choice. Once produced, the videos are sent to others and nominated for a prize. The nominated videos are shown on the Chicken of the Sea Web site, where viewers vote on each entry and forward their preferred videos to other potential voters.
Scott Madlener: The really fun part of this campaign was the audio/visual component. The video was recorded with trade-show attendees inside a digital mermaid cutout where they were asked to sing the Chicken of the Sea jingle.
Bob Kodner: We recently posted a “Sopranos” spoof involving Mr. Happy Crack on YouTube. One of our franchise partners put it together, and I think it’s gotten over 2,000 views since it’s been up. It was fun and informative, and we’ve gotten a nice response from potential franchisees as well as end users of our services, which is great.
Lance Callaghan: To support a TV campaign (see maplestory.com/free) for our MapleStory game, we created www.maplestorymob.com. We wanted to recruit, build and manage a pervasive, aggressive, motivated (and incentivized) MapleStory Mob to promote MapleStory and drive traffic to maplestory.com/free and generate new users.
Lance Callaghan: Results have been staggering, with over 40,000 signups, including a User Generated Content Video contest on YouTube with 50-plus submissions so far! The winning spot [aired] on TV in January.
Paul Kim: We recently launched a community marketing program called “Operation Firefox” at www.operationfirefox.com. In a nutshell, we asked Firefox fans to submit ideas for the most creative real world place they could think of to post a giant 3.5-foot-tall Firefox logo sticker (this is removeable).
Paul Kim: We received over 3,000 entries. The top 50 submissions each received a sticker and [had] two weeks to put the logo up and document their project on social media sites like Flickr and YouTube.
Paul Kim: We’ll be highlighting the winners over the next few months as we gear up for the launch of Firefox 3 [in early 2008]. And we expect to see significant results and impressions of contestants’ work on the social media sites themselves.
Paul Kim: We are sort of duty bound to use grassroots marketing strategies, for brand alignment and because we believe firmly in engaging our community to participate in our marketing.
Melissa: Cool … sounds like you all have very impressive and interesting campaigns. As a result, I wanted to ask you all, what are the key benefits to using viral marketing?
Scott Madlener: The benefits of using a campaign like this are the brand interactions. Ideally tied to trackable sales results.
Bob Kodner: I think for us it’s cost-effective and the results are quantifiable, plus it allows us to be entertaining.
Lance Callaghan: Empowering your users to create their own branded content and proliferate that content around their relevant on and offline touchpoints.
Paul Kim: It’s been said that the best advertising is indistinguishable from content — I think effective viral marketing campaigns demonstrate this.
Melissa: That’s a good point, Paul. Scott, I wanted to ask you about the campaigns being trackable. Are they, in most cases? Or are they just branding opportunities?
Scott Madlener: Depends on the set-up. For the video postcards, we track recordings, playbacks and then tie to the product launch — to sales. The results were 150 postcards were recorded at the conference representing over 2,200 minutes of video. A truly personalized viral campaign that is predicted to generate $200,000 of product sales.
Melissa: Is trackability something you all think about?
Lance Callaghan: Absolutely. Online we give each gamer a unique code to track their efforts and reward them with in-game currency.
Melissa: I wanted to talk a bit about video. Is video a must for viral marketing today? Are they indistinguishable?
Scott Madlener: I like to include personal video to promote brand advocacy.
Lance Callaghan: See www.youtube.com/group/maplestorymob. The viral video sites are indespensible for our demographic.
Paul Kim: Video’s a natural format for sharing, but not the only one — look at “The Simpsons Movie” campaign for personalized avatars as a counterfactual. I must have seen at least a dozen friends post their personalized Simpsons avatar to their blogs and so on. Really, I think at the end of the day it’s about the stickiness of the idea.
Bob Kodner: I think for us we have something that’s pretty visual, so we like to get it out there in a fun way … we know we’re not saving lives for a living, but I think people appreciate a service company that has a sense of humor and backs it up with proper execution.
Paul Kim: With that said, one of our first viral campaigns, FirefoxFlicks.com, was absolutely rooted in the ease of engagement people have with video. That was a terrifically successful campaign for us, generating multiple million views of community-generated commercials on YouTube, Revver and so on.
Melissa: Can anyone comment on the challenges of putting together a good viral campaign?
Scott Madlener: The biggest challenge is to get people to act. With the video postcards, the “hard” work of video authoring and content selection is done (the brand advocacy). Therefore, the “act” is getting people to record, forward or vote (the distribution).
Bob Kodner: I think making it genuine. Many people are cynical and tune out when they can tell something is too “commercial-y.” I think the key is to have fun with it and let people react without trying to outsmart the viewer.
Lance Callaghan: With us, our gamers are already a pretty passionate community — so it’s easier to get them to act … but harder to get them to act within the confines of what’s appropriate as marketing material. We have to
monitor/moderate all content.
Melissa: Can each of you offer a tip or best practice to our readers regarding viral marketing campaigns?
Scott Madlener: Viral campaigns are really part of word-of-mouth advertising. There are two major hurdles to overcome, broad distribution and, if I have not said it enough, brand advocacy. Most of the viral campaigns focus on the distribution with little or no advocacy. Distribution without advocacy is simply “buzz.” It’s not going to do much for the business. In order to generate business benefits, the advocacy component needs to be present and clear. My biggest tip is to remember to include an advocacy component.
Paul Kim: Scott makes a great point. Always understand what success looks like before embarking on a viral marketing campaign — what is your metric for success?
Lance Callaghan: Update challenges regularly — just like any content — to keep your “mob” coming back … and be sure to incentivize them adequately.
Paul Kim: Whether that is building brand awareness or driving, in our case, trial of Firefox, you absolutely have to have the end point in mind before rolling out the creative.
Bob Kodner: My advice would be to keep the message simple. We like to mercilessly beat people over the head with our “a dry crack is a happy crack” message. We don’t change it, it’s not subtle but it works for us so we stick with it.
Melissa: Thank you, everyone! We'll be running excerpts from this chat in our Jan./Feb. issue!