Adding Vitality to Viral: How to Better Manage Your Message in Word-of-Mouth

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When it comes to viral marketing, there’s an assumption out there that’s dangerously close to becoming conventional wisdom. It’s the notion that marketers must be prepared to “relinquish control of their message” in a viral campaign.

It’s a blanket assumption, painted with a really broad, confident brushstroke. So I wanted to take this opportunity to explain why paying careful attention to managing your message — and finding out exactly which message resonates in an instant, scaleable, and repeatable way — is a far more effective strategy for driving viral success than relinquishing control over your brand.

Let’s talk about health
Whether you’re trying to get consumers to buy your product or change their health-related behaviors, you’ll face the major challenges inherent to all strategic viral marketing programs.

First, you need to learn how to balance the tension that exists between “virality,” (the rapid distribution of your message through social networks) and “monetization” (shaping consumer behavior to achieve your marketing goal).

Second, you’ll want to understand how message “framing” can impact your results. Framing describes the way you position a message within a given context — its “frame” — and is critical to maintaining control over your message as it moves out through the viral space.

Combining these disciplines gives the marketer far greater control in crafting an effective viral campaign than one might expect. Ultimately, this reduces the need for consumers to recraft your message to meet their own perceived needs. The results dramatically improve viral distribution and help you create a campaign that delivers real marketing results.

Technique #1: Balance the tension between virality and monetization
In many word-of-mouth programs, the objective is on creating widespread awareness about an offer, a product, a service, or an issue. As in awareness-building or “buzz” campaigns, this is an emphasis on rapid distribution, or virality. But general awareness isn’t enough to meet real goals unless people follow up with action, or monetization. “Snakes on a Plane” was long on buzz, but its box-office receipts failed to meet expectations.

Notice how virality and monetization are divergent? Getting people talking about a disease is one thing; getting them into the doctor’s office is another. All marketers who run viral marketing campaigns face the same dilemma. Emphasizing monetization will cut down on virality, limiting distribution. This requires more “seeding” media to get non-viral participants into the viral process. In contrast, emphasizing virality can mean you don’t affect behavior across your audience in the optimal way. Virality for its own sake may have some brand value, but it rarely meets a strategic marketing objective.

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