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Viral marketing is dead. Maybe a better way to phrase it is that viral marketing is being replaced. Every brand wants to be the center of water cooler talk on Monday morning. Traditionally marketers have focused on “going viral” in an attempt to achieve that level of popularity, but the challenge with this strategy is its fleeting nature. One minute ALS Ice Bucket Challenge is breaking the internet, the next it’s old news. Virality isn’t sustainable and has very little long-term effect.
Many companies are starting to shift their approach, focusing on word-of-mouth marketing rather than virality. The end goal is ultimately one in the same -- create content that gets fans talking -- but the key difference is the long-term result. Virality is a short-lived moment that’s achieved by creating a catchy idea or gimmick and introducing it at the right time and in the right place. Word of mouth, on the other hand, is about creating content that is topical, sharable and adds value at any point in time. It’s a balance of art meets science that, once achieved, can be easily reproduced. Viral marketing is much harder to recreate, as it’s a mix of timing and luck that rarely provides long term value or relevance for the audience.
Marketers don’t create viral moments; they create activities, events and programs. If you trace a social story you will see what pushes it to a viral level is what’s happening offline as much as what’s happening online. Sharable content is what starts the conversation and the fans increase its popularity through word of mouth. One could argue that word of mouth is the step before virality.
An example of successfully executed word of mouth marketing is the Dove Campaign for Real Beauty. This campaign has spanned almost 11 years and continued to be popular and successful. So how’d they do it? Based on a study of women’s priorities and interests, the Dove team discovered that few women would describe themselves as beautiful. The brand decided to start a conversation about beauty that would encourage women to love and accept themselves. The stories of women in all shapes and sizes are sharable and relatable content. The campaign has been easy to recreate because it is timelessly relevant to audiences and continues to add positive value. By inserting itself into the conversation about beauty, Dove increased both sales and women’s confidence worldwide.
True virality is rare, but one thing that these unique moments have in common is sharability. Companies must shift their focus from making things go viral to creating discussion and content that’s worth sharing, because that’s what virality is. So the fleeting nature of virality is dead and it’s being replaced with sharable, valuable content. When marketers approach their digital strategy with this new mindset they may achieve viral popularity, but if not at least engaging content that adds value for their brand is created along the way.