Mark Cameron Columnist

Mark is CEO and head strategist at Working Three, a strategic digital consultancy that specialises in commercialising social media activity. He works with some of Australia's, and the world's, largest and most innovative companies to create a clear picture of the new market forces, and business model disruption, being driven by social media.

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Talkin’ ‘bout a revolution: why conversations drive sales

Published 09 April 2013 10:53, Updated 11 April 2013 00:47

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Marketers who witnessed the success of the Old Spice video campaigns are familiar with the positive impact the “viral effect” can have on marketing outcomes. Two things are worth bearing in mind when considering such a campaign.

First, viral effects are not about the internet. Despite increasing time online, people still spend most of their time offline and most conversations are face to face. Viral content has to be something people actually want to talk about, whether over dinner or on Facebook.

Second, brands must focus on their objective – to turn existing customers into advocates. Whether you have thousands or just 10s of customers, if each one of them talks positively about your brand and attracts new customers then your business will grow. And fast.

So is there any way of creating this massive word-of-mouth spread? Research into this area has found that the viral content of successful campaigns shares attributes that are identifiable.

Author of The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference, Malcolm Gladwell, brought the idea of viral into the mainstream describing the conditions and processes that produced the rapid spread of ideas. “The tipping point is that magic moment when an idea, trend or social behaviour crosses a threshold, tips, and spreads like wildfire.” He identified how advocates can make a big difference, describing them as connectors (people who link people together), mavens (information specialists), and salesmen (persuaders). He also recognised the potentially ‘contagious’ impact of emotion.

Chip and Dan Heath focused on viral content in their 2007 book, Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die, which argued that sticky ideas and products are usually simple, surprising, trustworthy, solid in detail, and involve an emotional underpinning combined with a memorable story.

Marketing academic and author of Contagious, Jonah Berger, describes the “science of conversation” as what drives people to talk and share things. He found that positive (emotional) content tends to be shared more than negative content. But it’s more complex than that. Content creating a deep emotional response (such as awe or anger) is more viral than low arousal or deactivating content (sadness, or boredom). He identified six principles that can make things go viral:

1. Social currency – making people feel that they are cool insiders.

2. Triggers – everyday reminders of an item or idea.

3. Emotional resonance – making people want to share the experience with friends.

4. Observability – a highly visible item advertises itself.

5. Usefulness – people like to share practical facts.

6. Storytelling – embedding a product or an idea in a narrative enhances its power.

The message is to think less about advertising to drive sales and more about what drives conversations. Campaigns should be designed to encourage people to talk about ideas, not to “direct sell”. If done well, your brand will go along for the ride.It can be game-changing. Ask the Old Spice marketing team.

Mark Cameron is chief executive of digital strategy and social media agency Working Three.

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