What You Can Learn About Marketing From an 'Icy' Phenomenon
How would you like to raise $168,000 in one week? All you need to do is create a phenomenon so compelling and appealing the market takes notice.
Here’s why I mention this. You’ve probably seen a friend or two dump a bucket of ice water over their heads in the last week to raise money for ALS, a.k.a. Lou Gehrig’s Disease. This was all the idea of Pete Frates, a former Boston College baseball player who at age 29 developed ALS.
He wanted to get people laughing, get people talking and get their attention to bring awareness to the cause. The phenomenon started sweeping Boston and New England, went viral on social media and spread across the country and now it’s spreading across the globe.
ALS Association President Barbara Newhouse told WBZ News Radio the ice bucket challenge has raised $168,000 online nationally this past week. Last year during the same week donations totaled $14,000. According to Newhouse, the $168,000 will grow when the donations received by local chapters across the country are added in to the national office’s total.
How do we know it’s a phenomenon? Besides the monetary proof, can you recall a time when ALS has ever been talked about this much publicly? Probably not since Lou Gehrig’s famous “Luckiest Man” speech when he shared his diagnosis with Yankee Stadium on July 4, 1939. That’s way before the Internet and certainly before televisions were in every household. Today, professional sports teams, musicians, media personalities and celebrities are getting involved. So am I.
This week we will see another phenomenon in Shark Week. Several other recent ones are 50 Shades of Grey, Harry Potter and World Cup soccer. Perhaps the longest, strongest and most lucrative one has been the “Be Like Mike” phenomenon of kids (and adults) wanting to be just like former NBA star Michael Jordan. It started in the early '80s and the staying power of kids “needing” Air Jordan sneakers has yet to fade. New York Yankee Derek Jeter, a celebrity in his own right, even wears Jordans.
How does it happen and what becomes a phenomenon? In today’s landscape a phenomenon usually makes its mark by “going viral.” Most phenomena are entertaining and useful content, causes, products or services that get shared on social media and replicates via a chain reaction.
How can you create one? Contrary to what many may think, we don’t actually create a phenomenon ourselves. The market creates the phenomenon. You just create something so compelling that your audience’s response is what creates the phenomenon.
Wondering if your cause, product or service is phenomenon worthy? The market never lies. It will tell you exactly what the value is that you are putting out into the world. The market leaves you clues 365 days a year.
There are two ways of measuring your offer: self-appraisal and market value. One is accurate and the other isn’t. If what you’ve already put out into the market hasn’t created a phenomenon, the market is just telling you that what you’re putting out there doesn’t hold enough value yet. There is an outside chance that you have something incredibly valuable to offer the world and you just need more people to know about you.
More often than not it is the former. The market is telling you something, it’s letting you know what you’ve produced just doesn’t quite have enough “juice” and you need to be better.
Here’s how you can create a phenomenon such as the ice bucket challenge:
P.A.C.E.S. -- the secret sauce of a phenomenon. A phenomenon needs to be positive, authentic, compelling, entertaining and simple.
Positive. People like things that put a smile on their face or make them feel good about themselves and their loved ones. (It’s why advertisers use puppies and babies in commercials.) Who doesn’t enjoy laughing with a friend dumping ice on themselves.
Authentic. It's critical because only when we’re authentic do we have an opportunity to show people we are real and relatable. Much of our population is too young to remember Lou Gehrig even if the disease bears his name.
Pete Frates put a fresh face on the cause and is championing it. He’s 29 years old, married and he and his wife Julie have a baby on the way. Reality TV shows such as Undercover Boss, Duck Dynasty and Extreme Home Makeovers are so popular because some of it is actually authentic.
Compelling. If something is compelling, it tugs at your heartstrings and moves you emotionally. Compelling is important because we aren’t rational beings, we are emotional beings. We tend to use our emotions to guide our decisions.
Don’t believe me? Ever pay too much for something you didn’t need but “had to have?” I think we both know the answer to that. If it’s compelling people will share it. Think about why and when we tend to share things. We tend to share because we care.
Entertaining/engaging. Our society values entertainment and we want to get behind causes that are participatory and fun. If you can first entertain your audience you will then be in a position to keep them engaged and educate them. The ice bucket challenge is public, participatory and allows people to utilize their creativity and freedom of expression. Two things we love in the U.S.
Simple. If it’s confusing to understand or takes a long time to explain, you’ve lost the audience and you’ll be ignored. Simple is powerful, share it in a way that whether the person is 8 or 80 they can “get it.” Case in point, I’ve seen my friend’s 8-year-old daughter dump an ice bucket over her head as well as a few grandparents do the same and post on Facebook.
If you ever do create a phenomenon, the market will reward you, your cause or your brand. It will compensate you with money, love, recognition and repute.
How do you know when you’ve created a phenomenon? Beyond going viral and reaping the aforementioned rewards, you know it when people start using your brand name as a verb. "Please Xerox 20 copies of that memo,” or “Pass me a Kleenex.”