Will You Be the Next Grumpy Cat or Gangnam Style? 3 Keys to Creating Viral Marketing Content

Thought leader Jonah Berger shares his best strategies for how to create wildly popular online content.

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By Jason Fell

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In the digital marketing world, "going viral" can literally be gold for businesses. But not every video, article or meme that's created is engaging enough to be shared by millions.

Does your startup's product or service have enough cache to be the next Grumpy Cat or Old Spice Guy? It can, if you create content around it that people feel compelled to share, says Jonah Berger, an associate professor of marketing at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. Berger spoke yesterday at the first in a series of interactive and educational events happening this year at Major League Baseball's New York City event space the MLB Fan Cave.

"It's not about luck and chance," Berger said. "There's a formula behind why people share."

In his talk, Berger shared insight and examples from his book, Contagious: Why Things Catch On (Simon & Schuster, 2013), about why things go viral online. Here are Berger's three strategies for business owners to make their marketing content more viral:

Related: How to Harness the Power of Internet Memes for Your Business (Infographic)

1. Use word-of-mouth to your advantage.
Viral content needs to get people talking. Of course, there are a number of reasons people talk about and share things online. One way, Berger said, is to come up with something that makes people "look cool, smart and in-the-know."

One example is LinkedIn's recent marketing campaign, which alerted users that their pages were either among the site's top 1 percent or 5 percent most-viewed profiles. Not only did this make its users feel special, Berger said, but thousands of people shared their "elite status" over social media sites like Facebook and Twitter -- giving LinkedIn tons of free advertising.

Another way is to do something outrageous people haven't seen before. Berger talked about Orem, Utah-based blender manufacturer Blendtec, which launched a marketing campaign on YouTube called "Will It Blend." In each video, founder and former chief executive Tom Dickson put a random item into a blender to find out if it would blend. In one video, Dickson dropped an iPhone into a Blendtec blender, reducing the smartphone to dust.

To date, the YouTube clip has nearly 12 million views. "Most people could care less about blenders," Berger said. "Yet this video got people talking" and spurred sales to increase 700 percent, he said.

Related: What Makes Your Video Shareable -- And Viral

2. Associate your brand with a popular, common 'trigger.'
If you've owned an internet-connected device over the last couple of years then you've likely seen or at least heard about singer Rebecca Black's viral music video, "Friday." Despite its perceived lack of musical merit, people all over the world watched and shared what's been called the "worst video ever made," driving the YouTube video to more than 54 million views to date. But since its explosive debut in 2011, Berger noted that traffic to the video continues to spike -- on Fridays.

"This song is equally bad every day of the week," Berger said. "But Friday is a reminder, a trigger … If something is top of mind, it is tip of tongue."

An example of a brand that tapped into the marketing power of a trigger is The Hershey Company. It created a campaign linking its Kit Kat chocolate bar with coffee. Coffee can work as a trigger, Berger said, because people drink it frequently. "If you're going to pick something to link your brand to, make sure it's something people do frequently," he said.

3. Tell a compelling story.
No one wants to listen to -- nor will they remember -- the moral of a story if you don't tell the story first, Berger said. In business, you need to deliver marketing messages in the form of an engaging, memorable story that people will want to share.

Berger talked about the sandwich franchise Subway and its story of Jared, a man who lost hundreds of pounds eating Subway sandwiches. The story was so inspiring that it was shared and talked about all over the world.

In sharing Jared's story, Subway was able to spread its marketing message that the company has a variety of healthy food options. Without it, the marketing message would have fallen on deaf ears, Berger said.

Related: Creating Viral Tweets for Your Business

Jason Fell

VP, Native Content

Jason Fell is the VP of Native Content, managing the Entrepreneur Partner Studio, which creates dynamic and compelling content for our partners. He previously served as Entrepreneur.com's managing editor and as the technology editor prior to that.

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