Myths Busted: Why Viral Marketing Is Useless for Influencing Buying Decision

Written by Irakli Beselidze - March 26, 2015

Almost every marketer has a dream to launch a marketing campaign or create a marketing message that becomes viral. But what does the buzz word “viral marketing” really mean and is it as efficient as everyone states?

Viral marketing is a marketing strategy that spreads a message about the product persuading internet users to share information with friends generating word-of-mouth publicity.

Overall, there are two approaches to viral marketing.

1. Influencing the media scene.

Objective: getting as many views or visits to a particular site as possible.

This approach is used by traditional marketers who evaluate the efficiency of their campaign by the number of contacts with a target audience and the number of product/company mentions in media.

Traditional advertising is based on the following scheme:

A creative idea + budget for its promotion = traditional advertising

As a rule, the media budget size is the main factor that influences the efficiency of target audience reach by a commercial. The more budget you have, the more people you can reach to communicate your message.

The concept of viral advertising has appeared just after the appearance of social media where the communication is based on people’s wish to share information with others. It implies the creation of adverts that deliver some value to a target audience, and their further free sharing by the target audience. Sounds great, isn’t it? Especially when you think about the money you can save on media promotion. But the question is how to create a message that will be spread by people. And even if you manage to create a viral message, what marketing problems can you solve with its help?

Oftentimes marketers focus on virality (i.e. on a number of views) and absolutely forget about the necessity to complete some real tasks. But it’s necessary to keep real objectives in mind as creating and promoting great viral content cost a lot, and the risk of failure is quite high. Is it worth the trouble?

Let’s  look at the Volvo Trucks viral video where Jean Claude Van Damme was filmed. Over 72 mln people watched a video on YouTube during the first 6 months after it had been shot. It seems to be a great result confirmed by many industrial awards. Everyone was happy. But let’s look a bit deeper and try to understand if this campaign made any influence on real Volvo trucks buyers.

As you know, the Volvo Trucks company produces more than 100,000 units annually. The majority of buyers are corporate clients – transportation companies that make a buying decision based on calculating aftersales cost-benefit ratio.

I think the influence of this video is not that great as it seems. That’s why I see no reason to perceive this video as the one assuring people to buy Volvo trucks.

It’s doubtful that the Volvo’s marketing department intended to boost sales thanks to Van Damme’s stunt trick. Probably they aimed at raising brand awareness and interest in a new model and a world’s first innovative system Volvo Dynamic Steering. According to the data provided in Google Trends, the level of interest in Vovlo trucks raised by 200% after the video appeared, and the level of interest in Van Damme – by 5 times for the same period. Once again this proves that while using some famous person in advertising, you're promoting the celebrity much more than the product of your company. By the way, the highest interest in the video was from November, 17 till November, 23 (the video was uploaded to Youtube on November, 13), and starting from the middle of December the figures rolled back.

The level of interest in Volvo Trucks

The level of interest in Volvo Trucks vs. Jean-Claude Van Damme

2. Making people try a new service or a product.

Objective: increasing the number of users.

The second approach to viral marketing is more specific and implies the user taking some action to become a part of a viral campaign. E.g., he/she should subscribe to using some service.

One of the greatest examples of using the Internet’s viral potential in terms of applying different online tools is the Kwaga company, the developer of the Evercontact application. Evercontact is an online service automatically updating your contacts in the Gmail address book. It’s really convenient as you don’t need to copy and manually put the necessary information into the fields, and in case someone calls you, the app automatically identifies those contacts you have already communicated with via e-mail.

After the registration customers can use a premium package (that actually costs $35 per year) for free but in return they need to play the game and collect points. 2 points are given for posts in Facebook, Twitter, G+ and LinkedIn, 3 points – for leaving a feedback on Google Apps and participating in a research, and 10 points – for inviting a friend via e-mail, mentioning a service on your blog and adding a service’s link at the end of the e-mail you send somebody.

According to Brad Patterson, the community manager of Evercontact, this program helps to significantly increase the number of users. For example, Evercontact ranks #5 (out of 400 applications) by the number of feedbacks left on Google Play. Though only 1 out of 10 users takes part in the program and brings approximately 5 new clients, the Evercontact application has managed to attract 10,000 new users only thanks to the viral marketing!

It’s clear that an active involvement of current clients into the company’s marketing is a difficult task but its efficiency can be evaluated by real results while short-term influences on the media scene (like in case of Volvo) are rather brand-building. 56 mln views for 2 weeks can impress only average users but not those thinking about a truck purchase (especially considering the fact that there are just around 30,000 truck prospects in the world). So, it means that during the first 2 weeks there were 2,000 irrelevant viewers per each decision maker.

Do you think viral advertising can influence the buying decision? We’ll be happy to discuss this in the comments below.


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