The Viral Component in Online Creative

You’ve developed a great online campaign, a well-integrated system of executions that play on individual strengths and touch the consumer in a relevant way. You’ve gone to the next step and created a beautiful dynamic landing page that generates custom content based on user interaction, thereby creating an engaging and informative user experience.

Then what?

After all that hard work finding your target market in online media and crafting a robust user experience, wouldn’t it be a waste to just let the user go? After all, people with similar interests are often friends. Here’s where the viral-marketing potential of an online campaign can be realized.

In my previous article, I spoke about how the user experience is kind of like a funnel, the media being the open end and the narrow part being where the key user action/conversion is located. At the end of the funnel is the “tell a friend” component where you can entice the consumer into telling others who might be interested in this kind of interaction.

Viral marketing works best when the key consumer interaction has a relatively broad appeal to the target market. Sticky apps, site tools, games, engaging narratives, and special offers are good examples of viral content that fosters consumer interaction.

Quite often this means taking rich media beyond the banner into the landing page or mini-site, where the user who doesn’t necessarily come from a banner can participate in the key action/offer (for instance, a game that engages the user while communicating the brand essence or a special offer in a dynamic landing page).

Since email is the primary method in which viral marketing is spread online, it’s ideal to have your brand missionaries send a message that allows their “friends” to interact with the viral content in the email (that is, rich media/HTML email). This allows the new user the benefits of a carefully crafted user experience in their email without having to surf the web.

As always with rich media, a low-tech backup should also be created, so users who have clients with less-sophisticated email can still appreciate the viral content by linking to it.

By tapping into the email lists of converted consumers, online advertisers can make advertising dollars go further, engaging people who may not have seen the banner campaign. While this may seem to be a universal tool in any online campaign, it’s critical that you do a serious reality check before adding a viral component.

Recent studies indicate the response rate of email marketing is dropping considerably just as banner click-through rates have fallen. Email marketing is most effective when you have something particularly entertaining, relevant, or useful for consumers to make them want to tell their friends.

I have a theory about why so many online campaigns have tanked recently. The novelty has worn off, and online media is saturated with “click to win” campaigns. Advertisers, in general, and interactive agencies, in particular, have mercilessly flogged every half-effective tactic to get traffic. This worked well enough initially, but now consumers are just as weary of online advertisers as they are of offline advertisers.

All is not lost, however. By taking online advertising to a higher level offering a balance of emotional and intellectual interaction it is still possible to engage consumers. If you do this, and do it well, these consumers just might get the word out to all their friends.