From the dawn of time, man has felt the need to express his feelings by means of communication. Millenniums ago, cavemen shared stories around the fire. But as man evolved, so did his methods of thinking and responding to his society. Now, as marketers face an audience craving viral information, they too must adapt. Conquest Research & Consultancy Ltd., a brand and product research agency, is hoping to help marketing departments with this dilemma. In its study "Contagion: Making Sense of a Marketing Epidemic," Conquest investigated the nature of viral information using InfeXious, a viral marketing research tool developed by the company.
According to David Penn, the study's team leader, the human brain has always been home to an impulse to participate in social contagion. "The neurological potential has been there for a long time. People's desire to spread information is almost insatiable," says Penn. As media and technology have changed, so too have the methods of sharing information.
This, of course, has special meaning for marketing and PR professionals in search of their Holy Grail: a video or campaign that goes truly viral. "I think [InfeXious] is able to help predict which ideas are most likely to spread. We can either go back to marketers and tell them they have huge potential or we can track ideas through their lifetime and see how they become more and more contagious," said Penn.
As social sites such as Facebook, Twitter, or Digg have proliferated across the web, the stakes for the advertising community have also risen. "Marketers who have done things successfully for the past 25 years or so now need to change their approach and have integrated these [social] technologies to align with consumer behavior," says Steve Goldner, the director of social media at Hachette Filipacchi Media.
To conduct the Conquest study, Penn says, the team worked with InfeXious, which he says is "a way of measuring how people feel about new ideas." The tool was launched at The Advertising Research Foundation's annual convention, Re:think 2010, in New York on March 22 and at the MRS conference, Research 2010, in London on March 23. Using InfeXious-which measured several campaigns based on buzz, numinosity, belonging, energy, momentum, and excitement-Penn and his team investigated highly contagious campaigns in a two-phase program to better understand viral strategies, and they concentrated on what marketing designs might work in the future.
Most contagious advertising has one common denominator, he says. It attempts to involve the consumer through empathy and inspiration. When trying to go viral, according to Penn, people should keep one thing in mind: "If you can prompt the appropriate emotional reaction, you stand a very good chance of going viral."
According to the report: "Unsurprisingly, empathy is another highly important dimension-conceptually linked to belonging and the ability of some ideas to recruit people and connect with them. Contagion is essentially a social process predicated on human empathy and, without it, it appears that ideas may fail to connect and fulfill their contagious potential."
Using viral YouTube videos as an example, Goldner described key elements of contagion. "The best formula for going viral is to be yourself," he says. "Don't contrive something but focus on what you want to communicate-something that is engaging, meaningful, or of true differentiated value to a specific target audience. Be creative then assess the best outlet channels for your content or information to travel."
To keep up, Goldner emphasized that marketers must recognize the new power held by the consumer. "Brands can no longer rest on just putting their position out there. Successful brands [understand] the target audience and appeal to them in a very deep way to figure out how to meet the needs of their target market," says Goldner.