The Business of the Brain on the Internet: Go Big on a Budget

Production values worthy of Hollywood, celebrity endorsements, sexy shoots in exotic places…the bigger the marketing budget, the better the buzz over your product, right?

Not really.

From Budweiser and Buick to Instant Pot and HelloFlo, the fundamentals of a viral marketing campaign remain the same.

First and foremost–now and forever–it’s all about them not you. “Them” in this case are the potential purchasers of your product. Keep them upmost in your mind at all times:

1. Who wants or needs your product or service? How does it solve a problem or make your target audience’s life better?

2. Where does your audience hang out? Are there particular websites, blogs, publications, or stores (online and/or brick and mortar) favored by your target buyers?

3. Are you fluent in your audience’s “language?” Will you reach them best with words, pictures, videos, or a combination of all three?

Now, about the money. A modest budget should not deter you from developing a kickass marketing campaign. Small businesses with solid products do it all the time.

Exhibit One is Instant Pot. Three months ago, I hadn’t heard of this product. But all of a sudden, it seems like I am seeing references everywhere. Everyone from foodies to the sling-this-hash-and-git-‘er-done crowd is snapping up Instant Pots like hot cakes. The product’s marketing campaign has gone viral without one red cent spent on TV or print advertising.

What made the marketing magic? The Canadian company that created the product gave away 200 Instant Pots to popular food bloggers and cookbook authors who specialize in a variety of cuisines. The product’s claim to fame is its versatile ability to solve a fundamental problem of modern life–how to get yummy, healthy meals on the table ASAP. The company claims that one Instant Pot can replace your slow cooker, pressure cooker, rice cooker, sauté/browning pan, steamer, yogurt maker, and stockpot–and cook food significantly faster than a regular slow cooker.

The rest is viral marketing history. Instant Pot now has a cult following among bloggers, authors, and their followers, (plus me!) complete with hundreds of recipes and tips traded fast and furiously among devoted online communities. Cooks see that their trusted sources recommend the product. Blogs give advice on how to make it work in real life. Voilà–not only does the purchase practically make itself, but product information is easy to pass along through cyberspace to uninitiated friends.

What does cultivating brand ambassadors and word of mouth on social media do for company sales? Instant Pot is currently the #1 Best Seller in Amazon’s Kitchen and Dining Department. People bought 215,000 Instant Pots on Amazon Prime Day alone. How did I come to purchase the product? Well… I just kept seeing it appear on friends’ Facebook feeds and the peer pressure got to be too much!

A second example of the power of small business viral marketing is HelloFlo. The company is an ecommerce source of menstrual products and other content and services for women at a variety of life stages. HelloFlo’s hilarious, viral videos (First Moon Party and Camp Gyno) prove that as long as you have the internet, you don’t need no stinkin’ TV ad–big budget or not. You can talk freely to your target audience and keep it real with content that would never fly on TV.

There’s nothing like an entertaining, relatable story line (or whatever tone works for your audience) to draw a crowd. HelloFlo’s videos have a combined 50+ million YouTube views. Their irreverent, snarky take on first periods have an obsessive following among tween and early teen girls.

When customers visit the company’s website blog, they find information about sexuality, mental health, legislation, and other hot topics in a frank, direct way that appeals to the broader demographics for HelloFlo’s complete product line.

Speaking of hot topics…bars and restaurants often try to generate buzz by naming dishes and drinks after celebrities or the headline du jour. Sometimes the offerings become classics–think oysters Rockefeller and peach melba. Sometimes they make a deliciously scandalous temporary splash.

In the case of Community diner in Bethesda, MD (a Washington, DC suburb), the eatery generated a buzz and landed an article in Washingtonian magazine showcasing the Golden Showers Burger. The dish capitalized on January’s controversy over reports of President Trump’s affinity for…well, the burger name says it all. It features self-tanning cheddar, a very small pickle, and lemonade. The buzz may be temporary, but it grabbed a headline for Community in one of DC’s best-read publications.

What’s the moral of these stories? You don’t have to hire a big-name PR firm or ad agency to launch a successful marketing campaign. You need to know your audience, where to find them, and how to speak their language. When a product has a relatable story–in whatever form that takes–it catches legs.

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