Viral marketing is a daring strategy that can yield extremely potent results for a company that produces something revolutionary. As a serial entrepreneur, I’ve had success with viral marketing, and have faced the challenges that it can bring.
How We Went Viral
Back in Fall 2014 our team had discovered an interesting new product in China and at this point in time no one was really even sure what to call the device. When we initially brought some units back from China into the United States it was apparent early on that this device was going to be a hit as people’s jaws dropped when they would see us riding one.
Initially we planned on selling the units wholesale to various larger retail stores throughout 2015 and especially for the holiday season. We were under the expectations that we would be one of a handful of other companies re-selling this device since we were lucky enough to discover it very early on. But our strategy changed rather quickly once we started to see the mass appeal of the product for celebrities.
During the course of 2015, there was one product, the Hoverboard, that captivated the entire world on a daily basis. This once innocent (eventually notorious) two wheeled device was appearing in every media publication, news outlet, and government press release for all sorts of positive and negative reasons. One of the initial massive forums where the viral success of the Hoverboard can be attributed to was The Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon.
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The Tonight Show has always been famous for its curtain call introductions, which introduces the special guests featured on each episode while they are standing behind the massive blue curtain while the live band plays the different jingles and tunes as the crowd gets hyped for the celebrity to appear. In May 2015, one of these curtain call introductions was just a little more special than the standard “wave hello to the audience and sit in your seat next to Jimmy Fallon.”
Many of you probably know who Jamie Foxx is and, let’s be honest, that guy has always known how to make a grand entrance. In his most recent appearance on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, his curtain call introduction was epic. In front of a crowd full of America’s finest Marines, Jamie rode onto the stage on a Hoverboard. At the time of the show in early spring 2015, no one in the audience (including Jimmy) even knew what the hell a Hoverboard even was or even seen one before.
First it was Jimmy asking Jamie,
“Hey Jamie what are you doing, and what the hell is that?”
That was then was followed by Jamie name dropping our company on national television. Finally, Jimmy went ahead and got on the Hoverboard and tried it out for himself!
Millions of people around the world saw the skit that night and plenty of other celebrities did as well. The following morning our email inboxes were stuffed and phone lines were ringing off the hook. Hundreds of customers and more big name celebrities were reaching out to our company asking to promote our product similarly to what Jamie Foxx did.
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Seeing this kind of demand, direct outreach, and real desperation for our product proved to our team two things.
- Our viral marketing strategy was working.
- Continuing to work with Hollywood celebrities was the right path to continue down.
When people like Chris Brown, Justin Bieber, Wiz Khalifa started asking for our product, we decided to give them one for free. We did this in exchange for their support and promotion across all their major social media channels so that our brand name could continue to lead the Hoverboard market forward. We knew that competitors wanted our market share, so keeping our brand name relevant was a must.
This worked out brilliantly for us. Soon, these new celebrities along with at least 30 others were regularly promoting or product and, specifically, our brand. All of a sudden we were just two months in from our launch and we had already eclipsed 7 figures in sales, had all the major mass media publications reaching out to us for a story, and had powerhouse programs like Shark Tank asking us to apply for their show with our product. Even Kendall Jenner, who has been widely successful by promoting brands, used our Hoverboard on her Instagram video.
With all this promotion we felt like we were on top of the startup world. We had viral marketing buzz, tens of thousands in daily sales, and A-list celebrity endorsements. What could wrong?
Well, shortly after our viral launch we started to notice some other competitor Hoverboard companies sporadically popping up on the web. Recognizing this, but understanding that we had to stay focused on our own viral company, we decided to continue moving as quickly as we could in order to stay ahead of the competition. As a result we continued to work with A-list celebrities who could generate maximum exposure for us.
Going Viral Has Its Drawbacks…
Going full steam ahead with this strategy turned out to be one of the first major mistakes we could’ve made. We started noticing very quickly that this maximum exposure was creating massive catch 22s for our business. It also resulted in serious and complex problems arising for the industry as a whole to have to solve, but yet had no real control in actually solving.
Viral marketing made us, and our great success can be attributed to it. But, we learned that it wasn’t necessarily the correct strategy for sustained growth. If you believe that viral marketing may be the correct strategy for your business, knowing the positives and negatives of the strategy are critical. Use it for as long as it is reasonable to do so, then shift your marketing priorities towards long-term and sustained growth.