Spreading the message: the art of arousal

We recently gave a talk on an integrated social/experiential campaign we helped create for Deloitte and part of our presentation delved into the reasons why people share things online. Our prep work threw up some interesting things which will no doubt prove very useful for employers looking to maximise the “shareability” of their marketing approaches this year.

A useful resource was Jonah Berger, who has been doing some noteworthy work at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania on word-of-mouth and online virality.

Berger’s research sheds some light on the principles underlying why we share things (both online and offline). In his paper What Makes Online Content Go Viral?, he highlights two key factors that affect what we share:

  1. Positive content is more viral than negative content
  2. Content that evokes high-arousal emotions, whether positive (awe), or negative (anger or anxiety), is more viral. Content that evokes low-arousal emotions (e.g., sadness) is less viral.

Berger highlights why this has important implications for marketers and the way in which they engage with their audience:

“People’s behavior is heavily influenced by what others say and do. [If] you are a company trying to get people to talk more about your brand… these results provide insight into how to design more effective messages and communication strategies.”

Perhaps this helps to explain the success of the recent Deloitte graduate campaign. We gave students something (a caricature) which was quirky, humorous and personal to them. The long queues at each campus event and the level of facebook engagement afterwards suggest that we successfully evoked some of these ‘high-arousal’ emotions, and these feelings primed them to share their experience with their friends.

Students are a key target demographic for consumer brands and employers alike. They are co-located (typically 10,000-15,000 at a single university) and highly-connected in terms of both face-to-face interaction and social media.

This means that well-planned integrated campaigns designed with the right behavioural triggers have a good chance of spreading quickly and widely. If your message is compelling – and your idea well-planned and well-executed – your audience will pick it up and run with it. And through this process of amplification you can dramatically ramp up your ROI.

Developing marketing strategies that really connect with students is difficult. We help firms to do so by giving them a better understanding of what really influences their audience’s behaviour. Applying this kind of thinking at the development phase of your marketing planning can be the difference between a good campaign and a remarkable and award-winning campaign.

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