How to Go Viral: Tips to Build Online Buzz For Your Retail Products

How to Go Viral: Tips to Build Online Buzz For Your Retail Products

How to go viral | Shopify Retail blogWhether your retail business is looking to grow or just starting out, every business can benefit from the popularity and sales spike of a viral product. But what can a retailer do to achieve that kind of buzz for one of their products or services? And the big question: how to go viral at all?

Sometimes it’s nearly impossible to predict what will go viral, but there are some things you can do to help your product reach must-have, viral status with your audience. Before you decide to invest the time and effort into trying to make a product explode online, make sure that the product you’re promoting is worth the effort. When something becomes popular, it inevitably comes under more scrutiny, so quality is key. 

And while not having enough supply to meet the demand is a nice problem to have, make sure you have your manufacturing and distribution channels set up and ready to work for you. The Forbes article “What Happens When Your Product Goes Viral Right Before The Holidays?” focuses on Nervous System and how they dealt with the seemingly overnight surge in popularity of their Infinite Galaxy Puzzles just before the holidays. This unexpected viral hit resulted in a huge increase in orders, longer-than-usual shipping times, and having to hire new employees to meet demand.

Nervous System co-founder stated, “The question of whether or not we even want to grow our business is something that we always struggle with.” The moral of the story being — if you know you’re making a great product and see the potential for it to become a viral success be prepared for the hard work that follows.

Now, let’s take a look at some things that you can do to make your retail product go viral.

How to Go Viral: What Does it All Mean?

The relative “virality” of a piece of content or product is highly ambiguous in definition and is hotly contested. Beyond the ubiquitous cat videos and strange products that pick up viewership steam on the Internet, what does it truly mean to go “viral”?

Luckily, there are some tangible tips on how to go viral. AdWeek asserts that when you cut through the buzzword quality of virality, each piece of popularized content tends to meet certain basic criteria. These minimum qualifications, in their minds, include:

  • Viewership: For videos especially, this seems to be a key metric to judge the popularity of content. While some say the cutoff is 1 million views to achieve virality, others argue it’s closer to the realm of 5 million.
  • Buzz: It’s not enough to simply get views — your content or product should get extensive coverage on popular blogs, sites like Reddit, Tweets, and Facebook posts.
  • Parody: When strangers begin to spoof, parody, remix, and recut your content or product, you know you’ve achieved viral status.
  • Longevity: While many memes are simply a flash in the pan, true viral content stay stuck in viewers’ memories long after the initial buzz dies down. Whether it’s the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge or Drake’s Views, these kinds of viral content have staying power.

So, now that you have a better idea of what constitutes virality, how do retail brands achieve this level of buzz for their products? Let’s take a closer look at some tips that can help you take your product popularity to the next level.

Timing is Everything

To start, you’ll need to plan when your product will hit the market and when your marketing campaign will run. Timing is crucial when it comes to how to go viral. For more on launching a new product, check out our Mentor Lesson from Tim Ferriss on Launching a Product. For the purposes of creating a lot of buzz, you’ll want to center your launch around a relevant event. For example, launching a holiday item a few weeks or months before Christmas, rolling out a clothing item in time for the appropriate season, or launching a product in time for a relevant event — like a concert or local festival.

If your product doesn’t naturally tie to a specific event or date, then make one for it. Centralize your marketing campaign around the big launch date — give the date a product-centric name and make sure it’s hitting shelves or online everywhere on the same day. This single message helps customers remember the day, builds a sense of urgency to be an early adopter, and increases the chances of your first wave of inventory selling out.

Next, you’ll want to build anticipation for your launch through paid and organic marketing. If you anticipate your product going viral, put the majority of your paid marketing behind building anticipation before the launch and let the organic, social buzz take over from there.

Offer Something Unique

It’s not enough to simply offer the same products as everyone else in your market.

You can capitalize on the power of differentiation by offering a product that is distinct from your competitors.

For example, during the height of the Pokémon GO craze in the summer of 2016, a couple of online entrepreneurs created a Pokeball power bank to help players keep their phones charged while playing. The creators not only created something unique, but they also capitalized on a current trend — and their bet paid off.

The product went viral and the team sold thousands of power banks to fans.

Promote Sharing

Often the key to viral success is sharing on social media platforms. There are a lot of ways to encourage social sharing, including running a contest where entrants must follow your account and share the contest information with their followers. For more on running an online contest, check out our post Retail Giveaways: How to Create an Engaging Online Contest That Converts.

Other ways to encourage your followers to share your product is to create content that makes people laugh, create visually engaging content that people are more likely to summarize and share (i.e. infographics and lists), and ensure that your content is topical and current (i.e. relevant to an upcoming holiday or news event.

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Social sharing is a major component —and many retailers are stumped on how to go viral with organic social media reach. When it comes to organic sharing, people tend to share content that connects with them. In the Entrepreneur article “The Secrets of What Makes a Product Go Viral,” the importance of connecting with your audience and telling a story is stressed: “If people are going to share your product, they need to be able to tell its story. That can be as simple as a clear statement about what the product does, or as complicated as a really interesting origin story. For example, people who buy TOMS shoes love telling others how one pair is donated for every pair you buy.” 

How to go viral: TOMS shoes | Shopify Retail blog

Image Credit: TOMS

Make an Emotional Connection

Not only are people more likely to share something that they connect with on an emotional level, but they’re more likely to develop brand loyalty and recommend your product to a friend. Plus, eliciting an emotional response to your product is a great way to make consumers feel good about using the item.  

In the article “5 Secrets to Making Your Startup Go Viral,” Entrepreneur highlights Coca-Cola and the emotional relationship that the brand has forged with their consumers. From their nostalgic Christmas campaigns, to the Share a Coke marketing campaign where the brand printed thousands of names on the products — the brand is a master at pulling at the heartstrings and creating content that people love to share.

When building this connection with your audience try to create content that really connects. People build real relationships with brands that they can trust, that appear authentic and have a defined brand identity. Consumers also identity with brands that make them feel nostalgic — brands like Coca-Cola have had great success with nostalgic content that reminds people of another time or their childhood.

How to go viral: Share a Coke campaign | Shopify Retail blog

Image Credit: Coca-Cola Share a Coke

Build a Brand Through Virality

Sometimes a product goes viral, and sometimes it’s the brand that reaches new heights. In the aforementioned Entrepreneur article, the magazine takes a look at GoPro — the brand and product that encourages creating envious content and sharing it with the world. About GoPro’s viral status, Entrepreneur explains, “The technology is impressive, but GoPro’s transformation into a viral product is more a result of its action-packed online videos and in-store displays. The firm’s marketing doesn’t boast about product specs or features, instead they show actual users' experiences.”

If your product doesn’t encourage this kind of sharing, there’s still a lot you can do to make your brand worth talking about. Customers naturally talk about the brands that let them down, and the brands that they love. Exceptional customer service, standing behind your product no matter what, being involved in your community, and being an excellent employer are all great ways to get people talking about your brand. And this popularity can be transferred to an increase in product sales. Think of a brand like Dove and their Campaign for Real Beauty — a powerful movement to redefine natural beauty. The aforementioned Entrepreneur examines how this can help your brand and product go viral. 

“It’s something anyone can get behind even if they don’t buy Dove products. Having been watched by more than 18 million people, the video has built brand advocacy for Dove as a different way of thinking about beauty.”

How to go viral: Dove Real Beauty campaign | Shopify Retail blog

Image Credit: Dove Facebook Page

Part of the challenge of building a viral-friendly brand is knowing your customers. If a retailer isn’t intimately familiar with their target audience, it’s difficult to appeal to their interests and encourage them to share your product and/or content. One way to get to the heart of your audience is to dive deep with buyer personas.

How Will You Help Your Brand Go Viral?

While it’s hard to predict what will be become viral in any industry, hopefully you’ve learnt some helpful marketing tools here to promote your retail product and propel it to viral status.

Have you had success launching a product that went viral? What do you attribute the success to and were you prepared to fulfill orders on such a large scale in a short timeframe? Tell us about it in the comments section.

Photo of Lauren Ufford

About the Author

Lauren Ufford is a writer and editor with expertise in retail, ecommerce, and tech. Originally from the West Coast, Lauren spends her free time exploring Toronto with her two comically large dogs.

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