Viral marketing campaigns using STEPPS model

Viral Marketing campaign

What makes content viral? In a society where blogs, images, tweets and videos have the potential to be global worldwide phenomena reaching and engaging audiences in minutes we look at what contributes to them becoming viral and it’s usefulness in digital marketing. 

The holy grail of successful content marketing campaign is that the content resonates with your buyer personas. Once your buyer persona engage with your content and start sharing it on your behalf the content becomes viral. One of the common challenges for students on the MSc Digitial Marketing is to see how different types of content resonate with buyer persona. Therefore it is alwyas a process of testing and learning which is needed for developing a successfull digitla marketing strategy.

When looking at virility of content and in particular when it comes to evaluating videos, a number of different models are available including the Berger’s (2013) STEPPS framework. Let’s have a detailed look at what the STEPPS model offers for a viral markeitng campaign.

1. Social currency

This is based on the assumption that what we talk about and share reflects on how we are perceived. Things that are “cool” at the time are more likely to be shared than those that are “boring”. This plays on individual’s perception and feeling that they are special and in the know about a certain subject.

Examples of tools such as Google trends  and Reddit give examples of content that is current today and offers brands an opportunity to engage with buyer persona on a topic that is current. For example when Star Wars movie was launched a number of brands created Star Wars themed content which allowed them to engage with their buyer persona on a topic that was of interest to them. Other events such as the Olympic games and other large sporting occasions present another topical contribution of a brand to the conversation.

Here is an example of Star Wars partnership with Subway Germany

2. Triggers for reminding the audience

This is something that connects the audience to the story. If it is something that individuals have on top of their mind they are more likely to talk about it. This is based on the assumption that if something is topical, you keep talking about it.

Related topics that draw us to the content can be responsible for re-sharing and re-visiting it. For example, a video that refers to Fridays tends to be shared and viewed on Fridays… The prevalent triggers make it more effective. See the Friday video which increased in popularity on Fridays.


3. Emotional response

This is arguably the most important aspect to make content go viral. However, whilst emotion is important don’t rely on emotion only! The emotion was well captured by the following video from Always who are campaigning on behalf of their female castomers:

The audience are moved emotionally when they engage and care about the content. This is anything that evokes anger, sadness or happiness. It is those that motivate- unlike sadness where we are un-motivated. For example, highly inspiring emotions that stir and encourage us to share and pass on. Transforming customers into advocates is a positive way to get others to say ‘Wow’! This has a relationship with the newspaper industry where in a story “if it bleeds it leads” but can also have positive emotions such as humour. It is important that this message is clear that we are not being blatantly marketed to. When this is too obvious this can have the effect of turning people off and losing their attention.

4. Publicly accessible content

Information that is publicly available and is visible can be an indicator of quality. For example, the number of social shares of a page, quality reviews or number of video views that are available. Lending itself to the same idea that a customer deciding whether a restaurant is worthy a visit based on the number of visitors visible through the restaurant window.

One of the strategies for virality is to create your content and give it away free of charge under the Creative Commons (CC) licence – this requires the users to simply attribute you. There are a number of different CC licenses, but essentially you are making your image, text or video content publicly accessible. This allows others to re-use your content for their own purposes increases the virality of your work. Most content networks such as YouTube and Flickr allow you to search for creative commons content on their platforms as well as publish your content and make it CC.

5. Practical value

Where the audience can apply the lessons learned, it saves you time that is going to help others. For example ‘List of top 10 Project Management Tools’ sends a clear and concise message to the reader what the content is about.

For any product of a service you offer there are questions that your buyer persona are asking – so why not offer the answers to them as part of your content? Tools such as help you to understand the kind of questions your potential content users might be looking for and help you to refine your viral marketing campaign content.

Some of the common videos that people search on YouTube are for example “How to” videos. If you know the answer why not give it to your audience – and if they like it they will share it for you.

In this case we create a short but practical video on How to use Twitter:

The video did not quite go viral, but hey – we are learning all the time!

6. Story of your message

Being aware of what the story that is being told is about. Since people don’t like to be sold a marketing message but they are happy to share a story that makes them look good. There is a logical flow that has beginning, middle and end of a good story – the end which the audience want to see.

For example – the “will it blend video” shares a story about a company testing unusual items in its blender:

The blender blends all items and inevitably the user finds it entertaining and will pass it on but the secondary message is the fact that the blender is very strong and next time someone is looking for a blender that is of good quality they might use that particular company. The story is about a crazy person blending an iPad and it is easy to remember to share.

See the above STEPPS explained by Jonah Berger himself:

Do you have any thoughts about the viral marketing campaigns and what makes them work? Share them below!