Tech Line

‘Orchestrated Serendipity’ and the Viral Marketing Campaign

Having a campaign go viral is the not-so-secret goal of every digital marketer. But there’s no way to guarantee that any particular campaign will catch fire. The number of factors involved is many, and most are completely out of a marketer’s control. The main component that is beyond control is “serendipity”–a campaign that drives positive, unexpected, and, most important, random attention.

There’s good reason to hope a campaign goes viral. In a recent article in Forbes, women’s network Ellevate reported on some experiments that examined how serendipity plays a role in consumer satisfaction, and they got some interesting results. Serendipity increased the value of nearly every metric a marketer could imagine: satisfaction, enjoyment, meaningfulness, willingness to pay, willingness to recommend, and overall interest.

In one experiment into the value of randomness, Ellevate showed three groups of consumers the same movie trailer. One group was told it was randomly selected from a set of 100 trailers.  Another group was told the trailer came randomly selected from only 10 options. A third group was shown the trailer and told that a marketer had selected the trailer. Who reported more satisfaction? Consumers preferred the trailer when it was one of 100 choices vs one of ten.  Lowest satisfaction? You guessed it, the one that was chosen by a marketer.  

Online retailer Stitch Fix–which uses recommendation algorithms and data science to personalize clothing items based on size, budget and style–bakes serendipity right into the core of their product. “Tell us what you like, we’ll find what you love,” promises their home page. Their value proposition: react to a series of fashion choices designed to convey your sartorial tastes and they’ll present clothing their algorithm thinks you’ll love. The result: out of the nearly infinite supply of fashion options, they present a full online store that purports to contain just what you want.  

But the Ellevate study also found something interesting and a bit unexpected: people don’t necessarily want to know how the sausage is made. To wit: the team presented an algorithm-based tool that plays music. One group of consumers received a detailed explanation of how the music-selection algorithm works. For the other group, it was represented as just a black box. Those who were educated on how the algorithm worked reported less enjoyment out of the service than those kept in the dark.  

Be Honest and Authentic

So what does this mean to marketers hoping to create a viral campaign? First is that people want the viral content they consume to be honest and authentic. If they know too much about how a campaign goes viral, they will feel manipulated and feel less satisfied.

By now, everyone’s heard the debate about whether social media systems are listening in on private conversations. “I was talking with a friend about going to South Africa,” goes the gripe, “and suddenly I started seeing ads for flights to South Africa on Facebook.” Leaving aside whether this is technologically feasible or not, what might have been a perfectly serendipitous campaign from a travel company–positive, unexpected, and random–is undermined by suspicion of it not truly being serendipitous.

A major element in serendipity is timing. And for a campaign to bust out, it needs a high-value connector to give it a push. But it’s hard, for instance, to know when, or if, one of the so-called “influencers” has been exposed to your campaign. Marketers can mitigate this by identifying and monitoring key influencers and studying the nature of the posts they forward. Alternatively, marketers with a budget can purchase exposure in big spurts during times when the audience is online. Or they can partner directly with influencers to make sure they help carry the water.

Professional marketers know that it takes more than a TikTok video to tap into the kind of positive, unexpected, and random attention that viral campaigns bring. Viral campaigns must help drive sales at scale. Marketers use data to deliver campaign experiences orchestrated to grab attention and grow sales. It’s a matter of delivering the right creative to the right people at the right time–an orchestrated serendipity–that uses data to deliver campaigns that deliver sales.

There’s another way that marketers can delight prospects: by augmenting a planned conversion sequence to include direct mail as one of the steps in a sequence. Whether it’s a segment of your collected leads or a sales-driven personalized step, marketers can drive significant individual attention by enabling sales staff to personalize a step in the sequence. For orchestrated serendipity comes in many forms.  

Michael Grover is a marketing and product consultant in Los Angeles, focused primarily on digital content products. He has served in marketing and product roles at Oracle, United Business Media, SilverPlatter Information and several other companies.