To an outsider looking in, a campaign that sees any kind of product go viral may appear to be a happy accident. After all, a mixture of online buzz and word of mouth recommendations evolve over time, with no real set pattern as to how consumers will engage with any given brand.
While it's easy to see why offerings from the world of technology or fashion create a huge amount of intrigue, the dairy industry may not be the first that springs to mind when considering virality. However, one New Zealand company has changed that across its home country in recent months.
Much of the virality was bred once Lewis Road Creamery identified its brand influencers.
Lewis Road Creamery partnered with Whittaker's late in 2014, with the latter providing chocolate for the former's milk. With an eye on being a premium offering, Lewis Road Creamery Fresh Chocolate Milk was seeking a relatively modest market share.
In an interview published by Retail News, a company spokesperson explained that the aim was to secure around 5 per cent of the market to begin with, before taking a 10 per cent share by the end of 2016.
Within three weeks of launch, the chocolate drink accounted for 34 per cent of all flavoured milk sold in New Zealand, without even having launched across the entirety of the country. The dairy product was so popular that some of the stores selling it even had to use security guards to contain the vast queues of customers.
So, while there can be little denying that this is an astounding success story, what were the driving factors behind it?
Well, as touched on, a huge amount of the product's appeal came from people openly discussing it in both the real and digital world. However, this didn't happen by accident. Much of the virality was bred once Lewis Road Creamery identified its brand influencers.
For example, American DJ Steve Aoki tweeted a picture of himself with a bottle of the drink at the end of November. While that may not seem impressive unto itself, Mr Aoki has over 2.5 million followers - a figure which equates to more than half the population of New Zealand.
Needed to try out this super crazed out hyped up incredibly rare lewis road creamery chocolate milk!!!! pic.twitter.com/KKf5vcrh4M
— Steve Aoki (@steveaoki) November 28, 2014
By being on top of its social media monitoring, Lewis Road Creamery could target who its brand influencers were, making it incredibly easy to reach a broad audience for comparatively little cost.
Emotion and virality
Much of virality is centred on consumer emotion. Creating a product that is sought after and has people starting sentences with 'have you heard about...' is by no means easy, but the reward of massive brand exposure is plain to see.
The best way to engage an audience is by creating content that strikes a certain chord.
As noted in research collated by the Harvard Business Review, the best way to engage an audience - on social media in particular - is by creating content that strikes a certain chord.
Tying this back to brand influencers, this could be as simple as a sense of likability that a consumer experiences when they empathise with a familiar face on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram etc.
Word of mouth - both physical and digital - has never been more important in how customers interact with brands. In fact, research from McKinsey & Company suggested that recommendations from peers drives as many as 50 per cent of purchasing decisions.
Consequently, companies that can tap into buzz have a huge potential market waiting for them. Of course, an excellent product is crucial. However, as the balance of power shifts from consumers back to the businesses looking to service them, virality will continue to be phenomenon that can't be ignored.