Using memes to make connections that last

One of the oldest marketing tools in memory

The one thing that seems to elude many marketers is the ability to attain – and maintain – customers’ interest in their brand over time. It is one thing to get customers to read one’s copy and click over to a website, respond to or forward an email to one’s friends, and Like, or Follow the brand message – it is much more difficult to maintain the interest going forward.

One of the oldest marketing tools in memory is word-of-mouth. The Word-of-mouth Marketing Association (WOMMA) defines (PDF) word-of-mouth as “[t]he act of consumers providing information to other consumers” and word-of-mouth marketing as “giving people a reasons to talk about your products and services, and making it easier for that conversation to take place.”

But how does word-of-mouth marketing work? According to WOMMA, “Word of mouth marketing empowers people to share their experiences. It’s harnessing the voice of the customer for the good of the brand. And it’s acknowledging that the unsatisfied customer is equally powerful.”

One way to try to understand Word of mouth marketing is to follow the way memes operate. A meme is an information pattern. It is held in an individual’s memory and can be copied to another person’s memory. The science of memetics studies how memes replicate, spread and evolve. Advertising uses memes constantly by releasing catchy strap lines like “Just do it” and “Finger licking good”, pop culture has memes like “All you need is love”, “Sorry seems to be the hardest word”, and politicians use memes like “The War on Terror” and “Yes we can!”

Over the last ten years, says American scholar  Kristen Lacefield, many theories of marketing communication have been based on a memetic perspective on information:  “[v]iral marketing, buzz marketing, brand genetics, word-of-mouth marketing and connected marketing are all terms that describe essentially the same thing: the treatment of a product or brand as something that can be spontaneously passed on across a population with minimal further effort on behalf of the marketer after the initial infection.“

One of the most successful applications of marketing memes is the competition. Competitions are what Seth Godin terms a “soft innovation” which is, he says “what you, the marketer, see. If it catches on and becomes something the consumer sees, it is now a free prize. A free prize […] has two key characteristics. First, it’s the thing about your service, your products or your organization that’s worth remarking on, something worth seeking out and buying […] Second, a free prize is not about what a person needs. Instead, it satisfies our wants.” Obviously, free prizes are the kind of stuff that ‘goes viral’ and gets transmitted via word-of mouth.

For Martin Oetting, research director at WOM experts trnd competitions carry a strong gaming aspect – – ”[w]hat if you could get an audience to interact with your brand for weeks by connecting on the Web then travelling and seeking out locations and unravelling hints that you are giving them while trying to solve a mystery?“

“Crack the Safe with a Tweet” as a memetic competition

A competition needs a few defining features, in order to become memetic. Firstly – it needs to punt a large, attractive prize. Secondly – it needs to combine both a challenge, and ease of use. Thirdly – the competition must have a thick layer of intrigue and mystery.

Boosted – described on Facebook as “[t]he Samsung + Intel power union (that) exists for one purpose: to boost technology past the standard and to blow it past the mundane.” In their latest project – Tweetcracker – the latest Samsung Series 9 Laptop, which comes with Intel’s Gen Core i5 processor and $10,000 in gold (and a third, mystery prize yet to be announced) are locked inside a safe and punters are invited to Tweet the suggested number combination required to crack the safe’s lock and open the lock. Each participant has three daily chances to crack the code – and Tweetcracker offers hints that can be used to find the right combination.

This clever marketing ploy has all the ingredients of a viral / WOM / Buzz marketing runaway campaign. The attractive prizes are what Godin means when he talks about soft innovations that cater to our wants. The memetic triggers – ease of use (tweeting), scalability (Twitter is a social network; it is built to make it easy for participants to enter their codes and call on their friends and followers to do the same), and intrigue (the safe, the lock, the complex combination and the even more complex hints) are all there to bolster responses over time, return usage and forwarding of the competition details.

Boosted uses a multichannel approach, with the website offering competition information and updates, and Twitter as the ‘port of entry’. In addition, the hashtag – #tweetcracker facilitates data entry and allows the organisers to follow and analyse the incoming traffic. Facebook and Twitter (@boostedtweets)are also used to drop hints and to offer ongoing encouragement and support, as well as spot-prizes.

Overall, the channels Boosted uses allow people to participate in a project that offers interest, intrigue – and great prizes through easy entry. The channels also enable users to share their experiences with their peers – thus creating a memetic wave. Lastly – it uses the specific characteristics of each channel to the campaign’s advantage.

#Word of mouth#WOM#Word of mouth Marketing Association#WOMMA#memetics#meme#soft innovation