Viral email marketing campaigns… what do we mean when we talk about email being “viral”?
The term is more commonly used in the context of social media because viral content is content that people share with their network by choice. The audience spreads the message for you👍.
So viral marketing is marketing that spreads by a kind of “word of mouth” or personal recommendation.
Viral email marketing campaigns aim to boost reach and conversion by getting recipients to spread the word to people they know, by forwarding the email or some similar action.
In this blog, we’ll look at some examples of successful viral email marketing campaigns and examine what made them work, so that you can emulate their success!
Viral Email Marketing Campaigns #1: The Exclusive Offer
Everyone loves a bargain, and the only thing everyone loves more than a bargain is the sense of being in an exclusive club!
This email from jewelry designer Mejuri ticks three of Jonah Berger’s six principles of virality:
- It provides PRACTICAL VALUE. Getting a preview of the sale of goods gives you a chance to get what you want at a reduced cost before anyone else.
- It has SOCIAL CURRENCY. Early access to the sale is valuable to you, so it will surely be valuable to some of your friends. “Social currency” is what makes you want to be the person who gives this benefit to others.
- There is a TRIGGER. The email provides a reason to act now. Tomorrow, everyone will be able to see the sale.
So this is great viral email marketing👍.
By offering an exclusive benefit that can nevertheless be shared with others, Mejuri is encouraging their email subscribers to push their message out to their own wider networks.
Get A Newsletter that helps you build, send and measure viral emails!
Viral Email Marketing Campaigns #2: The LOL
Studies have shown that content that makes us laugh is the most likely to go viral. It triggers another of Berger’s virality principles: EMOTION.
Of course, humor is not the only emotion that provokes sharing. A lot of the prominence of “fake news” today depends on sharing brought about by anger.
We like to share emotions with like-minded people. So content that brings about an emotional reaction has social currency as well. If you’re the person who shared the meme everyone’s talking about, it reflects well on you.🤩
It also evokes another of Berger’s principles: STORIES. Don’t you want to know what the person who sent the apple sauce photo replied with?
As humans, we naturally become engrossed in the narrative. And as every screenwriter knows, a cliffhanger keeps the audience wanting more!
In this example, Buzzfeed has captured what makes its web content so clickable and shareable and distributed it via email. It keeps its subscribers engaged and laughing by sending their preferred content straight to their inboxes.
Viral Email Marketing Campaigns #3: The Event
This email for the Synapse conference puts the trigger out in front. There’s an actual countdown in the email showing how long the discount on tickets – the practical value – is available for.
Would you forward this to your family and friends? Probably not. You’re probably only interested in applications for customer data for work purposes.
But if you’re thinking that this conference might be valuable, you probably work with other people who do so too. You may well forward it to them to give them the discount. 👌💲
Segmentation is key to viral email marketing campaigns. The more tailored to niche interests an email is, the more likely we are to share it with other people in the same niche.
In this study, the top 1% of viral emails were four times more likely to be segmented than the average.
Another interesting characteristic of this email is that it is using pre-promotion to build demand. At some point, the recipients will have expressed interest in the event. Perhaps they went last year.
Now, the organizers are drip-feeding a flow of reminders with enticing incentives to register.
If enough excitement is built around the event in advance, then the email announcing that tickets are finally on sale will be shared like wildfire!
Viral Email Marketing Campaigns #4: The Surprise
There is so much content competing for our attention online that you have to do something clever to break through the “scroll on” reflex and into the realm of conscious attention.
Marketers spend huge amounts of time brainstorming ideas that they think will grab the attention and drive people to share them.
Here’s a great example of clever content that really works in the email context: a bespoke weather forecast from Poncho. It’s funny, it’s personalized (see the graph above…) and it makes you pay attention.
But why not just share this on social media? Why use email?
It’s a question of trust.
Research has shown that social media is great for expanding your marketing reach, because most Facebook friends, Twitter followers, etc are networks of loose connections.
You see what your network shares, but it rarely feels like a personal recommendation or endorsement from someone whose opinion you value. You might like it, or you might not.
Many people feel differently about their email inboxes. When a friend or colleague has taken the trouble to forward an email to us, we feel that it must be important to them and relevant to us.
So while social shares expand reach, email shares increase conversion – because trust provokes action.
Viral Email Marketing Campaigns #5: The Value-Share
As with the Synapse example above. you would only forward an email like this to someone in a professional context. It is another case of one person finding content useful and passing it on to others with similar interests.
What’s interesting is the self-consciousness displayed in the line “Received this email from a friend? Sign up here”. Think with Google is being explicit about the sharing of its content and making it easy for downstream recipients to convert into subscribers with a clear Call To Action.
If you want people to share, ask them to share!
Studies have shown that the top 1% of shared emails were thirteen times more likely to include a CTA urging people to share content with their network than the average.
Plus, make it easy to share: that’s what all those social buttons in the bottom right are for.
A message that starts as an email can go viral on social just as easily as it can via email.
And that brings us to Berger’s final principle – the principle of PUBLIC, which is really another name for social proof.
If your email says how many people have downloaded your app, how much money they’ve saved, how many times your video has been shared etc you are playing on a psychological factor that makes it easier for us to do what we’ve seen other people are doing.
So, to conclude here are our final top five tips for viral email marketing! 😎
- Offer an incentive that’s too good to keep to yourself – it can be a discount, a voucher, a competition, or a free trial. But it has to be “out of the ordinary” to stop people from just keeping it to themselves.
- Say something that evokes an emotional reaction. Jumping on current events or “newsjacking” is a great source for this.
- Make it personal. Segment your audience very carefully to get the maximum resonance from your content.
- Be explicit. Ask recipients to share. Maybe even give them incentives to do so (eg discounts for every person they refer).
- Include social proof. Break down that barrier to being the first sharer!