A few months ago, my 10-year old son came to me insisting that I “had” to see a video of a “40-pound cat.” Now, I’m very fond of cats and I’ve seen quite a few…some of which were pretty darn big, but I didn’t think cats got much bigger than 20-pounds.
Sure enough, on YouTube.com, there was a 40-second video showing scenes from a typical day in the life of an enormous orange tabby cat. For your viewing pleasure you can watch kitty sitting on a chair, being carried a short distance by a human caretaker, lumbering up the stairs, eating, and sleeping. Accompanying the video was a rather strange, ominous soundtrack: perhaps anticipating the consequences should kitty fail to lose weight.
The video is remarkably popular. On YouTube.com the “world’s fattest cat” video has been viewed over 24,000 times in the last five months. On another video site, it’s been viewed over 128,000 times since it appeared in September, 2005.
To my knowledge there’s no multi-million dollar advertising campaign. No postcard mailings or infomercials. Nor have I seen the 40-pound cat on Oprah or on the Tonight Show. Despite this lack of marketing support, hundreds of thousands of people worldwide have watched this video.
This is a perfect example of a viral message. A message that people eagerly share through word of mouth and email. It is an organic phenomenom that occurs on its own with no outside manipulation.
If you own a small or mid-sized business, imagine the potential if your marketing message were viral. Perhaps you have even tried to create viral marketing by encouraging your customers and colleagues to spread the word but the results have been less than spectacular.
What is it about the 40-pound cat video that has made it so viral?
In a word, Novelty. Referral behavior (and sending an email telling your friends to watch a particular video is most definitely referral behavior) occurs because we want to look good to others. One way to look good is to tell people about something that we know they are not likely to have heard about or not known about before. Most people have never seen a picture of a 40+ pound cat, let alone a video of one that is lumbering up a flight a stairs.
This is not to suggest that you need to find a 40-pound cat or a 12 oz. Tea cup Chihuahua to encourage customers to get the word out. You do, however, need to have something distinctive enough about your products and services so that your customers get a chance to look good by telling others about you.
FOUR WAYS TO IMPROVE NOVELTY
1. Use extremes. The 40+ pound kitty is a perfect example of using an extreme to create novelty. As human beings, we have a natural fascination with extremes: the biggest pizza (12-square feet for $135), the smallest dog (a 6” Chihuahua), a man who ate 36 cockroaches in 1 minute, and so on.
Your business extreme doesn’t need to be nearly so exotic. Novelty is relative to the frame of reference used by your customer. A liquor store can advertise the largest selection of champagne or the most extensive selection of sake within a “four-state region.” Another example is a dockside restaurant that bills itself as selling the “freshest fish anywhere unless you catch it yourself.”
2. Offer an extraordinary guarantee. Although they no longer use it, the “30-minutes or it’s free” guarantee made Dominos pizza a household name. It was an audacious claim that no other pizza delivery chain had made in such a wide-scale, public manner.
3. Limited Editions. You see limited editions in a variety of products including soft drinks (Coca Cola Black), apparel (Gap 1969), games (60-year commemorative Monopoly edition), and automobiles (2000 Vapor Blue VW Beetle). The cachet is that the item is produced for a limited time and then pulled off the market giving it a “one of a kind” collectible status.
4. Limited distribution. Luxury products and services have long used the strategy of exclusive distribution to create an aura of exclusivity. But more prosaic products have used limited distribution to their advantage as well. For example, until the mid-1980’s, Coors beer was only available west of the Mississippi. If you lived east of the Mississippi, Coors beer was something of a status symbol because of its association with Colorado and Rocky Mountain ski resorts.
NOVELTY WITHOUT TARNISHING PROFESSIONALISM
Those of you in traditionally conservative businesses such as banking, healthcare, insurance, and legal services may feel uncomfortable with the idea of novelty. After all, people give you business because they trust you to protect what they most cherish. Just keep in mind that novelty is
RELATIVE to what others in your industry are doing. For example, a financial planner who works with professional athletes can use a “game plan” metaphor for marketing her services. Done tastefully, this adds enough novelty to provide a competitive advantage for getting more “looking good” referrals.
Finding novelty in your products and services takes some creativity and imagination but once you get the hang of it, you may be surprised by the number of ways you can add distinction within the range professional decorum.
CURIOUS ABOUT THE 40-LB. CAT?
As a last word, for those of you wanting a look at the one of the world’s fattest cats, you can watch the video by clicking here.