Beyond Viral: Building a Sustainable Brand That Can Cut Through Hype

Every brand wants to go viral. Heck, we also want to be viral. Imagine the kind of fame (or infamy, if you’re feeling evil) virality would bring to one’s brand. It’s like the Holy Grail of marketing: everyone’s chasing after it, but no one knows what it’s supposed to look like.

The reason why it can be very hard to go viral is that “being viral” isn’t something you can just find. It just… well, happens, and no amount of bandwagoning or trend-hopping will ever change the fact that virality is often just a one-time, spur-of-the-moment thing.

The closest thing you can get to being viral, if you’re EXTREMELY lucky, is by figuring out the cultural zeitgeist happening at the moment. And a zeitgeist, in terms of cultural critique, can only be figured out once its moment has passed. So yes, trying too hard to become viral will only make you look like you’re trying way too hard. And nothing looks more un-cool than trying to jump in on a trend that you know absolutely nothing about.

Plus, that makes you look lame. You don’t want happening to your brand, do you?

Fret not, dear reader. We’re here to tell you that it doesn’t matter if your marketing campaign goes viral or not. You know what should matter to you more? It’s having your campaign make an impact that goes beyond what’s happening in pop culture at the moment! That’s how brands maintain recognition and, more importantly, sustainability.

In essence, your brand should not be defined by moments. It’s you who will define your moment. Here’s why.

It all Started with a Crackdown…

We’re not gonna lie: the latest algorithm change on Facebook which are meant to “encourage meaningful interactions between people” have been tough on businesses that have been used to finding their audiences online, including us.

However, if there’s one thing that this change have wrought positively, it discouraged people from gaming Facebook’s system. That meant that — ideally, at least — there should now be more verified websites, less clickbait-y headlines, and even lesser fake Facebook users and bots. In other words: there’s now more reason to become honest as a brand on Facebook!

To us long-timers in the marketing game, Facebook’s algorithm change resembled what Google did with Google Penguin’s first rollout ; to sum, Penguin penalized websites that employed “black-hat” techniques to rank on Google like keyword stuffing and spamming. In return, they favored websites that prioritized intuitive design with informative and meaningful content.

Just like what Facebook did six years later (wow, that’s like an eternity in internet years!), Google wanted to disincentivize webmasters looking for short-term gains in favor of those who would rather grow their websites organically — you know, by slowly building up an audience and just be a reputable business.

Of course, everyone wants to have their stuff spread around the farthest reaches of the internet — Who the heck doesn’t want publicity, anyway? — but we’re now in an online world where being “viral” is looked upon with much suspicion as it did from earlier years because of the deliberate spread of misinformation on some major social media platforms. But then again, don’t you want to be viral by simply doing what you know best?

Ironically, this leads us to one marketing factor that has been existed in the history of advertising since, like, forever: consistency. And really, this is a practice that “legacy brands” have managed to perfect for decades already.

Slow and Steady

To demonstrate what we’ve been trying to say this post, we’ll give you a rock-and-roll analogy: would you rather be the Sex Pistols, a band who built infamy with their short-and-angry songs and ridiculous antics in the span of a year and flamed out afterwards? Or would you rather be the Rolling Stones, who started out small in 1962 and steadily built a catalogue of rockin’ songs, outliving basically all of their peers, but still selling out arenas well into their seventies?

Can your brand stand out amidst this sea of… well, brands?

It’s the same with marketing, too. While there’s nothing bad to coasting along on the strength of one “hit”, it’s not a good idea to put all of your eggs in one basket if you’re going to play the long-term game. The most prominent example of this in today’s Internet era is Japan’s ‘Long Long Man’ advertisement series, which is just a set of comedic skits involving a super-long chewing gum. They’re enjoying increased sales now because of the ad’s virality, but it’s also worth wondering if they can manage to sustain the audience’s interest when they have no other marketing gimmicks to rely on.

On the other hand, what frequently gets overlooked is how long-time brands and businesses were able to maintain their standing. And you know what the secret behind that is? They just kept positioning themselves as experts and authorities.

Let’s take the example of Jollibee, which is THE quintessential Philippine brand at this point. It’s a fast-food brand with a very Filipino bent. Just how Filipino, you ask? Well, consider this: it was founded by three siblings who operated two ice cream houses in a neighborhood district. Who would have thought that it would grow into a juggernaut less than fifteen years later?

Even with the entry of McDonald’s in the Philippines in 1981, which would have been enough to destroy any store selling hamburgers, Jollibee had not only endured but, dare we say, even thrived. And they did so by simply pushing messages that resonated with its biggest market: Filipinos.

Look through just about any Jollibee advertisement in the last thirty years, and you would notice a few elements present in each one: its wholesome look, its sentimental tone, and its focus on traditional Filipino values. Not surprisingly, this last element did much to highlight what made Jollibee different from the rest. Sure, every Jollibee ad feature people who look like they’re having fun while eating — hey, even us! — but do they feature stories about families, sacrifice, honor, and unconditional love? Those are pretty heavy stuff for an advertisement, if we say so ourselves.

Now give your grandpa a hug while you’re at it.

Sure, Jollibee’s a big brand, and so are hundreds of others like it. But can you imagine how they started back then without any massive capital to speak of and with no online marketing??? In terms of generating buzz, we should consider ourselves lucky because there are so many ways we can reach customers these days: content marketing, search engine optimization (SEO) targeting, social media marketing, and the like. You don’t even have to buy a TV spot for your advertisement.

What you can learn from Jollibee’s, and other legacy brands’, example is that they simply stayed the course. They knew their market and how they would like to be seen as. Getting viral was secondary to the brand’s consistency.

Point is, getting your brand or business to be recognized takes a long time and a lot of hard, hard work. Play it correctly, and you might achieve what legacy brands have perfected over the years: you can get your customers’ trust by simply being out there. As long as you’re confident that your product or service can deliver the goods, then coming up with a viral-worthy idea is just the cherry on top of the icing.

TL;DR: Becoming viral can get you attention, but being consistent can get you customer loyalty. Easy enough to remember, right?