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When (And When Not) To Play Off The Latest Internet Memes In Marketing

When (And When Not) To Play Off The Latest Internet Memes In Marketing

Marketers may occasionally wish they could harness some of the elements that make for a successful meme and use it for the work they do -- even though most Internet memes seem to get wildly popular by accident.

Yanny or Laurel? A few weeks ago that question would have been meaningless to most people, but in a very short period of time it has emerged as one of the most talked-about subjects on social platforms like Twitter, blogs and mainstream media. This is an example of Internet meme culture at its most viral.

If you haven’t heard of it (and it may already be quieting down as this post gets published), an audio clip surfaced online in which a name is repeated several times. Many people hear the name as “Yanny,” while others swear it is “Laurel.” In a sense, it’s much like a similar meme from about a year ago, when, for a few minutes, it seemed as though the whole world was consumed with the debate over the actual colours of an infamous dress.

Internet memes can be almost anything, like an image or a video clip, but they often possess some qualities that make them almost irresistibly shareable on social media. Brevity tends to be one of them; humour and sensationalism are others. Marketers may occasionally wish they could harness some of the elements that make for a successful meme and use it for the work they do — even though most Internet memes seem to get wildly popular by accident.

If you think of content marketing as an ongoing conversation you’re having with your customers (and you should) there’s no reason you can’t reference, discuss or even embed links to the latest Internet meme in the assets you create. This could include a blog post, an infographic or even your own videos and podcasts. As you manage these assets and drive engagement with them through Marketing Cloud, it may be interesting to see if jumping on a particular viral bandwagon helps improve metrics such as visits, time on site or click-throughs.

There are some risks in making use of Internet memes, of course. One of them is timeliness. Some memes may be a topic of conversation online for weeks, but others might sputter out in a manner of days. Marketing departments, in contrast, may be accustomed to greater lead time for the kind of assets they create and programs they run. In other cases Internet memes may contain objectionable content that simply isn’t appropriate for an audience of customers and prospects.

Then there’s the chance that, even with the best intentions, using an Internet meme in marketing somehow makes your brand look like it’s desperate or trying too hard to appear “cool” in your audience’s mind.

While there are no hard and fast rules, here are a few considerations before you try and make an Internet meme your own:

Can The Meme Be A Metaphor?

Sometimes a funny cat video is just a funny cat video. There are occasions, however, where an Internet meme could offer a way of thinking about or discussing a more business-like concept in an accessible way.

The “Yanny or Laurel” meme, for instance, is really about how people can hear the same thing but interpret it very differently. That could relate to the customers in a lot of organizations that offer products that help manage information or provide insight. A company that’s trying to stand out from the competition, meanwhile, might use Yanny or Laurel to lead into an explanation of how its value proposition is not like the one its rivals are talking about.

In a consumer context, a retailer could have latched onto the famous dress Internet meme in its marketing to highlight its vast selection of colours and outfits, how beauty is subjective or any number of associated references.

When you look at Internet memes, consider the emotional touchstones behind them. Why are people so drawn in? How does that relate to your branding, positioning or most critical messages?

What Channels Are Most Meme-Worthy?

Unlike a piece of advertising creative that might get splashed across billboards, in TV spots and elsewhere, an Internet meme might simply be something that complements a piece of content, rather than something that becomes the centerpiece of a campaign.

Look for channels where you tend to have a degree of flexibility in doing things on the fly, where changes can easily be made or content could even be deleted. This would include things like social media channels, blogs and so on.

Weaving references to an Internet meme into a webinar might make less sense, given they often take months or weeks to plan and drive registrations. An eBook that could have a shelf life of months or even years would similarly make a lot of Internet meme references out of date before too long. The teaser copy that’s used to market a webinar or promote downloads of an eBook, on the other hand, might be a good place use the timeliness of a meme.

Does The Meme-to-CTA Journey Make Sense?

An Internet meme could grab your audience’s attention amid the more traditional kinds of messages they receive every day. It’s what you do with that attention next, however, that counts.

Just as any other content marketing asset would use compelling copywriting, arresting imagery and other elements to draw an audience in, a meme should simply be considered a first step in the process of guiding customers and prospects to take a particular action.

Will using the meme lead naturally into a more professional call to subscribe to your newsletter, visit a product page, register for an event or follow your brand on social media? If the answer is no, the meme obviously shouldn’t be there.

This gets back to the notion of being “on brand.” Your firm may not have a long track record of using humour or other qualities associated with an Internet meme, but that’s okay as long as it’s relevant to the rest of the content. One of the best reasons to use marketing automation tools like Marketing Cloud, for instance, is to get a better sense of your audience’s key interests. An Internet meme isn’t likely to crop up among those interests, but some of the other trends — for example, how long they tend to spend with content, or whether they favour content that makes use of images or video — could indicate whether it will be helpful from a conversion perspective.

To some extent, Internet memes are “disposable” content that don’t require a lot of close study. No matter how you use them, make sure the content marketing you’re developing will have a much longer, more valuable shelf life — and has the potential to be just as viral among the right audience of decision-makers.

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