The Key to Viral Marketing? Science, Not Magic

By Emma McGowan on

People are in love with magic and the idea that some things are just… magical and unexplainable. Instead, I believe that most things in life have a very simple explanation.

The exclamation “Let’s make this go viral!” has become the bane of marketing directors everywhere, largely because the actual process is not as easy as the two-word phrase would have you believe. But one company, Maître, thinks that they’ve cracked the code for viral marketing with their growth hacking tool that anyone can use, even if they have no coding or tech skills. The key, they say, is nothing magic. It’s all about understanding human behavior.

Maître Founder Manuel Frigerio worked in marketing for two massive Italian corporations after finishing school in 2012, an experience that he credits with teaching him at lot — including the fact that the corporate life wasn’t going to do it for him. So he ditched the suit, grabbed his laptop, and took to the road as a freelance programmer, eventually ending up in London, where he met Maître Cofounders Anthony Francis and George Johnston.

Anthony and Manuel worked on a couple of other companies until Boxing Day 2015, when Manuel had an epiphany about how to make an idea for an event promotion tool they’d been tossing around work. After only four days of furious coding, Manuel and Anthony sent an MVP out to their friends.

“Despite the very basic MVP, a few friends wanted to pay for it right away,” Manuel tells me. “This is when I realized we were on to something. This always reminds me a famous quote from Reid Hoffman: ‘If you are not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you’ve launched too late.’”


While the forces behind a viral campaign can seem like magic to people who stumble into it accidentally, Manuel explains that there are a couple of basic truths behind the science of virality. First of all, he says, you have to understand that humans are irrational, so appealing to the brain is not the way to go.

“We like to believe we act rationally but, unfortunately, too often our expectations don’t match up with reality,” Manuel says. “Most of the time we are driven by external triggers, emotions, environment, cultural rules — even hormones.”

People don’t share for sake of sharing. They want to get something out of it.

Manuel also points out that humans are short-term gain seekers who are genetically programmed to be reward-driven. That means that any campaign should capitalize on our love of instant gratification.

“Concerning virality, people don’t share for sake of sharing,” Manuel says. “They want to get something out of it. Money, happiness, time, increasing their social status, being cool. Give them any of that and they will invite their friends, family members, partners, pets.”


Manuel’s top tips for people who want to make a campaign go viral are directly related to exploiting irrationality and the scarcity principle. First, he suggests giving people a real reason — like money or making them look cool — to share instead. Second, use tools like a countdown clock or a counter of how many people are sharing to make people feel like they’re going to miss out if they don’t get on it right now. And finally, offer clear, exclusive rewards for referrals in order to incentivize people to keep sharing.

If you want people to share, you need to talk to their gut.

On the flip side, there are a few things that are sure to bomb any marketing campaign. Number one? Being passive. No matter how great your product or idea is, Manuel cautions against expecting that people will register and share without an additional reward. And going back to the idea that we aren’t as rational as we think, “talking to the brain of the people” is a sure way to miss the mark.

“If you want people to share, you need to talk to their gut,” Manuel says.

Manuel and his team at Maître believe so much in their theories about virality that they’re applying them to their own contest. Scarcity principle: The contest is only running until June 30. Exclusive rewards: Prizes ranging from calls with Clarity experts Sujan Patel, Jeff Goldenberg, Joshua Lu, and Justin Winter to free growth hacking books to a lifetime free membership on Maître. Narcissism: The goal of the contest is to use the Maître tool to amass the most subscribers to your website and the people with the most subscribers at the end of the contest period win. It’s just one more step on their path to becoming the go-to company for growth hacking.

“Every service is becoming commoditized: storage, bandwidth, even transportation and accommodation,” Manuel says. “You can order pretty much everything from your smartphone. I believe growth will eventually become commoditized too and you will be able to get 20 percent or 30 percent of growth supply on-demand, same as you order a Uber cab or 20GB of storage from AWS. We want to be that company when this happens.”

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