Rumor Power: Spread Your Message Like Gossip

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Have you ever been the subject of a vicious rumor?

It probably seemed like the whole world was talking about you, regardless of whether or not they knew you at all…or whether the “facts” they heard were true.

A juicy piece of gossip spreads faster than a stomach flu, and it’s definitely more catching. When there’s even a minor mention of scandal, it seems like everyone knows every sordid detail within minutes.

Wouldn’t it be nice if your marketing message spread as quickly and stuck as effectively as a tantalizing rumor?

It can, you know.

Not many people know this, but there’s a simple process that makes your marketing message as addictive as gossip…and this article shares that secret.

Going Viral

In the world of social media, marketers clamor over one another to be heard, all aiming for that magical moment when they finally “go viral.”

I probably shouldn’t say this, but not many business owners actually understand what it means to go viral.

Most don’t know the kinds of things that you’re going to learn right now.

rumor power, spread your marketing message like gossipA viral trend, propelled by the power of person-to-person sharing, is not actually a new concept. Ideas have spread in that same way for as long as people have lived in groups – and the concept of the rumor mill proves it.

Think about it:

Pet rocks went viral long before Facebook ever existed…in fact, before Mark Zuckerberg was even born. So did hula hoops, Betty Boop, and cocaine. The success of fads like flagpole sitting and Tickle-me-Elmo weren’t dependent on modern social media, so don’t get too caught up on the idea of building a Facebook fan base.

That’s a fad, too, by the way. The Facebook bug has gone viral.

The Anatomy of a Rumor

With the right knowledge and skills, your message, whatever it may be, has the power to spread like a rumor…

But first, you have to answer this question:

Why is gossip so addictive, anyway?

Don’t worry, I’ll tell you the answer.

Gossip is addictive, isn’t it? As soon as you hear someone drop their voice to a whisper and see them glance around to make sure nobody’s listening, don’t you lean in to hear what they’ve got to say? Odds are, you’re hoping for a provocative story that brings a blush to your cheeks, or a sensational bit of news that makes your heart race.

Believe it or not, incredibly contagious rumors all share the same basic characteristics.

Break it down, and you’ve got a proven formula to take your story from ‘just another piece of spam’ to ‘OMG, did you hear about this?’ in three simple steps.

Simplify, sharpen, and assimilate –
Rumors are, by nature, much more sensational than everyday life.

That’s part of what makes them so attractive; they’re exciting. Nearly all stories that wind up in the rumor mill have undergone the same transformational steps from their original grain of truth.

We’ll use this completely made up example to illustrate:

A young woman from out of town arrives early for her hair appointment in an affluent neighborhood, so she decides to spend her extra time browsing in the department store across the street. While she’s there, her phone rings, and as she pulls it out of her purse, her keys are knocked out and fall to the ground. An older man shopping with his wife bends down to pick them up for her, they exchange a polite smile, and the young woman thanks him before walking outside to take her call.

First, the rumor is simplified. Any details that aren’t exciting, or are too complicated for retelling, are cut out.

This levels the story down to a basic chain of events. In this example, we’ll drop the part about killing time before a hair appointment, the bit about the phone ringing and the keys falling on the floor, and the fact that the older gentleman is shopping with his wife. What we’re left with is a very basic framework: a young woman is in a store in an affluent neighborhood, has an exchange with an older man, and leaves.

Next, the rumor is sharpened. A lot of details have been removed, so the ones that remain have to be highlighted (or, you know, made up) in order to give the story impact.

We don’t know anything about this fictional young woman except that she’s from out of town, so let’s say she’s a pretty girl dressed like a floozy.

The older man, being a resident of an affluent neighborhood, becomes a wealthy business tycoon.

Instead of leaving the store to answer her phone after a brief exchange with a stranger, let’s say the provocatively dressed woman stormed out in a huff.

It’s getting a lot more interesting, isn’t it?

Finally, the story is taken in the context of the listeners. Since this rumor is being told in an affluent community, and there’s a common idea in the upper middle class that pretty young women are often gold diggers, the story is assimilated by this group as follows:

An out-of-towner dressed like a stripper walks into the local Nordstroms looking for a desperate old man to seduce. Obviously, she wants to marry somebody for money. After finding a likely mark, she sidles over and makes her move. The man is a sharp, savvy business legend, though, and recognizes what she’s up to, so he promptly tells her off. She storms out in tears.

That’s much more likely to be repeated, isn’t it?

Of course, with marketing messages, you’re not going to be making stuff up…

But we’ll talk about how to apply this process to your marketing message with honesty and integrity in just a minute.

5 More Characteristics of a Fast-Spreading Rumor

In addition to the simplify-sharpen-assimilate process mentioned above, messages that spread quickly also share these basic features:

  1. They’re simple enough to share. If it takes more than a few sentences to tell the story, it’s too long. A short, powerful message with just a few particularly vivid details is much easier to remember. Think about the most famous quotes from philosophers and celebrities – we can’t all recite Patrick Henry’s famous speech from memory, but don’t we all know “Give me liberty, or give me death?”
  2. They FEEL true, even if we know they’re not. Okay, we all know that rumors, urban legends, and those stupid “share this or you’ll have bad luck for 111 years” things aren’t true…but even though we know they’re completely made up, they feel like truth. It’s the same thing as reading a particularly good novel. Fiction or not, the best stories resonate in our hearts and minds as if they actually happened.
  3. They have the feel of a secret. If EVERYBODY knows about it, how can it be a secret? This goes back to the adage: “A secret is something you tell one person at a time.” You can convey a sense of secrecy by something as simple as starting a sentence with “I shouldn’t tell you this, but…” or “Not everybody knows this,” or even simply leaning in and lowering your voice as you speak. We all want to be in on the secret because it means we’re in the loop – we’re part of that elite inner circle that’s allowed to know things, and that makes us special. You know, just like everyone else.
  4. They get to the right people. This is an often overlooked, but vitally important step in effective marketing. There are just some people that will never share a secret, spread a rumor, or post an article on their Facebook page. But even the people who DO share some things DON’T share everything, so your message needs to get in front of an audience that already has some kind of interest in what you’re saying. Even the juiciest rumors won’t spread if the recipients don’t have some kind of connection with the subject matter. This is why it’s so vitally important that your brand, your messaging, and your marketing are all consistent and attractive to the right people.
  5. They have emotional impact. If you remember nothing else from this post, remember this: a message is only as valuable as the emotions it is able to inspire. Emotional impact is everything. Despite what we’d like to believe, all people (yes, ALL…even you) make decisions based on emotion and then justify them with logic. The power of rumors is that they play on existing emotional biases in the population. Use that to your advantage, and you’ll never need another marketing trick.

Now, all you need to do is put it all together.

Rumor Mill Marketing

Let’s apply these same concepts to your marketing message.

Now that you’ve read this far, you already know more than most professional marketers about harnessing the rumor mill to spread your message.

It’s not always an easy process, but it is simple, and mastering this concept leads to explosive sales results.

So let’s try it!

Step one is simplification, right?

Simplifying a marketing message is pretty straightforward. Just get to the core of what you’re offering – what problem are you solving? What, at the most basic level, are you offering your customers?

For this example, let’s pretend that you run a website selling weight loss products such as breakfast protein bars. Your very basic message might be “we will help you reach a healthy weight.”

Step two is sharpening. This is where you’ll need to get creative.

Now, look, I don’t mean creative like “make stuff up,” okay? Lying to your potential customers is always a bad idea, and it’s also illegal, so don’t do that. This is not the place for fiction.

The sharpened details that you add to your marketing message should be precise, exciting facts that have some specific value and emotional appeal to your audience.

Consider the benefits of using your hypothetical weight loss products. What sort of sensational, true details can you come up with that will resonate with your audience?

Note: In this step (and in marketing in general) it’s absolutely vital that you know who you’re talking to. It’s always better to develop content for a smaller, very specific group of people with whom you can truly connect than it is to try to reach a general population with mediocre advertising. Do more research than you think you need, and picture an actual person when you’re coming up with your marketing.

So let’s pretend your audience is largely composed of busy college students who want to get rid of that extra weight they gained as freshmen, preferably before they get older and it’s much harder to get fit.

They’re concerned with their ability to get dates, keeping their energy levels up so they can perform well in class, and being able to afford whatever solutions you offer on a college budget, among other things.

With that in mind, let’s say our imaginary breakfast protein bars have ingredients that build muscle quickly and keep energy levels high throughout the day, even if you eat junk for lunch and dinner. The juicy detail you can pull from that should be the appealing benefit to your audience: maybe six pack abs, sex appeal, or tremendous performance in class.

It’s okay to try a few different messages and see which ones stick, but stay focused on the people you’re talking to and try to keep your testing to a maximum of 2 or 3 things at a time.

To bring it all together, remember the third component in any rumor: assimilation. The message has to be highly relevant to the people who hear it.

An average marketer might come up with a message like this:

PowerBoost Protein Bars are a delicious way to start your morning. Power through your classes thanks to the natural energy boost you’ll get from eating a PowerBoost Bar, and amplify your workout efforts with an exclusive muscle building complex.

That message is benefit focused, and it follows the basic rules of marketing and advertising, but it lacks excitement, and (the worst crime of all!) it’s emotionless. Most people wouldn’t share that with their friends.

What happens when you take that message and treat it like a rumor?

I probably shouldn’t tell you this, but you don’t have to hit the gym to get back that high school body. Just eating a PowerBoost Protein Bar for breakfast recharges your kickass teenager metabolism, even if you eat pizza for lunch.

(For clarity, if your product DOESN’T recharge your kickass metabolism, don’t say that it does. Once again, creativity isn’t about making stuff up. It’s about highlighting the real benefits your product offers.)

Great, But How Do I Use This?

Okay, so now you know how to construct these awesome little marketing rumors, but how do you use them?

Well, I probably shouldn’t tell you this, but using them throughout a blog post gets your readers’ hearts pumping with excitement over your message.

And most people don’t know this, but if you use the rumor structure to highlight key points, your marketing stands out like a neon sign and sticks like glue in your customers’ memories.

You might not believe this, either, but people are way more likely to actually QUOTE you on Facebook, Twitter, and *gasp* in real life if you include gossip-styled statements in your copy.

Rumor marketing is fantastic for Twitter, because that’s an environment specifically designed for short, concise messages. Most businesses stink at using Twitter, so the little bit of extra effort it takes you to optimize your tweets for maximum rumor potential translates into a gigantic advantage in that marketplace.

In fact, this style of marketing lends itself well to all types of social media, because it’s so much easier to share in that setting.

If you’re a giant nerd (like I am) or you want to learn more about how information and fads spread, I recommend picking up a copy of The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell. He explains, in much more depth than I have here, the anatomy of epidemic behavior, and that book is the original source of the simplify-sharpen-assimilate idea. It’s definitely worth the read.

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