What Startups can learn from the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge?

Laxman PapineniGrowth Marketing, Virality2 Comments

Group ice bucket challenge

At 10:10 I saw it first on Facebook. Twenty minutes later it hit twitter. One week and an avalanche of feeds later I finally saw what I think I saw-The next big thing of viral marketing- The ALS Ice bucket challenge in all its glory!

Unless you are living with the Flintstone’s, there is no way you haven’t heard about or seen it. From tech moghul-Bill Gates to Justin Beiber, its glamour has peaked the challenge fever. From George Bush to Zuckerberg, the activity has gone berserk. Whether it is the bandwagon effect or an innocuous chance for our inner altruistic pomp and show, the ice challenge has set the internet ablaze.

Mark Zuckerberg challenging Bill Gates


 Bill Gates doing it in Style

Between July and August, 2014, in a period of 28 days, the campaign is reported to have raised a whopping $98.2 million for the ALS charity compared to 2.7million$ last year in the same period. With approximately 2.33 million Youtube videos, 2.4 million Facebook videos and 3.7 million Instagram posts of the challenge in action, it is improbable to bat an eyelid without soaking up tad bit of the overwhelming pour of the new fad.

The ice bucket challenge has been devised for the likes of ALS association, an American non profit organization that raises money for global research, patient services, awareness and advocacy on issues related to Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), alias “Lou Gehrig’s Disease”. It is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord” eventually leading to death of the victim.  The ice bucket challenge involves dumping ice over your head and nominating/challenging three more people to take it up while recording a video of the same. Upon failure to do so within 24 hours, the participant may choose to donate $100 to the ALS Association. The version may differ based on whether people choose to perform the challenge, donate, or do both.

However sore the goose bumps may be, the ice challenge came, conquered and is now a legendary guru to the world of Start ups. Start ups strive to make a difference but face the daunting curse of resource limitations. With a vision this ambitious, it becomes crucial for them to stay adroit, engage key supporters, and balance short with long-term goals. This beckons creation of a meaningful, indelible impact on customers even if it means inspiring umpteen people to include the ice bucket challenge in their bucket list. Let us look at a select few of the many lessons that Start ups can learn from the trailblazer fad.

#1 Find Influencers

To comprehend this let us first get into the nitty gritty of its origin. Although it is still not official but most secondary data suggest that the alpha of ALS ice bucket challenge was golfer Chris Kennedy who challenged his cousin Jeanette Senerchia. But the challenge didn’t quite catch on then. Jeanette was Facebook friends with an ALS victim, Pat Quinn who in turn spread the challenge to his connections including another ALS victim, the former Boston College baseball player and star athlete- Pete Frates. The rest as they say is history.

But, what is interesting here is that the challenge did not hit the top of the charts when the first few users did it. (It certainly wasn’t a bad marketing idea. You wouldn’t be interested in reading my blog then). That’s because it wasn’t picked up by the right people. And by right I mean influencers.

Retrospective much Start-ups? The idea was great, but it did not become viral until the right people participated. Similarly, your idea may be sublime but perhaps a stab at the marketing re-evaluation could help you find the right people to be the medium of propagation for uplifting user traction.

#2 Use effective communication medium

Perhaps the smartest gig by ALS was choosing “Video” as a media to spread its message. Watching a friend’s reaction doing something as mad as a hatter certainly doesn’t fail to spark interest. When using inbound marketing for your Start up, select the medium that best appeals to the target audience. If your audience is likely to respond better to images or video, then create lasting memories about your brand by setting up a blog that is high on visuals. Remember, you only have a small window of opportunity to successfully transform a visitor into a customer.

#3 Keep it simple

It is the ease of comprehension associated with the ice challenge that makes it catchy and doable. Give your customers lengthy intricate formalities to participate with your product and there is a long queue of distraction just waiting to pull them out. Keeping it simple, easy and short will seamlessly defy distraction.

#4 Timing is everything

In the world of business, this adage could be considered law. Be it the 30 second elevator pitch or the 6 second vine, timing is everything. The ALS Association got theirs perfectly orchestrated. Deciding to run the campaign during the summers, with most regions perspirating, a bucket full of ice was as welcome as flowers in May. From entering the industry at the opportune moment to pitching it to the VC’s, a Start up’s timing should be spot on well vetted.

#5 Infuse multiplicity with growth virus

The thrill of a dare is unmatched. It spawns a pseudo subconscious race that needs to be won. The Ice Bucket Challenge is a marvellous exemplar to this.  If your start up offers consumer products that tempt users to invite their networks to try it out, it is because it adds on to the experiential value for those first users. This is an assured viral organic growth procreator.

#6 The inherent feel good factor

The ice challenge gave you a platform to show the world your charitable side. The fun was complimentary. And so was the pat to your ego. For a consumer-facing Start-up product, accentuating a user’s self worth would definitely hit bull’s eye.

Share on many platforms: So “what’s trending” on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest and YouTube now? The ALS frenzy. If you are on more than one social media platform chances are you have witnessed it more intermittently than others. This is a great way Start Ups can leverage one platform to another in order to market through latitudes with minimal opportunity cost. Be it B2C marketing through Facebook or B2B via LinkedIn, if virality is on your mind, dovetail multisocial media platforms together to make it easier for people to find, talk and share about you.

While the ALS ice bucket challenge will go down in history as a sterling exemplar to viral marketing, it will also serve invaluable to Start ups and teach lessons to many knockoffs. The list is by no means the only guaranteed success churner but these characteristics will certainly catapult your Start up to the glory it deserves.

Author – Nikita: An MBA student with an Electronics & Communications background, she has got the communication part fairly covered. With a nascent experience in writing blogs, she is a self proclaimed vocab addict. When not musing over pizza and utopia, she loves to pick the brains of Entrepreneurs and ink “quotes” on anything blank.

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