Outside religion, arguably the most successful example of word-of-mouth marketing is a lullaby. The lullaby. Wiegenlied. The Cradle Song.
It was the result of a short-lived German romance almost two centuries ago.
Millions of children have dozed off to it, and it’s because Bertha Faber would sing Austrian folk music to her boyfriend, Johannes Brahms. Specifically, S’is Anderscht.
As discussed in Hit Makers: The Science of Popularity in an Age of Distraction, Wiegenlied had a critical ingredient that’s echoed across other popular products, trends, and ideas:
It’s crucial to marketing. And it makes word of mouth marketing possible.
Brahms’ lullaby reinforces this idea of familiarity as a catalyst for organic, unprompted discussion in the public about a product.
Brahms and Faber were together. Briefly.
Faber was in a Hamburg women’s choir that Brahms conducted. During their short-lived romance, Bertha is said to have sung a Viennese Ländler (folk song) to him on their walks.
Some stuff happened. He did the 19th-century version of ghosting her and stopped writing to her. They broke up.
What’s incredible is that much later in 1868 Brahms wrote Faber’s second newborn child a bedtime lullaby, and obscured in its countermelody the same folk song Bertha once sang to him.
After composing the piece, Brahms wrote a letter and sent the piece to her husband. “Frau Bertha will realize that I wrote the ‘Wiegenlied’ for her little one. She will find it quite in order that while she is singing Hans to sleep, a love song is being sung to her.”
A little cruel and backhanded, but OK.
This song spread from bedside to bedside across countries and time, but gained initial traction partially due to the fact that, while it was a beautiful and new melody, it was steeped in familiar tones that people already knew.
Which leads us to the next point:
The point that’s discussed further in Hit Makers in reference to Wiegenlied is familiarity in product design. The author referenced a revolution in product design in the ’50s — rounded edges and strange futuristic aesthetics grounded in sensibility.
The things that are adopted eagerly and quickly, and therefore the things that gain widespread popularity, are familiar.
We are comfortable with the things we know, but are innately drawn to the things that are new.
This is a concept spread across industries and disciplines. A relevant example in the world of product design is Apple’s iPhone keyboard.
If you want your revolutionary idea or product to be adopted and discussed widely, do what Apple did with telephones in 2007.
To start good word of mouth marketing, you must introduce your product or service in a way that people already know. They’ll accept it, and talk about it in terms they and their peers understand.
Sure, the product must be good, but people need to understand it. Fundamentally.
When the iPhone was first presented to the public, phones had physical buttons. There was haptic feedback, a response between user and application during interaction.
The iPhone’s multi-touch display in that environment wasn’t innately understood, but the design of its on-screen elements mimicked real life buttons. They were beveled, three-dimensional. They had shadows. Users could feel the phone vibrating under the finger when it hit the keyboard.
Their groundbreaking rectangle could function in infinitely different ways, but in order to get the public to immediately tap into that bizarre new idea, they relied on familiar, real-world objects to facilitate a low barrier to entry and kickstart a simple user experience.
This design principle is called skeuomorphism, and it means that the interface of digital objects should mimic their real-world counterparts in order for the general public to enjoy and adopt them.
Another example of real-world mimicry is deleting things on computers — drag the file to the trash can.
Don’t worry about how the data is being shuttled or replaced inside the computer and all the protocol that requires.
Just put it in the trash.
And so it’s the same when we approach word of mouth marketing. Just put your efforts in the trash. Just kidding.
Make your message familiar. Make your product familiar. Make your idea familiar.
Steep it in the values, principles, motivations, feelings, culture, environment, and terms that the public already understands and is a part of, and in so doing you will build the foundation of its “virality” into its identity.
Strategic communication starts far before your followers retweet you.
If you’re thoughtful about tying communication into the context of your audiences’ lives, your communication will live far beyond your own lips and fingers.