I was sitting in a room with six people. On a laptop, we were looking at some social media analytics and reviewing projects. Then we switched gears.

"Has anyone heard about Laurel or Yanny?" someone asked.

Suddenly the tone changed. Who are these two people? What did they do? It turns out the meme has gone super-viral, with every publication known to man weighing in on the craze. It turns out we all hear sound differently, so the recording plays two names but we hear them differently. In that room, we pulled up the link and about half the room heard the name Laurel and the other half heard Yanny. One person said she heard a different name earlier that day. It's all about sound perception, and it was a good ten-minute discussion.

Here is the meme:

The question you might ask, especially if you are trying to market a new product to a mass audience, is this: Why do these things go viral, and how can you mimic that success?

Here are five lessons you can learn about the latest meme.

1. Tap into a human need

One of the most interesting things about memes like Laurel or Yanny, or the one from 2015 that involved a dress that looked black and blue to some (and white and gold to others) is that it's all about understanding ourselves and what it means to be human. Also, every human on the planet is curious about what it means to be human, so you're tapping into a market of 7.6 billion. Forget market segments, go big or go home--that's what memes are all about.

2. Create a curiosity gap

We talk a lot about "curiosity gap" in journalism and in marketing; it's the well-proven strategy for any new content that says you should not give away the entire story in the headline or on social media, but instead try to perk interest. (This article used a curiosity gap by asking the question "why" and mentioning Laurel or Yanny.) Memes take advantage of this high-octane fuel. We all want to know things, to educate ourselves, to grow in knowledge.

3. Encourage the experts to weigh in

Another reason memes like Laurel or Yanny catch on so fast is that everyone loves to be an expert. Yesterday, a YouTube video popped up that tried to explain the science of the meme, that it was all about the bass setting on a stereo. Ah, no. In that room with six people, we listened on the same television in a conference room. The video mysteriously disappeared later in the day. However, it's still true that everyone likes to chime in. There are hundreds of "explainer" articles for the meme now, and some of them are actually pretty accurate.

4. Generate FOMO buzz

At least half of the meeting participants had never heard of Laurel or Yanny. It was a curious moment. Some of us knew, some didn't. Being the person who "knows"? It makes you feel special, as though you have some secret knowledge others do not possess. Again, it's a basic human condition. We like to know, and we like to know what everyone else doesn't know. If a marketing plan can somehow create that kind of buzz, it will be pure gold. Informing is not enough. You have to inform about something really special.

5. Do something new

The last and possibly most important factor when it comes to marketing a new product is to do something brand new. When the dress meme first exploded, no one had really thought much about how we perceive color--except for the academic types. And sound perception? It's even more obscure, since it involves having to play a specific audio recording. Any marketing that uses a novel approach will generate buzz, and could potentially go viral.

If you come up with a new idea to promote a product or service, and want to run it by me, ping me by email. I'll do a follow-up post mentioning the best viral marketing ideas.

Published on: May 17, 2018