Banking On Virality Isn’t A Plan

Yesterday I watched a great interview between Scott Galloway and Derek Thompson on how Netflix, Disney, and Amazon are vying for content and distribution.

A couple things Derek said stuck with me, and this marketing wisdom applies to any industry:

“To sell something familiar you want to make it surprising. To sell something surprising you want to make it familiar.”


Banking on virality is not a plan. 

When you believe content can go viral, when you rely on something going viral in order to achieve the (business) outcome you want… that gives you an excuse to not work on a marketing plan.

When you bank on outcomes, it’s easy to overlook the process.

If you say to yourself, “Hey I made something great who WOULDN’T love this and/or me” and you believe in the virality myth, then you think success will just happen. You find yourself believing that your job is making The Thing and that the rest (people finding and using The Thing) will take care of itself.

But we know that some of the best books, songs, and movies failed until they found the right distribution channel. Same goes for businesses. Same goes for ideas. Often something has to come from the “right” person/place in order for us to pay attention.

Content people downplay distribution. Yes, you need to build something great, but you also need to get it in front of the people who are going to care (or, who you can make care). To do that you need to understand the attention platforms (aka distribution channels) that already exist. The people you want to reach… who already has their attention?

If you care about the change you’re trying to make, offloading the responsibility of people finding out about you/your product/your business isn’t a good plan. In fact, as Derek says, banking on virality isn’t a plan to begin with.

To me, this is the interesting thing about growth hacker marketing. People pull stunts to get eyeballs but then don’t necessarily put a plan behind what they’ll do with those eyeballs once they have them (conversion, retention). Growth hacking optimizes for the short-term without thinking about (or worse, at the expense of) longevity.

You can’t control outcomes, but you can control the process.

Don’t outsource your process. Don’t absolve yourself of the responsibility of the change you seek to make. Have a plan, always.