How a product demo can go viral

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When Nathan Rawlins became chief marketing officer at diagram software maker Lucidchart in March 2017, no one said to him—perhaps unsurprisingly—"Hey, go create a viral campaign that will generate over 80 million views."

In fact, his charge was to build a demand generation engine through website optimization, marketing automation and carefully tracked media spending. Having done those things, Rawlins also took a gamble on an idea that bubbled up from his engineering a team and wound up pushing Lucidchart into, ahem, uncharted territory.

The lessons for other marketers are clear. First, if you can use your product to demonstrate its usefulness, prioritize that. Second, while you're creating your demos, focus on the story instead of the product; people will like your product that much more. Third, a little humor goes a long way, especially if it is rooted in popular culture. And finally, even very funny videos need a jumpstart, so don't forget to budget for media support.

What's your proudest accomplishment at Lucidchart thus far?

One of the most successful is a campaign that started last year where we created videos that explain an internet meme via a chart. The results have been just absolutely astounding. It started with an idea from one of our engineers who said, "You know there's this internet meme out there around 'Doggos', about the way that people talk about dogs on the internet." We wanted to explain it with a chart, so our creative team created a video that explains "Doggos" very quickly. Over the course of the last year we've had over 80 million views of our internet meme videos. And though we have started experimenting with some paid promotion, the views are almost entirely organic.


Why do you think they're working so well?

The videos are introducing all sorts of people to the idea of diagramming; people who would never consider themselves "diagrammers." And there are all sorts of people who are watching these things because they're fun. They are commenting like, "Well, this is the best advertising ever, because you caught me with something that I didn't even realize was an advertisement!" People are being introduced to Lucidchart and to diagramming who were never in that universe before.

You've got lots of views. How have the videos impacted your business?

We are very cognizant that the vast majority of the people watching these videos are probably not going to be customers. But we see this as the law of big numbers, right? If we can introduce a few hundred thousand people to our product that never would have considered it before, and are good candidates for using it, it's a huge win. The videos are relatively inexpensive, and pretty easy to get out there. Anecdotally, we're discovering all sorts of people that know of us because of these videos. A colleague that was in London on a business trip had a Lucidchart shirt on, and a shopkeeper said, "Oh! You're from that company that makes those videos!" So, we know that they're out there being seen, and we see some of the halo effect of that. But overall this is like any sort of brand advertising—pretty hard to track back to direct registrations.

Is there a company vision that is at the root of these efforts?

The way that we see it, this way of communicating is the most natural way of communicating. If we sit down in the same room, we'd be up at a white board or sketching on a piece of paper and we'd be drawing things out. But the challenge is that when the Office suite was codified, computers weren't sophisticated enough to allow us to draw things out. So, we all got used to just writing text. We're bringing the natural way of communicating to the masses. And so, these things are fun because you start seeing people recognize that. "Oh, wait a second, I'd forgotten that I could actually communicate this way. I can draw something out and I can get my point across."

Are there any big lessons you learned from this?

Probably the biggest lesson is just to start with some small experiments. When someone has a creative idea, give it a shot. I vividly remember the day that the team came to me and said, "By the way, this engineer had an idea and we cranked out this video. Are you OK with us publishing it?" I had one of those moments of, "I don't really see this being a huge success, but why not?" Had we not taken that shot, we never would have discovered this rich vein. Try a bunch of things! Have your strategy of, "We need to do more brand advertising," or whatever, and then just try things. Experimentation is key.

What gave you the courage to give it a shot?

Honestly, it was pretty easy. But I can't take any credit for this. The team here has built a culture of experimentation, where over the years they have been willing to try all sorts of things and then adjust based on that experimentation. So, it wasn't really a big stretch at all just to say, "Hey, this is yet another experiment. Let's give it a shot and see what happens."

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