viral credibility marketing

While most of the other methods covered in our 12 different types of viral marketing are almost exclusively focused on product development and growth engineering, one could argue our ninth type – viral credibility marketing – is a hybrid of viral growth engineering and branding.

But they’d be wrong. 

In reality, viral credibility marketing is more product-focused than all the rest. This leads to a higher quality product that generates a high-quality perception and creates a high-end brand. In other words, this high-end perception is what DEFINES the branding of the product.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

Viral Credibility: The Intersection of Growth Engineering and Branding


In any industry, there’s often one brand that stands out above all the rest. It’s usually a more expensive luxury brand catering to a more serious or wealthy market. By aligning themselves with wealthy individuals and celebrities (or who’s ever at the top of the hierarchy in that industry), the brand creates a sense of credibility that passes on to the person using it.

Which creates a “chicken or egg” scenario.

  • Person X is more credible because they use Brand Y
  • Brand Y is more credible because it’s used by Person X

Which of these statements is true? Both, eventually, but to seed this never-ending loop you’ll have to convince the first few high-end users pretty heavily.

Who Needs All the Extras?


Top of the line brands aren’t appropriate for beginners or for bargain hunters because these market segments don’t need all the bells and whistles. They need the basics. Anything more will hinder their experience. However, more serious aficionados often want these extra features. So that’s exactly who these top brands cater to.

A great example of viral credibility marketing utilized by a higher-end market is RED, the top-of-the-line DSLR camera manufacturer.

RED is an incredibly expensive DSLR camera that, if used correctly, will shoot cinema-quality footage without the need for endless rolls of old-school film. Top-quality DSLR cameras like RED are part of the reason why the cost of making movies has been cut in half over the past decade.

Serious cinematographers know that the footage they shoot essentially becomes their business card, so they invest in a RED camera in order to stand out from the crowd.

RED Movie Camera - Viral Credibility Marketing

This investment inevitably sets them apart from cinematographers who have shot lower quality footage. Because REDs make this footage look better, cinematographers using REDs often get jobs simply because they’ve got a RED available to them to shoot with.

  • Are serious cinematographers more credible because they shoot footage with a RED?
  • Or is RED more credible because serious cinematographers shoot footage with it?

It doesn’t matter. What matters is the product quality and output is great. And cinematographers using it get higher-profile gigs as a result. In response, other cinematographers want to up their quality and get higher-profile gigs as well, so more REDs get sold.

And the loop continues.

“What Do You Do, and How Do You Do It?”


There’s a line in The Pursuit of Happiness where Will Smith sees another guy drive up in a fancy sports car. He looks at the car longingly before asking, “wow . . . what do you do, and how do you do it?

The answer didn’t really matter. The car said it all. It instantly passed on credibility, and Will Smith’s character had just found something to aspire to.

This “status symbol” perception is the foundation of viral credibility marketing.

  • With a brand like RED, that status is “serious cinematographer.”
  • With a brand like Rolls Royce, that status is “seriously rich.”
  • With a brand like Gibson, that status is “serious musician.”

Gibson Les Paul by Sackrilige - Viral Credibility Marketing

The credibility of the brand responsible for creating a top-notch product rubs off on the person who’s using it. Others view the person using it as a “power user” getting serious value. They then aspire to get that same value.

While not every user may have the same talent as that “power user” (e.g. an ability to rock out like Jimmy Page or capture a scene like Steven Soderbergh), they can STILL up their game and enhance their own experience by upgrading their product choices.

The problem with viral credibility marketing is that it’s often NOT something a startup can create from Day 1. The level of quality needed to successfully achieve this method takes time and money, something not a lot startups have. Not to mention, as the whole lean startup “launch early and imperfect” mantra goes, startups often need to move fast and break things. But those who decide to ignore this rule and shoot for the moon with a viable viral credibility marketing strategy can often activate the explosive potential this viral engine has to offer.

What’s Next?


When people have organic conversations about a brand’s credibility, it’s classified as “word of mouth.” While some examples of viral credibility marketing can be considered word of mouth, not every type of word of mouth is viral credibility marketing. So it’s important to separate these two.

In the next chapter, we’ll dive into the other two forms of viral word of mouth that collectively make up over 75% of all virality. (In case you’re wondering, that’s a lot.)


Want to Know How Buzzfeed Joined the Online Media Elite?

When most people think of viral marketing they think of a few specific brands. YouTube is one. Another is BuzzFeed. Our next chapter talks about how BuzzFeed rose to prominence using a form of viral marketing that puts a new-school twist on a very old way of doing things.


Travis Steffen
Viral Buttons by UP