August 17, 2018

3 Tips for Your Next Viral Marketing Campaign

When you think of Lucidchart, you probably think of the massively popular “doggo meme videos.” These viral marketing campaigns are the result of Lucidchart taking risks and creating a culture of experimentation within their company. What started out as a simple idea from a team engineer has morphed into a global campaign that introduced Lucidchart to hundreds of thousands of new viewers.

On this entertaining and educational episode of Renegade Thinkers Unite, Drew and Lucidchart’s CMO, Nathan Rawlings, discuss the 3 major ideas behind a viral marketing campaign. Throughout the conversation, they discuss how the “doggo meme videos” became a staple in Lucidchart’s marketing portfolio.

Don’t miss the conversation behind why your website must be rock solid before launching into a campaign strategy and how to effectively track the impacts of a digital marketing campaign.

This podcast episode will leave you laughing and inspired – it’s one you don’t want to miss. Click here to listen now.

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Before you can begin thinking like a Renegade, your company’s digital infrastructure must be built and optimized correctly

Even the best viral marketing ideas will fall flat if your company does not have a stellar website. Combining best practices for SEM and SEO optimization, refining your blocking and tackling techniques, and understanding what your target market is looking for are crucial. This is where data and metrics trump creativity. If your website doesn’t flow well and give people the answers they’re looking for even the best demand generation strategies won’t succeed. Nathan experienced this firsthand when he joined the Lucidchart team. He walks listeners through the process of tweaking your website on this episode of Renegade Thinkers Unite.

Brand awareness can be created through viral marketing campaigns, like Lucidchart’s wildly successful doggo meme videos

Creativity can be found anywhere when brainstorming for ad campaigns. Lucidchart’s team desired to reach out to potential customers and go beyond the low hanging industry fruit of people already creating diagrams.  Thus the “doggo meme” diagram videos that describe the “internet love language for dogs” were born. Each video has millions of views and as a result, the company’s global brand awareness has skyrocketed. A combination of endless internet memes, pop cultural awareness, and a willingness to produce great content simply for the sake of brand awareness allowed this viral marketing campaign to flourish. This campaign is shaping the way Lucidchart looks at customer engagement and you don’t want to miss hearing Nathan talk about the videos with passion and excitement. Be sure to give your full attention to this episode of Renegade Thinkers Unite.

Finding the intersection between culture, product, and storytelling comes after your team has built a culture of experimentation

Nathan explains to Drew that “drawings are the most natural form of communication.” Even before Lucidchart developed the meme diagram videos they had developed a culture of experimentation within their team. No idea was ever too simple or too outlandish to be considered. Nathan urges other CMOs to be human in their storytelling and to always seek out ways to communicate authentically with audiences. Drew also states that you can test a lot of things on the internet, and to not be afraid of the potential (minor) fallout if a digital campaign falls flat. When creative teams who are willing to take risks and try unconventional strategies are united with powerful technology strategies, brilliant ideas are able to flourish.

What You’ll Learn

  • [0:30] Drew introduces his guest for this episode, Nathan Rawlins, CMO of Lucidchart
  • [1:03] How are marketing and torturing marshmallow peeps connected?
  • [4:11] The marketing strategies going on behind the scenes at Lucidchart
  • [5:30] Successful demand generation method examples
  • [6:16] Search engines are ground zero for marketing and why you have to master the basics
  • [10:16] Why practical effectiveness sometimes trumps creativity
  • [11:49] The genius idea behind the “doggo meme” campaign
  • [17:13] Memes are great, but some of Lucidchart’s ideas weren’t as successful as the “doggo speak” campaigns
  • [18:21] How Lucidchart measured the impact of the meme videos
  • [22:03] How viral videos can increase morale and allow people to have fun communicating
  • [25:26] The future of Lucidchart’s meme videos
  • [27:58] Had Lucidchart not taken a risk with the meme videos, they would have never discovered the rich vein of viral marketing
  • [29:53] Drew summarizes his conversation with Nathan and outlines 3 major points for successful viral marketing campaigns
  • [32:06] Have a strategy to try many different marketing tactics

Connect With Nathan Rawlins:

Resources & People Mentioned

Connect with Drew

Drew Neisser in Conversation with Nathan Rawlins

Drew Neisser: I have an exciting episode for you all to listen to today. I’m trying something a little bit different. I’m giving you a sneak peek at what the episode is about. We talk about a program that Lucidchart ran that was wildly successful in terms of videos. They created these videos using their product that was based on memes that are out there in the universe. They have, I don’t know, 50, 60 million views on their videos. It’s a fascinating conversation built on a culture of experimentation. And with that, we’ll go on to the show.

I’m starting a list of things I never expected to say on this show. Today’s entry is: My guest today is a Peeps torturer. No seriously, in his company bio there is a four-minute video showing Peeps—those adorable marshmallow bunnies that never hurt anyone—being subjected to a nail gun, sledgehammers, blowtorches, and even a pasta extruder. The video is complete with dramatic music. It must have a story behind it, and before we get to his day job and talk about marketing, we’re going to find out what the story is with the Peeps torture. Nathan Rawlins, CMO of Lucidchart, welcome to Renegade Thinkers Unite!

Nathan Rawlins: Thanks for having me.

Drew Neisser: What’s your fascination with torturing peeps?

Nathan Rawlins: You know, it had a fairly benign beginning and then it just went from there. Years ago, my wife and I were at my brother’s house outside of Boston around Easter and we were making creme bruleé, so we had the blowtorches out. I saw a marshmallow Peep nearby and decided I had to give it a shot. I had to see what would happen. As we took a blowtorch to a marshmallow Peep, it was something like the space shuttle reentering the atmosphere. It was completely impervious to the blowtorch for quite a while and then it just combusted into this black goo. And that led us down this path of trying to find all sorts of different things that we could do with Peeps. As you said, the video shows a bunch of different things. We’ve shot them up in rockets, we’ve done all sorts of things. Every year it’s a task to see if we can come up with something new to do to a marshmallow Peep.

Drew Neisser: Is this a family activity?

Nathan Rawlins: This is a family activity. I now have teenage kids who get in on the fun and try to come up with something creative every year.

Drew Neisser: And have you heard from the folks at PETA? The animal protection people?

Nathan Rawlins: No complaints from PETA yet. I look forward to that little bit of publicity.

Drew Neisser: All right. We almost have something in common; you almost went to Duke law school. And again, that’s on your bio. What happened?

Nathan Rawlins: I took a year off between undergrad and going to—I was planning on going to—law school. This was right during the dot-com boom, right at the early stages of it, and I joined a little software company for a year thinking I would just take a breather before going to law school and absolutely fell in love with the software industry. So, I never showed up to law school.

Drew Neisser: Well, I’m sure they missed you down in Durham and you missed an amazing experience. Those were four great years of my life. I talk about Duke a lot on the show. Let’s talk about marketing and Lucidchart. What you have done so far that really helped Lucidchart cut through?

Nathan Rawlins: Lucidchart is an absolutely fascinating business. Over the years the team here has built up a highly scientific approach to marketing. We understand what our customers are doing, what they care about, and we built an absolutely fantastic way of going out and acquiring customers. What we’ve been layering in over the course of the last year, since I’ve been here, is really taking it to the next level in terms of our vision of what that product can do and new ways of going out and trying to get our message to the masses.

Drew Neisser: So, I went onto the Lucidchart website and it allows you to—on the cloud—make a wide range of charts, whether it’s an organizational chart, or a mind-mapping chart, or all these things you can do on the cloud. That’s a pretty quick summary of the tool itself.

Nathan Rawlins: Yes. Spot on.

Drew Neisser: Okay. And you’ve been good at acquiring customers, meaning you’ve created demand generating programs. What has worked, for you in particular, in that area in terms of demand generation? We’ll come back to layering on the vision.

Nathan Rawlins: What has been most successful for us over the years is that most people know that they want to accomplish something. I want to create an organization chart, or if I’m a software developer, I know that I need to create a resource diagram. So, they go out and they search for those things. And we’ve built a fantastic engine for capturing any of those things that people are searching for and then we have built a highly efficient funnel for getting people into the product, experiencing it, and then making them customers.

Drew Neisser: So, search, which is ground zero of marketing. I noticed that you had a search bar program called a “six-pack.” When you search Lucidchart, underneath there are six different expressions of the brand which say that you have a pretty good SEO website. What did you do specifically in search that helped you from an SEO standpoint or an SEM standpoint?

Nathan Rawlins: Interestingly, I think it’s basic blocking and tackling. We have a team that is fantastic at going out and understanding what people are searching for and then building out the pages that help speak to exactly what that user cares about. We are constantly looking for new types of diagrams or new ways of thinking that people are looking to pursue and we ensure that we’ve got the content there on the website to capture them.

Drew Neisser: That’s interesting to me. A lot of folks listen to Renegade Thinkers Unite and they’re looking for the “Wow” and they want to get to the “Wow.” And I am all about the “Wow” but I will tell you this, when you are managing a campaign and a big idea, you still need the blocking and tackling, as Nathan described it. You need a core foundational website. Whatever it is that you’re going to do you have to have those things in place. Because if you do this amazing cool program, whether it’s a guerrilla program or some kind of social or viral program, if the website isn’t ready to receive these folks it’s all in vain. I just want to make sure that even though we’re talking about renegade thinking, renegade thinking starts with this notion: Do the basics. Get that stuff down before you get crazy. 

Nathan Rawlins: Actually, if you don’t mind me going through that in just a bit more detail. As I think about my experience here at Lucidchart, I remember that when I came on board, I checked out our website and I wasn’t thrilled with it. It didn’t look the way that I wanted it to look. I thought that we could change things like the navigation and when I talked with the team here, what I discovered was that there were specific reasons why everything was the way that it was. And as I pushed on things like, “Let’s change the navigation color to a different color,” the reaction I got was, “Well, we’ve experimented with this and if we change the color to the color that you want we’ll see that registrations are going to be affected in this way, and even payments are going to go down.” So, maybe this isn’t the place to be creative. One of the ways of renegade thinking is understanding that there are times where data trumps creativity, and there are other times where you can go out and you can be very creative, but you’ve got to understand in either of those cases which path you should be taking.

Drew Neisser: That’s a really great point. It’s a fascinating one and I want to dig into that as we get into our next section. We’re going to take a quick break and then when we come back, we’re going to talk about when creativity trumps data or how you can use creativity to test your scenarios and try to break them. We’ll be right back.


Drew Neisser: We’re back, and my guest today is Nathan Rawlins, CMO of Lucidchart. We’ve been talking about how, sometimes, practical effectiveness trumps creativity, which is a scary thing for me to say. I’m not even sure those words came out of my mouth. But anyway, recognizing that you had things that worked really well, what did you find that was broken that did require some creativity that you needed to fix?

Nathan Rawlins: Well, for us it’s been our desire to get beyond the traditional diagrammer market. As we talked about earlier, we’ve got a fantastic engine for going out there and capturing people that know that they need a product like ours. But we know that there are millions of other people that actually need our product that just don’t know it. That’s where a lot of our creativity comes in, where we’re going out and trying to appeal to people that would never have thought about us to begin with. To do that, we’ve tried all sorts of different tactics.

Drew Neisser: This is important. The low-hanging fruit here was the people who knew, “Hey I need a chart. I’m doing a chart. Maybe there’s a solution for me that’s better than what I have on PowerPoint or Gantt chart or whatever.” So, they search because they have a demand. But then you get to the point where you’ve saturated that market and now you need to create demand where you have to grow the category. So, how do we do that?

Nathan Rawlins: We have tried all sorts of things over the years. One of the most successful is a campaign that we have run several times over the course of the last year where we’ve created videos that explain some internet memes in one way or another via a chart. The results have been absolutely astounding. It started with an idea from one of our engineers who said, “There’s this internet meme out there around ‘Doggos.’” The way that people talk about dogs on the internet, we should explain that via a chart.” So, our creative team created a video that explains “Doggos” very quickly, and over the course of the last year we’ve had over 80 million views of our internet meme videos.

Drew Neisser: Wow. That’s a big number. And is all of that organic? Or, did you also support it with paid?

Nathan Rawlins: We have started experimenting with some paid, but it’s almost entirely organic.

Drew Neisser: Amazing. Let’s break that down a little bit. How are you discovering these memes and how do you know which ones to jump on?

Nathan Rawlins: We’ve done several things where we look to see in the comments what people might be interested in. We’ve gone into “Cattos” and the most recent one that we did in the last couple of weeks was called “Nopes.” These are all new things for me. “Nopes” are the internet’s way of talking about spiders. We launched last week and it’s already up over about 6 million views. What’s interesting is that it’s introducing all sorts of people to the idea of diagramming, even people that would never consider themselves diagrammers. And there are all sorts of people that are watching these things because they’re fun, and they are commenting, “Well this is the best advertising ever, because you caught me with something that I didn’t even realize was an advertisement.” We’re introducing all sorts of new people to Lucidchart and to diagramming that were never in that universe before.

Drew Neisser: Wow. There are so many things that I want to comment on here. One, you were using your product to talk about something that people were interested in, so you found this intersection of culture and product and then layered a story on top of that. Then you used your product to tell a story in a way that was highly entertaining. You had no idea that these would actually catch on, right?

Nathan Rawlins: We expected that we would only get a few thousand views of the first one. It was completely astounding.

Drew Neisser: This reminds me of the chart equivalent of “Will it blend?” In some ways, it’s an interesting torture test for your product because it allows you to say, “All right, how do we tell the story? How do we explain this idea of using charts right?” There’s a lot of creativity that must be involved in this. Who is doing this work for you?

Nathan Rawlins: We have an in-house videographer that’s been doing it. He talks with different people in the company that are interested in a particular meme to get the ideas and then it extends from there.

Drew Neisser: Very cool. I would love another example because we’re going to link to all of these. I’m finding this whole thing very inspiring and amazing and I want to make sure that the listeners get a chance to see these things. So, you had “Cattos,” “Doggos,” and “Nopes;” what else?

Nathan Rawlins: So far most of our meme videos have been specifically around animal topics. They tend to be tremendously popular. But there’s another video out there of some guy saying, “It is Wednesday, my dudes.” It’s just another simple meme that we were able to attach to and it took off as well. Most of these videos have been huge hits but we certainly have had some that were not. But so far, in these videos, we found a nice, rich vein.

Drew Neisser: Well, yeah, and there’s an endless supply of memes. It allows you to always be part of an important conversation. Are you discovering these on Reddit? Or promoting them on Reddit? Because that feels like a very Reddit kind of thing.

Nathan Rawlins: It’s funny that you mentioned Reddit. Last year, or the year before last, right before I joined, the team did something similar to these where we actually created diagrams on all sorts of different topics. A diagram of “Which Droid are You?” for Star Wars, or this or that, and those took off on Reddit until Reddit started to feel like it was advertising, and they shut it down. We found that Reddit was an interesting way of drumming up interest for a while but then it shut off. Now we have to shift our tactics to something new.

Drew Neisser: Animal topics, obviously that’s a big draw, everybody’s interested in those. My wife was showing me last night something on Instagram with a cat giving a dog a back rub. I mean that’s the kind of stuff that does really well. Talk about ones that haven’t worked.

Nathan Rawlins: The things that we’ve found that haven’t been as successful. We did one, for instance, around animals and the Olympics. It was more time-sensitive, and it was more topical, so it narrowed the audience. It didn’t take off nearly to the extent that some of these others did. It still got hundreds of thousands of views, but it didn’t break into the many millions like some of these other videos.

Drew Neisser: Let’s talk about the ripple effect of these videos. How many meme videos have you created so far?

Nathan Rawlins: We’ve created eight or so, I would say.

Drew Neisser: Eight videos. You’re putting them on YouTube, right?

Nathan Rawlins: They are on YouTube.

Drew Neisser: What impact has this had? One could say, “Well, you’ve got lots of views, but how has it impacted your business?”

Nathan Rawlins: We are very cognizant that the vast majority of the people that are watching these videos are probably not going to be customers. But we see this as the law of big numbers. 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 because they’re relatively inexpensive and pretty easy to get out there. For us, that’s the way that we justify it.

Anecdotally what we find is that we’re discovering all sorts of people that know of us because of these videos. I’ll give you just two quick examples. I had a colleague that was over in London on a business trip, he dropped into a shop to buy a souvenir for his children and he had a Lucidchart shirt on. The shopkeeper said, “Oh, you’ve got to be kidding me! You’re from that company that makes those videos!”

Similarly, a week before last, our Head of Engineering was picking up a rental car, and he validated his e-mail as The person that was helping him get his car paused and said, “Oh, you’re from Lucidchart? You create the doggo videos! Those are the best advertisements I’ve ever seen.” We know that they’re out there being seen and we see some of the halo effects of that. But overall, this is like any sort of brand advertising—pretty hard to track back to direct registrations.

Drew Neisser: Let’s talk about the measurement factor. Have you seen any corresponding increase in website traffic based on the number of views?

Nathan Rawlins: We can see an uptick in website traffic with some of the ones that spike for us. To be honest, we’re not seeing a tremendous increase in registrations that we can directly track back to these. But again, overall, we have millions and millions of people seeing these, and our expectation is that, over time, it’ll definitely help us increase our brand recognition and get more people to consider using the product.

Drew Neisser: This is amazing. I want to dive a little bit more into the analytics and the thoughts that you’ve shared, so we’re going to do that when we come right back.


Drew Neisser: We are back. My guest is Nathan Rawlins, the CMO of Lucidchart, and we’ve been talking about this dream thing that so many marketers want: A viral video. You have videos that have gone viral. It used to happen to us were where brands would come to us and say, “Hey Renegade, give us some brand viral videos” and we said, “No, that’s not the way it works.” You’ve talked about the challenge of correlating this effort, but I wanted to suggest that one of the things that must be really fun is that your employees must really like this.

Nathan Rawlins: It’s fun because it started with an employee that wasn’t in marketing. They came up with the idea, so there are lots of people that get involved in that. Beyond that, it’s hard to track the numbers directly back to a bunch of registrations. We have a pretty steady flow of stories coming into the company of people that say, “By the way, I was introduced to LucidChart because of these videos.” Or as I mentioned already, where people ran into someone that knew of the company because of it. That gets people pretty excited because now we have millions of people that know about us that otherwise would not have.

Drew Neisser: When you’re sitting down with your CEO and he says, “Okay, you got these viral videos that have all these views.” and the board of directors want to say, “I only want to spend money on things that drive the business forward.” How does that conversation go?

Nathan Rawlins: Well, we’re lucky to have a board of directors that wants us to do more of this.

Drew Neisser: Okay. So, obviously, somehow or other, they’ve seen them and they like them. One of the things that it says is that your business is fun, there’s some creativity involved in this, and it says something wonderful about the brand itself. This isn’t just a dumb chart. This is about communicating and having some fun with communications.

Nathan Rawlins: I think you just nailed it there, which goes back to a point that we talked about earlier in the podcast where we’re trying to introduce new people to the product. The way we see it is that this is the most natural way of communicating. If we sat down, and if you and I were in the same room, we’d be up at a whiteboard or sketching on a piece of paper and we’d be drawing things out. The challenge is that, when the office suite was codified, computers weren’t sophisticated enough to allow us to draw things out. We all got used to just writing text and considering that that’s the way that we communicate. What we’re doing, the way we see it, we’re bringing the natural way of communicating to the masses. These things are fun because you start seeing people recognize, “Oh, wait a second, I’d forgotten that I could actually communicate this way. I could draw something out and I can get my point across.”

Drew Neisser: I suddenly went back to cave drawings.

Nathan Rawlins: It’s the most natural way of doing it.

Drew Neisser: Right. We’ve talked about these videos. Now, looking ahead, do you have a steady stream of these? Do you have a monthly plan? How do you go about it moving forward?

Nathan Rawlins: We have a few more in the hopper. Honestly, we keep a pretty tight leash in terms of timeline on these things because we are frequently reacting to what we’re hearing from the people that are watching the videos in terms of new ideas, so they tend to be pretty free flowing.

Drew Neisser: Meaning it’s when the right meme comes in, this seems like one that we could have fun with. It’s not “All right, we’re going to get one of these out every month from here on out.”

Nathan Rawlins: Exactly.

Drew Neisser: I see. Waiting for that right moment and not trying to force it is interesting. You’ve said a couple of times that you’ve gotten feedback. Has a community been built around these videos?

Nathan Rawlins: The feedback that we get is mostly through comments on YouTube and Facebook and other viral sites. Earlier, you mentioned Reddit and one of the things that we found is that there was a discussion going on in the community on Reddit where they buy and sell stock essentially in memes, and someone pointed out that a particular meme around “Doggos” must have gone too far because someone had created a video about it, an advertisement, and the community actually jumped all over it and said, “No actually, if Lucidchart is creating a video on it then its stock is going up.” You really do have this vibrant community of people that are not only interested now in Lucidchart but in the intersection of Lucidchart and these memes.

Drew Neisser: It’s a fascinating and scary world. Anybody who’s ever read comments on YouTube knows that there are no holds barred. It’s a scary world when it comes to comments on YouTube. I’m imagining not every one of them was positive and you must have had to suck it up a little bit when you saw the crazies.

Nathan Rawlins: These ones have generally been pretty positive. But we’ve had other campaigns that go out there into the public where we’ve seen the negative side of the internet for sure.

Drew Neisser: When you look back at this program, what are some of the biggest lessons learned?

Nathan Rawlins: Probably the biggest lesson is 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 okay with us publishing it?” I had one of those moments of “I don’t really see this being a huge success, but why not? Let’s give it a shot.” And had we not taken that shot, we never would have discovered this rich vein.

Drew Neisser: What gave you the courage? And I’ll say it took courage because it wasn’t on the campaign chart, it didn’t fit into the marketing plan, and you couldn’t put a direct measurable on it. What gave you the courage to give it a shot?

Nathan Rawlins: Honestly, it was pretty easy. And 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. It wasn’t a big stretch at all just to say, “Hey this is yet another experiment. Let’s give it a shot and see what happens.”

Drew Neisser: What a great statement. A culture of experimentation, that is something I suspect a lot of people are thinking about in terms of their company, and whether or not they work in one. Because it’s so true that if you don’t have a culture of experimentation, then you are really up against it. It’s very hard to try new things. The beauty of what you’ve described is that, with the Internet, you can test a lot of things. I mean you put a video out there, what’s really the worst that’s going to happen? But still, there’s a lot of fear, so having a culture of experimentation is huge.

I’m going to try to summarize now if I can. The first and foremost thing is making sure your infrastructure is set. We talked a lot about getting your website, your search, and your SEO. Getting the stuff that will help with the low hanging fruit in your marketplace that will be searching for your products or services. It will help them find you and find what they need when they go to the website. Don’t make it difficult or fancy. Don’t choose colors because they necessarily appeal to you. Make sure you’ve tested your way to success when it comes to the website. 

Now, the next problem is we’re going to run out of juice. At some point, you need to create awareness that will drive people to the website, so how are you going to do that? That reminds me immediately of Byron Sharp and his book, How Brands Grow. Awareness is key folks, and it doesn’t matter what your category is. If they don’t know about you, they can’t buy you. The fact that there might be some waste here is less important because I think, in your world, Nathan, that a lot of people could use charts, just about anybody with a computer right?

Nathan Rawlins: That’s the way we see it.

Drew Neisser: Yeah, so it’s a big potential universe. Even though this might be described B2B it’s really B2Human. What you did is put out a very human, very compelling message, or story. I’m going to call it a story. And what’s really fun is you found this intersection of culture and product that you can bring together in a unique way that only you guys can do. Using your product to tell a story is a wonderful way of getting people to understand what your product can do, so don’t be overly concerned about the immediate impact of this program. First of all, you’re doing these videos in-house. That can’t be costing you very much, so you can experiment. I guess I’ve learned a lot here. This is amazing, kudos to you. Is there any other lesson, after hearing this summary, that you want to point out?

Nathan Rawlins: I think you nailed the summary and it really it comes back to this: Try a bunch of things. Have your strategy of, “We need to do more brand advertising,” or “We need to do more in this area.” And then just try things. I think that experimentation is key.

Drew Neisser: Nathan Rawlins, thank you so much for being on the show.

Nathan Rawlins: Thank you so much for having me. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it.

Drew Neisser: And to all my listeners, once again, I encourage you to subscribe. That would be really cool. Share it with a friend who you think will find it of value and hopefully inspiring and until next time keep those Renegade Thinking Caps on and strong.