Neil Patel

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How to Apply Buzz Marketing Principles for Effective Internet Marketing

The first thing you need to know about buzz marketing is this: generating buzz isn’t completely random. There’s a science to getting people to talk about your business, and it’s something you can learn to do.

So what’s the difference between buzz marketing and traditional marketing?

The difference is that the goal of buzz marketing is to get people talking about your brand – not just to make people aware that your brand exists.

To get a better idea, let’s talk more about generating buzz.

Most people think it’s something that happens randomly, but in the book Buzzmarketing, author Mark Hughes talks about how buzz can be generated by following a few basic principles. Businesses that follow these principles are much more successful at getting people and news outlets talking about their brand than businesses that only use traditional marketing tactics.

So how can you apply these basic principles and generate buzz for your business?

The Fundamental Principle of Buzz Marketing

The first thing you need to learn is the fundamental principle of buzz marketing. In a nutshell, this is it: if you want to generate buzz, you need to give people something to talk about. That may seem simple and obvious, but you have to learn how to give people something to talk about if you want to consistently generate buzz.

To do so, you need to learn the types of topics that get people talking. Yes, people talk about a lot of things, but there are particular conversation starters that get people talking more often than other topics. Let’s take a look at those.

The Six Buttons of Buzz

Mark Hughes calls these conversation starters the six buttons of buzz. Based on his research, the following topics are very effective at getting people talking:

  1. Taboo (controversial)
  2. The Unusual (unique)
  3. The Remarkable
  4. The Outrageous
  5. The Hilarious
  6. Secrets (kept and revealed)

As you can see from this list, one reason buzz marketing is so effective is that it uses hot-button topics that are known to get people talking. By following these principles, not only will your business stand out by doing things that are unique and remarkable, but you’ll also get people talking about what you do—which creates awareness, drives traffic, and increases sales and profits.

So how do you apply these principles, and what are some examples of businesses that have used them effectively?

Button #1: Taboo

Taboo is the first buzz button. The basic idea here is that, unfortunate or not, people have a tendency to talk about things they shouldn’t talk about. There’s just something in our nature that makes us want to bring up topics that are taboo. In the book, Mr. Hughes gives an example of parents of toddlers who can’t resist bringing up topics like diapers and “accidents” at a dinner with other parents. It’s taboo, but parents can’t resist talking about it.

To take this further, I like to consider taboo to mean controversial. These types of topics are ones that give people something to debate, dispute, or argue about. The obvious example is radio personalities who use controversial topics to get attention and to get people talking about their shows. Rush Limbaugh is very adept at getting attention through controversy. Most of it is on purpose, and even though it can be a cheap tactic, it works.

In order to apply this principle for internet marketing, you want to do things that are edgy and controversial. You don’t want to cross the line and create enemies like Mr. Limbaugh, but blog posts and other controversial content will get people talking more than content that’s safe and boring.


Copyblogger, on occasion, is known to use this tactic and take controversial stances. They don’t do anything crazy, but they don’t just go along with what everyone else is saying and doing. Here are two posts that exemplify this: Are Social Media Experts Worthless by Sonia Simone and 21 Warning Signs You’re Becoming a Social Media Snob by Jon Morrow. Both of these posts called out people in Copyblogger’s own industry and generated buzz to the tune of 7,200 and 2,500 tweets respectively. They didn’t go crazy and create enemies, but they did create some controversy, generate attention, and get people talking.

Button #2: The Unusual

The next button is the unusual button. I like to call this the “unique” button because it’s easier for me to apply.

When it comes to the unusual (or unique) button, your goal is to create a product positioning or content that stands out from the crowd. If you do the same thing as everyone else in your industry, you won’t stand out, and you won’t get people talking about your product or service. Doing something unique gets you noticed and gets people talking.


wp engine

WP Engine is great example of doing something unique. They offer WordPress web hosting that is fast, safe, and reliable. Even though their prices are higher than more well-known hosting companies, they stand out by offering faster, safer, and more reliable hosting. Their competitors run together in customers’ minds, but WP Engine stands out as a premium WordPress hosting company.

Button #3: The Remarkable

Another way to stand out and to get people talking is to do something remarkable. Average and ordinary don’t get people talking, but remarkable does.

The goal here is do something extremely well at an extremely high quality. If everyone else is creating average content, you need to create something above the average. People talk about products and services that are significantly better than average. If a hotel gives decent service, no one tells their friends about it, but if a hotel goes beyond what is expected, people will talk.


The obvious online business that comes to mind here is Zappos. Their insane “365 day” return policy and stellar customer service is still unmatched in their space. Zappos goes above and beyond status-quo expectations which makes their brand something easy to talk about.

The beauty of this button is: it’s marketing built into company values that makes it “automagically” work.

Button #4: The Outrageous

This button and the next are two of the most difficult to apply in a business context. Outside of business, it’s easy to use them to create buzz, but for businesses, it’s not so straightforward.

One point from the book is that “outrageousness” for the sake of being outrageous doesn’t provide a benefit if there’s no connection made with your brand. We’ve all watched commercials that made us laugh, and after we told our friends about it, we couldn’t remember which company the commercial was for. You may get people talking about you with outrageous marketing, but what benefit will there be for your brand if there’s no beneficial connection?

The lesson: Outrageous marketing content needs to be connected to your brand and promote what you do.


In his book Buzzmarketing, Mark Hughes talks about an instance where the company he worked for,, paid to have a city named after it for a year. Prior to the campaign, the CEO had challenged Mr. Hughes to get the most ROI out of the advertising budget. He succeeded by renaming a town with the company’s website name. News outlets couldn’t stop talking about it, and the outrageousness of the campaign put on the map. They received a call from eBay twenty days after launch, sold to eBay after six months for $300 million, moved to the top ten list for most trafficked retail sites in less than a year, and grew from zero to eight million users in less than three years. All from a buzz marketing stunt that Time magazine called “one of the greatest publicity coups.” Not bad for an intentional buzz marketing campaign.

Another example is the “Will it blend?” Youtube series by Blendtec. In the series, Blendtec shows how powerful their blenders are by attempting to turn crazy objects like an iPhone, marbles, paint balls, etc., into smoothies. The videos are outrageous, which draws attention and gets people talking, and there’s a strong connection to the brand by showing how powerful the blenders are. I for one have considered buying a Blendtec when my Black & Decker special seems to be going out. Why? Because I remembered how powerful the Blendtecs are based on the videos I heard about. In case you want to see for yourself, you can watch the iPhone video here.

Button #5: The Hilarious

Once again, this is one of the more difficult to apply in a business context. Hilarious videos and articles get shared like wildfire because people like to laugh and to talk about things that make them laugh. But when it comes to business, being funny isn’t the easiest thing to do.

The following examples provide ways to use this button in a business context.


One example of a hilarious campaign that got people talking was the Swagger Wagon video by Toyota. They created a hilarious video with rapping parents and kids that made minivans look cool (not an easy task). The result was people talking about the video to the tune of 10 million views and counting. What’s even better is that not only is this video funny, but it also makes the Toyota Sienna seem cooler, passing equity on to the brand. That’s much better than a funny video that has no connection to the company or product.

Button #6: The Secrets (Kept and Revealed)

People like to talk about two things when it comes to secrets—the ones that are kept and the ones that are revealed. Baked somewhere into our human nature is a desire to learn about things that are hidden and secretive. We want to know more about something if it’s mysterious, and we want to tell other people about something if we have an inside scoop.

One way to apply this is to provide behind-the-scenes content. Businesses can show people what life is like behind the scenes at their company. Entertainers do this all the time, and it’s a great way for businesses to reveal “secrets” and create a personality for customers to connect with.

Another application is to give some customers a sneak peak of a new product or service. If you’re about to release a product, you can reveal it to a select number of influential customers and make them feel like they’re on the inside. Once someone knows a secret, they’ll be dying to tell other people about it to show that they’re in the know. Companies can take advantage of this by revealing a product before its launch to only a select number of customers, and then unleashing them as brand ambassadors once the product is announced.


gmail logo

Google took advantage of this principle when they initially released Gmail. They limited sign ups to people who received an invitation. This created an aura of mystique around the e-mail service because not everyone could sign up for it. Google then leveraged this intrigue, creating a situation where people couldn’t wait to get invited to use Gmail. Since they couldn’t wait, they also couldn’t help but talk to others about it, generating more buzz and more interest.

Bonus Tips

Now that you know about these six buttons of buzz, you can get started with creating content and marketing campaigns that will get customers and news outlets talking. Here are two bonus tips to help:

Tip #1: Use two or more buttons at a time

If you want to get more out of your buzz marketing efforts, try combining two or more of these buzz buttons in one campaign. Instead of just being hilarious, do something hilarious and remarkable. Or instead of just being unique, do something unique and remarkable.

With a blog post as an example, it will stand out as long as it’s unique. But if you spend extra time to pack it with super valuable content, it will stand out for not only being unique, but also for being remarkable.

Tip #2: Spend enough time to do something remarkable

One of the easiest ways to get more out of your buzz marketing efforts is to take extra time to create remarkable products, content, and campaigns. You can cut corners and quickly create what you need, but that won’t help you stand out. There’s a direct correlation between the amount of time you spend creating something and how remarkable it turns out to be.

An infographic takes more time than writing a post that’s filled with statistics. The post will get shared, but the infographic will get shared more. A blog post that takes half an hour may get some results, but it won’t stand out from all of your competitors’ who also take half an hour to write posts. Two hour posts are guaranteed to be more remarkable than thirty minute posts.

Remember: not only do you want to push the six buttons of buzz, but you also want to push more than one at a time. And the easiest way to do so is to push the remarkable button by investing more time on your product, content, or campaign.

Go ahead and get people talking about your brand. Push these buttons to see what kind of buzz you can generate.

About the Author: Joe Putnam is the founder of Conversion Engine where they help eCommerce brands use email and SMS marketing to grow.

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