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Riding the Viral Wave: Preparing and Responding to Sudden Fame in DTC Ecommerce

Riding the Viral Wave: Preparing and Responding to Sudden Fame in DTC Ecommerce


Things change so quickly. 

One minute, you’re watching a football game; the next, you’re dragged into the all-encompassing vortex of Taylor Swift. 

When Taylor showed up at a Kansas City Chiefs game in support of Travis Kelce (sitting next to his mom?!), the internet went into an absolute tailspin. Were the rumors true? When did they meet? Are they actually dating, or is it all just a PR stunt?

Taylor hanging out with Travis's mom

If you’re a Swiftie (or you’re tired of hearing about her), you need to understand the impact that sudden virality or a celebrity endorsement can have on a DTC business. 

In this article, we’ll discuss ways you can answer the essential question: how do you ensure you’re ready for virality? 

We’ll dive into preparing for a sudden boost in orders, how to market effectively during your 15 minutes of fame, handle any logistical challenges, and most importantly - how to understand the types of customers that visit your site during a viral moment so that you can target and retarget them when your time in the spotlight inevitably runs out.

Big Reputation = Selling Power

Whether Taylor and Travis are seriously endgame or just having fun, one thing is for sure: interest in the NFL from the Swiftie camp has popped off. Sales for Kelce’s number 87 jersey jumped by nearly 400% following Taylor Swift’s first appearance at Arrowhead Stadium on Sunday, September 24th, bringing his jersey amongst the top 5 purchased across the NFL. Viewers were already planning to tune in to the next Chiefs game just to get a chance to see Taylor, but once it was announced that she was planning to attend the Chiefs vs. Jets game in New Jersey this past Sunday, the cost of New York Jets tickets spiked by nearly 40%. 

The Swift Effect has the NFL in a stranglehold, and they’re not even being shy about it: they changed their social media bios to mark Taylor’s attendance, and even created a Swiftie-themed introduction to Sunday Night Football on October 1st to welcome a season-high 20.2 million total viewers, 34% higher than last week’s numbers and sure to include more than a few brand new Football fans. 

By far, the funniest example of a marketing team going all-in on the Taylor Swift Watches Football Moment is Heinz creating a new product called Ketchup and Seemingly Ranch based on a viral tweet about Taylor’s condiment preferences. 

The best part about this was nobody confirmed if it actually was ranch. Seemingly was funny enough, and a new meme was born. Heinz says they’re only releasing 100 limited edition bottles, though, which is a seemingly very low bar. However, limiting quantity is a great way to increase demand (and perhaps an entirely new product line is a long way to go for a joke). 

It’s not limited to Taylor - any celebrity or individual that can have an influence. When Kate Middleton chooses to wear a piece of fashion, it almost instantly sells out, and “The Kate Effect” has been estimated to give a $1.2 billion boost to the UK Fashion Industry. A trend on TikTok called TikTok Made Me Buy It features users sharing exactly that statement with why a product is great, further influencing other individuals to buy it. 

Some other campaigns that have seen viral success convert to DTC sales include E.L.F. Cosmetics’ #EyesLipsFace challenge campaign from early 2019 (props to the agency behind it, Movers+Shakers). 

Instead of re-using trending audio, Movers+Shakers commissioned a custom catchy beat that incorporated the brand pillar of e.l.f. being for every eye, lip, and face. They put the 15-second spot out into the world, and TikTok users did the rest, with over 5 million user-generated videos being created with the sound. In a similar pop-culture moment to ‘seemingly ranch’, plenty of celebrities and other brands jumped on the trend, further increasing the reach and making it the most viral TikTok ad campaign ever. 

Going viral is just the first step, the next is to make sure your website, team, and inventory can handle the attention. 

Are You Ready For It?

If you’re going viral, you’d better be ready to deliver on the hype. That means a few things, but mainly: 

Scalable Infrastructure: The backend of your website should be able to handle large spikes in demand, keep your and your customers’ data secure, and have a seamless front-end experience for optimal customer experience. One of the worst things that could happen is you have a viral moment and your storefront breaks - everybody leaves angry, nobody makes a purchase, and they’ll probably complain about you online on top of it all.  

When Beyoncé collaborated with Topshop in 2016 to release her Ivy Park collection, the website crashed (and everybody lost it). In retrospect, Topshop should have bowed to the Bey-hive and invested in some scalable infrastructure before even planning something like this. You should do the same! 

It seems like every few months there’s news of a new retailer being held ransom by a cyberattack, with the number of retail ransomware attacks growing by 67% in 2022. Canadian homegoods and books retailer Indigo lost $50 million last year following a cyberattack, so having an out-of-date infrastructure can put you at risk for big losses in both cash and customer trust. It’s best to stick with a backend that can grow with you; one that’s perfect for startups and established businesses alike is Shopify

Inventory management: If one of your products gets viral attention, your inventory management system should be able to handle it. Depending on the set-up of your DTC business, you should ensure you’ve set up strategies that allow you to scale both production and fulfillment. 

Cannabis x mushroom social tonic company Brēz is feeling the pressure of having an ad generate huge sales without the proper infrastructure to support it. In a good news/bad news lowdown on the founder’s Twitter, Nick Shackelford outlines how he’s still trying to get the cost of raw materials down while pulling potentially $175k revenue for the month. They’re struggling to find places to house the products while fulfilling the orders. Which is a problem that could be solved by setting up a 3PL or external logistics company to do all of the heavy lifting when it comes to shipping out your product. 

Supply Chain: Control the things you can by being ahead of the game. Make sure if you need raw materials for your product that you’re way ahead of ordering. This includes taking a look at historical data to understand seasonality of your product to ensure you’re ready for the regular ebbs and flows of your product sales outside of a viral moment. 

Customer Service: You’ve got to have a customer service team at the ready, or you’re going to be the one answering emails. Founders often like to reminisce about the good old days when they were at the front line putting out fires, but if you’re doing that, then you’re losing out on time you should be spending on the bigger parts that go into running a business. Make sure you’ve fully-trained dedicated support teams that are ready to handle increased customer inquiries, because there will be several! Ensure you have a balance of friendly service and competent problem-solving. 

You can even take a page out of Mr. Beast’s Feastables brand book by implementing some fun AI bots to your front line to save time and generate entertainment for your fans. 

Marketing: Never Miss a Beat

Communication is integral during a viral event, and you need to be lightning on your feet. 

That’s why Heinz jumped on ‘seemingly ranch’ before Taylor was even done eating that chicken tender. 

To leverage the spotlight, you (and your team) need to work to maximize your brand’s exposure during the viral phase. There are likely very few people in North America that are unfamiliar with Heinz, but as a smaller brand, you’ll need to communicate your brand values clearly, concisely, and with a voice that resonates with your target audience. 

Here are our top 5 strategies for maximizing your exposure during a viral moment:

1. Responsive social media: Jump into the conversation and be everywhere. The more engaged you are as a brand, the more memorable it is to potential customers. From sharing funny little memes to gorgeous photos of delectable cakes, Milk Bar is very good at getting customers to join the conversation. 

2. User-generated content: If you keep the conversation happening, there will be more opportunity for user-generated content (UGC). Creators love it when big brands engage directly and it encourages them to share more. Additionally, collaborations with influencers are a great way to reach new audiences. The Miami Heat Store (@miamiheatstore) recently posted a video featuring an influencer working out in some new apparel, which was a great way to share useful content (a workout) with a new product feature. 

3. Follow-up content: Make sure you’re not just relying on that one viral moment and working to create something fantastic for your next promotion! It can be related to the viral moment, but needs to be entertaining enough to stand on its own to keep customers engaged.

After a video went viral on TikTok outlining how their super collagen protein powder could help with hair growth, Obvi created some videos answering the most frequently asked questions in response to the original viral moment.

They were able to create more content around the product while also answering customer questions, which likely helped customers overcome that barrier to purchase. 

4. Limited time offers: Take advantage of your time in the spotlight and provide a steep (but profitable) discount on your product to capture your active audience. True Classic was sure to pair its funny viral ad for socks and underwear that keep “his jingle bells comfortable” with a Christmas promotion called “Daddy Christmas”. 

5. Expand your platform: If this video went viral on TikTok, make sure you’ve generated something similar to share on YouTube or Instagram to broaden your reach. Hush posts relatable and funny content on both TikTok and Instagram to make sure everyone can imagine climbing under a comfy weighted blanket in the middle of the day. 

Data: Don’t Pretend it’s Such a Mystery

Plenty of new eyes on the site is valuable data, and we can use the things we learn about customers that view or purchase from a site to set up detailed targeting or retargeting efforts. When you’re in the middle of a viral moment, it can be difficult to nail down exactly where your customers are coming from. 

With a post-purchase survey installed that specifically asks customers to tell you where they heard about you, you’re getting the information straight from the source in our Total Impact model. 

Also, by using the data collected to create lookalike audiences, you’re able to better target your next set of potential customers (you can do this from the Smart Customer Data Platform). In general, it’s a great idea to understand attribution so you know how to structure your ads once the attention inevitably fades away (happens to the best of us). 

Build on the momentum of your viral moment by retaining that new customer base by implementing these 8 retention strategies to keep them excited and engaged:

  • Onboard new customers with an individualized welcome that makes them feel valued
  • Personalize the customer experience at every touchpoint 
  • Foster trust by being transparent about company values and mission
  • Ask for the gift of feedback
  • Create a company newsletter to keep customers informed (and interested!)
  • Use a CRM to identify trends in behavior to foster customer loyalty
  • Educate your customers with a blog
  • Create an online community where customers can ask questions and share tips

Be a Viral Moment Mastermind

If there's one lesson from Taylor Swift, it's to always be thinking 10 steps ahead. By ensuring your site can handle the traffic, you've got your inventory and back-end processes flowing smoothly, and you've analyzed the data to understand your existing customers, you'll be ready to ride the viral wave when it finally hits.

Keep communicating with your new fans through multiple channels to stay front-of-mind by associating with emerging trends (this seems to be the big brand playbook during this Taylor Swift is Everywhere Moment). 

By continuing to engage your new customers, developing new products, and creating a sense of community among your fans, you might just have the kind of following Taylor only dreamed of when she was 13! 

Do you need a platform you can use as a single source of truth for when your content goes viral? Book a demo with us to see what it’s all about! Also, there’s at least a few Swifties to exchange friendship bracelets with. 

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