Ask just about any marketing manager what they’d ultimately love to see, and you can bet they’d say it’s to “go viral”. But what does going viral even mean? If you recall the most virulent marketing strategy of 2014, it would be the ALS ice bucket challenge. And when you walk away from that challenge, even months later, the one thing you can quickly recall of the tip of your tongue is some charity called ALS. That right there is marketing goal and it’s the ultimate goal of any hard working marketing department. How you get there though, is another beast entirely – and it starts with changing your understanding of the word “viral.”

Consider viral as the three-headed dog in Greek mythology, known as Cerberus. It’s a bold image but it’s also an important one. If you envision viral as Cerberus, it will help you understand that something as powerful inherently has three key heads that you need to feed. In our case it’s the following:

Head 1: Campaign

Rarely does a singular post go viral. It’s possible, if the post is catchy or just very well written with a strong trigger headline. Still, that’s a one off case. It’ll draw traffic and it might even get some conversion, but it’s still a singular case that’s unanchored to your brand. What you need to do instead is to create an entire campaign. A campaign is on-going, with a multi-platform strategy designed to draw attention to your campaign from different portals. Doing this correctly requires understanding what your audience wants, where they’re at (most companies, for example, still don’t consider that Tumblr, Instagram, and Snapchat beat all other social platforms for a youth demographic). Most importantly, it requires knowing what your brand is about.

Head 2: Brand Message

When I say, “knowing what your brand is about,” I mean understanding how the campaign message fits into and promotes your brand. I cannot stress this enough. If you don’t have the right brand message, you’re less likely to achieve viral success. If you achieve viral success because of a strategic alliance (which is also head #3), then you lose a prime opportunity for press, brand awareness and conversion, just to name a few.

Getting your brand messaging down right is also integral to something going viral; because, when you say “something” goes viral, that “something” is your brand. Sure, you could say that recognition is propelled by a campaign, but essentially the goal of that campaign is to promote your brand. Even if your campaign’s key goal is to create a call to action to encourage sales, donations, or event attendance, you’re still relying on your brand and message to drive traffic. Understanding this fact also helps you better plan the next the next step, alliances.

Head 3: Alliances

We use to call them partnerships, but now alliances is a much more impactful word choice that also gets across what we’re really trying to achieve in any successful partnership. A partnership is where you work together. An alliance is a union in support of a cause. If you’re viral efforts fall into charitable organizations, public works, government, social issues, or even thought leadership – then what you need is an alliance.

Forging a coveted alliance is another thing. You’ll find that an organization is more willing to forge an alliance than a business is. However, to get a business to create an alliance with you, as either another business or organization, you’ll need to find some common ground in either social causes or better yet, in some sort of striven-for ideal.

When creating an alliance, you’re going to need to be truthful about what you can offer and what you expect in return. Before you reach out to any point of contact, sit with your team to strategize the first two heads and have a brief drafted up that pitches what’s being proposed, what you’re looking to accomplish, what type of alliance you’re seeking, what can be achieved, and what are some expected deliverables along. It might be smart to also include how you’re going to measure success and what deliverables you plan on offering the other party. Perhaps there will be a co-branded case study or infographic? The more you can offer, the better chances your chances of securing a high-profile alliance.