Sunday, May 9, 2010

Viral Marketing: An Introduction

If you cite "viral marketing" in a business plan or new product pitch, it's about the same as saying "I'm going to close my eyes and hope for the best!". Why? Viral marketing (VM) is not simply a methodology- at least not in the same was that direct response television advertisement or a simple below the line campaign is. Rather, VM is an organism that is not reliant on one form or strategy. Interestingly, this is where it derives its power.

As lava explodes from a volcano- whether from the top, side; and in a semi-solid or liquid state- so too does VM find the path of least resistance. Essentially VM is word of mouth on steroids. Maybe it starts in the form of a youtube video or chain email; perhaps in something as simple as a large outdoor advertisement- the medium is not important. What is important, just like lava; is that the information is red hot! An attempt to manufacture or propagate this phenomenon by distribution on many and varied platforms is busywork. If the idea is cold, there will be no contagion. VM is like gossip: the more juicy it is, the faster it will spread.

Having said this, the term 'viral marketing' is most commonly used to describe an online phenomenon.

Dr Ralph F. Wilson suggests there are 6 basic elements for a successful viral strategy. They include:
  1. Gives away products or services
  2. Provides for the effortless transfer to others
  3. Scales Easily from very small to very large
  4. Exploits common motivations or behaviours
  5. Utilizes existing communications networks
  6. Takes advantage of others' resources
Whilst there is distinct value in what is suggested here, all of Dr Wilson's finding can be summarized in one phrase: : "provide value".

This works in all circumstances. Whether it is a funny youtube clip, a news item; or even a new product launch- the essential ingredient is VALUE!

Yet, point number 4 is highly useful. Laughter, fear, disgust, shock, wonder, surprise, hope- to name a few common human emotions- are all excellent feed for the viral machine. Then, it is simply the potency of those emotions which will dictate how likely an individual is to share it.

For example, a recent viral video known as "Dogman" aired on Australian television program "A Current Affair" in April 2010. Allow me to refresh your memory...

Undoubtedly, here the dominant emotions we are dealing with are shock and surprise. Together they offer a hilarious item that simply must be shared. It is the nature of humanity to want to share its condition, which is a provocation of some core and powerful emotions.

Perhaps the most unequivocal current example is the social media platform "Facebook". There is no denying the huge value that Facebook provides for its users. It offers the opportunity to connect with friends, to play and socialize, to share experiences through photos, and simply have fun. These elements are so universal and powerful that it is no surprise it can seen so much viral success.

The biggest mistake made in viral strategy is a disconnection between the emotion you are using to propagate your idea, and the emotion you intend to associate with your brand. For example, if you are a security company who intends to release a funny video of crooks who hurt themselves whilst trying to break or bypass your security devices. The emotion which will sell- and by sell I mean facilitate- the viral campaign is laughter and, to a lessor degree, sympathy. However, the emotions that you require to sell your product surround the concept of "safety" and comfort. In the end you will have a campaign that makes people laugh and feel sympathy, but have no more sales and no increase in revenue. What a waste!

Viral Marketing is a tricky business. There are two things to take away
  1. Provide Value
  2. Ensure a connection between the emotion that facilitates your viral campaign, and the one that sells your product. If there is a such a gap between these two, you have wasted your time!

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