Viral Marketing uses people's electronic connectivity to increase the velocity of word-of-mouth. People with similar interests, needs and lifestyles tend to pass on and share interesting and entertaining content. When sponsored by a brand, the message builds awareness of a product or service and can provide qualified prospects for the organisation to pursue.
How Does Viral Marketing Work?
If you are familiar with the concept of "word-of-mouth", then Viral Marketing will not be difficult to grasp as it is essentially the same thing. The significant difference in this case is that Viral Marketing utilises electronic means to spread the message. Without a doubt, referrals are still the most powerful marketing weapon available. Viral Marketing harnesses the electronic connectivity of individuals to ensure marketing messages are referred from one person to another.
A classic example of extremely successful Viral Marketing was the campaign for the email service
Hotmail. When the company launched, every outgoing message from this platform contained an advertisement for Hotmail and a link to its website at the bottom of the email. As people emailed their friends and colleagues, they were also advertising the service. Recipients could simply click on the link and sign themselves up, and as they continued to email friends from their new account, the message spread within existing social networks and was passed along with little effort from the company. Hotmail went from zero to 30 million users in the first 3 years, today Hotmail has over 280 million users worldwide.
Another example of successful Viral Marketing was Burger King's Subservient Chicken campaign which was launched to promote a range of chicken sandwiches. A website was created that featured a man dressed in a giant chicken suit who responded to the commands typed in by visitors. The tag line - "Have it your way". A lot of people must have thought making the chicken man do the moonwalk or some yoga or even lay an egg was funny because within a week the website had received an astonishing 20 million hits!
Why do Viral Marketing?
Viral Marketing is popular because of the:
§ Ease of executing the campaign
§ Relatively low costs (compared to direct mail)
§ High and rapid response rates
The core strength of Viral Marketing is its ability to obtain a large number of interested people at a low cost.
As appealing as it is, Viral Marketing is not always easy to master. In a 2006 Silver pop Email list Growth Survey, Viral Marketing was listed as the top ranked unsuccessful tactic for marketers. However, in the same survey, Viral Marketing was the top ranked tactic being planned by marketers in their next 12 months. This demonstrates the demand marketers have for Viral Marketing as demonstrated by viewer response rates, as well as how easy it is to get a campaign of this nature wrong.
The key to running a successful viral campaign lies in the planning, the incentive offered and the knowledge of your target audience.
TYPES OF VIRAL MARKETING
There are 2 distinct subsets of Viral Marketing that can be identified:
§ In-the-Wild Viral Marketing
§ Controlled Viral Marketing
In-the-Wild Viral Marketing
This type of campaign is defined as a "virus" that is unleashed without further input from the advertiser or marketer. The spread of the message is perpetuated through whichever means the user chooses. The most important aspect is that the user still chooses to send on the message in whichever way they can, the most likely method being via email (e.g. sending a link on to a friend).
When successful, this type of campaign can build tremendous brand equity at a marginal cost. Because the communication takes place directly between consumers, the marketer has to be prepared to let go of their brand so that the message and flow of communications is not restricted.
Controlled Viral Marketing
This type of campaign has more of a direct outcome in that its success is determined by a specific goal, an example of which would be the expansion of a database of qualified leads and prospects (e.g. "Send to a friend" emails). This facilitates future interaction with the prospects, targeting sales growth and brand awareness. Ultimately, the controlled viral campaign should lead to interaction with the newly acquired prospects in a way that adds value to the organisation.
STARTING A VIRAL MARKETING CAMPAIGN
There are no hard rules when it comes to devising your Viral Marketing campaign, but there are some tips you can follow when planning your efforts:
· Focus on your brand and products before the message
What makes your brand / product successful and why would people want to pass along your message? Do you have something unique and engaging that the intended market will want to talk about?
· Ensure that your website or newsletter is built to allow users to refer it to others
The message must be easily forwarded and not lose shape or structure in the process.
· Give away products, entertainment experiences or services
Free goods are powerful attraction factors in Viral Marketing. However, free for the sake of it is not usually successful as the prize needs to be relevant to the audience. This is where it is important to understand the target market's needs motivations and behaviors to select the relevant incentive.
· What appeals is honesty and authenticity
There are various different aspects that a Viral Marketing campaign can focus on, depending on the intended target market:
· Entertainment factors
· Utility functions (offer something the reader can use)
· In centivised actions (instant gratification)
· Undercover (seeding the campaign without the user knowing the brand)
· Uniqueness (something the reader has never seen before)
Whichever aspect you choose, be authentic and truthful. People will only forward something they believe is worthwhile.
· Personalise referral emails
When your message is forwarded, ensure your technical design can support personalisation in the subject line. (E.g. "John Doe thought that you would love to see this")
· Take advantage of other resources
Successful viral campaigns use other resources to get the word out. Identifying the resources that the target market utilises (e.g. Social Media websites) and placing the message in these spaces increases the exponential potential of the message.
· Track the results & analyse the data
It is important that the campaign is tracked according to the objectives set out initially. This can also help tweak the campaign mid-flight in order to improve results.
The beauty of a well executed Viral Marketing campaign lies in the minimal costs and the high success rates - as with all word-of-mouth, if handled properly, it can reap huge rewards.