Six simple principles of viral marketing
Viral marketing is more than a buzz word. It's a powerful way of levering your marketing efforts. It's an essential marketing technique.
admit it. The term "viral marketing" is offensive. Call yourself a Viral
Marketer and people will take two steps back. I would. "Do they have a
vaccine for that yet?" you wonder. A sinister thing, the simple virus
is fraught with doom, not quite dead yet not fully alive, it exists in
that nether genre somewhere between disaster movies and horror flicks.
you have to admire the virus. He has a way of living in secrecy until
he is so numerous that he wins by sheer weight of numbers. He piggybacks
on other hosts and uses their resources to increase his tribe. And in
the right environment, he grows exponentially. A virus don't even have
to mate -- he just replicates, again and again with geometrically increasing
power, doubling with each iteration:
a few short generations, a virus population can explode.
What does a virus have to do with marketing? Viral marketing describes
any strategy that encourages individuals to pass on a marketing message
to others, creating the potential for exponential growth in the message's
exposure and influence. Like viruses, such strategies take advantage
of rapid multiplication to explode the message to thousands, to millions.
the Internet, viral marketing has been referred to as "word-of-mouth,"
"creating a buzz," "leveraging the media," "network marketing." But on
the Internet, for better or worse, it's called "viral marketing." While
others smarter than I have attempted to rename it, to somehow domesticate
and tame it, I won't try. The term "viral marketing" has stuck.
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example of viral marketing is Hotmail.com, one of the first free Web-based
e-mail services. The strategy is simple:
away free e-mail addresses and services,
a simple tag at the bottom of every free message sent out: "Get your
private, free email at http://www.hotmail.com" and,
stand back while people e-mail to their own network of friends and
see the message,
up for their own free e-mail service, and then
the message still wider to their own ever-increasing circles of friends
tiny waves spreading ever farther from a single pebble dropped into a
pond, a carefully designed viral marketing strategy ripples outward extremely
of a Viral Marketing Strategy
Accept this fact. Some viral marketing strategies work better than others,
and few work as well as the simple Hotmail.com strategy. But below are
the six basic elements you hope to include in your strategy. A viral marketing
strategy need not contain ALL these elements, but the more elements it
embraces, the more powerful the results are likely to be. An effective
viral marketing strategy:
away products or services
for effortless transfer to others
easily from small to very large
common motivations and behaviors
existing communication networks
advantage of others' resources
examine at each of these elements briefly.
Gives away valuable products or services
is the most powerful word in a marketer's vocabulary. Most viral marketing
programs give away valuable products or services to attract attention.
Free e-mail services, free information, free "cool" buttons, free software
programs that perform powerful functions but not as much as you get in
the "pro" version. Wilson's Second Law of Web Marketing is "The
Law of Giving and Selling" (http://www.wilsonweb.com/wmta/basic-principles.htm).
"Cheap" or "inexpensive" may generate a wave of interest, but "free" will
usually do it much faster. Viral marketers practice delayed gratification.
They may not profit today, or tomorrow, but if they can generate a groundswell
of interest from something free, they know they will profit "soon and
for the rest of their lives" (with apologies to "Casablanca"). Patience,
my friends. Free attracts eyeballs. Eyeballs then see other desirable
things that you are selling, and, presto! you earn money. Eyeballs bring
valuable e-mail addresses, advertising revenue, and e-commerce sales opportunities.
Give away something, sell something.
Provides for effortless transfer to others
health nurses offer sage advice at flu season: stay away from people who
cough, wash your hands often, and don't touch your eyes, nose, or mouth.
Viruses only spread when they're easy to transmit. The medium that carries
your marketing message must be easy to transfer and replicate: e-mail,
website, graphic, software download. Viral marketing works famously on
the Internet because instant communication has become so easy and inexpensive.
Digital format make copying simple. From a marketing standpoint, you must
simplify your marketing message so it can be transmitted easily and without
degradation. Short is better. The classic is: "Get your private, free
email at http://www.hotmail.com." The message is compelling, compressed,
and copied at the bottom of every free e-mail message.
Scales easily from small to very large
spread like wildfire the transmission method must be rapidly scalable
from small to very large. The weakness of the Hotmail model is that a
free e-mail service requires its own mailservers to transmit the message.
If the strategy is wildly successful, mailservers must be added very quickly
or the rapid growth will bog down and die. If the virus multiplies only
to kill the host before spreading, nothing is accomplished. So long as
you have planned ahead of time how you can add mailservers rapidly you're
okay. You must build in scalability to your viral model.
Exploits common motivations and behaviors
viral marketing plans take advantage of common human motivations. What
proliferated "Netscape Now" buttons in the early days of the Web? The
desire to be cool. Greed drives people. So does the hunger to be popular,
loved, and understood. The resulting urge to communicate produces millions
of websites and billions of e-mail messages. Design a marketing strategy
that builds on common motivations and behaviors for its transmission,
and you have a winner.
Utilizes existing communication networks
people are social. Nerdy, basement-dwelling computer science grad students
are the exception. Social scientists tell us that each person has a network
of 8 to 12 people in their close network of friends, family, and associates.
A person's broader network may consist of scores, hundreds, or thousands
of people, depending upon her position in society. A waitress, for example,
may communicate regularly with hundreds of customers in a given week.
Network marketers have long understood the power of these human networks,
both the strong, close networks as well as the weaker networked relationships.
People on the Internet develop networks of relationships, too. They collect
e-mail addresses and favorite website URLs. Affiliate programs exploit
such networks, as do permission e-mail lists. Learn to place your message
into existing communications between people, and you rapidly multiply
Takes advantage of others' resources
most creative viral marketing plans use others' resources to get the word
out. Affiliate programs, for example, place text or graphic links on others'
websites. Authors who give away free articles, seek to position their
articles on others' webpages. A news release can be picked up by hundreds
of periodicals and form the basis of articles seen by hundreds of thousands
of readers. Now someone else's newsprint or webpage is relaying your marketing
message. Someone else's resources are depleted rather than your own.
put this into practice. I am seeking to promote my newest FREE e-mail
marketing newsletter, Doctor
Ebiz (http://doctorebiz.com), which discusses Web marketing
and e-commerce trends and strategies. I'm using two viral marketing strategies
and I'd appreciate your help in testing them, if you're up to an interesting
challenge. I'll report results shortly to give you feedback on the effectiveness
of these techniques.
I've placed a Recommend-It button on every page of the DoctorEbiz.com
site to encourage visitors to tell a friend about the site. When you
go to http://www.doctorebiz.com
please try the Recommend-It button, and then report at http://www.wilsonweb.com/wmt5/ri-report.htm
on how effective you think this strategy is. I'll share some of the
results and your comments in a subsequent article: "Review:
I grant permission for every reader to reproduce on your website the
article you are now reading -- "The Six Simple Principles of Viral
Marketing" (see http://www.wilsonweb.com/wmt5/viral-principles.htm
for an HTML version you can copy). But copy this article ONLY, without
any alteration whatsoever. Include the copyright statement, too, please.
If you have a marketing or small business website, it'll provide great
content and help your visitors learn important strategies. When you've
placed the article on your website, please tell me at http://wilsonweb.com/wmt5/viral-reprint.htm
I'll tally the results and report them shortly, so to be included
in the count, please do this quickly. (NOTE: I am giving permission
to host on your website this article AND NO OTHERS. Reprinting or
hosting my articles without express written permission is illegal,
immoral, and a violation of my copyright.)
you for helping me carry out and then track this marketing exercise.
one degree or another, all successful viral marketing strategies use most
of the six principles outlined above. In the next article in this series,
Marketing Techniques the Typical Business Website Can Deploy Now",
we'll move from theory to practice. But first learn these six foundational
principles of viral marketing. Master them and wealth will flow your direction.
© 2000, Ralph F. Wilson. All rights reserved. Permission granted
to reprint this article on your website without alteration if you include
this copyright statement."