Viral Internet Marketing is definitely a growing industry on the internet.
After seeing the popularity of YouTube, and successful campaigns such as Carlton Draught’s Big Ad, companies are seeing the benefits of Viral Internet Marketing - mainly that they can get their product in front of potentially millions of people, with only a fraction of the cost of a traditional advertising campaign.
How Viral Internet Marketing works:
The theory is very simple, but powerful - if everyone who sees your message just tells two friends about it, then the message starts to grow exponentially.
Just like in the Viral Marketing diagram to the right, one person tells two, two people tell four, four tell eight, eight tell sixteen, sixteen tell thirty-two, thirty-two tell sixty-four… and after 21 repetitions, 524,288 people tell 1,048,576, who tell 2,097,152 people… and so on.
Albert Einstein described it as “the most powerful force in the universe” - compounding - and in viral marketing you’re just using the theory of compounding to deliver a message.
But there are two fundamental flaws in most Viral Marketing campaigns:
Failure of Viral Internet Marketing #1 - Failure to Monetize the Exposure
It’s something that you see in a lot of corporate viral marketing campaigns - the companies are going for intangible brand awareness rather than an increase in sales.
Again, using Carlton Draught’s Big Ad as an example, sales of Carlton Draught actually dropped - despite a hugely successful viral marketing campaign.
This, I believe, was largely because there was no compelling reason to buy Carlton Draught presented in the campaign - instead, the ad was designed to create brand awareness.
A brand awareness strategies are fundamentally flawed by an assumption that people will buy a product just because they are familiar with that product. Given the choice between two identical products, one which provided you with a compelling reason to buy, and the other which was a known brand, most people will pick the compelling offer. Salesmanship always produces more sales than branding.
But increasingly, direct marketers are waking up to the idea of using Viral Marketing as bait into sales messages… Like “Rich Jerk” Kelly Felix:
So failure to monetize the opportunity isn’t so much about viral marketing as it is about the people behind the campaigns.
Failure of Viral Internet Marketing #2 - Lack of Control
The second weakness of viral marketing strategies is that you don’t have much control over a viral marketing campaign, and its success can be very “hit and miss”.
In essence, you’re relying on someone else to spread your sales message for you - and if they don’t, the time and effort you put into your campaign may have all been worthless.
7 Steps to Viral Internet Marketing Success
But these weaknesses don’t have to hold your online Viral Marketing campaign back. In fact, if you’re aware of these weaknesses, you can counteract them at the beginning of your campaign by taking these 6 steps to Viral Internet Marketing Success.
1. Start your Viral Internet Marketing campaign with an end in mind
This is basic, fundamental, “Marketing 101″ - and it should be to start every marketing campaign with the end in mind. But for some reason, marketers get carried away with the message, and forget about the purpose of the message.
If the purpose of your viral marketing campaign is to make sales, then design your campaign to drive people into your sales process.
Let’s use the example of the Rich Jerk video above.
The purpose of this video is to generate leads for the Rich Jerk’s salesletter - the final frame of the video shows the URL of the Rich Jerk’s salesletter page, and a certain percentage of people who are watching the video will end up visiting his web-site.
Of course, there are certain things he could do to improve the percentage of people who end up going to his sales page - such as:
- Applying to be a Director on YouTube so that he can add a (clickable) link to his salesletter page in his video descriptions, and;
- Adding a 20-30 word “bait” into his sales page, along the lines of “Find out how the Rich Jerk made all his money here:” with his URL at the bottom;
- And potentially ending each video with a 10 second plus, encouraging people to visit his salesletter page (along the lines of #2).
(Note: RJ is concentrating on maximising traffic rather than conversions with his viral marketing campaign. The keyword he’s inserted into his description, the Secret, is one of his top performing keywords on Google Adwords, according to an e-mail broadcast he sent out recently.)
2. Spend the time developing a campaign which will speak to your audience
This is a given - if your viral marketing campaign stinks, it has absolutely zero chance of success. So it’s worth spending a lot of time making sure you’ve got it “right” before you release your content into the market.
A good viral marketing message appeals to a specific audience in a way which makes them want to share the message with others.
A lot of content-based viral marketing campaigns are designed to be clever, or funny. They’re not just successful because people enjoy the campaign - they’re successful because people send the funny or clever content to their friends so that their friends see them as being funny or clever too by association.
This is the psychological “hot button” which good viral marketing content presses.
But - watch out!
If your message comes across as condescending, or fake, or ingenuine, you’re guaranteed it will flop instantly.
Just as people associate themselves with a funny message which they forward, they’ll also associate themselves with a condescending message - so why would they send a condescending or fake message to their buddies?
(This is particularly important when you’re developing a campaign for a youth audience.)
So keep this in mind when you’re targeting your campaign to a specific audience - or you could find that you use the wrong language and alienate your target market.
3. Allow (and Encourage) multiple Viral Internet Marketing “infections strains”
Over the years, dozens of companies have spent the time and money creating clever online games and videos in the hope that they’ll go viral.
But they’ve limited how people can share the message with their friends.
They’ve popped the clever little flash game into a new window, with no address bar, and some “tell a friend” button in the top right hand corner - which lets you sends a pre-formatted e-mails to friends.
What if I want to tell a friend who’s online via an Instant Messaging client? What if I want to put a link up in a forum? Or put it on my blog? Or I want to send the link to lots of friends, but don’t know their e-mail addresses off the top of my head, and would prefer to copy the link into my e-mail client so I can access my address book?
In these examples, it will be hard for me to send the message to friends - so I’ll probably give up and not bother.
The lesson here is “Make it as easy as possible to share your marketing message, and you’ll reap the rewards.”
Sure, you want to track referrals via the refer a friend facility - but why limit referals to only come in via this system? Who cares if they come in via a forum, blog post or IM message.
Take YouTube as an example. There’s a reason why videos on YouTube go viral so easily.
Every page has:
- A “Share Video” web link, which opens up a tool for e-mailing the video to a friend;
- A unique URL for every video, which is clearly visible in the address bar;
- The ability to add a video to your YouTube profile for friends to see (again, think “associating the video with yourself”);
- A link to the video on-page - for you to copy and paste anywhere, and;
- The code for embedding the video into a forum or web-page!
Don’t limit the viral capacity of your viral internet marketing campaign - make sure it’s as “infectious” as possible!
4. Offer a compelling reason to “spread the infection”
Many viral marketing campaigns only offer the reward of being associated with good content as a reason for someone to forward a message.
But you don’t need to leave it at that.
A friend forwarded a viral marketing campaign run by Tourism Malaysia. The campaign required you to answer three (simple) tourism related questions about Malaysia in exchange for the chance to win an all-expenses-paid holiday, being drawn each day. Plus, every friend you referred gavev you an extra entry into the competition.
I love my Curry Laksas, so I took the bait, entered the competition and ended up forwarding the campaign to several friends (even though the campaign wasn’t particularly interesting).
(Note: Unfortunately this campaign looks like it’s since been taken down.)
Remember, it takes effort to forward something to a friend - so help increase the “infection rate” of your online viral marketing campaign by giving people a reason to spread the word!
5. Allow personalization of “Refer a Friend” fields
Nothing converts better than a personal recommendation about a product, from one close friend to another.
So don’t limit the “infection rate” of your viral marketing campaign by limiting the conversion rate of your e-mails.
Let your users completely customise the “Refer a Friend” e-mails which they will be sending to their friends about your web-site.
Let them change the subject lines, the message text - everything!
A good copywriter knows how to target a message specifically to a person, or a small group of people. And you’ll find that your visitors will do the same - targeting your marketing message directly to their friends.
Of course, have several different “standard” message texts which get sent out (in case the user is too lazy to type anything) - and split test these messages until you find one which works particularly well.
But don’t put words into other people’s mouths. Let people to send a message to their buddies about your web-site - as if they were sending a message to their buddies about your web-site.
6. Give things a little push in the right direction
Remember the theory of compounding from above? Albert Einstein called it the most powerful force in the universe.
Well, there are only two factors which make it even more powerful.
- One is the rate at which it compounds (ie - the number of people referred by each visitor). This is what the previous 4 points have focussed on.
- The second is the sum of people you start with.
The more people you inoculate (or show the message to) at the start of the campaign, the faster the spread of the viral marketing campaign will be.
That’s why it’s a good idea to send your viral marketing campaign to your existing database - even if they may have already bought the products or services which your viral marketing campaign sells. This will give your campaign a kick start.
Or pay for some popular bloggers to review your campaign.
Or write some media releases.
Or run a Pay Per Click campaign to get people to visit your viral marketing web-site.
Warning: Earlier this year, Coca Cola launched a viral internet marketing campaign in Norway for Coke Zero by having a user post links to videos on several popular Norwegian internet forums.
In theory, this was a great way to seed their campaign.
But in practice, the fraud was spotted quickly - and the campaign flopped.
The lesson here is don’t treat people as if they’re stupid. People are smart, and if they think you’re taking them as fools, they’ll give you back the respect you’ve given them.
7. Test and Measure
Track user statistics to work out where your visitors are coming from.
Track hits on your “Refer a Friend” page, track how many e-mail addresses people refer your campaign to, and how many of these end up visiting your site.
Split test several different standard versions of your “Refer a Friend” text (the versions which people will receive if they don’t personalise the message themselves) to find out exactly which versions of the text generate the highest click through rates.
This is marketing paydirt!
And this information will help you to run successful viral campaigns over-and-over again.
The “Mini” Viral Marketing Campaign
Mini USA’s viral internet marketing campaign for the new 2007 Mini Cooper – Hammer and Coop - was the inspiration for this post.
People who know me will know I’m a big Mini Cooper fan – and I’m definitely jealous of Jill Whalen’s bright red Mini Cooper S.
So a good buddy thought of me when he saw the Mini Cooper campaign and forwarded it to me.
Think Starsky and Hutch meets Knight Rider:
ooh baby! Tell your friends!
Yeah, sure it’s not the best viral marketing campaign - but it speaks to me! So it must follow my 2nd step to Viral Internet Marketing success