Friday, December 14, 2007

Viral Marketing: Basic Training Manual

by Michael Crozier

In the past,Viral Marketing and Guerrilla Marketing were used by only small, start-up businesses. Here's why they've now found their way into the marketing mix of Fortune 500 Companies along with guides on how to use them for your business.

Viral marketing is one of the ever emerging variations of guerilla marketing, a promotional strategy first made popular in 1984 by Jay Conrad Levinson in his best-selling book, Guerrilla Marketing.

Guerrilla marketing employs aggressive, non-traditional, low cost promotional activities to produce profits, rather than utilizing costly conventional media such as TV and magazine advertising. Like guerrilla warfare, it relies on timing, creativity, enthusiasm, energy, and of course, swift action.

These strategies and tactics make guerrilla marketing ideally suited for small start-up businesses and entrepreneurial ventures. Today, however, it's also used by mega-marketers, even Fortune 500 Companies, as part of their overall marketing plans.

Viral marketing is simply “word of mouth advertising” for the Internet Age. Although initially considered another guerrilla tool for small businesses, it has evolved to become an effective form of marketing for large companies too.

Like its traditional “word of mouth” counterpart, viral marketing encourages people to voluntarily pass on information about a product, service or company to their social and business contacts.

Conventional word of mouth advertising relies on telephone calls, snail mail, discussions at church socials or random conversations in the grocery store to spread testimonial endorsements. Customers become voluntary brand ambassadors and a free source of publicity. But that's pretty much where the similarity to traditional word of mouth advertising ends.

Viral marketing is designed for today's digital world and its diverse Internet-based social networks. Using today's high-speed technology to communicate with existing online communities, it has the power to reach a potential audience of millions with incredible speed. The effectiveness of viral marketing results from its ability to quickly and cleverly infiltrate these online social networks at little or no cost.

The viral campaign process is simple. A message with a strong, irresistible offer is developed and then passed along through the online community. It spreads the same way a human or computer virus does --- by ongoing contact. Once the message starts spreading, it's propagated and voluntarily passed along from person to person - often in a matter of just days.

One of the keys to success in any “word of mouth advertising” is the ability to identify “opinion leaders” to jump on the bandwagon and spread your message. Traditional “word of mouth” advertising identifies active members of the local community and have extensive “spheres of influence” they interact with frequently. These spheres are groups of social or business contacts that follow the trends the opinion leaders set and try products they endorse or use. Identifying these groups in traditional marketing is a relatively subjective process, time-consuming and a often unreliable process.

Viral marketers, however, can take a more scientific approach. To maximize the impact of their marketing they seek individuals with a high Social Networking Potential or SPN. This Social Networking Potential is an algorithmic representation of the size of a person's social network and their ability to influence it. (For those of us who had trouble with basic Algebra, an algorithm is a series of carefully defined successive steps that need to be completed in order to accomplish a specific task. Algorithms are also the basis of Google's search engine operations.)

A number of different factors enter the SNP equation. They include the number of online community memberships, blogging frequency, web sites visited, content of personal websites, online affiliates, number of articles published, job title, employer, and other relevant data. Once this demographic and lifestyle data is analyzed, a SNP coefficient is calculated and assigned to an individual or social networking group. This rating can then be used to pinpoint people and groups who are prime viral contact points.

Savvy marketers and advertising agencies are also developing their own unique ways of identifying prospects with strong social networks and communicating with them through viral campaigns. There are now also specialized viral marketing consultants and advertising agencies whose clients include Fortune 500 companies. This investment of time and money indicates viral marketing is finding its niche in corporate America.

Many viral marketers simply compile “seeding lists” of high-traffic websites and online communities whose visitors are strong social networkers. A typical example could include sites like,,, , and a wide range of others. There are specific social network sites that appeal to teenagers, college students, twenty-somethings, music groupies, parents, and even corporate executives. More sites like are emerging and developing a more broad based audience appeal. Today, there's an online social network for just about everyone.

Viral seeding lists aren't direct mail lists or email lists. Contrary to the belief of many mainstream marketers, viral communications are not confrontational or unsolicited. The objective is not to annoy prospects with “pop up boxes”, “ banner ads” or spam.

“Discovery” is what viral marketing is all about. The idea is to get a prospect to voluntarily find or discover and then interact with a communication containing an offer and branded content, and then pass it along to a friend. The communication could be a website, a video, music, a blog, a photo of the day, an advergame or other message. That's why they're “planted” on high traffic, highly targeted websites and portals, in news groups, bulletin boards forums and other online places where the right people will discover them and pass them along.“Flying under the radar” is critical to the success of viral advertising. Viral communications cannot appear to be ads. Members of online communities and web surfers in general have become more sophisticated and have developed “filtering systems” that screens out obvious hype. Viral communications need to be very subtle and carefully disguised and strategically planted so they can be found by the right prospects and passed along. The more subtle, friendly nature of viral advertising is what makes it so effective with individuals or market segments are non-responsive to traditional advertising. Viral marketing in this respect is quite similar to “PR”.

Very often, the offer in viral marketing is “Free”. It could be a free email account, a free web page, a free screensaver or wallpaper, free software, video or music downloads, a free magazine subscription, a free T Shirt or product sample. The big creative challenge is to make the free offer appear to be really free with no strings attached and not just another advertising gimmick.

Viral marketing is far more sophisticated that many traditional marketers or even guerrilla markets give it credit for. And an increasing number of large companies are finding a place in their promotional mix for viral marketing as well.

In order to be effective, viral marketing requires a carefully developed plan. The plan is no different that a traditional marketing plan. A basic plan includes:

Objectives: a clear outline of exactly what you want to accomplish
Strategies: a detailed plan of how you're going to it
Target Audience: the market segments you're trying to reach
Media: What social networks and online communities you're going to use
Creative Strategy- What are the formats, styles, tones and offers of the communications.
Budget - How much you plan to spend annually and how the money is allocated
Tracking and Results Analysis- How you measure the effectiveness of the campaign

One very effective way for any business to use viral marketing is to boost the effectiveness of a TV, print or direct response advertising campaign. It's a simple, low cost and very efficient means of increasing your advertising effectiveness. Viral campaigns can be “seeded” in targeted social network sites and online communities that will “discover” your message quickly and pass it along. The message very often reaches a potential audience of millions virtually overnight. Usually you can see measurable results and a “lift” in your advertising performance in a matter of days.

In presenting the idea of viral marketing to some clients, I've encountered some very strange and humorous misconceptions it. One very conservative client described viral marketing as a “pack of high school kids in garages, techno-geeks in basements and pornography merchants in seedy bedrooms sending out spam that will infect PCs everywhere with deadly computer viruses.” Wow! I never realized viral marketing is destined to bring about the downfall of online civilization as we know it today. Well, thank God I'm a MAC guy and immune to most dreaded viruses. Better abandon your PC right away and get yourself a MAC today!

Viral Marketing has become serious business. Major national advertisers are shifting an increasing percentage of their advertising dollars from TV, radio, print and mail into interactive online media, including viral marketing. Like search engine marketing, pay per click advertising and guerrilla marketing, it's found its niche and is here to stay.

Source: Associated For more articles by Michael Crozier - click here.

1 comment:

Ricky said...

Great post!
I would like to thank you for sharing your thoughts. You are putting very good effort into the stuff you post.This rating can be used to pinpoint people and groups who are prime viral contact points.
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