Go Ahead, Bug Your Customers

What is a Viral Campaign?

Have you ever visited a website and found an article, a coupon, a special offer, or something else that impressed you so much that you immediately sent an email to a friend about it?  If you have, you’ve experienced “viral marketing”.

Viral marketing is a term to describe a low cost, highly effective way to “bug your customers” by marketing your products or services using the Internet.  This “word of mouse” method is like a bug or flu virus in humans.  Instead of replicating and propagating itself by human contact, it does so by computer contact (in a good way).  One minute nobody’s heard of it, next minute, it’s everywhere.  Viral marketing is so effective because it lets you capitalize on referrals from an unbiased third party—your consumer!  Let just one of your customers catch your “marketing bug” and they will happily spread it to everyone they know.

As you know, the power of a positive testimonial from a reliable source will add credibility to your organization.  Putting various viral marketing methods in place will give you a tremendous opportunity to help guide and influence people’s buying decisions without the use of costly advertising.

So what then is a viral campaign?

It’s a specific marketing promotion that focuses on something you do, NOT on who you are.  It is also not something malicious or under-handed.  Viral marketing is used by reputable companies trying to promote reputable products.  A viral campaign does not use spam or programs that force people to see or do things they do not want.

Instead, a viral campaign is something that is so cool, so exciting, or so creative that it gets people so excited; they can’t wait to share it with others.  It’s subtle, not forceful.  It’s uncontrollable.  The exposure you get from this MAY raise sales or otherwise help your company name recognition, but that’s actually the by-product.  That’s why it’s so effective if done correctly!

With a good viral campaign, people feel compelled to spread your word.  They can’t help themselves (just like sneezing when you pass a virus around).  The heart of a viral campaign is the content.  People don’t spread what you say or do because they love you, they spread it because they can’t help but adore your content.  Don’t forget!  They are not evangelists serving you, they are self-serving.

So, you better create a “bug” that sticks around.  All successful viral campaigns appeal to any one (or all three) of these basic human motivators: entertainment, greed, or charity.  Develop a theme around one of those and you may be able to create a full blown epidemic of sales.

What Makes Viral Marketing so cool?

People (read consumers) hate ads.  They will do anything to avoid them.  So, if you want to find a way to appeal to your consumers without offending and without spending huge dollars (another viral marketing perk) than going “viral” is something you should consider.

Despite (or perhaps because of) viral marketing still being relatively new, most people are confused about what viral ads are, how they work, what they should cost (loads of confusion there), how to measure results, etc.  It is still evolving.  However, there are three common forms being used:

1. Word of Mouth such as “Tell a Friend,” “Send this coupon to a friend,” or “Recommend this to a friend”.

2. Pass-It-On, where we receive an article, cool tool, funny video and then pass it on through email to a friend, family member, or associate.

3. Product or Service Based, where a free tool is used online and that tool includes an embedded marketing message, like Hotmail.

Word of Mouth

A good word-of-mouth viral marketing strategy enables a visitor to your website or a recipient of your email to share your site or email content with others with just a click of a button or link.

Amazon.com is a great example of a company that is using viral marketing throughout their website.  When you browse the products, you’ll notice invitations to “Tell a Friend” about this product.  Providing this automatic and easy to use feature, results in increased sales for Amazon products.  Yup, it’s that easy.

How can you do this?  Here are 8 tips to effectively use this strategy on your website:
•    Use tools that encourage people to visit your website more often such as coupons, newsletters, e-specials, contests, and fresh content.
•    Do things that are unique and grab attention.  I.e. cool button or graphic.
•    Provide a call to action by telling visitors what you want them to do.
•    Give clear instructions on how to participate; make it simple, intuitive, and easy.
•    Offer an incentive to encourage them to do what you want them to do: “Tell a friend and be included in a drawing for …”
•    Leverage, leverage, leverage!  “Tell five friends and get a free …”
•    Have your privacy policy posted.  Most people won’t consider giving out an email unless they know what you plan to do with it.
•    Make sure whatever technology you use works.  There’s nothing worse than offering something you can’t deliver on.

Pass-It-On Marketing

We all love to share a funny story, cool resource, or great deal.  When we find one, we usually send an email or “forward” it on to friends, family, or people we work with.  This old “they tell two friends and they in turn tell two friends” method is very effective online because of the ease and simplicity of reaching large groups of people.

Pass-It-On marketing can take many forms.  Including:
•    Articles-writing articles that can be distributed as content for newsletters or other websites.  The article should contain links to your website and include information on you, your company, and your website.  See myMarketingGuide.com for samples.
•   Fun videos or clips-nothing seems to spread faster on the web.  Fun to produce, but not a sure thing for results.  Worth noting—you’ll need extra help with this campaign—unlike games, email, and music which have long established pass-along tendencies, video is harder to spread the word about.  You may need to supplement this with paid advertising to make it successful.
•    Free software or templates-doing something your target market will be interested in, and will find handy and helpful.
•    Online Games or Quizzes-spread like wild fire.  Develop your own game or buy the rights to one.  Unlike common myths, the demographic that loves games and quizzes the most are…adult women.  Many marketers report game interaction time of up to 20 minutes per play.  That’s a lot of time for your brand to hover friendly-like in the background as a sponsor.  I.e. Murder mystery game for forensic scientists sponsored by a forensic tools maker.

Just make sure, whatever you choose, do it well.  For this type of viral marketing to be successful, you have to start with great content that the recipients will WANT to share with others.

Product or Service Based Viral Marketing

MSN.com was the true leader of service based viral marketing with its Hotmail service.  Hotmail is a free email service that is provided by MSN.com and is used by millions of people around the world.

How did they use a free email account as a viral technique?  They added a tagline to every email message sent through their system.  If you’ve ever received a Hotmail email message, you’ll notice a line of text at the bottom, “Join the world’s largest email service with MSN Hotmail…”  That message results in hundreds of new accounts each day on the Hotmail website.  This innovative and inexpensive technique creates massive exposure for MSN.com and the other products and services offered on their website.  Now that’s viral marketing at its finest!

Do you have a viral technique you’d like to share?