The Click #002
VIRAL MARKETING WAS A BUZZ phrase in the dot com boom. It's out of favour now. That's a pity because it's still a useful concept.
Viral Marketing means getting people to pass along your message. The thinking is that you are more likely to be persuaded by a recommendation from a friend than a corporation. It's not a new idea. Advertisers have attempted to seed word-of-mouth campaigns since the 1920s.
(Enthusing hairdressers is one technique that proved successful. They've got time to chat and have a wide variety of customers, making them highly contagious. Another is planting rumours on university campuses just before the end of term. Students disperse and pass on the gossip, making it believable in the wider population because 'everyone's saying it'. Karl Rove has used this technique to spread dirt on George W. Bush's rivals.)
In theory, the web makes viral marketing much easier (if you like something you can easily email 10 friends, and they can easily email 10 friends, creating an epidemic of favourable publicity). In practice, it is hard to get right.
1. Traditional Viral
Traditional viral involves making a bit of gee-whizz content (usually Flash or a video clip) that is so gee-whizzy that you just have to forward it on.
It is hit driven. For every success, there are tens of duds. If you subscribe to Chinwag viralmonitor you'll see a bunch of duds, and the odd gem, float past.
Channel 4's Gay-O-Meter is a hit. It connects with a forgotten playground taunt in the back of your brain. It is funny. When you are finished, you have an incentive (of sorts) to send it on: 'The Channel 4 Gay-O-Meter has calculated that Andy is 26 percent gay! Find out just how gay you are: http://www.channel4.com/gayometer.'
For big business, traditional viral is cheap. It costs, say, 1% of a TV campaign. If a viral ads gains traction it will be seen by something approaching a TV size audience. And that audience won't be making a cup of tea, going to the loo or snogging. They will be opening an email, thinking 'Why did my friend James send me this? Wow, how cool.'
For a medium-sized business (i.e. any business that wouldn't run TV ads), it is comparatively expensive and very, very uncertain.
If traditional viral only makes sense for big business, what other options are there?
2. Refer a friend
Your current customers' friends are a great source of new business.
Cheap calls firm TalkTalk offers you and a friend £20 each if your friend signs up. Organic foodies Abel & Cole gives you a bottle of olive oil for a referral.
The Click reader Pravin Shah runs CityFruits.com, a fruit and flowers delivery service. He's got a spark for creating competitions with a viral element.
He runs a reverse auction. If you make the lowest unique bid during the week, you win a bottle of vintage champagne. It's free to play and you can enter as many times as you want. There is one condition. For each entry, you have to submit a friend's email address.
Off this, Pravin gets 50 new email addresses a week, each one a personal recommendation.
Blogs are online diaries. I thought they were a fad but they are going mainstream. The FT recently published an article offering 'Words of Advice for Corporate Bloggers.
Done well, they put a human face on a company's communication. Done very well, other bloggers link to you, raising your profile almost effortlessly.
To make a blog work, you've got to find a niche. The best bit of advice when I started The Click (which is a newsletter about to morph into a blog) was don't write about website design. That's why I concentrate on making websites that change minds.
Andrew Goodman does it well. He runs a successful blog on search engines: www.traffick.com. This blog establishes him as an expert in the field and drives business to his online marketing consultancy: Page Zero.
So, what are the lessons?
A viral campaign might sound easy but it isn't a free lunch. All successful examples have a touch of ingenuity at their heart. They perform a judo role, taking a consumer's momentum and directing him or her in a way that promotes your firm.
The good news is viral marketing is cheap to try and easy to get started.
The bad news is that this means there are lots of other businesses competing against you.
You need to try different ideas. Test them and tweak them. With luck, you'll find one that works like magic.