The focus of viral marketing is the fact that it has the ability to replicate itself without any outside assistance. A viral marketing campaign is one which allows and motivates customers who are exposed to the campaign to actively help spread the word themselves.
Your customers pass on the word to other potential customers either because of their excitement about the clothing brand, because of what you are offering, or worth sharing as the result of a gift or award option associated with the campaign. Having such a built-in replication capability, viral marketing has the potential for exponential growth and can quickly spread a message to thousands or even millions of people from just one simple starting point. Urban myths are a good example of exponential growth. Even though many of these myths have been proven fake, they continue to circulate. Many people forward them to others even though they’ve heard them already and know they are false. It doesn’t take long for an urban myth to spread fast and far.
A great case study of viral marketing is Hotmail. Hotmail.com, was one of the first free web based e-mail services. They recruited members by first giving away free e-mail addresses, then requiring that every e-mail sent by their service include an advertisement at the bottom for their free e-mail service. This strategy had their free service quickly spread through exponential growth and grew a large member base to be tapped for marketing other services also.
Some viral strategies are obviously going to work better than others. The Hotmail campaign in which free services are offered with no cost for the users, are positioned to grow fast. The key to success for viral marketing is delayed gratification. The company may not profit today or even tomorrow, but can generate a groundswell of interest. Eventually the profits will come and hopefully for a long time afterwards. Investing up front by providing something for free will attract attention that can be redirected to other items you are selling and eventually earn money.
In the real world a virus only spreads when allowed to transmit from one person to another. Likewise, your marketing message must rely on existing mechanisms through which the message is just as easy to transfer and replicate: e-mail, social networks, etc.
Viral marketing works so well on the Internet because of the ease of instant inexpensive communication and because people like to share things. From a marketing standpoint, your goal is to simplify your message so it can be spread easily and the shorter the better. As with the Hotmail example, broadcasting that it is free and telling where to get it is about as simple as it can get.
If you expect your message to spread virally, then the method of spreading it has to be easily scalable. This was one of the few problems of the Hotmail case study. By offering free e-mail services, they needed their own mail servers. When they became successful, they needed more mail servers and had to add them very quickly to support the rapid growth. Without doing this, the service would have come to a halt and lose all momentum.
Just like real life, if the virus kills its host, then it just won’t spread. Planning in advance for the potential growth and building any necessary scalability into your viral model is vital for success.
A clever viral marketing plan will take advantage of common human motivations. A hunger to be popular or to be liked stand out as driving human factors. The resulting urge to communicate based on these basic human needs can produce exponential growth. When you can design viral marketing that builds on these common motivations and behaviors you have a winner.
It is a fact that most people are social. In fact, scientists tell us that each person in the modern society has a network of anywhere from eight to twelve people in their group of close friends, family, and associates. If you factor in a person’s broader network that may increase to hundreds, or even thousands of people with whom they interact with. A person running a blog may reach tens of thousands of people on a daily basis. 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 its reach.
The use of others’ resources is what makes viral marketing unique. In traditional marketing, you must identify a niche, design a campaign that appeals to that target audience, and then pay for and otherwise promote to reach that group of people. Viral marketing, on the other hand, creates its own promotion and is at least partly self-targeting. People who are interested in your message will most likely to be communicating with other people like themselves. They do the work for you by reaching your target audience without having to do the preparation yourself. Even more important it removes your cost for contacting a specific group.
Viral marketing isn’t always predictable. You could be wildly successful or may only have a small percentage of interested people spreading the word. On the plus side, when compared with the costs of traditional marketing you will always come out ahead.