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Viral Marketing: How to achieve your objectives

Viral marketing generates action with very little money, relying on the masses to spread its message – or so people believe. JACKI DANIELS explains the principles that make a viral marketing strategy work.

The concept of viral marketing seems very simple – just as a virus
piggybacks on other hosts and uses their resources to increase its tribe, so does viral marketing encourage individuals to pass on a marketing message to others, creating the potential for exponential growth in the message’s exposure and influence.

The fact of the matter is that viral marketing campaigns are not only very difficult to get started, but can also be potentially difficult to spread.

A carefully designed viral marketing strategy could ripple outward extremely rapidly. The challenge is making your marketing message interesting enough for people to want to spread it. Once it has been jump-started, your offering must be supported and maintained through quality and service.

It is essential that your campaign enables people to spread your message easily. Take Hotmail for example – it grew by leaps and bounds by doing something simple. At the bottom of each email message, there was a small line promoting Hotmail: “Get Your Private, Free Email at”

The recipient of the message quickly understood that he or she could get an account easily by visiting Hotmail. This led to a phenomenal 12 million people signing up in the first year and a half. An uncomplicated principle – amazing results.

The problem with developing a viral marketing campaign is that not everyone has a product like Hotmail which by its very nature is viral. Hotmail is a communication medium so you cannot help spreading their marketing message by using the product.

So how do you accomplish viral marketing if your product is not about
sending messages? The answer lies in including viral marketing principles in everything that you do to make it possible for people to spread your message.

There are the four basic elements to consider when determining your viral marketing strategy, and even though it need not contain all these elements, the more elements it embraces, the more powerful the results are likely to be.


“Free” is one of the most powerful words in a marketer’s vocabulary and is sure to attract eyeballs. Viral marketing programs are based on giving away valuable products or services to attract attention, so offer something worthy of sharing – a valuable discount, vital information – or offer an incentive for sharing.

It would be foolish not to incorporate value in some shape or form that
would inspire the forwarding of your message. You may not profit today, but by providing something free, interest will be generated in what you have to offer. Without a doubt, you should reap the benefits of reaching more than your target market soon enough. After all, producing a message with a quality offer or an incentive for pass-along is what viral marketing is all about.

Provide an effortless transfer to others

During flu season, everyone offers this advice: stay away from people who cough, wash your hands often, and don’t touch your eyes, nose, or mouth. Viruses only spread when they’re easy to transmit.

The medium that carries your marketing message must be easy to transfer and replicate, be it e-mail, your web site, graphics or a software download. Viral marketing works amazingly on the Internet because instant communication has become so easy and inexpensive. From a marketing standpoint, you must simplify your marketing message so it can be transmitted easily and without degradation. Short is better.

Exploit common motivations and behaviours

Clever viral marketing plans take advantage of common human motivations. Greed drives people. So does the hunger to be popular, loved, and understood. The resulting urge to communicate produces millions of web sites and billions of e-mail messages. Design a marketing strategy that builds on common motivations and behaviours for its transmission, and you have a winner.

Utilise existing communication networks

Social scientists tell us that each person has a network of 8 to 12 people in their close network of friends, family, and associates. A person’s broader network may consist of hundreds, or thousands of people, depending upon his position in society.

People on the Internet develop networks of relationships, too. They collect e-mail addresses and favourite web sites. Affiliate programs exploit such networks, as do permission e-mail lists. Learn to place your message into existing communications between people, and you will rapidly multiply its dispersion.

Viral marketing takes advantage of what the Web does best – communicating one-on-one. People will talk about something if it has a true intrinsic value to them, and the broader the appeal, the greater the likelihood that more people will talk about it.

By taking online advertising to a higher level, it is possible to engage consumers in your campaign. But remember – viral marketing is a mindset. It is a tactic, a strategy, and an integral element of your offer – one that works toward achieving your objectives.

Jacki Daniels is joint MD of DigitalGear, a specialist online marketing and media company that concentrates on driving traffic to web sites and, through incentives, generating a permission database.

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The Big Change is a business strategy blog and newsletter published by Arthur Goldstuck, managing director of World Wide Worx, a leading technology research organisation based in Johannesburg, South Africa.

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