Understanding Viral Marketing: How to Create A Successful Viral Marketing Strategy


We should agree that the term “viral marketing” is quite offensive. For those who don’t have a clue, viral marketing will sound like something evil and unhealthy. However, any serious business owners have to embrace the power of this “virus”. It has a unique way to spread and affect others unconsciously. It hosts on other entities and uses them to multiply. In the right place, this “virus” will grow at a faster rate.

If the “virus” has unique characteristics and good media to spread, an “outbreak” may happen

Viral Marketing Defined

What does a virus have to do with marketing? Viral marketing is a strategy that makes a person to deliver a marketing message to others, creating the potential for exponential growth in the message’s exposure and influence. Like viruses, such strategies take advantage of rapid multiplication to explode the message to thousands, to millions.

Off the Internet, viral marketing has been referred to as “word-of-mouth,” “creating a buzz,” “leveraging the media,” “network marketing.” However, on the Internet world it’s called “viral marketing.”

The John West’s “Bear Fight” Ads

A notable example of viral marketing is John West, one of the canned fish company in UK. Below was one of its series of ads which appeared on the Internet in late 2000.

Since their previously released “Bear Fight” videos have gone to attract over 300 millions viewers on YouTube, it is very reasonable for this video to become viral as well. The low budget production, recorded with ordinary camcorder, gave the ad a realistic feel that become synonymous with the word “viral” on the next years ahead.

Six Steps of a Viral Marketing Strategy

Some viral marketing strategies work better than others. Few work as well as the simple John West strategy. Below are the six basic steps to include in your strategy. Your viral marketing strategy does not need to contain ALL of these steps. However, the more elements it gets, the better results you can expect. An effective viral marketing strategy should:

1. Free products
2. Have a good ability to spread
3. Scales easily from small to very large
4. Exploits common motivations and human behaviors
5. Utilizes existing communication networks
6. Takes advantage of others’ resources

Let’s take a good look at each of these steps briefly:

1. Free products

“Free” is the ultimate weapon in marketer’s warzone. A lot of viral marketing programs give away valuable products or services to attract people’s attention. Free email address and services, free software programs that perform powerful functions but not as much as you get in the “pro” version or free advice. “Low prices” or “inexpensive” may generate a wave of interest, but “free” will usually do it much faster. For business owners, they may not profit today, or tomorrow, but if they can generate a lot of fans with similar interest from free things, they know they will gain a better profit for a long time. Patience is the key. Free things always attract people’s attention. They will see other desirable products that you are selling and, voila, you earn money. Moreover, they also bring valuable email addresses, advertising revenue, and e-commerce sales opportunities. Give away something, then sell something afterwards.

2. Have a good ability to spread

Let’s get this straight: viruses only spread when they have good media to transmit. The medium that carries your marketing message must be easy to transfer and replicate: email, website, graphic, or software download. Viral marketing works famously on the Internet because of its easy-to-spread ability and inexpensive price. The digital format makes copying simple. From a marketer’s standpoint, you must simplify your marketing message, so it can be transmitted easily and without degradation. Shorter message is better. Make the message as compelling as possible.

3. Scales Easily from Small to Very Large

To spread the message quickly, the transmission method must be rapidly scalable from small to very large. If the virus multiplies only to kill the host before spreading, nothing is accomplished. As long as you have planned ahead of time how you can handle your free services, you will be fine. You must build in scalability to your viral model.

4. Exploits Common Motivations and Human Behaviors

Clever viral marketing plans take advantage of common human motivations. One of a good example of humans’ common motivation is the desire to be “cool”. Greed drives people, so does the hunger to be popular, loved, and understood. The urge to communicate resulting in the production of millions of websites and billions of email messages. Design a marketing strategy that builds on common motivations and behaviors for its transmission is your best bet for successful viral marketing.

5. Utilizes Existing Communication Networks

Most people are social. Social scientists’ researches tell us that each person has average network of 8 to 12 people in his or her network of friends, family, and associates. A person’s broader network may consist of scores, hundreds, or thousands of people, depending upon his or her position in society. A waitress, for example, may communicate regularly with hundreds of customers in a given week. Marketers have understood the power of these things, both the strong, close networks as well as the weaker relationships.

On the other hand, people on the Internet develop networks of relationships as well. They collect email addresses and favorite website URLs. Affiliate programs exploit such networks, as do permission email lists. Learn to place your message into existing communications between people, and you will gain rapid multiplication of your message.

6. Takes Advantage of Others’ Resources

A brilliant viral marketing plan uses others’ resources to get the word out. For example: affiliate programs put texts or graphic links on others’ websites. Authors who give away free articles, seek to position their articles on others’ webpages. A news release can be picked up by hundreds of periodicals and form the basis of articles seen by hundreds of thousands of readers. Using external resources help you to widespread your message faster rather than just relying on your own.

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