Wednesday, April 16, 2008

VIRAL MARKETING: Spread the Word . . .

Laying low the last 10 days with a nasty upper respiratory bug, I’ve been thinking a lot about how germs are spread. This one started with delightful daughter being sick and, in seeking comfort from mom, coughing in my face more times than I’d like to remember.

Which, believe it or not, leads me to a short discourse on viral marketing. Having attended a recent seminar hosted by the Regional Technology Corporation in Springfield, Mass. on this subject, I learned from speakers John Bidwell ( (and Nathan Winstanley ( – both advertising and branding experts -- that the term viral marketing is directly derived from medical term VIRUS.

Just as we spread germs from coughing or touch, so you can spread information about products and services by word of mouth. And if that germ of an idea is powerful enough, it will build a following exponentially just as a nasty virus builds up in your body and then infests a population.

YUCK! (Hand me another Kleenex, please . . .)

OK, we know that germs make you sick and lots of sick people can make a whole population sick. But is viral marketing more hype than real? Are those folks posting their silly ditties on YouTube who make it big really representative, and can their efforts be replicated with similar results? And is this a method you MUST put in your marketing arsenal?

After more than an hour of lecturing, John and Nathan convinced me that viral marketing is a fancy word for what I’ve been doing all along, only on a smaller scale. Whether I’m cold calling to a targeted list or reaching thousands (or even more) with a press release, I’m spreading the word about an idea, an event or a product and service. When I put on an event and tack those posters around town, again, I’m hoping to get a buzz going.

The real thing to know is that it’s the messaging, the presentation and finding that “itch” people have for your information that can make or break any PR or marketing campaign. The Web can certainly provide a huge catalyst, but only if you’ve got those elements pegged right and have the time, money and energy to plug away at that message.

Here are a few really useful tips that John and Nathan provided in that session:

THE MESSAGE: “It’s about the medium and the message. You can jam bandwidth with crap and it’s still crap. It has to connect with your intended audience. . . Your tactics are only as good as your message,” says Nathan.

INTERNET CREDIBILITY: This is an issue you have to take into account. Nathan says the kids and adults have become more skeptical of Web-based messaging.

MAKE SURE THE CAMPAIGN BENEFITS YOU: You can blow your whole marketing/PR account on an effort that’s really cool and garners lots of attention, but the attention doesn’t sell your product or service. As the sailors say, ‘you’re spilling wind.’

WHAT’S THE COST?: John points out that even if there are no costs in terms of dollars and cents, your time equals money. Beware of the time spent on that YouTube production and factor it into your budget.

BE ENTERTAINING: This is especially important in the video medium.

THE TOOLS YOU MAY USE: There are lots of ways to push a viral marketing campaign on the Web. Some of them include email, blogs, e-books, YouTube, Websites, affinity groups/social network platforms and even getting lodged in Wikipedia.

Paige Rasid, marketing and operations manager for the Connecticut Technology Council, attended this session. Afterwards she said it validated “some things I’ve already been doing with Linked In and YouTube. I can see myself going out and looking at my whole online identity and figuring out which sites to present myself at. But I’m also quite concerned with privacy and how to balance that with online.”

If you share Paige’s concerns, or want to know more about the tools behind a Web-based viral marketing campaign, then post those comments. We can return to this topic down the line.

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