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Viral marketing: pass it on

Viral marketing, if executed well, can earn its name and spread like a virus. While there are more flops than success stories, there are some viral marketing campaigns that we all remember. Slogans and sayings like "Yo quiero Taco Bell," "I see dead people" and "What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas" remind marketers that viral marketing can be effective and enduring. If the saying is true -- that all one has is his reputation -- then marketers will definitely want to catch the viral marketing that is going around.

The best part of a viral campaign is that the promoted product, project or brand seems uninvolved in the publicity. With actual consumers doing the promoting, an unbeatable authenticity is created that builds unparalleled brand awareness. eMarketer states that 46 percent of online consumers read between four and seven product reviews before making a purchase. And, as a marketer, if you can get people talking about your product on their own, you've just generated the free publicity we all dream about.

Some marketers wonder if viral marketing is worth the hassle since it is hard to create, and even harder to replicate. As mentioned before, the best laid campaigns appear to be self-igniting, where the brand and marketing agency do not seem actively involved. The campaign then needs to speak for itself, and to do so, strategy, planning, timing and execution all need to be flawless. So, you may ask, are the possible brand benefits worth the intermediate work? I think so because the buzz and brand awareness generated by a successful viral campaign is a foundation on which to build all future campaigns. Search engine marketing, online promotions and conversion rates will all improve with the increased brand awareness.

Author notes: Andreas Roell is CEO/president of Geary Interactive. Read full bio.

Viral marketing works because people trust the opinions of their peers. Author and industry expert George Silverman says, "Word of mouth is the most honest advertising medium there is. People don't want to hurt their friends and family and colleagues with bad information."

Comments and recommendations coming from peers will be perceived as reliable even if the information slyly originates from a marketer.

A successful viral marketing campaign also helps consumers cut through the online clutter. With so many advertisers vying for the same customers, a personal recommendation from a friend or colleague will help direct your online audience to your site without much additional effort like a banner or paid search advertisement.

A prime example of how much attention can be drawn from a viral campaign is Burger King's "Subservient Chicken." This campaign was developed to promote Burger King's Tender Crisp Sandwich by creating a microsite where users can type in a command (e.g., sit, fall, take a nap) to a man in chicken suit who will do it on command. Using the tagline "Chicken the way you like it," the campaign created 10 times the publicity and awareness of a traditional campaign, said the Viral Advertising Association.

To get people to pay attention to your brand through viral marketing efforts, the campaign needs to be interactive. For example, Domino's ran a campaign where customers could create their own pizza, name it and then have it delivered to their homes. The interactivity of this promotion not only gave customers something to talk about, it also gave marketers data on which to benchmark the success of their campaign.

In addition, viral plans ultimately need to be worth talking about. Quiksilver produced a video made specifically for YouTube that shows a group of surfers throwing explosives into a lake to generate waves, on which they later surf. This is something you definitely don't see everyday. The video has well over 2 million hits from viewers who are arguably Quiksilver's main consumers. On top of generating views and customers, the video also reinforces Quiksilver as an extreme, adventurous and outdoorsy brand.

While creating conversation and buzz is fantastic, all the publicity will not do advertisers any good if it doesn't relate back to their brands. For example, I was forwarded an interactive widget that I spent the better part of an hour using, but by the end of the day, I could not tell you what brand was behind it. This is ultimately a failure because, while the campaign got my attention and my time, there was no subsequent call-to-action or brand attached to benefit from the interaction.

Since the internet already has platforms established to both spread your campaign and gauge its effectiveness, marketers should start here when planning their campaigns. Blogs, social networking sites, video aggregators and microsites are ideal places to launch campaigns because they will be highly visible, searchable and distributable. When using social sites like Facebook and MySpace, a marketer can tap into pre-existing fan groups and use them to promote their campaign. In a similar manner, marketers can inform the blogging community about the promotion to get them involved in getting the word out. Since the main objective of a viral campaign is to encourage others to talk about your brand, ideally marketers need to get those who are already a part of the online conversation to be their evangelists.

If this is accomplished, a marketer just needs to monitor the buzz and not let the publicity go to waste. Using the buzz-giant Apple Computers as my hypothetical example, if Apple successfully creates noise around a scheduled product launch, it needs to follow through and provide a product worthy of the hype. Otherwise, future publicity could be centered around how the last launch was anticlimactic.

Viral marketing is the oldest and most trusted form of advertising, and the internet is a modern-day digital watering hole. There has always been a central location where people gather just to be social and talk about anything and everything (the general store, downtown, campus union, etc.). Instead of passing along recommendations and criticisms in person, we use the internet to spread the word about what we came across during our day. Whether it's a mass joke email or an online geography quiz, the beauty of creating an online viral campaign is that the conversation channel is already open. Before, there was a delay in the spreading of information. A person had to dial the phone or meet up with friends, but now people can speak to whomever will listen via the internet, through blogs and social networking pages.

While viral campaigns can be extremely successful in creating brand awareness, they should be used sparingly and strategically. Wikipedia cites that a satisfied customer tells three people about their experience while their dissatisfied counterpart tells 11. Marketers need to keep this in mind because if the campaign does not succeed, consumers will be quick to let everyone know about it. Since there is always the risk of a backlash, monitoring consumer perceptions is imperative in staying ahead of buzz campaigns. The last thing a viral marketer wants to generate for brands is an outbreak of bad publicity.

Andreas Roell is the Chairman and CEO of Geary Group, a holding company providing next generation digital marketing services. Geary Group is comprised of Geary Interactive, a full service digital marketing agency; MatrixMT, a premium SEO services...

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Commenter: Arlan Berglas

2008, October 05

Please contact me regarding the Pass it On Movement www.ipassiton.org aand working together in collaboration