One good approach to viral marketing is to think of it as an exchange of value between the audience and advertiser, creating relationships and therefore building sales. You can think of it as entertaining a client; you give them a good experience and they buy from you, it's that simple.
Another approach which is to persuade your audience that they are somehow looking at content they shouldn't be. A good example of this is the recent Threshers campaign, in which a wine voucher was that apparently intended for business customers only was "leaked" as a PDF. This resulted in Threshers selling out of almost all of its stock in most stores within days.
Quite simply, viral means using your marketing budget more effectively, (i.e.) finding a way to make your commercial message spread around your target audience. This allows you to reach far more of the right people for less spend.
How do you develop a viral strategy?
First, consider the audience's point of view; what can you give them that they actually want? The recent podcast campaign from MK Electric covered the 17th Edition of the IEE Wiring Regulations, and the important changes therein is a classic example of this. Their customers (electricians) needed to know about the changes in this edition, so by creating a useful podcast that discussed the changes, they were able to help their customers at the same time as building their brand. As a result the campaign was extremely effective.
Second, make sure your creative is designed to be spread by your audience. A lot of people predict massive results and talk about exponential growth in viral campaigns, but the viral effect doesn't actually have to be that dramatic to return value. For example, if you mainly sell to CEOs of international companies (should your content be passed on just a small number of times), then it has already produced great value.
Third, remember that viral campaigns do not 'appear from nowhere'. Think about how you're going to deliver your creative to the target audience in the first place. Do you have a mailing list you can use? Maybe you can team up with an industry publication?
Finally, plan how to make use of the reflected effects. Arguably many of the most famous examples of viral campaigns are just as successful because of the media coverage they attracted, rather than traffic to the content alone.
How do you find the right supplier?
That very much depends on your objectives. If it's simply a matter of making the most of an existing campaign, the input of a viral specialist or consultant with your existing specialist agency may be the best course of action. If, however, you want to do something more ambitious -- there are a number of specialist agencies that tend to be focused on a particular production skill, (i.e.) video, audio or game.What types of creative can be viral?
Anything can be viral, from a paper voucher to an elaborate shockwave game, but the most commonly used are video, games and audio.
Any other important hints, tips and what to watch?
Remember that when you make things viral, you put your creative in the hands of your audience and that can back-fire on you as it has done on numerous occasions (look at this example here about Mozilla's 'secret' launch. Always keep one step ahead of your audience.
Chris Kempt is founder and managing director of Kempt Ltd and member of BIMA.