Viral Marketing

Anyone who has ever read “The Tipping Point” would surely have noticed the extremely powerful parallelism with the Internet. In fact, I had to keep reminding myself that the book wasn’t expressly covering the new media space.

As a refresher course, “The Tipping Point” focuses on the precise moment when an idea, virus, product, message or campaign “tips”, and in so doing goes from zero to hero. From Paul Revere’s “The British are coming” rallying cry -- which almost single handedly helped call an entire coast to arms -- to the revival and sales explosion of Hush Puppies, to the almost overnight eradication of crime in New York City, a unique blend of forces and variables all came together at a precise moment to help tip these three “success stories.”

In his book, Malcolm Gladwell isolates three Laws that help to explain and demystify the phenomenon commonly known as word-of-mouth or commercially as viral marketing. They are the Law of the Few, the Law of Stickiness and the Law of Context.

The first Law isolates three groups of people -- Mavens, Connectors and Salespeople -- who are few and far between but combined, have the persuasion and impact greatly in excess of the masses. To put it simply, Mavens know it all; Connectors know everyone; Salespeople are the Closers.

The second Law is the copywriter’s Rosetta Stone – it is after all the difference between “Where’s the Beef?” and “Yo Quiero Taco Bell!” The point here is that very often the difference between stickiness and non-stickiness is the very slightest of tweaks.

Finally, the Law of Context is interchangeable with environment and if we were to substitute this with “contextual relevancy” we would be forgiven.

In many respects, the Internet is a giant Tipping Point; an idea whose time came in roughly five years (the time it took to amass 50 million users). On another level, the Internet is densely populated with Mavens, Connectors and Salespeople, who have been responsible for the likes of:

And the list continues…

Many of the examples quoted above are unofficial or underground illustrations of the power of network effects, which just goes to show how difficult it is to unleash the idea virus.

In fact, the truth is that the term “viral marketing” is in itself an oxymoron. In reality, the two have an almost inversely proportional relationship. The more viral marketing is planned, controlled and thus contrived, the less likely it will succeed; the less it is controlled and allowed to do its organic ritual voodoo dance, the more likely it will be to propagate among the so-called innovators and early adopters.

That is not to say this is always the case. It’s just that marketers have a hard time letting go on the reins of control and that’s why we still see “viral marketing” best practice cases limited to “refer-a-friend” e-mails, which for the most part are done rather poorly.

One exception to that rule comes from a company that specializes in the ability to infect inner circles with sticky content.

We include ’tell-a-friend’ in almost every promotion we run,” says Josh Linkner, CEO of ePrize. “It drives outstanding results when tied to the chance to win.” Linkner cites the ability to reward users with extra game plays (or chances to win) in exchange for viral sends as one way to drive forwards. “The key is providing a specific INCENTIVE around the desired action,” explains Linkner, “in this case -- a referral. If you don't offer an incentive to refer, results will suffer.

He goes on to show some strong support for this best practice tactic: “We are seeing on average a referral rate of 3.5 referrals per user when tied to the chance to win. Of those, we're seeing about one-third of the referees come back to register. In other words, if you have one million original users, the word is then spread to 3.5 million more people. About one million will then come back to register, so you have effectively DOUBLED the registration rates.

In the online space, the entertainment sector has seemed quickest to capitalize on viral tactics. In the big screen arena, the examples are rampant: From “Spiderman” to “The Matrix,” the big blockbuster movies nowadays utilize a compendium of community-based tools, including IM, distributed content on fan sites and day-parting. On the telly side, “Queer as Folk” continues to lead the way as one of the most heralded examples of leveraging the affinity and connectedness of a highly cohesive community.

Here’s a new case study for Fujitsu:

Objectives:

  • Convert anonymous site visitors to known, profiled sales prospects
  • Drive more results than previous, flat sweepstakes programs built and managed internally
  • Create word-of-mouth excitement to get registrants to help spread the word about promotion
  • Drive new sales.

Approach:

  • Offer primary audience (small- to medium-sized businesses) the chance to win a large prize (BMW 530i) with ePrize’s $50,000 Pooled eDrawings, as well as the ability to instantly win two smaller prizes with interactive online scratch-off games.

Results:

  • Immediate 20% boost in online sales
  • In just six weeks, the promotion generated over 50,000 registrations
  • 40% of all registrations opted-in to receive e-mails from Fujitsu. In other words, self-qualified sales leads!
  • 10,000 e-mails were sent to referred friends inviting them to the Fujitsu PC Website.

We had a 20% boost in online sales,” states Fujitsu PC Corporation’s Joe Sullivan, “which is much higher than any promotion we’ve done in-house.

Next week I’ll complete the viral marketing best practice by spending some time talking about Honda’s Cog Commercial, which has been spreading around the Net like wildfire. I’ll also highlight another similar execution by a leadING financial services company.

The conclusion alludes to the fact that some companies are more virally inclined than others, and will also introduce a strong link between television advertising and a means of extending broadcast impressions through the power of the Web.

 

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