Create, Replicate and Proliferate
Each time a new, fast-spreading virus makes its way online,
like the recent "Nimda" virus, it's always an opportune time
to talk about viral marketing. I like to analyze how we can
apply the same dynamics to our Internet marketing efforts, for
viral marketing is the most efficient and effective marketing
tactic currently in existence. This tactic alone has helped a
great number of online businesses to propagate very rapidly.
According to my friend, Dr. Ralph Wilson, "[Viral marketing]
describes any strategy that encourages individuals to pass on
a marketing message to others, thus creating the potential for
exponential growth in the message's exposure and influence."
Generally, the viral marketing concept is to proliferate the
knowledge of your existence on the Web through other people's
efforts -- be it through word-of-mouse, referrals, replicable
files, link popularity, affiliate programs, joint ventures and
so on. Of those, the affiliate program is the most popular and
the one used by most ecommerce sites, like Amazon.com, etc.
But let's take a look at some of the other methods used -- namely
networking systems, replicable files and leveraged links.
1) Networking Systems
Joint ventures and networking systems are processes through
which you are constantly and systematically exchanging leads
with your alliance. On the Web, this technique is one in which
a systematized method of cross-promotion between you and your
alliance through a joint marketing effort is developed. While
it is considered unethical to share email addresses, there are
many other ways to create systematized networking systems.
For example, the coupling of complementary coupons or special
offers from two or more parties that are exclusively marketed
to each other's audience is one method. While different, such
offers are combined as a single campaign. However, each party
member promotes the package to her respective base of clients
or subscribers; no contact information is actually exchanged.
Here's an example. You could find a non-competing business --
1) one that caters to a target market matching yours, and 2)
one that offers a product or service that logically fits or
can be bundled with yours. Through a phone call or email, ask
that business if it would be interested in creating a special
offer, where products from both businesses could be combined
into a single, special (even "exclusive") offer, and promoted
to each party's respective market, for a split in profits.
While the preceding example discusses the coupling of offers,
either for a limited time or with a limited quantity, another
example is the process of amalgamating products, services or
information that complement each other, indefinitely, into a
new and completely separate product. If your alliance sells a
product that bundles well with yours, for example, she can add
to her portfolio your products as bonuses, add-ons or even
additional products, which may be customized or co-branded.
In other words, beyond a simple affiliate program where the
other sells your product for a commission or licenses it for
extra sales, both of you create a new and entirely distinct
product that can be sold on both sites, simultaneously. And as
a result, you also share in each other's resources, including
clients, experience, loyalty, exposure, sales potential, site
traffic and affiliate networks (especially if you both have an
established affiliate base that can be easily mobilized).
For example, you sell cookware online. You can easily team up
with a publisher specializing in cookbooks and throw a book in
the mix. While you raise the price and split the profits with
the publisher, you instantly raise the perceived value of the
cookware through a co-branded approach or a combined package
of non-competing products or services. And best of all, each
of you market the "new" product separately while sharing in
each other's networks -- thus doubling the marketing effort.
2) Replicable Files
With the advent of computers and the Web, copying and pasting
is one of the easiest things to do. Granted, it is also one of
the reasons why viruses can spread tremendously fast, as well
as why programs such as Napster are such a point of contention
for many copyright holders. But putting the legalities aside,
one can certainly take advantage of this ease of replication
in order to expand one's exposure -- quickly and effortlessly.
If you played video arcade games about a decade ago, you might
remember one called "Zero Wing." It's an arcade game in which
a inter-galactic battle takes place in the year 2101, where
your job is to defend planet Earth from an alien invasion led
by the dreaded warrior Cats. While Zero Wing may have been a
favorite among teenagers, the fad faded until video game
manufacturer Sega Genesis released their version of the popular
arcade game in 1998, giving it new breath.
But this time, an animated introduction was added. "In 2101,
war was beginning," it quipped. A dialog between the ship's
captain and Cats ensued, offering these priceless gems: "You
have no chance to survive make your time." "All your base are
belong to us." "Someone set up us the bomb!" And many others.
Obviously, this poor Japanese-to-English translation has made
a few people grin. But in the summer of 2000, a strange craze
began. Graphically-altered files populated the Internet -- on
message boards, newsgroups and emails. They included pictures
of outdoor billboards, businesses and road signs donning "All
Your Base Are Belong to Us" insignias. (For more information
on the craze, see http://hubert.retrogames.com/history.htm)
"'All Your Base' spread from office to office like a benign virus," writes Chris Taylor in a recent Time Magazine issue.
This benign virus to which Chris is referring is a rock video
(developed in Shockwave Flash), which is, essentially, a mini-
slide show consisting of "All Your Base" pictures (download it
According to PlanetSeige.com, the 'All your Base' craze, which
started as a tiny inside joke, has now become "an explosively
popular Internet phenomenon." National newspapers, such as the
Ottawa Citizen, USA Today and San Francisco Chronicle, wrote
articles about the "conspiracy." An online retailer sells even
AYBABTU memorabilia (see http://www.cafepress.com/basestuff/).
Obviously, using viral marketing with replicable files can
be tremendously effective, spreading a message very quickly.
Thus, using the Internet as a way to automate, leverage and
increase the spread of that message using these easy to copy
files can help to multiply your marketing -- almost
For example, files that can be easily downloaded, copied and
spread around include ebooks, applications (John Audette, the
owner and moderator of http://www.adventive.com/, calls these
"ad-apps," short for "advertising-oriented applications") and
web-based, traffic-generating scripts (like referral systems,
discussion forums, free email accounts and greeting cards).
For instance, my website offers a free ebook entitled "The 10
Commandments of Power Positioning." It's a freely downloadable
and distributable PDF file -- a format that's compatible with
PC's and Mac's -- at http://successdoctor.com/offer.htm. As of
today, I estimate the number of downloads to be over 120,000.
Others simply link to my site, which increased my site's link
popularity and search engine ranking. Others offer it directly
on their sites, or co-branded the book with their business.
Mini-applications, slide shows and screen savers are some of the
many tools you can use. Let me share with you an example. Just
recently, I consulted with an online business and suggested as
one approach the creation of a viral marketing tool. While the
name shall remain confidential for obvious reasons, it was a
personals site (i.e., a classified ad site for people looking
for an encounter, friendship or the "love of their life").
My suggestion was the creation of small application, with the
help of an economical programmer -- even a student of a local
technology school. This small yet freely replicable file can
be a survey of sorts, much like a "love meter" or "love test"
application that questions recipients, analyzes responses and
offers suggestions. Examples are personality profiles, levels
of compatibility between mates, astrological signs and so on.
The application can display links back to the site, especially
for retrieving the results. In other words, once the questions
are answered by the recipient, the application does not offer
the results in a direct sense but provides links back to the
site for users to click and read about their specific "score."
Consequently, users are then "pushed" to visit the site to
retrieve their results, similar to online greeting cards. They
will hopefully be interested in browsing further once there.
This is just one example. Freely distributable applications
(or "ad-apps") like these can be made in many different ways
for many different situations. Here's an example: a financial
advisor sells a stock tips book on his website. Her ad-app is
also a survey but used much like an initial free consultation
instead. Once the application churns out the results, the text
can include references back to the book or links back to the
site. To illustrate, one answer can say something like:
"Thank you for using the investor quotient evaluator. Your
'IQ' is 120, with a [whatever] personality type. It means
that you are a savvy yet careful risk-taker, and [... etc].
You have an affinity for [whatever] stocks. Chapter 12 of
my book, 'What Big Bulls Don't Brag About,' offers a series
of specific strategies for investors with your quotient. To
order or learn more about the book, click here. [Etc.]"
3) Leveraged Links
Online, publicity is a required marketing component. With
the help of viral marketing, however, your message can spread
online with results that are faster and more far-reaching than
any other form of word-of-mouth advertising. The ultimate goal
is to populate as many emails, message forums, newsletters,
newsgroups and websites as possible. Offering free content
with a resource box at the end linking back to your site is
one of the easiest ways to multiply your online exposure.
Some sites and even applications, like those mentioned above,
can help to spread it for you. You can syndicate your content
through third parties, like http://www.mastersyndicator.com/,
or use applications that can stream content directly on one's
desktop, like http://www.promote-ivator.com/. Similarly, the
greatest leverage of all is that of other people's marketing
efforts. You want to multiply your link all over the Internet
through the help of other people without much effort on your
part. Of course, this can be achieved in many ways.
Look at Hotmail's success, for example. A link to Hotmail.com
and an invitation to register for their free service is added
at the end of each message sent through their system. And the
result: hundreds of thousands of users registered in less than
a few months. You can certainly use a similar tactic by simply
offering something for free and encouraging others to link to
you, promote it for you, or pass it around freely to others.
If you don't have anything free to offer, another strategy
is to create a message that incites curiosity -- an idea or a
"buzz" about your business, including any buzz through which
you are visible -- and encourages others to disseminate that
message, especially online. Creating curiosity is the key, for
people are instinctively curious. If you can somehow tap into
that common human behavior, your message can spread very fast.
Here's a case in point. Nearly half a million people a day
were calling a New Jersey investment firm's voice mail just to
hear the sound of a duck quacking. Their automated reception,
which began with those typical corporate prompts, such as "to
request a new account kit, press two," included as its final
option, "if you would like to hear a duck quack, press seven."
The brokerage firm, which has a mallard as its mascot, decided
to throw in the sound of a duck quacking as an option on their
toll-free line. Being the last in a series of several message
prompts, the broker thought that nobody would even notice. But
word spread so quickly that, with the phone number circulating
throughout the Internet and particularly by email, more than
270,000 people called the line by the end of the first month.
"We didn't do anything," said the firm's CEO. "We just left it
on our voice mail and the Internet took care of the rest."
Nevertheless, the first step in viral marketing is to develop
your unique selling proposition, or USP. Aside from all the
other steps, if you master this one you will create word-of-
mouth advertising as a natural byproduct, without effort. You
can generate curiosity by adding a sense of mystery to your
message, even an oddity or incomplete story -- one that only
your product or site can complete. People will need to buy it
(or visit it) in order to find out the "rest of the story."
Then leverage your marketing by using tools that can help the
viral process. Write an ebook. Create a screen saver. Program
an application. Offer a checklist. Record a sound bite. Give a
free online consultation. Digitize a video. More importantly,
if you can use a network of people that can help to distribute
them freely for you, either by offering an incentive or adding
an element of curiosity, you will propagate the knowledge of
your existence on the Web very quickly, like a virus.
About the Editor
Michel Fortin of SuccessDoctor.com is an acclaimed and
highly sought-after consultant whose marketing advice has
helped countless clients earn millions in record time. He is
the author of four books. His latest, "Power Positioning Dot Com,"
reveals how to keep your product or service indelibly
carved into your prospects' uppermost consciousness at all
times. For more, visit http://successdoctor.com/pp/
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