How to make viral marketing work for you

4 min read

Everything these days is about viral marketing — whether it's called buzz marketing, word-of-mouth marketing or network marketing, it's all the same: A marketing strategy that allows people to pass the message on to others. And yep — it multiplies like a virus, but with much more positive results.

The basis of Gizmo Design has been networking and viral marketing. After we've met, you then [hopefully!] reach out to your friends and colleagues — and my business grows. It happens through forwarding this newsletter, passing along my name, or sharing my marketing materials. A referral is never unwelcome!

But technology is being used in more and more innovative ways to make viral marketing something you'd want to share. Like your other marketing efforts, creative should be attractive, fit your demographic and your brand's image, excel in execution [no errors!] and be trackable.

Even more important is the realization that viral marketing should not be your only tactic: Make sure you are employing other methods and the viral will simply be part of the overall strategy.

Viral marketing at its simplest
Perhaps one of the easiest viral marketing campaigns is free email accounts like Yahoo! or Hotmail. One user gets a free email account, then sends an email to a friend. At the bottom of that email is an invitation for a free email account. In turn, that friends signs up, and the free email grows and grows. In cases like Gmail, there are invitations to sign up, creating a unique and mysterious service that others clamor for. Today, Gmail invites are as ubiquitous as Hotmail accounts, but the interest was served and the word was spread.

Innovation abounds online
So what options are out there? Old Spice utilizes video and referral emails: With When's She's Hot and their own parody When You Stink, you can create music videos based off of — what else — their commercials. You can view them and share with friends. In turn, their friends can email this on, or create their own.

The movie "Wedding Crashers" did something similar, allowing you to "crash" their trailer. The results were invariably funnier here — everyone wants to see themselves in the picture.

These options are fairly design-heavy, but fun and funny e-cards, interactive Flash presentations that put the user in the action are great ways to appeal to your audience. These sorts of tactics are becoming fairly standard among retail and entertainment sites, but they work for others as well

The same can be said of a recent "mad libs" promotion I did for a video recording and editing services client. It's no longer on their site, but in return for providing a bit of information, prospects could put in their fun preferences [whether favorite color or TV show host] and the next page neatly spit out their information in a fun mad libs format. [If you'd like to see this in action, let me know.]

With a simple bit of interactivity, the user has fun, and you have additional information.

Bad viral means, don't send viruses
Of course, you have to keep in mind that every idea is not a good one: In 2004, a new version of the game "Resident Evil" was launched, the storyline based on a virus outbreak. They sent out text messages to cell phones saying, "Outbreak: I'm infecting you with t-virus, my code is ******. Forward this to 60022 to get your own code and chance to win prizes. More at" For those not "in the know," this obviously resulted in panic attacks and many phone calls to the game manufacturer. The marketing agency had to publish a press release stating it was a stunt.

The moral is, if it has a negative connotation to the majority of the world... it still will when you use it in your marketing. That doesn't mean there aren't plenty of great ideas out there:

  • Writing ebooks and articles
  • Writing a blog
  • Putting a "refer a friend" link on your site and in your emails
  • Customizing your email signature
  • Customized screensaver [great for retail and entertainment sites]

These are just a few. I often write about the latest viral marketing I've found in my blog, but I welcome your finds.


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