Viral Marketing”¦are you sick yet?

So often buzz words turn into marketing terms. Often enough, the strongest of the marketing terms become engrained into our everyday speech. Viral Marketing is one of the latest.

Marketingterms.com defines Viral Marketing as:

“œMarketing phenomenon that facilitates and encourages people to pass along a marketing message.”

Ironically, medterms.com defines something that is Viral as:

“œInfection caused by the presence of a virus in the body.”

What amazes me is that a word, such as viral, when it applies to our body is something we don’t want, but when it comes to marketing”¦ we can’t get enough of it. Businesses throw thousands spend thousands of dollars to try to catch lightning in a bottle. Some work while some fall flat and never see the light of day beyond the board room. Alternate Reality Games, YouTube videos, and a wide variety of other tactics have been created to leverage this powerful marketing “œexperience”.

Viral Marketing as a practice is not new. Giving it a new name is. The different tactics and tools you use to create Viral Marketing range, but not the intention of it. It’s been called rumors, gossip, Word of Mouth Marketing, Buzz Marketing, and a long list of names all for the same thing. The purpose is to spread awareness of and create interest for any product, service, or entity.

So what is Viral Marketing and how can you apply to you, your business and anything you have that you need to get out to the public. Think back to a band that you had, or know, that was just starting out. Think of a party or event you wanted to get people to. Hell, think of the yard, or garage, sale you had that you really wanted people to attend. A small level of “œViral Marketing” was used to generate interest in these things. You told friends and neighbors”¦who, if they liked the idea, told friends and neighbors, and so on, creating a “œviral” spread of information “œinfecting” people with interest and desire.

The key factor in creating something that is Viral is that whatever it is happens to be appealing enough for people want to tell people about it. The problem with this is that it is really subjective. People on YouTube are famous for something completely accidental. They never knew that thousands of people would get into “œChocolate Rain” or “œSneezing Panda”, but they were never created to leverage a product. YouTube has become a wide avenue for things, but to me it will always be the Millennium kids version of Earth’s Funniest Home Videos. When you try to take something like the unintentional power of Viral Videos and apply it to a product, service or business the outcome could be wondrously huge or an effort in futility. There are huge successes, like the Alternate Reality Game (ARG) for movies The Dark Knight, created by 42 Entertainment, or Hellboy 2: The Golden Army, created by Double Twenty, or wrapping a bus stop with bubble wrap, with each bubble having a PS2 controller icon, to promote the PS2 by Sony. Or the monstrous failure of Sony of America when they tried to create a fictitious person to sing the praises of their company via YouTube which seriously pissed off several of the Sony interested or faithful. VIRAL MARKETING FAIL.

If you want to apply some kind of Viral Marketing to whatever it is you want to promote you need to understand several things before you even get started.

You have to really know your target audience and demographic for this really to take flight. Just like Word of Mouth Marketing, Viral Marketing relies heavily on trust and faith of those participating. Find someone who believes in your idea, product or whatever and you’ve just created someone who help spread “œthe good word”. Give them a reason to distrust your efforts, intentions, or goal and you will have just created a Viral Marketing Campaign rallying against your Viral Marketing Campaign.

You need to have a strategy in place for the full duration of the campaign. Whether it’s something like the opening of a movie or night club, a presidential campaign, or a bands new CD (god I miss tapes) you have to have a fully realized strategy from start to finish of what you will do to help generate and maintain interest. That means fresh content to further your campaign along. Whether you’re creating a storyline for your interested to follow over a period of time, a one time stunt to gain media or personal attention, or just want people to pass your message along. You have to have it well thought out and be able to understand the potential consequences, because their may be some.

You have to keep the momentum going. It’s going to be more like a roller coaster than any other marketing tactic you’ve used before. You need to give it time to get over that first hill and get rolling. Then you need to watch it and make sure that when it picks up speed you don’t delay the next phase of it and have people loose interest, because when you bring that next piece out and you have lost them”¦they are gone. Unless you can do something wildly unexpected to bring them back.

Finally, you have to realize also that you can’t fully control it. It’s the proverbial snowball rolling down the hill. But even with that snowball, you don’t know if there’s something underneath the surface of the snow to cause it to stop or alter it’s course. You can nudge it along, give it suggestion, but one misstep and you could loose more than you gain. That is ultimately why you need to have your vision and goals firmly in place before you take step one.

Viral Marketing is going to see some pretty interesting trends as this marketing avenue is developed. As with all good marketing strategies, you’re going to see a lot of carbon copies, a lot of failures and lot of fresh ideas. One I’m personally following is the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s Captain John Smith for President. I can personally suspend disbelief long enough to see that their message is strong enough for me to want to share it, spread it and help them get this message going. That is the ultimate goal and success of any Viral Marketing campaign. The participant believes in the campaign, feels a part of the campaign, can interact with the campaign and feels a sense that what they did, no matter how large or small, was a direct impact on the success of the campaigns awareness and overall success.

So what Viral Campaigns have sparked your interest or ire? What do you like or dislike about Viral Marketing? I want to know. Actually, I want to challenge you to participate in a little Viral Marketing with me. If you like this message, as I see a few of you are following this blog, I would love to see a comment from you on it. I also want you to share this blog and have several of your friends comment. For the person who has the most people comments mentioned they were sent by you, and subscribe, I will personally send the winner a prize.

I’ve reached out to my audience, I’ve announced my strategy and I know my goal. Now it’s up to you. The deadline for this little slice of potential Viral Failure is one week. So”¦in the immortal words of W.O.P.R. “œWould you like to play a game?”

Aaron Brazell

Aaron Brazell is a Baltimore, MD-based WordPress developer, a co-founder at WP Engine, WordPress core contributor and author. He wrote the book WordPress Bible and has been publishing on the web since 2000. You can follow him on Twitter, on his personal blog and view his photography at The Aperture Filter.

20 thoughts on “Viral Marketing”¦are you sick yet?

  1. Great post! The fact is some people think just calling something viral will make it so. They forget there must be a clear strategy behind it.

    I often call out good and bad (and really really bad) viral marketing campaigns on my blog: http://www.speakmediablog.com. Check it you. My personal favorite is the Stride Dancing video from Matt Harding.

    Jennifer A. Jones

  2. I think there is an interesting parallel between Viral marketing and actual viruses. The difference between very successful virus and very unsuccessful ones is how long it takes to kill the host. Ebola for example is a horribly scary virus but also not very prevalent. The reason is the host dies – fast. The common cold on the other hand is the most common virus in the world because it almost never kills the host giving it time to spread.

    all of these companies that force the issue with a marketing tactic that they hope will go viral are totally missing it. They are trying to make something so potent and powerful that they kill the host and nobody wants to go near it.

    Personally I feel that it should all be about conversations. You need to be engaged in the conversation with your customers. If you aren’t then you have nothing. If your customers love you and you have a good story to tell they will be your evangelists.

    We just recently started an online buzz marketing firm that we think has a very different approach than most. We just help our clients get involved in the conversation. Wherever it is happening. sometimes it grows up into something more and we get some buzz and sometimes it doesn’t.

    check us out and let us know what you think.
    Manage the conversation online

  3. I still call it buzz marketing because it’s creating attention and discussion on a particular subject. Word of mouth is the cheapest and best way to get your name out there. People are still communicating in the traditional advertising sense but now its gossip that creates an image in the public eye. PR plays a big role too. Even the CEO of 5W PR mentioned in his blog, RonnTorossian.com, about buzz marketing and how it’s an increasingly economical and viable way to reach influencers.

  4. Rather than be all about conversation as Josh says, viral marketing should be all about conversion. The brand awareness is great from whatever viewership that directly results from your marketing efforts, but if your -hopefully increased- sales doesn’t cover the overhead to produce whatever it is that you’re sending out there (video seems to be the most popular medium), then it doesn’t seem worth it. I’ve read comscore’s latest figures for online video viewing and it’s pretty astounding. But I honestly believe thinking about ‘making the next big viral piece of content’ is going about things in the wrong way. I would say to just focus on delivering good material. Of course it has to be targeted to a specific demographic, etc. But, anyway, I feel like I’m just stating what already has been said before. I’m tired of ‘viral’ marketing. Label marketing whatever you like, but if people are talking about it afterwards, well, job well done. Superbowl commericals from the recent past, before the term viral marketing was out there, always had people talking. Viral marketing existing way before ‘viral marketing.’ If you were a marketer, I’d say it was doing your job.

  5. I’m a marketing consultant and have been trying to find some good, solid data on viral marketing. I’m interested in the small stories from companies that don’t have giant Apple sized budgets. I’m curious about the organic viral activity. What makes a certain blog a hit? Why do some homemade videos get picked up? I’ve forwarded this article to some clients.

  6. I’m a marketing consultant and have been trying to find some good, solid data on viral marketing. I’m interested in the small stories from companies that don’t have giant Apple sized budgets. I’m curious about the organic viral activity. What makes a certain blog a hit? Why do some homemade videos get picked up? I’ve forwarded this article to some clients.

  7. I’m a marketing consultant and have been trying to find some good, solid data on viral marketing. I’m interested in the small stories from companies that don’t have giant Apple sized budgets. I’m curious about the organic viral activity. What makes a certain blog a hit? Why do some homemade videos get picked up? I’ve forwarded this article to some clients.

  8. I’m a marketing consultant and have been trying to find some good, solid data on viral marketing. I’m interested in the small stories from companies that don’t have giant Apple sized budgets. I’m curious about the organic viral activity. What makes a certain blog a hit? Why do some homemade videos get picked up? I’ve forwarded this article to some clients.

  9. I’m a marketing consultant and have been trying to find some good, solid data on viral marketing. I’m interested in the small stories from companies that don’t have giant Apple sized budgets. I’m curious about the organic viral activity. What makes a certain blog a hit? Why do some homemade videos get picked up? I’ve forwarded this article to some clients.

  10. I’m a marketing consultant and have been trying to find some good, solid data on viral marketing. I’m interested in the small stories from companies that don’t have giant Apple sized budgets. I’m curious about the organic viral activity. What makes a certain blog a hit? Why do some homemade videos get picked up? I’ve forwarded this article to some clients.

  11. I’m a marketing consultant and have been trying to find some good, solid data on viral marketing. I’m interested in the small stories from companies that don’t have giant Apple sized budgets. I’m curious about the organic viral activity. What makes a certain blog a hit? Why do some homemade videos get picked up? I’ve forwarded this article to some clients.

  12. I’m a marketing consultant and have been trying to find some good, solid data on viral marketing. I’m interested in the small stories from companies that don’t have giant Apple sized budgets. I’m curious about the organic viral activity. What makes a certain blog a hit? Why do some homemade videos get picked up? I’ve forwarded this article to some clients.

  13. I’m a marketing consultant and have been trying to find some good, solid data on viral marketing. I’m interested in the small stories from companies that don’t have giant Apple sized budgets. I’m curious about the organic viral activity. What makes a certain blog a hit? Why do some homemade videos get picked up? I’ve forwarded this article to some clients.

  14. I’m a marketing consultant and have been trying to find some good, solid data on viral marketing. I’m interested in the small stories from companies that don’t have giant Apple sized budgets. I’m curious about the organic viral activity. What makes a certain blog a hit? Why do some homemade videos get picked up? I’ve forwarded this article to some clients.

  15. I’m a marketing consultant and have been trying to find some good, solid data on viral marketing. I’m interested in the small stories from companies that don’t have giant Apple sized budgets. I’m curious about the organic viral activity. What makes a certain blog a hit? Why do some homemade videos get picked up? I’ve forwarded this article to some clients.

  16. I’m a marketing consultant and have been trying to find some good, solid data on viral marketing. I’m interested in the small stories from companies that don’t have giant Apple sized budgets. I’m curious about the organic viral activity. What makes a certain blog a hit? Why do some homemade videos get picked up? I’ve forwarded this article to some clients.

  17. I’m a marketing consultant and have been trying to find some good, solid data on viral marketing. I’m interested in the small stories from companies that don’t have giant Apple sized budgets. I’m curious about the organic viral activity. What makes a certain blog a hit? Why do some homemade videos get picked up? I’ve forwarded this article to some clients.

  18. I’m a marketing consultant and have been trying to find some good, solid data on viral marketing. I’m interested in the small stories from companies that don’t have giant Apple sized budgets. I’m curious about the organic viral activity. What makes a certain blog a hit? Why do some homemade videos get picked up? I’ve forwarded this article to some clients.

  19. I’m a marketing consultant and have been trying to find some good, solid data on viral marketing. I’m interested in the small stories from companies that don’t have giant Apple sized budgets. I’m curious about the organic viral activity. What makes a certain blog a hit? Why do some homemade videos get picked up? I’ve forwarded this article to some clients.

  20. I’m a marketing consultant and have been trying to find some good, solid data on viral marketing. I’m interested in the small stories from companies that don’t have giant Apple sized budgets. I’m curious about the organic viral activity. What makes a certain blog a hit? Why do some homemade videos get picked up? I’ve forwarded this article to some clients.

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