Friday, October 10, 2008

Does viral marketing work?

Viral marketing is a term devised to describe what happens when an item of marketing is spread amongst people. It is a little like word of mouth on steroids. Viral marketing is now an accepted way to promote your business or product.

Viral marketing works when a lot of people pass the item along from person to person. The more people that see it and move it on, the more buzz is created. If it isn't passed on then you lose the impetus and nothing will happen.

The question has been "Does it work?" The answer is "Have you heard of rick rolling?" This was a viral phenomenon that sent millions of people innocent and legitimate looking links that led to a clip of Rick Astley singing "Never Gonna Give You Up". Even if you haven't been rickrolled you will have heard about it. This worked so well that it led to Rick Astley being a shock nominee for Best Act Ever at the MTV Europe Music Awards 17 years after his last chart success.

I'm not sure why this started or who started it, but it is the perfect example of a successful viral campaign. There must be something we can learn from it that we can apply to our businesses. I am no marketing expert, but this is what I have come up with.

What was so good about it?

1. It was unexpected.
2. It was funny.
3. It wasn't an ad.
4. It was in a form that was easy to share.

OK, so how can we make our campaign 'unexpected'? Depending on the form of your campaign you could try a few things. Place your product image somewhere totally out of context. Modify the people in your image to utilize something like 'Simpsonise Me'. Prepare a short information video clip and have your item dance across the background. Print it on a doggie coat.

Not all products or services lend themselves to being 'funny' but there is no reason that you have to be totally straight in the way it is presented. Create an ebook or video clip that tells your story in fiction format - think fairy tales and wicked bosses. This will be a judgement call on your part but the idea is to think outside the box. Podcasts, powerpoint presentations and cartoons can all be useful and these are often passed around via email. Add e-cards to your site and allow people to send them for free. Create some games. There are free online sites that let you create a jigsaw puzzle from an image. Make it a funny one and off you go.

Number 3 is a difficult one. The Rick Astley clip wasn't an ad. It wasn't selling something. For businesses we want the campaign to lead to sales. Why not swerve a little off your track and create a clip or ebook about your processes. Tell them why you are in this business, show how your products are made, track through a typical day in your life. This also picks up on the social need to get to know you as the face behind the business. Create a crossword full of words that relate to your products. You can always follow the traditional path and create an ebook full of useful information and give it away freely. How-To books are always valued.

To be viral your marketing must be in a form that is really easy to share. These days that usually means via download or email. I have already mentioned a lot of them so far. Keep thinking about things that are easy to include in an email, or won't take a lot of time to download. Keep it simple, fast and accessible.

There are just a couple more things that you need to remember.

1. Put your URL on every piece of marketing that you create. It doesn't have to be dead centre of every screen, but make sure it is there at the end.
2. Have a sign up form on your site. People who come to visit might just be interested enough to want more.
3. Think about a follow up. The Rick Astley clip was so popular that others made their own versions and people were videod being 'set up' for a rick rolling. You can create your own follow up campaign to build on the first or you can have someone else do it for you. Why not create a strategic alliance with a fellow business and create follow up campaigns for each other?

So, I never thought it would happen, but there are my lessons from Rick Astley! If you are not familiar with this now famous pop song you can check it out at youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yu_moia-oVI