Viral Marketing For Small Businesses
In my experience and research, I've found that viral marketing can be a positive or negative
advertising method. Some companies use it correctly while others let campaigns turn negative and
spiral out of control. And some people believe that viral marketing campaigns are so expensive that
only big companies can implement them on larger scales. This, however, is entirely untrue as viral
marketing can work for any size business. This article will define viral marketing, describe how it
works, and discuss examples and strategies for small businesses.
The specific definition of viral marketing differs from person to person. However, everyone generally
agrees that viral marketing is an advertising method that gets customers to market your products and
services for you. More specifically, I would say that it's an advertising method that capitalizes on
humanity's predisposition to share ideas, make new connections, and, of course, get free stuff.
When Does Viral Marketing Work Best?
Viral marketing is a touchy advertising method. Use it at the right times with the right products and
your name can spread like wildfire. However, employ it incorrectly and you could see some very
negative results. Viral marketing works best when a product or service is easy to use, easy to explain,
has a low level of commitment, and is generally seen as "cool" in your customers' eyes. Let's look at
these characteristics in order:
Easy to use - Because you are having your own customers do the marketing for you, it is preferable
that their experience with the product is positive. If it's difficult to use and they dislike the product, why
would they refer it to a friend?
Easy to explain - Your product needs to be simple - that is, people can quickly share it without being
bogged down by details. Ever wonder why those videos on file sharing websites get passed around
the Internet so quickly? All you have to do is tell a friend about a great video on the Internet and give
them the link. It's simple with no explanation.
Low Level of Commitment - Finally, your product must have a low level of commitment. A friend
once wanted me to sign up for one of those Internet pyramid schemes that offer a free IPOD or flat
panel TV if you get 10 people to join a program. If you actually follow through with one of these
things, it takes about 30 minutes to sign up because you have to give endless amounts of
information, uncheck every free email box, and finally sell your soul. No one in their right mind would
do this more than once.
General Coolness Factor - It's obvious that people only want to talk about the most exciting
products they use. No one walks up to a friend and describes the latest underwear they've bought.
Instead, they describe their new cell phone, poster, CD, or book. If your product is cool, people will
talk about it. And in most cases, the "coolness factor" can be changed based on how you position the
product in your customers' minds. In other words, it's all based on the advertising that goes along with
Viral Marketing - The Distant Cousin of Buzz Marketing
So we've established that a product itself can bring about a viral result if it has the four characteristics.
But viral marketing can still work for products that do not meet these criteria if you can generate an
adequate buzz for them. Buzz marketing is generated from catchy advertising and works when your
customers talk about your product in day-to-day conversation.
In recent years, buzz marketing has worked for companies like Volkswagen and Burger King.
However, I'm saying that buzz marketing has worked for these companies - not viral marketing. Buzz
marketing all too often generates hype about the ad campaigns that feature the product and not the
product itself. Sometimes this can be negative and divert attention away from your product. Although
some would argue that Crispin Porter's attempt at targeting VW enthusiasts' hearts was genuine
when they came out with the "MyFast" and the "Unpimp" commercials, they do not make me want to
buy a VW - an item that definitely falls outside of the four criteria.
Sure you can have catchy advertising, but make sure it's advertising that focuses on product. Buzz
marketing is more of an awareness campaign. And in my experience, small businesses need to see a
return on their advertising investments - they can't afford to just promote awareness of their products.
You can't just produce a buzz-worthy campaign that people will forget the second the advertisements
come down. The goal is to get the product in peoples' hands for the viral effect to occur.
Can Viral Marketing Work Offline? And for a Small Business?
Sure it can. I'm sure you've read viral marketing success stories involving Hotmail, NetZero, Skype,
and even the comedian Dane Cook who used MySpace.com for his viral marketing campaign. This
might get a lot of people thinking that they need large scale campaigns that utilize websites, emails,
and constant updates to online material. But there's one great example I'd like to share with you
where a business employed a viral marketing campaign without much use of the internet and on a
very small scale.
A local gym that I once went to had a great idea to hand out free t-shirts if members signed up for
their "Guests First" program. They stopped everyone at the door, handed them a t-shirt, and told
them that they could get a free guest pass every time they wore the shirt to the gym (the shirt had the
gym's logo and location on it). To sign up, the members only had to verify the information they gave
when they first became a gym member. It was a win-win for customers. Everyone started wearing the
t-shirts and the guest passes started flying. Whenever a guest came in, they had to give their name
and email address to the front desk. Later, an email would be sent to the guest to gauge their
satisfaction with the gym. It also acted as a follow-up contact to the guest. This was, by far, the most
intelligent and well thought out marketing scheme I had ever seen. The gym built a database of new
potential customers, generated hype about the guest passes in town, put walking advertisements out
on the street, and, in the end, got more people in the gym. And it was all done on a small scale.
Would Viral Marketing Work for Your Business?
As I said before, there are times when viral marketing works and times when it doesn't. You really
need to take a close look at your products and the behavior of your customers to see if it's right for
Products - Take one of your cheap, low cost, low involvement products and start handing it out for
free. If you are a service-based business, start offering free trials of your low cost services. Start
advertisements about the giveaways to get more people in your place of business. Be humorous and
ironic - it tends to work better with viral marketing campaigns. If the products and services get high
visibility, you will see a more viral effect. Even if you only carry expensive products that get low
visibility, research on the internet or spy on competitors to see what types of giveaway items have
worked for other businesses. Remember, choose something that people will always see or have a
use for and associate it with your brand and business.
Customer Behavior - A successful viral marketing campaign also relies on the behavior of your
customers. You need customers who are outgoing, friendly, and lead an active lifestyle. The more
people that surround your customer, the more impressions your viral marketing tool will have.
Remember, viral marketing, or any advertising, works best when you can achieve multiple
impressions with the least amount of effort. The last person you want to test viral marketing on is
some recluse that sits inside eighteen hours a day and emerges only to restock the fridge and drive to
work. It's about getting your customers to do the work for you and advertising is all about visibility. It
only makes sense that you need a highly visible customer base to do this type of advertising.
Go Out and Do It!
Viral marketing can work for almost any business. You know your business and customers the best.
Set aside some time in the next few weeks to try and think of some great viral marketing tactics that
you can employ. If you think the risk is too great, start small to test the water.
Every business has customers. Few businesses have fans. The trick is turning your customers into
loyal fans. Then you will be surprised at just how easy viral marketing really is.
Best Viral Marketing For Small Business