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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." (Visit http://www.wilsonweb.com/wmt5/viral-principles.htm.)
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 at http://www.planetstarseige.com/allyourbase/download.html).
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 exponentially.
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/free/. 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.