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From Inertia to Infestation

Viral marketing is quite a popular term, these days. If you're not in the know, which I seriously doubt, viral marketing is, in its simplest definition, the process of implementing means through which the knowledge of your existence self-propagates.

Like a virus, your visibility spreads quickly among a network of people who refer you to each other. And that network, with each and every person, grows and grows. It multiplies itself.

Like an epidemic, your marketing message can spread fast and geometrically since the people who refer you to others know each other. People who get to know you or about you through third party referrals instantly grant you a higher level of trust, confidence and loyalty. You gain instant credibility.

Also called "word-of-mouse," viral marketing, which used to be an additional tool that a mere handful of websites utilized to help leverage their visibility on the web, has now become, in this era of "dotbombs," crucial to a site's online survival. It is no longer a tool but a *necessity*.

For example, as a marketing teacher, it is often said that the key to business success in the offline, brick-and-mortar world is "location, location, location." Online, it's no different.

In other words, your marketing success depends highly on the number of locations you appear -- places on which your site, link, company or product exist. The more locations you can infest online, the more successful you will become. You need to be in as many places as possible, talked about by as many people as possible and seen by as many eyeballs as possible.

My friend and widely respected ecommerce guru Dr. Ralph Wilson of http://WilsonWeb.com/, in his keynote speech "Demystifying Viral Marketing," explains that viral marketing is, and I am paraphrasing, "Any strategy that replicates rapidly by piggy-backing on other hosts and using their resources to reproduce itself." His speech is included below (in fact, he uses my site at the end, SuccessDoctor.com, as an example):


Consequently, if your website is unique, is the first in some category or incites curiosity, the knowledge of your existence will spread almost naturally. But you can leverage your viral marketing, literally going from "geometric" to "exponential."

In other words, rather than multiplying at a progressive rate, you can leverage your viral campaign to help multiply not only the marketing but also the rate itself -- like wildfire, your "epidemic," so to speak, can become an virtual pandemic. There are many ways to achieve that, but here are two.

First, creating specific systems and using specific tools that will leverage the spreading of that message helps to multiply your marketing punch. They do so not only because such tools help to stimulate word-of-mouth advertising but also because:

  1. They're free and often easy to use,
  2. And they're more credible than ads.

For example, they include strategic marketing alliances, joint ventures and affiliate programs. Online, they are often called "referral traffic generators." Unlike more traditional traffic generators like banners and search engines, these tools are much more effective since they are used by third parties. The simplest tools are "tell-a-friend" scripts. Here's a list:

But there is also a second way, and it's probably the most important. In fact, when used in conjunction with the first, you can help turn a geometric virus into a exponential one.

Regardless of the above referral tools (or any tool used in your viral campaign, such as a downloadable file, replicable content and so on), you can fan the viral flames by offering something extra in return, in addition to the viral tool. In other words, offer an incentive for spreading the "virus."

It could be a free gift, a bonus, a contest, a special offer, a giveaway, a sweepstake, a sample, a trial, a free service, an initial consultation, access to a private section of your website, a software or mini-application, etc. Any benefit that caters to a person's self-interest and motivates her to spread your "virus" will make your campaign much more successful.

For example, the reason an affiliate program is an often very successful form of viral marketing is the fact that there is a benefit in making the endorsement -- which, in this case, is comprised of commissions. By integrating both methods, you can springboard your marketing, virtually without any effort, and spread your message on the Internet -- almost like wildfire.

Therefore, while using any of the above tools, whether it's a referral script, ezine, duplicable file or affiliate program, add some kind of incentive. If your site is centered on a niche or target market, which it should, then focus on an incentive that caters as specifically as possible to it.

If you do, you can turn an Internet epidemic into a pandemic.

Of all the above tools, the simplest -- and often the most effective -- is the contest. There are several reasons. First, while there is an expense, which consists of the costs of your gifts, it is far less when compared to the overall costs of mass-advertising. And second, you can use other tools to help propel your campaign (i.e., third party referral processes).

For example, you can submit your viral tool and especially contest to websites that exist for the express purpose of offering free stuff or making free contest announcements:

Nevertheless, keep in mind that viral marketing is no longer regarded as an extra marketing tool. Today, it has become an intrinsic component of Internet marketing. If you don't tell the world you exist, you don't. And often, all you need is a tool or an incentive. After all, you never know -- a little nudge may be all you need to turn your viral marketing...

... Into a virtual plague.

About the author
Michel Fortin is a direct response copywriter and consultant dedicated to turning sales messages into powerful magnets. Get a free copy of his book, "The 10 Commandments of Power Positioning," when you subscribe to his free monthly ezine, "The Profit Pill." See http://SuccessDoctor.com/ now!

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