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What is Viral Marketing?

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Viral marketing refers to any marketing techniques that encourage users to pass on a message or link to other users, thereby creating a potentially exponential growth in the message’s visibility and effect.

“Creating entertaining or informative messages that are designed to be passed along in an exponential fashion, often electronically or by e-mail,” definition used by Word of Mouth Marketing Association (WOMMA)

Viral marketing is a very powerful tool and exploits people’s propensity to share humorous, enjoyable or useful information – jokes, special offers, and games.

Viral video marketing has exploded over recent years, with the industry as a whole now valued at over £100 million. The popularity and subsequent acquisition of YouTube by Google is testimony to the fact that viewing videos online has moved into the mainstream.

“Last year around 30% of campaigns had a viral element to them. This year I’d say it’s closer to 65% (2006)”, says Dusan Hamlin, media and communications director of media agency Carat International.

This rising popularity has resulted in many companies developing viral campaigns, although as a consequence of this popularity the cost of developing a viral campaign ahs increased significantly, and the increased ‘viral clutter’ has made it more difficult to stand out from the crowd and really allow the video to go viral in the true sense of the word. However, despite this viral marketing can be extremely cost effective when done well.

Choosing the Type of Viral

Viral marketing can reach huge number of people at a relatively low cost, and can be used to collect data, generate brand awareness, or encourage click-throughs to a website.

It generally takes one of three forms – video, emails or interactive games:

  • Videos – the most common form of viral marketing. Videos can reach the most people and therefore tend to be best at creating brand awareness.
  • Emails – this generally involves creating an enticing offer, one which people will automatically forward onto their friends. This creates a direct call to action but requires something of real value to be being given away or people simply won’t forward the email.
  • Interactive Games – these are excellent data collection tools. Fewer people will be reached compared to a video but you’re able to build a database that you can continue to market to. Interactive games tend to be especially effective when combined with a micro site.

Naturally the choice of the type of viral should also depend on your target audience. Younger people tend to play more games, as do men in general. Women prefer emails and videos, and are more likely to forward viral content to friends, especially if it includes helpful information and special offers.

When is Viral Marketing not Suitable?

The nature of viral marketing is that the message can be forwarded to people anywhere. Therefore regionally-based companies are not well suited to exploiting the effectiveness of viral marketing.

Similarly, products aimed at the elderly may not be ideal because elderly people traditionally watch online videos and play interactive games less than the younger generation.

Also, you do have to be careful when promoting products that are only for people aged 18 and over because the nature of viral marketing means that your message can spread anywhere, especially into the hands of under 18s.

In reality the vast majority of companies can utilise the effectiveness of viral marketing, particularly with its relative low cost, the potential to reach huge numbers of people, its brand interaction value, and the way that it can be used as a data collection tool, to generate traffic, or awareness.

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