Viral marketing — optimize your marketing mix

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Josh Perlstein
Josh Perlstein

Viral marketing, if used properly, can be a highly effective and cost-efficient tool in your marketing mix. A viral idea or content has greater impact and more credibility when it comes from a friend, and by transferring the work of distribution to consumers themselves, costs are minimized, significantly improving your marketing ROI.

According to a Jupiter Communications survey, 80 percent of online companies say they do some form of viral promoting.

A study from Sharpe Partners revealed that nearly 9 of 10 adult Internet users in the US share content with others via e-mail.

Eighty-one percent pass viral messages on to at least one other person; almost half are likely to pass that message along to two or three other people.

A 2007 MarketingSherpa study points to the “experience chasm” that gives a significant edge to experienced viral marketers.

Response Media has tested numerous viral programs for consumer packaged goods firms, so here are some tips for delivering value beyond simple “buzz”:

Use viral as a stepping stone to build relationships and grow brand affinity
Whether building prospect databases or driving online sales, understanding which sites and which people have the greatest probability of spreading a message is the key to getting something to spread.

Viral works best when integrated into your overall marketing mix
Viral is not a standalone technique. It needs to be used strategically as a means to an end.

Get real
Marketers model the viral market opportunity to set goals, performance metrics and realistic budgets. Developing behavioral and motivational profiles is far better than banking on a single creative approach applied across different strategies.

Analysis of behavioral models and multiple cycles of multivariate testing will allow you to turn your viral marketing into a predictable, measureable marketing channel.

Allow recipients to download the content in a useable form

These include JPG pictures, MPG videos, etc. Viral marketing succeeds when you have a topic that motivates customers to talk and you help them share that conversation.

Provide an interactive Web site dedicated to creating a strong online community. Experienced companies also reach out to customers and prospects by putting a special offer in an e-mail, which becomes an easy-to-forward means of building buzz.

Measure and analyze pass-along, click-through and conversion rates
Separate the click-through and conversion rates by original customers from referrals and evaluate their respective performances in addition to tracking which people actually purchased something from your business.

Follow hygiene, suppression and other data management best practices
From ensuring that the code blocks multiple submissions of the form by same session/IP address in a short time span, to checks for obscene content, the form and function of viral campaigns need to be thought through from the outset.

Creatively integrating the viral program into your overall marketing mix, setting realistic goals, and testing and optimizing will help drive rapid, positive exposure through trusted word-of-mouth networks for minimal cost.

Josh Perlstein is president of Response Media. He can be reached at  


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