Friday, September 14, 2007

Entrepreneur Issue! The viral marketing mystery

These days almost every business plan has a viral marketing component to it.

How do you get customers? Viral marketing to the rescue; there seems to be an “understanding gap”.

I have made it a point in the past few weeks to ask every entrepreneur that brings up the issue “what do you mean by viral marketing?” The diversity of answers and interpretations are fascinating. The responses include, funny videos on Youtube, a page on Myspace, putting definitions on wikipedia, planned message board entries, and of course having a blog. What is interesting is that the definition of viral marketing is reduced to the channels of distributing a message vs. the message itself.

To have a viral marketing campaign, you must first have a message that is viral and contagious like a virus, a message that contaminates others as soon as they hear it, to the point of passing it to others. 93% of all sales are initiated through word of mouth, and viral marketing is intended to ignite this process. BUT, the first question is do you have a compelling message, a compelling story a compelling product, and a compelling value proposition that deserves to be viral. The second question is how you communicate it to your potential customers (the channel).

If you want to have a viral marketing program, the initial challenge is to figure out what is your contagious (viral) message (the virus), do people care hearing about it, are they impressed enough (contaminated) to pass it on (contaminate others). In the process, you must make sure that people are not already immune to the virus – just because it worked for someone else, it will not work for you; a fake message, a “me too” message, and a message without a real value proposition backing it is not viral, it is noise and can be more detrimental than helpful.