As we all know, the Internet has become a HUGE platform for advertising and marketing, chiefly because of its capacity to reach large numbers of people with relatively low risk and cost. As traditional methods begin to saturate popular websites, people learn to filter out banners and links like they would motorway billboards and bus-ads.
Viral Marketing refers to the practice of using pre-existing social networks and websites to increase brand awareness and other marketing objectives, by spreading through word of mouth and the network abilities of the Internet. Its name comes from its methods of spreading through computers and networks like a virus, exponentially ‘infecting’ new networks and people with its message.
An infectious practice.
There are two types of viral marketing. One works through social media networks such as Hotmail, Facebook and MSN Messenger, and relies on the word of mouth practice of advertising a product, brand or service. Viral marketing encourages individual to pass on a marketing message to others, creating the potential for exponential growth in the influence and exposure of the communication. Like viruses, they have a way of winning by sheer numbers, piggybacking between people and if in the right environment can flourish.
A classic example of early viral marketing is Hotmail.com. They gave away free email accounts, adding a tag at the bottom of each message saying something along the lines of ‘Get your free email at www.hotmail.com’. People would then send emails to other people, who would see this message and maybe sign up for their own free email service, and then propel the message even further. One of the most powerful words in the marketing industry is the word ‘Free’, and this applies very strongly to viral marketing. People are much more likely to sign up and ‘spread’ a product if it is free.
Catching the bug.
Another way in which this practice works like a virus is the concept of delayed gratification. What may not initially yield any monetary results will generate a strong grounding in interest eventually leading to profit down the line. This parallels the incubation period of any biological or computer virus. Another parallel is the scalability of viral marketing, where the brand, message or service can spread like wildfire, from a small entity to something much larger within a gradually shorter amount of time.
The most creative viral marketing campaigns use other’s resources to get the word out, placing graphics on other peoples websites, giving out free articles or trial softwares hosted on other peoples servers, as well as the above-mentioned placement within social networks.
As with any virus, viral marketing needs to continuously evolve to make sure it remains as effective as it has been. As social networks continue to grow, and communication over the Internet becomes a staple of society the capacity for marketing potential within this area is only going to grow. The nature of networks allow themselves to spread messages with such low risk and cost, it truly is a marketers dream.