- Personal Development
- Entrepreneurial Toolkit
- The Store
The venture capitalist behind Hotmail, Steve Jurvetson, coined the term viral marketing to describe the way the service grew. Hotmail offered free e-mail. That alone was a very compelling two-word business proposition. But the magic of the company was that in every single e-mail you sent using the service, there was a little ad on the bottom of the note. And the ad said, “Get Your Private, Free E-mail from Hotmail at www.hotmail.com.” Every time you sent a note, you spread the virus. The magic of viral marketing is that the medium carries the message. The more you use Hotmail, the more you spread the virus. But note: It was also extremely smooth…. The Hotmail site was just a click away from an e-mail, and it took just a few clicks more to start using it—and start sending Hotmail’s built-in ads to your friends.
Unfortunately, not every product lends itself to viral marketing. Viral marketing requires that the product you’re using be communications-focused or very public. The VW Beetle is an example of viral marketing. Why? Because the more you drive it, the more people see it. And the more Beetles people see, the more they want one. It’s not audible and it’s not as smooth as Hotmail, but it is most defi nitely viral.
What does it take to build and spread an
There are two questions you can ask yourself about your idea before you launch it:
Is it worth it?
Nobody spreads an ideavirus as a favor to you. They do it because it’s remarkable, thought-provoking, important, profi table, funny, horrible or beautiful. In today’s winner-take-all world, there’s no room for a me-too offering, or worse, BORING products and services. If it’s not compelling, it will never lead to an ideavirus.
Face it. Nobody is going to hand out big rewards ever again for being on time, performing work of good quality, being useful, finishing a project on budget or being good enough. That’s expected. That’s a given. The rewards (and the ideavirus) belong to the first, the fastest, the coolest, the very best.
Is it smooth?
After someone’s been exposed to an ideavirus just once, they’re not likely to actually catch it. We’ve made our brains bulletproof and ideaproof. There’s so much clutter, so much noise, so many ideas to choose from that the vast majority of them fail to make a dent. Think about the last time you walked through a bookstore (the home of ideaviruses waiting to happen). How many books did you stop and look at? Precious few, that’s for sure.
"Building a virus takes insight, talent and, most of all, patience."
Compare this to the Harry Potter phenomenon, best-selling books created just because kids told kids—a classic ideavirus, and one that initially grew with no promotion at all from the publisher.
It’s difficult to get from awareness to the “sale” of an idea, to convert a stranger into a friend and a friend into a carrier of your ideavirus. An ideavirus succeeds when it pierces our natural defenses and makes an impact.
It’s foolish to expect that one exposure to your message will instantly convert someone from stranger to raving ideavirus spreading fan. So plan on a process. Plan on a method that takes people from where they are to where you want them to go. And while you’re at it, work on the product. Because a catchier, more compelling, more viral product makes your job 100 times easier.
Three Key Levers That Determine How
Your Ideavirus Will Spread
What are the key elements worth focusing on to turbocharge your idea and turn it into a virus? There are three things to focus on:
1. How big do you launch?
You can launch big or you can launch small. One of the dumbest things marketers do is put artificial barriers in the way of trial. For example, it’s obvious that one of the best ways to kill sales of a new car is to charge people $100 to take a test drive. When you launch an ideavirus, the more people who can see it fast, the faster it will spread.
2. How smooth is it?
In addition to being persistent and cool, an ideavirus spreads the fastest when it’s smooth. Persistence matters because the longer people are sneezing about your idea, the more people they infect. Cool is critical because if it’s not virus-worthy, it’s just not going to take off. But smooth is essential because if you make it easy for the virus to spread, it’s more likely to do so. In viral marketing, the ideal solution is to build smooth transference tools right into the idea—which can be diffi cult. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try. Amazon tried with “Member Get a Member” promotions, in which they bribe members to tell their friends to buy books from Amazon (get $5 for your friends and $5 for you!). Smooth.
3. How do you turn trial into persistence?
Sooner or later, you’ve got to turn momentary attention into an embrace of your idea, and then, hopefully, into conversion of the user into a sneezer. Permission marketing becomes a critical tool in working people through this transition. On the Web, this multistep process is too often overlooked by companies facing short-term financial pressure (combine this with the legendary short attention span of entrepreneurs and you can see why this happens). Instead of building a virus-worthy cool product or service, identifying a hive, promoting an idea, and making it smooth and persistent, they just spend a few million dollars to buy advertising. The hope, of course, is that somehow by spending enough money on clever ads, they’ll magically create a critical mass of positive energy that will turn their idea into a virus. They’re looking for a shortcut, and as a result, leading their companies to doom. Building a virus takes insight, talent and most of all, patience.