Individuals new to online marketing are constantly asking me the same question. What are the best low risk, high reward, homerun style marketing techniques? The type of online marketing that will inundate their web properties with incremental traffic and increased revenues. Yet these very same marketers seem to have an almost unhealthy phobic fear of failure regardless of the risk level.
In today’s modern marketing lexicon low risk has somehow become synonymous with guaranteed success, but I am sorry there are only a few truly magic bullets out there and they just aren’t available to everyone. Generally as marketers, even the best ideas can go south quickly without the proper implementation. Learning how to make informed decisions about online marketing campaigns only comes with experience and without that experience many new marketers fail to adopt the core techniques that can make them ultimately successful.
Viral marketing is a technique that falls into that low risk high reward scenario, but the problem is it can also have a painfully high failure rate. Still many marketers swear by this form of online advertising because one home run campaign can be worth more than a number of failed campaigns combined would cost.
There are a number of key elements marketers need to take into account when they plan a viral marketing campaign including audience, message, distribution, and metrics. Marketers who have a solid grasp on these four key elements will have a better chance of launching a successful viral campaign than those marketers that neglect one or more of these items.
Identify Your Target Audience
Identifying the proper audience for a viral marketing campaign is vital. More often than not I see campaigns suffer because the target audience is so niche that there just isn’t any way for the message to be adopted outside of a very limited community. Part of the appeal of viral marketing campaigns is their ability to expand beyond the marketer’s current audience’s awareness and reach an entirely new larger audience who might have been unaware of marketer’s offerings.
Develop a Message
To this end developing a compelling message that will appeal to a much broader audience is important. In today’s online world creating a powerful value proposition, think giving something away for free, seems to be the primary focus for creating a viral marketing message but it isn’t the only option. Other powerful inducements can include reporting breaking news, authoring controversial or provocative content, and or finding a way to capitalize on a current hot topic or trend. How a marketer crafts their message to go beyond their current niche market will more often than not tip the success failure balance in one direction or the other.
Build a Distribution Strategy
Distribution is the key to viral marketing that is most often overlooked. Even with the best idea, offer, widget, or product in the world, without distribution there is very little chance a marketer’s message will go viral. Having an existing audience is an excellent starting point for distribution, but to have real success a marketer needs to think about additional options.
Leveraging industry colleagues (experts), online news outlets (niche), individual bloggers (industry specific), press releases (local and national), and other related sources to get the message out is extremely important. Having a plan as to how to get the ball rolling is vital to reaching enough eyes and ears to have a chance for the message to go viral. Locating the proper distribution point or points will expand the initial audience and exponentially increase the chance of the message catching on with the proper set of individuals who will help drive the message through their social networks.
Measure the Success
Understanding what metrics a marketer is looking for is the final piece of the viral marketing puzzle. How a marketer measures the success or failure of a campaign can be extremely subjective, but when a marketer is fully aware of all the different potential online metrics, some campaigns that initially appear to be going poorly can often times deliver some surprising and unexpected positives.
Determining what the goals of a viral marketing campaign are before launching the campaign is important, but being open minded to the course of the campaign is also necessary. If the goal of a campaign was to drive traffic and the campaign fails to produce at the desired level many marketers might brand the campaign as a failure, but savvy marketers will look at the long term benefits of the campaign. Did the campaign generate links? Are those links driving traffic? Over time will the traffic from those links exceed the initial goals of the campaign? Are those links improving the value of the website? There are many different metrics that can be reviewed when running viral marketing campaigns. In the end, the online world teaches marketers that there are always opportunities to turn negatives into positives, so never pass judgment to soon.
Viral Marketing Dangers
I also want to quickly touch on the dangers of viral marketing. The best campaigns have often produced some of the most disastrous results. Many marketers believe their site is ready for the spike in traffic that a really good viral campaign can produce only to discover later that their site failed because they received too much traffic. So before starting a viral marketing campaign, ensure that the infrastructure is in place to handle any potential sudden spikes in traffic that may result.
Other potential pitfalls for viral marketing campaigns include being prepared for the unexpected. One of the largest issues with successful viral marketing campaigns is they have become too successful. See the following example:
A retailer provided substantial discounts to their past customers via a news letter only to discover that the discount was then been passed along to that customer’s social network. While the business was only prepared to offer a 15% discount to as many as 5,000 customers, they discovered at the end of the week 20,000 customers had attempted to use the coupon causing a serious inventory shortage and hampering their ability to perform sales for their customers paying full price. This surge in sales ended up causing the business to have a huge increase in monthly revenue but a large negative in monthly profits.
Prudent planning and a well thought out campaign can avoid these types of pitfalls. There is never any guarantee that a viral marketing campaign will go viral but when a marketer crafts a complete plan the odds go up exponentially. Viral marketing is proof that when marketers make a compelling offer, the sky is the limit when it comes to the potential results.
Roderick Ioerger is the President of Ioerger Creative, a marketing firm whch is based in the Phoenix metro area of Arizona