Friday, January 14

Going Viral: Why Word-Of-Mouth Works Better

viralCompanies still ask on a regular basis, especially as it pertains to online marketing. "Can you make our [blank] go viral?"

The easy answer? YES!

However, it takes a much more practiced hand to explain what the client doesn't want to hear. They don't really want to "go viral" because the intent of viral marketing is nothing more than maximum exposure in the shortest amount of time possible.

It is seldom tied to any other tangible objective, despite people who assign objectives (like sales). It often based on an erroneous notion that anyone who breathes is a potential customer. It is nearly impossible to manage any aspect of the communication, which sometimes spirals into a crisis communication situation. It has a relatively short shelf life for the investment. And, it sometimes carries with it unacceptable and unreasonable risks, including financial and legal liability.

Viral is an outcome, not an objective.

WOMSure, if the right message happens to go viral, it can mean a big boost for a company, especially those with a new innovation. However, when compared to the planning and insight of word-of-mouth marketing — online or off — a viral intent is patently flawed, especially if the innovation or message cannot stand up to mass scrutiny. Simply put, viral can be a product killer too.

The more strategic approach is word-of-mouth marketing that concentrates on reaching select people, with an emphasis on those who have an interest, will likely benefit, and are predisposed to appreciate it. Reaching these people — as opposed to crafting a message that garners everyone's attention — can create the foundation of a powerful brand that lasts longer than the campaign. So who are these people?

Six segments for effective word-of-mouth campaigns.

Find people who are early adopters within the niche. Early adopters are not necessarily the most visible or publicly opinionated people within a niche. However, they are more receptive to trying a new innovation and often willing to provide candid but private feedback to the company. Many early adopters will even purchase innovations, creating early revenues.

Find benefactors who could use the innovation. Benefactors are people who have an expressed need for the innovation or the product/service that the innovation will replace. The outreach usually consists of targeting associations, clubs, and similar organizations and extending the innovation to its members for free or at a steeply discounted rate.

Find loyalists predisposed toward a favorable opinion. Loyalists are people who are already highly engaged customers. They may have loyalty to the company or the designers or the components of a particular innovation. Introducing the new innovation may even be construed as a reward.

Find specific reviewers or other members of the media. This could include people with significant online reach and are predisposed toward objectivity. Assuming the innovation has merit beyond the eye of the creator, traditional and online niche reviewers can expose the innovation to a broader audience.

Find well-known people who can offer testimonials. Celebrities can easily fit within a well-planned word-of-mouth marketing plan, but care has to be taken to ensure the right match. The actions of highly visible individuals can sometimes distract from the innovation as much as they can support it.

Find those who are disenfranchised with the status quo. Almost every market segment includes people who are not satisfied with some aspect of the status quo. Assuming the innovation addresses their specific unmet needs, they will be more receptive to the initial offering. Many companies have reached such groups by creating campaigns with high conversational value.

Word of mouth, done correctly, can lead to a viral outcome.

One video that recently caught some "viral" success was created with repurposed content. And although it's non-commericial, tracking its earliest beginnings sheds some light on the path it took, beginning with space enthusiasts and slowly spiraling outward.


It works, not because it was a viral video but because it wasn't a viral video. It was the right message from the right person that reached the right audience, predisposed to share it with like-minded people. All communication can be created with equal care.
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