Viral Marketing Business Model

Jeanne Grunert
Business video can be a form of viral marketing.
Business video can be a form of viral marketing.

Viral marketing refers to word of mouth or "buzz" created by a marketing campaign, and a viral marketing business model is one in which a business spreads using viral marketing techniques. Used correctly, a viral marketing business model can reach far more customers than a typical marketing campaign.

Viral Marketing Techniques

If you think about a biological virus, it infiltrates the human body and stealthily inserts itself into a cell. It replicates, and then its replicas replicate, and before long, one little virus has turned into many that make a person sick.

Viral marketing techniques use catchy and engaging materials that people want to pass along or share, or perhaps inadvertently pass along and share. One person begins to engage in the marketing program and passes it along to another, who continues to pass it along. With today's social networking phenomena, a good viral marketing campaign doesn't just pass from one person to another but to hundreds through various social networking websites.

Wilson Web lists the six basic principles of viral marketing. As long as your campaign is based on something that adds value or interest, it should be off to a good start.

Types of Viral Marketing

Many people think of videos when they imagine viral marketing, but viral techniques can take many forms. Video clips are by far the most popular, with funny pet clips or other antics on YouTube reaching millions of viewers. Other viral techniques include pass-along E Books, social networking applications such as those fun but productivity zapping games on Facebook, and even little things like signature lines on email systems. Whatever you can do to take a message and package it for easy pass along makes something "viral."

Viral Marketing Business Model Examples

Some businesses have spread solely through viral marketing models. Email provider Hotmail offers perhaps the best example, with other ideas included to help you create your own viral marketing model.

Email System Tags

One of the most famous examples comes from Hotmail, the email provider. Hotmail began its services by offering free email accounts. Many pundits wondered how the company could make money by giving away email accounts. But Hotmail did something clever; they made it mandatory to include a little tag on every outbound email that read something like, "Get your free email account on Hotmail." Pretty soon millions of people signed up for Hotmail because they saw that notice on a friend's email. Friends passed along the Hotmail marketing message to others, and that second wave of folks did the same throughout any given day simply by writing messages and sending emails. Soon, wave after wave of promotion for the free email accounts went out…and Hotmail had enough subscribers to attract sizeable advertising and other paying models to their site.

E Books

Many business consultants and coaches write E Books. An E Book is an electronic book, most frequently an Adobe Acrobat PDF. They tend to be short, catchy, and more like a workbook than a textbook. Many coaches, consultants and others who offer advice write short and succinct E Books. They often give away a free E Book if you sign up for their mailing list or newsletter. They know that people often share or pass along an E Book, and if the content is valuable enough, they're hoping that the E Book gets passed along to many people. Chances are that within the E Book you will find lots of promotions for their own work, links to their website and other offerings. It's stealth marketing packaged inside a book.

Reports and Case Studies

Yet another method of viral marketing is to use data reports that provide useful information but have the potential to be passed along. Like an E Book, the authors of such studies and reports hope that a business person downloads the initial material and passes it along to others in their company or circle of acquaintances and friends.

Games and Applications

Widgets, games, and interactive applications can also create buzz or word of mouth marketing. If something is useful, engaging, fun or unique, chances are that people will talk about it. While more difficult to create than the other viral marketing model types, they appeal to certain demographics more so than reports, case studies and books. They're very useful for teens, children, and for consumer-oriented products.

Tips for Excellent Viral Marketing

Marketing Sherpa, the website where professional marketing managers go for the latest information on marketing tactics, provides links to several informative articles on viral marketing. The common elements among these articles point to the following steps marketers should take in order to produce a great viral marketing campaign.

The steps are:

  • Evoke emotion: Among viral marketing examples, the most popular campaigns are those that evoke emotion, especially laughter. Whether you make someone chuckle, smirk or choke back sobs, evoking emotion is a key ingredient in successful viral marketing campaigns.
  • Shock and awe or surprise and delight: Another way to say shock and awe is to do the unexpected! Most commercials on television today are ho-hum. Moms extol the virtues of their paper towels, adorable kids grin gap-toothed smiles while eating cereal, and serious men in gray suits explain life insurance. Great viral marketing examples provide viewers with a jolt that grabs attention.
  • Avoid making a commercial: If you want to make a television commercial, make a television commercial and buy advertising space, or make your own video and post it to YouTube. But don't make an advertisement and promote it as a viral campaign. It isn't. Those who are likely to pass along viral campaigns will ignore blatant ads. You've got to tell a story and provide something fresh and original to have it pass from commercial to viral.
Viral Marketing Business Model