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Find Success With Free 'Word-of-Net' Marketing

by Alf Nucifora

In what now seems to be ages ago, 1998 to be precise, the venture capital firm of Draper, Fisher, Jurvetson allegedly coined the term "viral marketing." Today, it's the hottest kid on the marketing block.

To quote the leading internet-marketing newsletter, Iconocast, "Viral marketing is synonymous with advocacy marketing, which harnesses the evangelical zeal of customers...and, it is successful because there are so many customers who are willing to pass along just about any message." In fact, statistics show that 81% of recipients who receive a viral message are willing to pass them along to at least one other person; 49% to two or three other people.

The beauty of viral marketing is that it costs very little to execute and, yet, it can deliver astounding results in a very short period of time. That makes it extremely attractive to the start-up venture with limited marketing dollars, particularly the current rash of new dot.coms.

In its stripped-down version, viral marketing is nothing more than word-of-mouth advertising that is generally tied to an email message. For example, viral marketers can pass along ads for products and services, hyper-linked promotions, online newsletters, games…anything that creates news for, awareness of or e-commerce opportunity for the marketer's product, service or brand. And, it can be done deliberately or passively.

It's really a matter of what PC Computing's Taylor & Jerome identify as "1-to-1 contagion" ... infecting your customers who, in turn, sneeze on their friends and spread the virus. The bottom line is massive reach and rapid awareness at little cost. In a sense, it's equally as pernicious, yet as effective as the spread of an influenza virus.

According to viral marketing consultant, Zhenya Gene Senyak, "Viral marketing usually piggybacks on email. Maybe a survey you're taking has a note down at the bottom offering you the ability to do your own free survey. Or a note from your buddy has a viral link back to a free email service. When you click on the link, you enter the host's site where you can sign up for the free goodies and, in turn, become a carrier of the various to your friends and associates."

Examples abound, but the following will illustrate the range and effectiveness of this impressive online marketing tool...

  • www.hotmail.com. With 12 million subscribers in just a year, and a budget of less than $500,000, HotMail soared to prominence as a free email service. Every email sent by a HotMail subscriber invites the recipient to sign up for a free worldwide email account.

  • Blue Marble created advertising units for Scope mouthwash that allowed consumers to send a customized, animated email "kiss" to their friends. The message reinforced the branding premise that Scope brought people "kissably close." According to NOVO's Jeffrey Graham, "When people received a "kiss" they had an option to send an email themselves. Our tracking technology confirmed that a good percentage did."

  • Nstorm helps dot.com companies spread the word via email by taking advantage of the fun factor of downloadable games. The best example, according to Kim MacPherson, President of Selling By Design.com, was an elf bowling game. "This was a video game (conveniently flagged with a sponsor advertisement complete with logo and URL) where my goal as Santa Bowler was to knock down the pins which were live, rude little elves. I was so bowled over by this game, I forwarded it on to eight more friends. I know for a fact that three of them passed it on yet again." Says MacPherson

  • www.GreenTravel.com is an extreme travel site that provides an incentive to "pass it on," in this case, it's newsletter, which carries a prominent, highly-visible call to action..." send this to a friend and you could win an Osprey backpack."

  • www.ICQ.com tells users when they're friends are on line. This leads to real time chat which is much faster than conventional email. And, if you want to chat with someone who is not a subscriber to ICQ, simply click and give ICQ your friend's email address. An instantaneous link to download ICQ software will then arrive in the friend's email inbox. Today, ICQ has 32 million users worldwide, and yet the company has never spent a dime on marketing support.

  • www.zoomerang.com offers an online, free market research survey. Each survey form invites recipients to become both survey takers and users of the site, with the ability to distribute their own surveys.

  • www.egroups.com offers free, web-based email group communications. Each eGroup user is invited to start his or her own email group by clicking on the email link included in every group communication. eGroup corralled 4 million users in its first three months.

Viral marketing has proven itself to be an effective marketing communications weapon. For the small business marketer in virtually every product and service category, it becomes a necessity. But, there are warnings to be heeded with its adoption. Notes Senyak, "Web sites swollen with content, hyperlinks, buttons and banners have become viral factories designed to spew marketing microbes into the Net. Viral marketers need only to look to real life viruses for guidance. A virus succeeds only when it's good enough to be passed along."

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