The Sexy Six (of Viral Marketing)

In the age of Web 2.0, advertisers are able to market products and services in a way that would be completely impossible less than a mere decade ago.  Within the myriad opportunities available to marketers with our emergence into the digital age is viral marketing.  This form of marketing encompasses any strategy that encourages people to spread a marketing message to others, exposing the potential for massive amounts of exponential growth surrounding the message.  Viral marketing combines the power of exposure and influence of a message, and similar to a virus, it takes advantage of rapid reproduction to spread a message to hundreds, thousands, or even millions of people.

Among people in the industry, viral marketing is often referred to as “word-of-mouth,” “buzz,”  or “network” marketing.  It is a known fact that some forms of viral marketing work better than others, and there are a few basic elements that should be included in any basic strategy.  While it isn’t necessary for a viral marketing strategy to include all of these elements, utilizing more of these elements lead to stronger results.  Listing the elements in 3…2..1…:

  • The strategy should use the word “free” to attract consumers – either through giving away a product or service;
  • The strategy should relay a simple message to users. A virus will only spread if its easy to transmit, and viral marketing isn’t any different;
  • The strategy must exploit common motivations/behaviors. Who doesn’t want to be rich, cool, and popular? Strategize a viral marketing campaign that utilizes the motivations and behaviors we all take part in for its transmission, and you’ll have a winner;
  •  Use existing networks. Why beat a dead horse? There is an extremely high likelihood that your target market is currently trolling through Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook (if not all three simultaneously), so by placing your message into these existing communication networks, rapid multiplication and dispersion will be a breeze;

Burger King leverages Twitter to promote their fries with this comical tweet.

Now that we have the basics of viral marketing covered, what are the “Sexy Six,” you ask? Here you have six types of viral marketing that advertisers can use to successfully promote a product or service:

  1. Send a message: possibly the most obvious and least sexy of all six, if you want a message to be transmitted you must first send it! Text, email, or direct messaging on social media are all viable ways to do this.
  2. Incentivize: what better way to get consumers to spread a message than to incentivize them?
Commonly used by Uber, incentives drive the spread of viral marketing campaigns.

3. Mask your marketing: most definitely the sneakiest form of viral marketing, using masked marketing allows advertisers to send mysterious messages, which cause consumers to want to know more.

4. Create a rumor: shortly before a new product comes out, advertisers may publicize a rumor about the product in order to generate buzz.  See: Beyonce’s release of Lemonade and the cheating scandal that accompanied it (@Becky).

5. Offer a social database: this will encourage clients to add contacts and further spread the word of your product or service.

6. Use invitations: invite only? Yes please! We all want to be part of the most exclusive club of the moment, and utilizing invites helps to create this feeling of exclusivity among users.

Anyone can be a “Beauty Insider” with Sephora, but in order to be invited to their exclusive VIB program, consumers must spend, spend, spend.

All successful viral marketing strategies make use of the elements discussed within this post to one degree or another.  Combine these elements with one of the Sexy Six? You may need an inoculation for the marketing virus you’re about to spread.


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