Profit From the Velocity of Words

The media and bookshelves are awash with ideas about creating buzz online: viral marketing, word of mouth…

Why? Because so many companies’ marketing budgets are on empty. They’re running on fumes. Anyway, word has it that banners don’t work too well anymore. So creating buzz is especially good for those who depend on wishful thinking to get them up in the morning.

“Hey, Chuck, this product is so great, I know that I’d tell 10 of my friends. Wouldn’t you?”

“Sure would, Benny. Heck, I’d tell 20 of my friends.”

“Chuck, this is so cool. You know what? I think we can launch this sucker without spending any money at all!”

And so it goes.

Naturally most “viral marketing” ideas are doomed to failure. (Small side note: Standing up in a meeting and saying, “If Hotmail can do it, so can we,” does not constitute a marketing plan.)

Most viral marketing ideas fail because they are poor ideas that nobody wants to talk about. But others fail because of a poor use of words. Word of mouth depends on words. It’s right there, the first word.

In fact, words alone can “go viral” with astonishing velocity.

How about these: “Who let the dogs out?”

If I were a dog-food manufacturer, I’d be having one of those wishful-thinking, dream moments: “Man, I wish those five words had been part of a jingle we wrote for one of our product commercials.”

Songs aren’t the only source of high-velocity words. You find them in movies, too. Nobody goes around saying, “The Sixth Sense.” But they do say, “I see dead people.” Great line. Great velocity.

Coca-Cola did it with “The Real Thing” (and then abandoned it). It created a phrase that millions have applied to thousands of situations.

And Seth Godin did it with the title of his book “Permission Marketing.” I did a search for “permission marketing” at Google and got 15,800 results. It’s a great title that ended up becoming part of the language of Internet marketing.

So while you’re sitting around that table, sipping your Perrier., you may want to spend a little less time thinking about the mechanics of viral marketing (“We need streaming email for this baby.”) and less time blathering on in self-serving jargon (“I don’t see exponential growth for this per se. What I see is a tipping point on day 23 in the Chicago suburbs.”). Instead, spend a little more time on finding the right words.

Here’s a tip: Keep it short.

Who let the dogs out? I see dead people. The real thing. Permission marketing.

The longest of these is five words. That’s probably a pretty good maximum to work with. And chances are that if you can’t sum up your message in five words or fewer, you haven’t got it right yet.

Just keep reminding everyone that word of mouth starts with words. Without the right words, there really isn’t much to talk about.

And without great words, you won’t get the velocity you need to really make a difference.

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