What Makes It Viral?

The newest buzzword to hit email marketing these days has to be “viral.” Everyone wants his or her marketing message to be viral, have a viral aspect, and capitalize on viral marketing. But do people understand what it is that makes their marketing message worthy of being passed along?

During recent conference calls with clients, viral marketing was identified as a campaign objective right alongside e-commerce and branding. Or it was mentioned as an afterthought: “Oh, and wed like it to be viral.” Kind of like they are going through the fast-food drive-through: “Oh, and we want it kiddie size.”

When did viral marketing become an add-on?

Viral marketing is not an objective: IT IS AN INTEGRAL PART OF A CAMPAIGN STRATEGY THAT IS USED TO ACHIEVE OBJECTIVES. If the main objective of an email campaign is branding, in order to achieve greater branding success exposure you craft your message or offer in a manner such that it encourages pass-along.

Producing a message with a quality offer or an incentive for pass-along is what viral marketing is all about.

Further, merely suggesting email recipients forward your message to others is not viral marketing. Adding a line at the bottom of your email that reads “Feel free to forward this message to a friend” is not viral marketing at its best.

Offer something worthy of sharing a valuable discount, vital information or offer an incentive for sharing additional entries into a sweepstakes or an added discount or premium service and viral marketing happens naturally… and often quite successfully.

For example you get two e-commerce offers in your mailbox. One email offers a substantial discount on electronics (25 percent), and the other offer is also an electronics offer but offers free shipping on any purchase. Neither offer is terrible nor uncommon. But free shipping is pretty much expected these days and often is not perceived as a great value anymore. Of the two offers, which offer are you more likely to forward to a friend?

OK, would it make a difference in your selection if the free-shipping offer told you to “Feel free to forward this offer to your friends”? Probably not. You would choose the offer you deemed more valuable as the one to pass along to a friend if, in fact, either offer enticed you at all.

The bottom line is that the message must be perceived as having value.

Relevant or timely information, research, or studies are all examples of content that may be viewed as potential pass-along material. Interactive content like a quiz or test can inspire forwarding, especially if it’s fun. Personality tests, fitness quizzes, or compatibility questionnaires are all things that have been passed to my inbox at one time or another. Why? Because they’re entertaining. And entertainment has value.

A cool, multimedia experience is always going to achieve some pass-along. Rich media email is getting a lot of press lately. Someone, myself included, is always touting the benefits sure, it’s a bit more of a time and money investment but the messages have great appeal. And rich media has the advantage of being new the novelty and tech factor of it alone often are enough for the message to be perceived as valuable.

Vendors like RadicalMail and AdTools have “Forward to a Friend” capabilities built right into their technology, facilitating pass-along. And for them, right now, this works. Eventually, as rich media becomes more of the norm, marketers will still have to rely on the value proposition in their message being enough to distinguish their message from the rest to make their particular email campaign worthy of being sent to a friend.

Should you try to capitalize on viral marketing? Absolutely. Youd be a fool not to incorporate into your email campaigns value in some shape or form that would inspire forwarding. Without a doubt, you should reap the benefits of reaching more than your target audience, stretching those advertising dollars. But understand that viral marketing is a tactic, a strategy, and an integral element of your offer. One that works toward achieving your campaign objectives. Incorporate this knowledge into your email campaigns.

One more thing: You can craft a brilliant offer and a great message, and follow all the rules of Email Marketing 101, but if a consumer visits your site and has an experience less than what was promised, youre going to achieve viral marketing as well the bad kind.

Oh, and feel free to forward this to a friend.

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