We live in an interesting world, filled with fast-changing trends and public fads. If you know the basics of how to create a Buzz with our modern Web 2.0 tools, you can create a conversation and draw in people to buy your product. This article lays out the basics of what viral marketing is and how it works.
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Any discussion of viral marketing brings up two authors – Malcom Gladwell, “The Tipping Point” and Seth Godin, “Unleasing the Idea Virus”. Really, these authors are incredible thinkers – you should seek out and buy their books, read them for yourself to get the most out of them. But I’m not so in love with their books that I let them go on all points
Let’s take Tipping Point first.
Gladwell is talking about social epidemics. While some of this is applicable to marketing, his book is mostly applicable to the society and social interactions.
Viruses all go past a point of no return. This is where they have gotten a large enough base where the majority become infected. This is the point of critical mass, the threshold, the tipping point.
Ideas and products and messages and behaviors spread just like viruses do.
We are living in a philosopher’s paradise. Ideas can now be spread and influence people without physical limits. And the best ideas act like mercury – very hard to corral and control. The finest ideas are the universal solvant – unable to be held in any container except itself.
The tipping point is when an illness of a few becomes the epidemic of the many, the moment of change where a minor occurance becomes a major trend.
Epidemics have an exponential (bell curve) life span. This is the same life span of trends and fads. “The Tipping Point” studies the upslope of that Bell Curve progression.
THE LAW OF THE FEW
Word of mouth is still the most important form of human communication. Rumors are the most contagious of all social messages.
A tiny minority of people create the surge which tips the epidemic. Gladwell names three necessary types:
are people specialists. They know lots of people, have an extraordinary knack of making friends and acquaintances, of making social connections. They have mastered the “weak tie”; a friendly, yet casual social connection. They manage to occupy many different cultures and subcultures and niches. They spread the message
are information specialists. Once they figure out how to get that great deal, they want to tell you about it too.
They solve their own problems, or emotional needs, by solving other people’s problems. They provide the message.
have the skills to persuade when we are unconvinced of what we are hearing. They translate and communicate via the nonverbal and are practically more charismatic than those around them. Emotion is contagious. “Senders” are very good at expressing emotions and feelings. They are far more emotionally contagious than the rest of us.
Another point, which gives us all hope as marketers, is that any of us are connected to the rest of us by six or fewer other people. So any of us could create the next “big thing” which goes epidemic.
THE STICKINESS FACTOR
Messages have to be packaged and translated into a way that fits into our emotional makeup. Those we adopt into our lifestyle are “sticky”.
The multiplicity of messages through the Internet is both a blessing and a curse. But it only works if you surround yourself with your own niche. For everyone is a niche unto themselves. Now they may have and be part of greater and lesser networks – replete with mavens, connectors, and salesmen – but you really still have to be true to yourself.
That being said, you are free to adopt any new message that comes along which improves your quality of life.
Now, from the reverse view, in marketing you are trying to get out your message that you have a widely applicable solution to a fairly (or very) common problem. And that this solution is readily available.
There is a simple way to package information that, under the right circumstances, can make it irresistible/sticky and compels a person into action. All you have to do is find it. In order to be capable of sparking epidemics, ideas have to be memorable and move us into action. Content of the message matters too.
The key point where a new message “sticks” with us is where it is translated into an emotionally useful tool. A message is converted to a package which is then translated by a “salesman” so that we can emotionally “grok” what is coming our way, accept it, and use it. (Note: The word “grok” comes from a viral product, Heinlein’s “Stranger In a Strange Land”. Worth looking up.)
A very few individuals can control their emotional states. This takes quite a bit of personal training (which anyone, actually, can master on their own). We respond to the emotions of people around us. Practically, studies have been done which show what we hear and say are a small percentage of the communications we actually recieve. Gladwell’s book mentions several examples and studies of this area.
When you get a point across emotionally, you can appeal to the subconscious and activate patterns and habits the individual may not even know are there. This is what Madison Avenue has paid psychologists to study for years. They want to (hopefully, but in vain) find key push-buttons which will make selling easier. Push-button societies went out with the Internet’s rise.
There are really only a handful of “buttons” which work in very general terms. Ciladini and Maslov have working observations along this line – as I’ve covered elsewhere in this book.
Otherwise, our emotions are like our politics. (And just review the elections of 2000 and 2004 to see how similarly unlike we are to each other – it’s been an even split in elections on our emotional values.) We have assigned our loves, hates, fears, exhilerations, sympathies, et al. to many and varied associations. In the Americas, you cannot find two or more people who have exactly the same responses to anything – even being faced with sudden death. You do find that people will more or less react in similar fashions. But the differences are broad enough that it is impossible to actually “fool some of the people all of the time and all of the people some of the time.”
As the Internet and its choices become more pervasive, we will see more and more fragmentation and realignment of our emotions with our various attitudes.
Starting epidemics requires concentrating resources on a few key areas. Your resources ought to be solely concentrated on the Connectors, Mavens, and Salesmen. Or at least getting your idea in front of them.
You have to define your niche and the people who move in it. You need to study what is out there, what solutions are being proposed. You have to find ways for people to get this data. You have to find connectors (specialized article directories, online radio shows, key forums and blogs) within that niche. The Mavens and Salesmen will take your concept from there. But be very willing to give out free samples for people and to reach out to many, many, many sub-niches (nichettes?) in an emotional way they will understand.
“Those who are successful at creating social epidemics do not just do what they think is right. They deliberately test their intuitions.”