Saturday, April 11, 2009

Word of mouth Micro-Case Study

Attention marketers -- the best way to understand how the new "connection" based marketing trumps the old "interrupt" models (as I have written about here in my anti-social marketing post) is to immerse yourself in these new environments and become a part of the new information flow. But here is a shortcut - documentation of a real example.

Step One - introduction to a new product
I follow a number of interesting people whose opinions I respect on Twitter. One of these people is Technorati board member and all around interesting guy Joi Ito (@joi on Twitter). Yesterday, while riding home on BART I was glancing through the latest Twitter updates when I saw an enigmatic post from Joi:
You'll either get this or you won't
So I of course clicked on the link. Joi had linked to a band page for I Fight Dragons on the new music discovery site The Sixty One.

Step Two: Becoming Engaged
The site is full of accolades for this fascinating band from Chicago. Having lived in Chicago for 10 years (and having discovered some great bands while living there) I was immediately intrigued and the more I read about them the more interested in their music I became. While Joi was the trigger for discovery, the fan generated comments and descriptions of the band and their music was what got me really interested in learning more. In addition to comments and links to YouTube videos, The Sixty One streams samples of the band's music while you are reading about them.

Step Three: Transaction
Making the step to being interested to buying music from the band was of course just one click away via Apple iTunes -- and my total financial exposure was $0.99 for a single song -- a low cost to try out the band's music as a part of my running mix.

So in the space of one ride on BART I was exposed to a new band and bought their music, all as the result of an introduction through my social network. Read Seth Godin's post "First, ten" for more on how a small number of fans is all you need to make your great product succeed. And if you don't have a great product? Go back to the drawing board until you do have one. And stop interrupting me, I am busy listening to I Fight Dragons.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Social Data Revolution Interview

Andreas Weigend interviews me for his video series on the "Social Data Revolution" following a class that he asked me to attend as a guest lecturer at the Berkeley Haas Graduate School of Business.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Defining Viral Marketing

I am so tired of hearing the word "viral" -- especially in the context of a sentence like this one: "We need a viral video - can you help us create one?" Or like this one "do you do viral marketing campaigns?"

Now I am sure that I know what people mean when they say these things. They mean, can I spend a little money to create some content with my brand name all over it, and then get that content viewed by millions of people for free? In other words, can I fundamentally change the attention/cost equation of reaching my market with my brand message?

In order to understand why this is fundamentally the wrong question, it is worthwhile to go back to the original idea of online "viral" marketing, understand what a virus is (and thus why this phrase was introduced), and then address what companies CAN do to achieve that objective -- fundamentally changing the attention/cost equation...

So lets turn the clock back to July of 1996 when an innovative web company was introduced and then really began to take off, showing the kind of exponential growth that Internet sites are now famous for achieving. The company was Hotmail. Tim Draper, one of the company's investors, attributed the success of HotMail to something he called "viral marketing," specifically referring to "...Hotmail's e-mail practice of appending advertising for itself in outgoing mail from their users."

This to me is a much more useful definition of viral marketing than the more general usage of individuals proactively passing a piece of advertising around amongst themselves -- it gets at the heart of why it works.

So WHAT is a virus? A virus, as Wikipedia so helpfully tells us, is
a sub-microscopic infectious agent that is unable to grow or reproduce outside a host cell.
In the case of Hotmail, the host cell was an email message. The infectious agent was a tagline at the bottom of the message which said something like "get a Hotmail account for yourself" -- that is, a call to action to get this free web-based email service.

Why is this important? Because the thing which Hotmail was doing was NOT the virus, the virus was something users of the service passed along to each other unintentionally through using the service.

Which brings me back to how companies need to think about viral marketing -- the starting point is to determine what value the company can create for its target market. After determining what valuable contribution to this market the company can make, then the company can design a virus to be implanted within that host which does the work of spreading the company's message.

Please - stop with the "make me a viral video" - and start really creating value for your markets. You'll find that when you do you earn awareness, then attention, then respect. And you'll succeed in fundamentally changing the attention/cost equation of reaching your market with your brand message.