Two of the most popular buzz words in the online marketing realm right now are link baiting and viral marketing. These two tactics are a great way to build links and to build branding when constrained by small marketing budgets, but there are several things you need to remember when planning these types of campaigns.

In this ten part series, I'll be covering many of the things that you need to take into consideration when planning a link baiting or viral marketing campaign. While there's no need to integrate all of them into every campaign, understanding what they are and how they work can go a long way toward helping you plan an effective launch strategy.

To recap:

Today, in the last part of this series, I'll look at the idea of capitalizing off of your competitor's failures. After all, the only thing better than free marketing is free marketing that makes you look better than the competition. This one is a little harder to plan, since unless you're into corporate sabotage, you never know when your competitor is going to mess up. Instead, it simply highlights the need to be ready to act quickly and to keep an eye on not only your own reputation, but on the reputation of your competitors.

The basic idea here isn't to kick your competitors when they're down (that would be wrong) but to emphasize your own great qualities when the opportunity is right. In other words, focus on the positive, but do it with the proper timing so that those positives make you look even better than they normally would. Case in point? Caribou Coffee's response to Starbucks' viral flop last summer.

If you aren't familiar with the case, here's a little background. Starbucks emailed a coupon for a free iced coffee to it's Atlanta area employees and invited them to pass the coupon on to their friends and family. As you would expect, the coupon spread far and wide and Starbucks soon found itself handing out free iced coffees left and right. Since they'd failed to plan for scalability, Starbucks pulled the offer, claiming that it had spread "beyond the company's original intent."

The press picked up the story and blogs began buzzing about Starbucks decision to cancel the promotion and the damage it might do to customer relations. A short while later, rival chain Caribou Coffee decided that they would honor the Starbucks coupons at their own store. They issued a press release to that effect and a short while later both news outlets and the Internet were buzzing with news of the offer.

It was a brilliant move on several levels. First, it was obviously a chance to "look good" in the eyes of the customers that had been denied their free coffee. Second, with around 450 stores in just sixteen states, Caribou has a long way to go to catch up to Starbucks. Finally, it gave Caribou a great chance to tempt Starbucks regulars in to try Caribou's products. In fact, I found more than a few blog posts from Starbucks regulars that were not only introduced to the chain through this promotion, but decided that Caribou actually sold a superior product.

While good news or praise for a company rarely travels as fast as bad news or complaints, the fact remains that a good response to a competitors misstep can create some great viral buzz for your company. In fact, I've seen quite a few examples over the last year of incidents were companies could have taken advantage of these situations, but didn't.

Last fall, Delta Airlines ran into PR trouble when they booted a breastfeeding mother and her family from her flight. The national media picked up the story, breastfeeding moms protested at airports and Delta generally found itself on the receiving end of a first class scolding from mothers everywhere. During all the fuss, I kept waiting for a competing airline to launch a creative marketing campaign on mommy blogs and parenting forums.

Imagine the positive buzz if a company like JetBlue or American Airlines had launched ads with messages like...

"We'd never dream of asking you to eat under a blanket. We wouldn't ask your child to either."

"We don't like the food either. Feel free to feed your children the meal of your choice."

"It's hard to cry with a nipple in your mouth. - We encourage breastfeeding on our flights."

Being quite tapped in to the market of breastfeeding mothers, I can assure you that a company that tried it would have hit viral gold.

A few years back work spread quickly through the blog world that the $90 Kryptonite bike locks could be picked with a simple pen in a matter of 30 seconds. Kryptonite immediate found itself in the middle of a massive public relations crisis as angry customers ranted about the money they'd wasted on their purchases.

How easy for a competitor to have slipped in and invited "professional lock pickers" to try and crack their locks in a viral contest. In fact, what a great way to justify raising your prices even higher than the Kryptonite price tag.

The point here, is that sometimes your competitors will make a mistake and if you are quick on your feet (and more than a little creative) you can capitalize on that mistake and build your brand without looking like a jerk. Besides, customers are going to compare you to the competition anyway, why not help them make the comparison in a way that makes you look good?

May 31, 2007

Jennifer Laycock is the Editor of Search Engine Guide, the Social Media Faculty Chair for MarketMotive and offers small business social media strategy & consulting. Jennifer enjoys the challenge of finding unique and creative ways to connect with consumers without spending a fortune in marketing dollars. Though she now prefers to work with small businesses, Jennifer’s clients have included companies like Verizon, American Greetings and Highlights for Children.

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Search Engine Guide > Jennifer Laycock > Making Link Bait and Viral Marketing Work - Part Ten