My mother always said "nothing worth doing is easy." Generally good words to live by, but especially practical when it comes to viral marketing. While some of the most talked about viral marketing successes appear to have happened effortlessly, chances are high you'll need to put a lot of time and effort into yours. That's why it's absolutely essential to understand the adage "if at first you don't succeed, try, try again."

In this four part series I'll dig beyond the hype of Viral Marketing and look at four key lessons companies need to learn before diving into this style of outreach. Part one covered the need to know your customer and to speak to their desires. Part two talked about the need to be remarkable in either your business or your marketing.Today, we'll look at the hardest commandment to follow; the need to try, try again.

Failure is Not Only an Option, It's Likely

In fact, a Jupiter Research report from last year claims just 15% of viral campaigns are ever deemed "successful." Granted, success measurements vary by company, but that's still an extraordinarily low figure. Imagine if only 15% of your other marketing plans were successful. It wouldn't take long before your marketing department or agency was out of a job.

dice.jpgViral marketing works in a completely different way. It's a calculated risk designed to back load time and energy into the creation of the idea rather than the spread of the idea. Most successful viral campaigns cost less than more traditional campaigns because despite increased creative costs, there's virtually no need for an ad placement budget.

That means companies that committ to viral marketing need to view it as an ongoing process and they need to know the odds are working against them. They also need to see it as a numbers game. A big company might devote $2 million a piece on 6 viral attempts knowing that if they play the odds and one takes, their $12 million investment will still be on par with a more traditional campaign. A small company might choose to invest $250 a piece on 6 viral attempts knowing that if they play the odds and one takes, their $1500 investment will likely go much further than a single ad spend of that amount would.

Every Attempt Improves Your Odds

That may sound disheartening to companies looking to cash in on easy viral success. (Fair enough, as easy viral success isn't something you cash in on, it's something you thank your lucky stars for.) The truth is, the high rate of failure for viral options is actually something your company may want to embrace.

You see, viral marketing is a whole other beast from traditional advertising. There's generally more space for experimentation, more space for taking chances and more space for screw-ups. That means you can push the envelope a bit and try things you might not otherwise get a chance to try.

viralchart.jpgThe reason this is good is because each attempt gives you data to analyze. Back in part one of this series, I explained the need to know your customer. The challenge here is even when you know them, you don't always know how to communicate with them.

Launching a viral attempt gives you the chance to see how your audience reacts to your message. You can run searches to follow the conversation, taking note of the good and the bad. You can segment your analytics to see which types of sites sent the most visitors to the campaign and which types of sites sent the most engaged visitors.

Based on the data you gather from these attempts, you can fine tune your campaign, your message and even your launch points to increase the chances of your next campaign succeeding.

Every Attempt Improves Your Business

What it really boils down to with repeat viral marketing attempts is the impact it can have on your business. If part of your challenge is to figure out what your customers want and to find ways to be're not just helping your campaign; you're helping improve your business.

dellhell.jpgWhen Dell went on a mission to turn the tide of the Dell Hell messages sweeping the web, they had to closely look at the changes they needed to make as a company. It wouldn't have been enough for Dell to simply launch new ads or lower prices. They were forced to examine the very core of their business model, including their customer service and corporate outlook. Once they began listening to consumers and seeking out ways to be remarkable, things began to fall into place.

Dell has now enjoyed one of the strongest resurgances in online popularity since bloggers first began tearing companies down.

This is exactly what you need to be considering with your own business. When you ask questions like these:

  • What does my customer really want?
  • Am I deliverying what my customer wants?
  • What do my customers not like about me?
  • What do my customers really like about me?
  • What motivates my customer arm yourself with the information you need to transform your business. That's why it's so essential that companies view viral attempts as part of their business development and not just another marketing channel.

Coming Up...

In the final installment I'll be looking at the need to tie your message into your viral campaigns. After all, it's not just about chalking up a score on the wall, it's about bringing in new business.

August 27, 2008

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 > The Third Commandment of Viral Marketing - Thou Shalt Try, Try Again