• November 1, 2007
  • By Jessica Tsai, Assistant Editor, CRM magazine

Have You Caught It?

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Viral marketing is exciting, and understandably so -- it's a marketer's dream that by simply planting a video, consumers will not only find it, but also spread it far and wide. But as hot as viral marketing is, the dream won't manifest as reality unless marketers do a little less hoping and a lot more targeting. Only 15 percent of viral marketers succeeded in getting consumers to promote their message during the past year, according to a report by JupiterResearch. Like other campaigns, viral has to follow the golden rules of marketing: Know your audience, know how they communicate, and know your product. However, viral differs because it doesn't stop at one-to-one relationships or focus on customer retention. "What viral really needs to do is stimulate an activity across consumer-to-consumer lines," says Emily Riley, an analyst at JupiterResearch and author of "Viral Marketing: Bringing the Message to the Masses." A trigger must entice consumers to put in the added effort of forwarding the message to their friends. "The content has to really spark that magic," Riley says. "It's like trying to come up with a blockbuster movie -- not every movie that goes out there is a blockbuster." She adds, "Several very popular viral campaigns have warped most advertisers' expectations to be too high," citing successful recent efforts by Adidas and its Adicolor campaign, Burger King and its Subservient Chicken
, and Ray-Ban with its new video promoting Wayfarer sunglasses. Because of the high hopes engendered by these recent hits, viral marketers are now rushing to throw campaigns in the deep end without knowing first if they can swim. Riley advises marketers to launch a viral campaign to an existing group of loyal customers or to create a display to drive traffic. "You need that initial burst," she says. Ideally, you'll be appealing to people who not only trust your brand, but who also have friends who trust them. But not everyone is doing it right, Riley says. Nestle's Nesquik, for example, fell hard for the lure of online videos: The company tried to reach its target audience -- parents buying the chocolate drink for their children -- by creating a video of a graffiti artist drawing the Nesquik logo. But, as Riley reports, 31 percent of audiences ages 18 to 24 watch videos on a regular basis, a percentage more than three times greater than among those 55 and older; Nesquik, which wanted to reach older consumers, was tapping into the wrong population. The video also provided no direct incentive to forward. The company would likely have done a better job of reaching those parents by, say, emailing recipes to them -- 93 percent of audiences age 45 and over use email at least monthly, a 10 percent higher rate than among those between 18 and 24, according to the report. And audiences between ages 45 and 54 were more than three times more likely to forward messages to their friends than were those between 18 and 24. While video is attractive, as made evident by the overwhelming popularity of Google's YouTube, it's not the only means to promote viral activity. "Viral marketing is [just] a motivation for marketing. It describes what kind of result you want [from marketing]," Riley says. "You can use any medium you want to get it to happen." Well, not any medium: Riley's report notes that, within the next year, 47 percent of viral marketers will start blogs and 41 percent will drive traffic to microsites -- "risking failure in the process." Instead, the report says, "viral marketers must use tactics (e.g., social tools such as widgets, video) that bring their message to existing centers of communication." Despite the challenges of viral marketing, it is undoubtedly an effective tool. Riley confirms that consumer interest in a product is most influenced by referrals from friends. Therefore, she suggests marketers should avoid presenting themselves as "cool" to the younger audience and instead target their best audience. "Viral marketing really should be looked at more practically and less as a trend," Riley says. The objective of viral is to get people talking about the brand, but at the end of the day, marketers should still be focused on quality rather than quantity. "A lot of viral marketing is testing, hit-or-miss, uncertain," Riley says. "The best thing you can do is to consider viral marketing as a long-term process, where you get better over time."
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