It is said word-of-mouth buzz is the most effective, and affordable, form of advertising. In 1967, Harvard scientist Stanley Milgram conducted experiments testing how far a person’s word of mouth actually travels. His findings are commonly known as the “Six Degrees of Separation” theory. It says if a person is one "step" away from each person he or she knows and two "steps" away from each person that person knows, then everyone is no more than six "steps" away from everyone on Earth.
Pop-culture has popularized this theory by playing the “Kevin Bacon Game.” The object of the game is to challenge players to prove the free-spirited actor is no more than six degrees removed from anyone in Hollywood.
Based on Milgram’s experiments, and proof generated by the Kevin Bacon game, if we all are only a few phone calls – or e-mails – away from each other, word-of-mouth is a powerful force. Marketing professionals are increasingly capitalizing on our collective interconnectedness by using viral marketing to spread messages about their products and services.
For the past decade, viral marketing has become an effective method for efficiently transmitting robust messages to millions of people, without tremendous effort and expense for the advertiser. E-mail provider Hotmail.com used viral marketing to grow its subscriber list from zero at its launch on July 4, 1996 to 8.5 million by December 1997.1 Every e-mail sent through a Hotmail.com account, provided a link for recipients to sign-up at no cost. As e-mail was sent, more people received the link and signed up. One look in your inbox or address list indicates the success of this campaign. Today there are more than 30 million Hotmail accounts (35.5% of all e-mail accounts).
Viral marketing can increase in complexity depending on the product. More often, larger organizations such as auto companies e-mail multi-minute video advertisements in tightly compacted files. If considered interesting – or humorous – enough, these may be passed, like a virus. Some modern musical groups – disenchanted with the struggle to gain video-play on networks like MTV – have resorted to e-mailing videos in a viral format to gain popularity.
Although viral marketing is effective, there are some considerations for a successful campaign:
· Search for customer evangelists. Contemplate whether your customers will want to
work for you. By forwarding e-mails with your message, customers are doing you a
favor. It is important to know if your customers are willing to recommend your product
or service to others, before putting forth the effort.
· Clarify your objective. Have a clear goal in mind. Is this an effort to build brand
awareness, or are you striving to form an interactive forum with customers?
· Define your strategy. Ensure viral marketing is part of your marketing strategy.
Marketing pieces should not be a one-of-a-kind organizational effort; they should be
well constructed pieces of marketing strategy.
· Troubleshoot gaps. Could this be a public relations disaster? Consider Chevy’s attempt
at a “Create Your Own Ad” viral campaign for its Tahoe SUV. In light of the Tahoe’s poor
gas mileage, some environmentally conscious video recipients created some
less-than-flattering ads for the Tahoe. Chevy was able to rebound some, using ads as a
platform for their own environmental efforts, though it may have been too little too late.
For now, e-mail technology is here to stay. As traditional advertising continues to increase in expense and savvy advertisers seek alternatives, viral videos may be the difference between your marketing ails or marketing health.
1 Ellison, Carol. “Fever Pitch: Viral Marketing: The Buzz That Build Brands.” Customer Relationship
Management. September 2006.