Understanding viral marketing

Viral marketing is a relatively new medium and as such, many businesses will make mistakes when they first launch a viral campaign. Instead of growing your business’ brand value as intended, a poorly executed viral marketing campaign can actually damage your brand. Understanding what a viral campaign is, how it works, and the marketing basics behind the viral concept before you launch a campaign can greatly reduce the chance of mistakes and ensure that the campaign successfully reaches the intended audience.

Learnings and insights to grow your database
Many businesses highlighted database growth as one of the key objectives for their email marketing strategy in2009. One of the most effective ways to achieve database growth is through “viral marketing”– more commonly referred to as a “refer-a-friend” or “member-get-member” campaigns.

Essentially, a viral campaign leverages your existing database by encouraging subscribers to forward your email to their friends – usually with either the promise or chance of some reward.

A well constructed viral campaign with a clear strategy can achieve significant database growth in a very short amount of time – however there is no sure-fire guarantee of success. You need to be confident that your subscribers value your emails and are comfortable forwarding your information to their friends. There are obvious privacy issues surrounding the sending of unsolicited email but when executed correctly and within industry guidelines the ROI can be well worth the effort.

Here are some key learnings and insights to assist you when planning your next viral campaign:

1. What’s in it for your subscribers?

The most successful viral campaigns almost always involve an incentive. No matter how valuable you believe your email is to your audience – do not expect they will feel compelled to forward it to their friends without some kind of tangible incentive. This might be a discount offer (for example 20 percent off your next purchase or a free $5 voucher) or a competition-based incentive where your subscribers forward the email for a chance to win a prize.

The more valued the prize the more likely the message will become viral. Consider a ‘money can’t buy’ or ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ experience. An offer that rewards the subscriber instantly rather than just giving them a ‘chance’ to be rewarded will usually gain a better response, so think about including a reward as well as a chance to win just to say ‘thanks’ for taking the time to forward the email.

2.    Be creative & talk their language

Your viral campaign relies on your subscribers forwarding your message, so the creative must always be constructed with this top of mind. At no stage can the message state that it is being sent by you – it needs to clearly state that it is being sent from one friend to another on behalf of you.

The creative should be informal, friendly and include personalisation both for the sender and the recipient. Understand your audience and make sure the creative ‘speaks their language’ so that it doesn’t sound like a ‘hard-sell’.

3.    Viral campaigns are all about new subscribers so don’t waste your first opportunity to talk to them

Now that you have worked so hard and put in all of this effort to acquire these new subscribers make sure you have a strategy for communicating with them immediately. Your first communication with them can leave a lasting impression.

Consider sending them a welcome email with a thank you or reward for subscribing and tell them a bit more about yourself and what benefits they will receive now that they have joined your list.

4.    Set realistic goals & be strategic

Viral marketing is all about trial and error and getting the right mix. Viral campaigns can boost database growth but they do not guarantee results. First and foremost, they require trust. If you gain the trust of your existing database then you will hopefully be rewarded when you decide to use them as a platform for viral growth.

Incorporate viral into your email marketing plan and avoid the temptation to overuse – rather use it sparingly and strategically so that it doesn’t lose its impact.

5.    Track & analyse your results

Your first viral campaign is finished and you’ve grown your database by 40% in just 3 weeks – so what’s next? Like any marketing campaign you need to analyse the results – find out what worked well and what didn’t.

A sophisticated email marketing platform has very detailed tracking to find out who responded, forwarded, subscribed and ignored your message. With detailed data profiling and reporting you can start to determine which groups within your database had the best (and worst) response rates. Were females more inclined to forward your message? Did the creative connect more with a certain age group? What demographics are the new subscribers when compared to your existing database?

Analyse the data you have captured and use it wisely so you can improve the results of your next viral campaign!

Sean Newell is the Chief Executive Officer of digital marketing & communications agency, Campaign Master

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