‘The future belongs to marketers who establish a foundation and process where interested people can market to each other. Ignite consumer networks and then get out of the way and let them talk,’ writes Seth Godin in his book, Unleashing the Ideavirus.
“Word of mouse” is establishing itself as a potent marketing force in the digital age. In marketing terminology, viral marketing is ‘any strategy that encourages individuals to pass on a marketing message to others, creating the potential for exponential growth in the message's exposure.’ Like viruses, such strategies take advantage of rapid multiplication to explode the message to millions. With new users joining the Indian net community every day and thousands converting to broadband, a large number of homes and offices are connected to the web. Additionally, the abolition of basic customs duty on specified infrastructure equipment for the Internet is likely to result in higher Internet penetration. In view of this, marketers are realizing that in the age of media overload, online is the new way to communicate.
How does the Indian market view Viral Marketing? Alok Kejriwal, CEO, Contests2win.com tells exchange4media, “The Internet is all about viral marketing; web sites are being visited because people are being told about its existence. In effect, the Internet is bedrock of Viral Marketing. It is cost-effective because there are no traditional fees; people talk about the brand on their own and not because they are paid to do so.”
What’s the buzz? “Most of today's marketing still focuses on how to use advertising to influence each customer individually, ignoring the fact that purchasing many types of products is part of a social process. It involves not only a one-to-one interaction between the company and the customer but also exchange of information and influence among the people who surround that customer. A critical part of marketing is word of mouth and validation from important personal relationships is key, and most marketers ignore it,” explains Kejriwal.
An example of successful Viral Marketing is Hotmail, which promoted its service and its own advertisers' messages in every user's e-mail notes. The results were astonishing. Within 18 months, Hotmail signed up 12 million subscribers. Once the first member subscribed from India, 100,000 more followed within three weeks. Therein lies one of the critical elements of Viral Marketing – every user becomes an involuntary salesperson simply by using the product; marketing piggybacks on the message.
Advertisers, however, need to take note that once the target audience has been identified, the message itself needs to be compelling, lest it is dismissed as puffery. A good example is Colgate-Palmolive’s tie-up with Contests2win.com for an interactive consumer promotion of its new product ‘Herbal White,’ via email. Within a few days, the company recorded 25,000 referrals. Explaining the success, Alok Kejriwal tells exchange4media, “To leverage the benefits of Viral Marketing, it has to be based on properties that are either ‘fun’ or ‘functional.’ We used the ‘fun’ proposition in our tie-up with Colgate-Palmolive by using sunsigns as a plank. Young adults on the net have always reacted positively to zodiac signs, and the ‘fun’ of checking out predictions and behavioral tendencies. Since the benefit of Colgate Herbal was “whitening,” we sent out an e-mail called ‘Whitemail.’ The very concept is attention grabbing and gets consumers to click open the mail. The content is interactive and prizes include a holiday in Malaysia, so consumer involvement is extremely high. Hence, for it to be successful, either creativity or the ‘need to know’ factor has to figure high on the campaign.”
E-commerce experts feel that targeted viral marketing are especially effective for products that invoke a passion – for example, sports cars or motorcycles. The passionate customer is likely to pass the marketing message to other aficionados. Maruti’s campaign for Zen Predator, spearheaded by Mediaturf, put Internet advertising into high gear. The first Indian automobile corporate to utilise the net for a complete branding exercise, Maruti has used innovative ‘interactive’ and ‘page domination’ techniques which attracted a lot of surfer attention. In the past, Maruti has used the net for advertising Alto, Baleno and WagonR.
Reliance Infocomm makes good use of the viral. On the inaugural day of ‘Navratri’ – a multi-medium mobile service offering ringtones, greetings, pictures and video clips, ten million Navratri-specific downloads were reported. Mahesh Prasad, President Application Services, Reliance Infocomm attributes the response to viral marketing, “Such heavy usage of a single data application, recorded within the first ten hours of the launch, was achieved despite the fact that it was an informal launch with zero advertising/ promotion around the service.”
While there are no formal guidelines, e-commerce experts feel the best buzz is akin to good storytelling. ‘You build suspense by withholding information and releasing it gradually. It’s not a coincidence that the technique is being used extensively in the film industry in the form of sneak previews,’ cites Emanuel Rosen in his book, The Anatomy of Buzz. That said, to make an impression, the marketing pitch must take advantage of the unique, interactive features of the Internet. “Good creative work is a necessity,” stresses Kejriwal.
While the economic return on these ads has not been calculated, their viral effectiveness has been clearly demonstrated. For that reason and others, consultants have started to recommend that industries invest more time and resources into Net-based Viral Marketing.