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Viral Marketing

Stephen Denning

At its most basic, viral marketing involves getting other people to do your marketing for you by spreading the word about your product or event through different media channels such as word-of-mouth, social networking and video sites like YouTube.

Viral Marketing comes in two forms, one where the marketing is the product itself and the second where the campaign represents the product but is not the product itself. Look at the rise of YouTube, a classic case of the product being the campaign. It became viral itself very quickly. People went to it, then told their friends about it, who then told their friends and so on. The act of visiting the site just increased its strength in the market place.

When it is not possible for the product to become the campaign, then you have to develop a campaign that is then passed from one person to another via many different media. This second form of viral marketing is the most common.

For a viral marketing campaign to be effective, three conditions must be met: the right message has to be given to the right people in the right environment.

Your message must be memorable and interesting enough for people to want to pass it on. Hotmail, as an example, added over 12 million users simply by including the line "Get free email with Hotmail" at the end of every mail users sent out.

You have to give the message to the right people. TiVo, for example, gave away free web boxes to technology savvy people. They then used the services and began talking about it to their connections and the product went viral.

The message and the people you aim it at, have also to be in the right environment for the campaign to work. BlendTec, for example, make blenders, not the most appealing thing to a teenager. The company, though, started a campaign on YouTube where they posted videos entitled "Will it Blend"? In the videos everything from action figures to mobile phones were blended. the idea was to appeal to a mass market that could then influence their parents to buy the product.

Of course the internet is the best way to spread a campaign and make it viral. To make this happen though, you have to consider three things:
  • the social profile you are targeting
  • the proximity of the target market
  • analysis of real-time keyword density
More simply put, you must understand who you are targeting, how close this group is to the wider audience you want to reach, and what words this first group is using when searching for your product on the web.

Trust is another major factor in any viral campaign. Your product will be marketed by people you do not know personally, and these people have to trust you that your product is reliable and safe. In turn, the people they pass the information to will trust them... and so on.

Get your campaign right and it could be as successful as the European Car Manufacturer who sold a car for 13,000 cucumbers instead of 13,000 Euros.

Get it wrong... well, we never hear about those, do we?


Wow I never realized that there is something that exists called as 'Viral Marketing', this is interesting piece of information that is posted here...You have done a good job of explaining it all the way from history - present. I like the end bit you stated, "Your product will be marketed by people you do not know personally" strange but is it really true...and how is it proved....

Stephen Denning

Thanks for the comment. It is true though, there is such a thing as Viral Marketing, even though we would all like to think that it happens organically!


I think you need to be somewhat careful with viral marketing these days since people are becoming wiser to them and can sometimes get irritated when a company is trying to pull the wool over their eyes and fabricate an internet phenomenon. I've seen some pretty critical articles about the "crounut" craze that is supposedly becoming popular - apparently some independent polls conducted show that nobody really cares about these, even though some blogs are proclaiming them to be all the rage.

Rajan Verma

Viral Marketing is any marketing technique that induces Web sites or users to pass on a marketing message to other sites or users, creating a potentially exponential growth in the message's visibility and effect.