Viral marketing: a beginner’s guide

21st century marketing is a very different beast to the traditional marketing techniques that have been industry stalwarts for decades. While print marketing, promotional marketing, radio, film and TV advertising are still popular and effective means of reaching out to large audiences, today’s marketers can employ a number of more varied techniques in order to promote their clients.

Digital marketing techniques such as viral marketing can allow companies both large and small to reach large audiences for comparatively little outlay; such efforts are tremendously advantageous for Britain’s SMEs in particular. In our beginner’s guide to viral marketing, we discuss what viral marketing is, examine why it works and explore ways in which you can employ the technique yourself in future. Read on for an introduction to one of the 21st century’s most exciting marketing strategies!

What is viral marketing?

Viral marketing is a term that refers to any marketing materials that spread and propagate ‘organically’ – moving from person to person in a similar manner to that of a biological virus. The technique takes advantage of the online community to spread through social media and other similar channels, encouraging individual audience members to do the job of promotion on the marketer’s behalf.

Most viral campaigns trade on sensationalism, with amusing, unbelievable or outrageous content more likely to be shared between individuals than more prosaic subjects. For that reason, the majority of viral marketing campaigns are visual, with short video adverts by far the most successful. Viral campaigns tend to avoid corporate branding and overt calls-to-action, instead waiting for the video to go viral before revealing the source of the original clip.

Why viral marketing?

Viral marketing is an extremely difficult process, but when it’s done properly it can be incredibly effective. One of the main advantages of viral campaigns is that they are often relatively inexpensive – it’s free to upload a YouTube clip and poor production values will only add a sense of realism to your campaign.

Good viral adverts can be filmed and produced for practically nothing, using camera phone footage and an original concept to snare viewers. Promotion is inexpensive, too, as all a company needs to do to bring their campaign to a global audience is push the clip through social media and wait for it to take off. If your viral marketing campaign is good enough, the viewers will do the rest for you.

How to ‘go viral’

The only downside of a viral marketing campaign is the difficulty in implementing yours effectively. It may be cheap to produce the average viral advert, but it certainly isn’t easy. In order to create a truly shareable advert with the chance of going viral, you’ll need to develop an original, sensational concept and possess the talent to carry it off convincingly – if your viral campaign has the ring of a corporate effort, it’s unlikely to get you anywhere. As your audience will be based primarily online, it’s important to bear in mind the preferences of such users. Humorous clips, stunts, pranks and visual spectacles all have significant cultural value on the web, so these subjects are often a good starting point for your viral campaign. However, not all companies will find viral marketing entirely suitable – if your company doesn’t have a large online presence, you may be wasting your time with a viral campaign.

For some companies, a viral marketing campaign can represent an exciting and inexpensive way to increase brand awareness and introduce new customers to your products and services. Without the relevant skills and experience, however, you’re unlikely to find much success on your own.

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Ian is the founder of Opportunity Marketing marketing, with over 18 years of experience in successfully setting up marketing departments, creating marketing strategies and implementing these strategies across a wide number of SME companies in both the B2B and B2C sectors through a variety of channels.
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