Why is business growth important, especially for a small business?
Businesses need to grow because it helps them achieve success. Growth allows companies to expand into new markets, develop products and services, hire staff and invest in technology. All of which leads to greater profits and better customer service.
Growth also gives you options when planning your future.
If you're starting out with little capital, then you may have to focus on building up your client base before investing heavily in marketing campaigns. But as your business grows, so too does its potential.
Businesses are always looking for ways to increase their profits. One way to achieve this is to expand into new markets. However, there are many challenges involved in expanding your business.
Furthermore, if you don't know how to market yourself effectively, then the chances of growing your company will be limited.
This article looks at some effective methods that can help businesses accelerate their growth through viral marketing.
What Is Viral Marketing?
Viral marketing refers to any type of advertising or promotion technique where customers share information about your product or brand with others who they think would benefit from using it. The more people use these techniques, the more successful your campaign becomes.
Now, here's a short brief of viral marketing history:
In 1994, American direct marketer Joe Pulizzi coined the phrase “viral marketing” when he was working at JWT's Direct Marketing Group. He defined it as: “the process whereby your message gets passed around within a group until everyone knows about you.”
In his book Content Rules!, Pulizzi wrote that this type of marketing could work because “people love talking about themselves; they're always telling each other what they do and where they go.”
The term viral strategy was first used in marketing in 1995, in the pre-digital marketing era, by a strategy team at Chiat/Day advertising in LA, led by Lorraine Ketch and Fred Satler, for the launch of the first PlayStation Sony Computer Entertainment.
Born from a need to combat huge target cynicism, the insight was that people reject things pushed at them but seek out things that elude them. Chiat/Day created a stealth campaign to go after influencers and opinion leaders, using street teams for the first time in brand marketing, and layered an intricate omnichannel web of info and intrigue.
Insiders picked up on it and spread the word. Within 6 months, PlayStation was number one in its category Sony's most successful launch in history. The term was later popularized by Rayport in the 1996 Fast Company article “The Virus of Marketing”, and Tim Draper and Steve Jurvetson of the venture capital firm Draper Fisher Jurvetson in 1997 to describe Hotmail's practice of appending advertising to outgoing mail from their users.
In 2014, the Oxford English Dictionary included the definition: “the use of social media to increase awareness of products or services“.
What makes things go viral?
There are six key factors that drive virality, according to a book called Contagious: Why Things Catch On. They are organized by an acronym called STEPPS, which stands for:
- Social Currency — The more people look at it, the more likely they will be to share it.
- Triggers — It's more likely that things that are top of mind are tipped off.
- Emotion — when we care, we share.
- Public — People are more likely to imitate something that is easier to see. “Monkey see, monkey do”.
- Practical Value — People help each other by sharing useful information.
- Stories — People don’t just share information, they tell stories.
The goal of a viral marketing campaign is to widely distribute marketing or viral content through sharing & liking.
Propagation of the content is one of the main factors that drive virality. This includes the effort required to share it, the network size and type of the chosen distribution medium, and the proximity of the content with its means of redistribution.
What constitutes successful viral marketing?
David Skok wrote on his blog that there are two key parameters that drive how viral growth happens, the Viral Coefficient, and the Viral Cycle Time.
— The Viral Coefficient is the number of people who have to see or hear something before they decide to pass it along.
— The Viral Cycle Time is the amount of time it takes for someone to decide to pass along something.
— If the Viral Coefficient is high enough, then the Viral Cycle Time will be short enough, and the spread of information will happen quickly.
David went further with an equation to explain the science behind virality. How it drives successful viral campaigns.
Even though it seems a simple process, in reality, only a few businesses can achieve true viral marketing, despite the many businesses that talk about it.
In the meantime, since the inception of the internet, we have been witnessing many ventures that have successfully leveraged the power of virality to gain their exponential growth.
The internet is a great platform for viral marketing as ideas can be spread quickly through email, instant messaging, and social messaging platforms. The effect of marketing through the internet is that a company is able to acquire customers without spending a lot of money.
The most used platform to spread viral content is no doubt YouTube, followed by Instagram and many other social media platforms.
YouTube is ideal for viral videos. Dollar Shave Club is often cited as the most successful viral campaign on YouTube. With a budget of less than $5000, the video gained traction that eventually led to Unilever's acquisition worth $1 billion dollars.
Looking back to the theory that David Skok described, we understand that a viral marketing campaign is not merely about creating viral content. Many people believe that cases like Dollar Shave Club were more about luck. It's quite reasonable since for years we can only witness a few businesses with such success.
However, many other enterprises have successfully leveraged viral marketing strategies without the hassle of creating viral content. This can also be traced back to the success of Hotmail in its early days of inception. Then, followed by Gmail from Google.
Hotmail's viral success was just as simple as putting in an invitation to join the free service at the end of every email sent. Gmail leveraged it further by utilizing the power of curiosity and exclusivity. Gmail at that was only available through an invitation. 10 years later (2014) Google went even further when introducing the Google inbox. The invitation was only for 3 people per round. Because of that, some people could even make a fortune by selling the invitations on eBay!
Incentivized viral campaign
Considering that it's been a long time ago (in the internet age, even 3 years is considered a long time), Hotmail or Gmail style of a viral campaign is no longer powerful. People are getting accustomed to the drill and not so enthusiastically following their fear of missing out!
Dropbox, AirBnB, Loom, Mint, and even Uber did a different approach when they sent out marketing messages to their audiences. They have one thing in common. Audiences who were invited were incentivized to participate and even given a chance to win big prizes.
A viral campaign with incentives is leveraging David Skok's formula.
David argues that the intended viral message won't truly go viral unless the viral coefficient is more than 1. The multiplying effect happens when the viral cycle time is the fastest.
K = i * conv%
K is the viral coefficient. i is the number of initial invites and conv% is the invitees who convert to the offer.
Let's take a look at the following calculator to see the differences when we play around with all variables.
Since K is the first leveraging factor, we need to lure active participation by providing incentives. The most effective way to shorten the cycle time is to provide top prizes as irresistible as possible.
Dropbox successfully doubled its user base every three months. Its users sent 2.8M invites in April 2010!
Drew Houston, the co-founder, said that he used the lean startup concept to drive 3900% growth in only 15 months! Below is his presentation.
How to craft a viral marketing plan for rapid growth
After knowing the basics, let's deep dive into the way we deploy an effective viral campaign.
This exercise is not rocket science. We've studied viral marketing examples. If that's not enough, we still have Google to help us research the subject.
Here's the list of what we need to do to deploy an effective viral campaign for exponential growth.
1. Understand the objective
This objective is, of course, the one that relates to our business objectives. To generate more sales is obviously the one. But, we may also need to establish other objectives as well. For example, gathering feedback (by launching surveys along the way), increasing FB pages like, increasing IG and Twitter followers, increasing YouTube subscribers, etc.
2. Craft marketing message
Your message will become the center of the campaign. What's the campaign about? Why should the audience participate? What's the catch? Etc.
3. Get the social networks ready
Social media can become your marketing channel. Before the campaign, make sure that all of them are set and ready.
4. Prepare additional actions for participants to take
let's take a look at this scenario. You invite your audience to participate. The message is compelling enough, so they participate right away. Then, to give them more chances to win the prizes, you ask them to do several things online (each with points rewards):
— Provide name and email address
— Follow all your social media
— Visit your website(s)
— Participate in your surveys
— Comment on your blog post(s)
— Provide testimonial(s)
— anything that you can think of to improve your presence on the internet
5. Choose the type of viral campaign
Viral marketing techniques come in many forms. We can choose between photo contests, video contests, sweepstakes, giveaways, etc.
Each of them has pros and cons. The best approach is to try each of them and choose the most effective one. Each industry has its own characteristics So there's no good or bad in this selection.
6. Choose deployment software or outsource it to an agency
Now, here comes the most important part of the plan. The deployment. It is almost impossible to deploy a viral campaign on the internet, especially the social media networks, without the help of a tool or an agency. Unless you or your company have the coding capability, this step is a must to ensure the fastest growth possible.
7. Deploy and monitor the progress
When deploying the campaign for the first time, sometimes it is necessary to gather initial participants through paid advertising. Later on, if the marketing message is good, and the awards are also irresistible, we can expect word-of-mouth marketing to take place.
8. Evaluate and repeat
Always remember to evaluate and repeat the process. Fine-tune the offer to increase conversion rates.
9. BONUS STEP. Always make an offer!
Remember that the first action that participants have to take is to give up their name and email address. This one is useful for us to always make an offer to them. For example, while waiting for the campaign to end, the participants can choose to get the award by buying it at a special discount. Do this frequently and sooner or later you'll get more loyal customers!
In summary, I hope by reading this article you understand how to accelerate business growth using viral marketing. If you want me to elaborate further on any point, please let me know.
Good luck! 🙂