Also known as word-of-mouth marketing, viral marketing is a marketing technique that depends on people passing along a marketing message to others. This typically refers to the forwarding of advertising or promotional messages through email.

In fact, the best and earliest example of viral marketing on the internet is the wildly successful email tool known as “Hotmail”. Google is using the same technique with its beta product “Gmail”. As a free subscriber to Gmail you can invite others to join through your personal invitations. Very clever.

The success of a viral marketing campaign is judged by the pass-along rate or the likelihood that people forward the message rather than delete it. The beauty of a successful viral campaign is how quickly the web can “get infected”, yet there is little control of who will actually get the message.

Inherent in the pass-along is the value of the message. Usually this value is a discount, a vital message, or an incentive that others need to know. Just suggesting that the message should be passed along does not give it value.

Viral marketing can also be defined more broadly to include mediums beyond the internet. For example, if you want to send a message to women age 65-85, you should target the Saturday night bingo game at the church, the mystery book club at the library, and the Charles Schwab office where they invest. Leave your message where they hang out.

John Bradley Jackson
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