How to Succeed with Viral Marketing?

March 5, 2009

As already discussed in my previous article viral marketing can be beneficial for large organisations such as Cadbury’s or Nike and also for individuals like the inspirational comedian Judson Laipply or small businesses like BlendTec “will it blend?” on the B2C level.

All of those “brands” have something in common: they succeeded in putting an excellent idea into practice. Viral marketing has the power to spreads a message like a biological virus by taking advantage of existing resources and thus keeping the delivery costs at a minimal level. Due to the population’s terrific rate of internet adoption, billions of individuals all over the planet are within reach by only the click of a button – a speed that cannot be topped by any other communication means.

Now, what is the key to success then?

Key to Glory

Key to Success

Three and a half years ago successful entrepreneur Seth Godin discussed factors in his blog that make an idea viral. He concludes that the visual effect is a key element of a message and also highlights the importance of creating ideas that catch people’s interest, make them excited and wanting to tell others – ideally, forwarding the message to all they know. Marketing speaker David Meerman Scott highlights the importance of creating content that is important to the target audience, exclusive and solving the customer’s problems, rather than promoting a brand’s strengths or features. Basically, the principle is quiet simple. Ask yourself, what sort of story would motivate you to tell it to as many people you know? Reviewing additional academic literature, my conclusion about factors that increase the success of a viral message could be as follows:

  • Decide which objective should be fulfilled (image improvement, brand awareness, greater market share, sales increase, etc.) Even though that may be considered as an old-fashioned view – the application of the SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timely) approach can serve as a useful guideline.
  • Identify target segments, research their interests, latest online trends and networks they are actively involved.
  • Create something outstanding, unique and special
  • Be creative and surprise your audience
  • By telling some kind of story, that will give you the opportunity to continue with your next campaign (given the condition that the previous one was well received)
  • Identify online opinion leaders that are relevant to your campaign and make them give you feedback, generate their interest (brand representatives, opinion leaders or even, get your friends involved and excited – as soon you can infuse someone with your excitement, half of the job is done)
  • Spread your message amongst strategically selected networks by applying appropriate tools
  • Support your campaign by credible facts
  • Try and involve your advocates into NPD
  • Don’t try to control the effect – you can’t
  • Be prepared for the unforeseen!

Same as word-of-mouth viral efforts are not “a sure bet”. There is no guarantee that by getting all mentioned factors above right it will help to get an idea accepted by the target audience, but it certainly assists by getting closer to the campaigns’ objectives.

What about return on investment?

ROI factors for viral campaigns are not easily assessable. Well-placed campaigns that are calculated and provocative can unleash a wave of long-lasting buzz. Viral Marketing is great tool with the side effect of digital word-of-mouth information distribution. Launched successfully, a viral campaign has the ability to improve brand awareness, image creation, corporate identity creation, web presence, etc. In addition, there is the opportunity for an immediate linkage to the corporate web page and all that can also lead to increased sales.

Increased Sales

Increased Sales

I can identify two major types of viral marketing campaigns; the intended and the unintended one. Given the rising popularity of viral marketing and the immense amount of creativity out there it becomes increasingly difficult to differentiate whether it was a tactical move with commercial objectives or not. Moreover there are the intended campaigns that are tailored to look like non corporate ones with the aim to get some buzz. Nevertheless, once such information is revealed negative publicity is not far, because people feel punked. But bear in mind: negative publicity may also be a strategy for media coverage!



  1. Having just spent about 15 mins on YouTube and the WillItBlend web site watching videos of items being blended I have fallen victim of the “viral” marketing of BlendTec, but I’d be really interested to know how many blenders are being sold as a result of this campaign. Their blenders aren’t exactly cheap and my £20 blender from Sainbury’s does a good job of blending all the items I’m interested in blending… Generally, fruits and vegetables!

    Whilst the campaign will definitely have attacted many viewers, did it sell much product?

  2. Great post Joy. Now regarding Blendtec they’ve got a good page rank with google despite the fact there are not many words on their homepage, more pictures (5/10) and also on the Willitblend site (6/10). I do believe that were extremely successful in their viral and have no doubt that they are selling more than they would without the buzz. I guess their product is another classical ‘Speciality Goods’ trying to add that psychological and emotive edge appealing to a specific target market, definitely not a very price sensitive one. I wonder if they sell their product at all in any retail or only direct (classical) to give that ‘exclusive’ element and also will be offering a high level of augmented product service. That only shows that only viral will no go a long way, you’ve got the have a strong off-line strategy marketing management insight, then you think in terms of you marketing communication including a viral marketing campaign.

  3. Your post delivers great insight into viral marketing strategies. It seems like viral campaigns are a marketing tool that could be considered as additional side strategy to traditional promotion campaigns. Even if the appliances of BlendTec are very expensive, I believe all that online “buzz” on YouTube must have affected their sales in a positive way.

  4. Great Post Joy!!

    Even I think…what exactly is the result of viral marketing…is it just to create a brand image or to increase the traffic…does it actually lead people to purchase the product i.e increase sales and profit for the company?

  5. I think these things are generally passed on if there’s an element of amusement. This suggests that it’s a hopeless method for recruiting supporters to pressure groups (TaxPayers’ Alliance, Friends of the Earth, etc) unless they can make people smile instead of bursting into tears of rage!

  6. I agree with Carole – the better the content the more likely people forward a viral message. I find it incredible how successful the BlendTec campaign has been. Have you any information on the profit or return on invested capital? In general I doubt that viral marketing has a big influence on sales…

  7. Thank you for all your comments and for sharing your opinions with me!

    In general I agree with all of you and think viral marketing are a great tool. I also agree with you Carole, the content of viral campaigns is essential and an amusing one definitely has higher chances to being passed along amongst friends or communities. In general I believe that viral campaigns should be mainly used to build the corporate reputation and increase awareness. Sales driven campaigns may upset people, because they don’t want to be used by companies as “marketing tools”, unless the offer is so great and so real that people want to share the offer with all their friends (e.g. an on-line voucher of a restaurant that offers all guests who print out that voucher a free meal – but hey, that could end as a really expensive campaign).

    BlendTec provide a very good example of how to increase brand awareness and popularity. I believe that this must surely have also led to brand “image improvement”. Finally, these factors also help to boost sales, so there is no real need to create a sales driven campaign.

    I have done some research about the return on investment for BlendTec and will provide the information in my next post.

  8. […] one of my previous blog entries some successful viral campaigns have been discussed and readers have shown scepticism about return […]

  9. […] Burger King landed a massive viral marketing hit (I have discussed viral marketing already in a previous article) with the campaign of the “Subservient Chicken“. The idea was simple, the success […]

  10. Astonishing! I’ve just seen an amusing Jamie Oliver spoof cookery demonstration for EU Fudge on YouTube produced by The TaxPayers’ Alliance … one of the organisations I said wouldn’t be able to use this approach as their message just isn’t funny – I certainly got that one wrong! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5LHqpzjMTDY

  11. My knowledge of viral marketing is limited, from some of the posts I’ve read on here, it seems to me that a successful web-based media campaign is heavily dependent on one aspect, the product. Successful campaigns tend to be when the product is tailored to customer needs/satisfaction and innovative (i.e. not just delivering what you want but what you didn’t know you wanted) perhaps with a sprinkling of social/environmental awareness and humanity for good measure.

    I suppose viral marketing should be successful for innovative products as the type of person likely to come across the campaigns are likely to be open-minded to technology, change and innovation. Whereas more traditional consumers are less likely to come across web-based marketing.

    Is the above view only due to my limited exposure (Apple, Nintendo)? Could this be an expanding area of marketing that will not require stand-out products to be successful as more and more businesses utilise this format? I don’t know but it’s very interesting and currently proving useful for my gadget and technology purchases, long may it continue, I like increased customer service.

  12. Great site this joyfleur and I am really pleased to see you have what I am actually looking for here and this this post is exactly what I am interested in. I shall be pleased to become a regular visitor 🙂

  13. terrific site joy! In this post you delivered all I was interested in – thanks! I can only subscribe to Unconette’s view and say: I shall become a regular visitor as well!

  14. marketing online is of course a good business and also a great way to earn money online ,`”

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