May 17, 2009
In today’s Internet, conversations are cropping up all over the place. People are talking. They are talking about products. They are talking about businesses. And they are certainly talking about their experiences.
When you look at how blogs, forums and social networking sites have exploded in the last few years, you can see how powerful word-of-mouth is. But the question is, is it all really important? Can it really help your business?
And I’m not talking about traffic. And you don’t need to be controversial, either. I’m talking creating systems to leverage, manage and profit from the “buzz.”
Word-of-mouth is one of the most powerful lead and business generation processes there is. Online, some people call it “word-of-mouse.” But we know it more as viral marketing.
Viral marketing is the process of implementing means or tools through which the knowledge of your existence self-propagates. Like a virus, your visibility spreads throughout a network of people who refer you to each other.
Notwithstanding the power of backlinking, traffic and SEO, viral marketing is key for a number of reasons. Success in the offline world is “location, location, location.” The Internet is no different. Your success depends highly on the number of locations you appear online – places on which your site, link, company or product name exist.
In essence, to expand your reach, you need to be in as many places as possible, talked about by as many people as possible and be in front of as many eyeballs as possible.
With viral marketing, there are three ways of doing it:
- Create content
- Create applications
- Create systems
The first is self-explanatory.
- Your content may be controversial or buzzworthy.
- It may create raging fans – or enraged enemies.
The second is simple: you create an application — whether it’s a video, audio, file, software, document, etc – that people can pass around, and thus proliferates the knowledge of your existence on the web through other people’s efforts.
I might write about these two at a later time. But for now, the one on which I want to focus is the third: creating a system.
Before I give you some examples, let me explain why word-of-mouth works wonders. Those who get to know you or to know about you through a third party grant you a higher level of confidence, credibility and loyalty. According to Dr. Robert Cialdini in his amazing book, “Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion,” this is social proof in action.
Remember a dictum a mentor of mine once told me, which is: “Implication is far more powerful than specification.” In other words, if you tell people you’re the best, that you’re the leader in your field, or that your product is the best solution to their needs, your self-serving promotional bias makes it all suspect.
However, if someone other than you – whether it’s on a blog, in an email, on a social networking site or in person – says to another that you are indeed the best or that you do have the best solution to their problems, how much more believable will that person’s statement be? How much more credible and trustworthy?
The answer is “definitely more.”
Accordingly, word-of-mouth is not only important because it creates an awareness of your business (let alone traffic), but also it is important to the degree to which third party marketing indirectly communicates greater credibility, superiority and value of the products or services you offer.
In his book “The 22 Immutable Laws of Branding,” Al Ries stresses the importance of leadership and how that leadership is communicated.
According to Ries, people never buy the best – they only think they do. They usually buy the leader (or what they perceive as being the best). And that perception is often molded by what they are told and by what others do, not by what is fact or by what is being advertised.
Coke, for example, outsells Pepsi. But according to Ries, taste tests reveal that Pepsi is the better tasting brand. So, why does Coke still beat Pepsi in sales? It is not because it is the leader in the marketplace or promoted itself as such but because it is known as the leader. And the reason it is known as the leader is because Coke was the first cola “in the mind” of the marketplace.
It is the one most talked about, even to this day. When a person is introduced to cola for the first time, they are often told to try Coke. Restaurant patrons still ask for “coke,” even when Pepsi is the only cola served. Why is that? While other colas are bombarding them with marketing messages, people have heard of Coke first, and most likely from other people.
Consequently, if people hear about you from other people, and not some advertisement or pitch, this social proof will create not only a certain buzzworthiness about you but also an almost instant trustworthiness.
How do you do that? The most significant method is to be the first. If your business or website is unique, focuses on a niche or is the first in some category, the knowledge of your existence will spread quite naturally, almost like wildfire. It becomes viral in and of itself, in other words.
Now, I’m not saying you need to be new. I’m only saying you need to be unique. Or better yet, you need to be the first. Whether it’s catering an existing product to a new niche, or adding a new twist to an existing product, you become the first.
I said it before: don’t be the best, be the first. But more important, as Ries pointed out, “Don’t be the first in the marketplace, be the first in the MIND of the marketplace.”
That said, there are ways to use systems that will leverage the spreading of that message, on the other hand, which helps to multiply your marketing punch. Such systems both simulate and stimulate word-of-mouth advertising.
Networking systems, for example, include strategic marketing alliances, joint ventures, and affiliate programs. And unlike the more traditional traffic generators such as ads and search engines, these specific tools are much more effective since they are used by third parties and not by the original advertiser.
In these cases, people don’t find you. They are told where you are because someone told them about you – especially if that “someone” is a person whose opinion they value.
If you received a call, letter or email from someone you know (and especially trust) referring you to a particular company, how much more credible will that referral be when compared to a blatant advertisement coming from the company itself?
You got it. A lot more.
When we think of viruses, we remember when “Melissa” and “I Love You” hit the scene in the late 90s and early 2000s. No, they weren’t some kind of adult-oriented websites, but computer viruses (or is that virii?).
But here’s why they were so effective: the devious (or perhaps even brilliant) way these viruses worked was that, after opening the email attachment, it sent more virus-infected emails to the first fifty people in your address book without your knowledge.
While we are bombarded with spam and phishing attempts, and anti-virus warnings telling us to never open an attachment from an unknown person, how can we resist doing so when the email apparently comes from someone we actually do know (since the virus uses address books to multiply itself and even personalizes the email with that person’s name)?
We can certainly learn the way viruses work – and, in the same way, apply that process to online marketing.
How? Remember that good ol’ fashion process called “networking”? According to Jill Griffin’s wonderful book “Customer Loyalty: How to Earn it, How to Keep it,” we are more open, trusting and loyal when doing business with or being marketed by people we know – and we certainly refer them to others more often as well.
Networking grants you the ability to reach corners untapped – areas that would have been unreachable otherwise. I personally don’t advocate traditional networking (the simple, “I’m open for business” kind) because, in my experience, it hasn’t brought me anything substantial in return. While it can be a fantastic marketing tool, the way in which networking is conducted is often the reason why it does not produce any favorable results.
When you’re only networking, more often than not people will want something in return – otherwise, they will lose interest or stop sending referrals if you don’t take the time to recognize their efforts. A way to consistently reward others is to turn your networking efforts into systems – in other words, to develop strategic marketing alliances.
There are many ways to accomplish this. But the most effective forms of networking are those that are systematized.
A traditional network is one in which qualified leads that you can both share, or information about each other that is promoted to each other’s market, clientele or subscribers. This way, you can effectively cross-promote or share markets with each other. As long as your alliance logically shares a same target market but without directly competing with you, it could be potentially rewarding.
On the Internet, this technique is one in which a systematized method of cross-promotion between you and your alliance through a unique, joint marketing effort is created. It is also often referred to as a “joint venture.”
For example, this includes the coupling of complementary products or services in a single offer that’s exclusively marketed to each other’s market. While different, these offers are combined and marketed under the banner of a single promotion.
Whose product or offer can you bundle with yours to create an entirely new and distinct package?
In its simplest form, if your alliance sells a product to a market that matches yours, they can add to their offer additional products, services or bonuses from you, which may include an exclusive special offer for one of your products as an upsell.
But the best method I’ve found is when you create an entirely distinct product with those from two or more strategic alliances, amalgamating existing products from all companies into a single offer that’s sold simultaneously from your partners’ sites.
For example, you sell cookware online. You can easily team up with a publisher specializing in cookbooks and throw a book in the mix. While you raise the price and split the profits with the publisher, you instantly raise the perceived value of the cookware through a co-branded approach or a combined package of non-competing products or services.
Best of all, each of you market the “new” product separately while sharing in each other’s traffic, market, lead-base and referral-sources (i.e., your own respective networks, including affiliates, “fans” and even suppliers) – thus doubling the reach with the same marketing effort.
If they have their own distinct affiliate program, network of affiliates and fan base, including their own blogs for instance, they can leverage the knowledge of your existence quite rapidly. And vice versa.
Ultimately, by leveraging the efforts of others you not only propagate the knowledge of your existence on the web, but also you create trust and credibility. And if you cater to a new market, or offer a new product by taking an existing product and giving it a new twist, you also give yourself an extra dose of buzzworthiness, too.
Michel Fortin is a direct response copywriter, marketing strategy consultant, and instrumental in some of the most lucrative online businesses and wildly successful marketing campaigns to ever hit the web. For more articles like this one, please visit his blog at http://www.michelfortin.com/ and subscribe to his RSS feed.