The MOST COMMON form of viral marketing is . . . (drumroll please) . . . people talking to each other.
Wait, was this answer a bit anticlimactic?
Sorry to disappoint, but offline viral word of mouth marketing is far and above the most common form of viral marketing. This has been true throughout history, and it will continue to be true until the robot aliens take over and we’re all assimilated.
Offline Viral Word of Mouth: The Common Denominator
The answer is simple: Offline word of mouth happens for every single site, even if you don’t know it.
- When Apple includes free stickers with every product, many people stick them on their notebooks and laptop cases, just because they’re there.
- When a friend invites you to play Cards Against Humanity and you end up laughing your faces off, you’ll want to buy a set yourself.
- If somebody sees you wearing a t-shirt from The Chive with Bill Murray’s face on it, they will ask you where you got it.
To sum up, offline viral word of mouth marketing is deeply-rooted in the core value of the product. If you spend time and energy trying hard to satisfy your customers, they’re going to talk about your product with others. Which is why it’s incredibly common.
How Do You Get People Talking?
The reason why getting people to talk about a product is so rarely done well is because most companies don’t PURPOSEFULLY create offline viral word of mouth marketing. If word of mouth about a specific item exists, it usually happens as a byproduct of creating something that does an incredibly amazing job of solving a problem. They didn’t go into the development process with the intention of subliminally encouraging users to talk about their product.
However, the businesses who purposefully do this often win big.
Viral Success Story: Sincerely Truman
About a year ago, I was living in a tech incubator house in Venice Beach. It was a fascinating experience. I was exposed to so many different ways of doing business and building companies that I hadn’t been exposed to before.
As a perennial bootstrapper, I had never worked with a third party branding firm. My companies had always started off doing their own branding, and then when we could afford it, brought on an employee to take over.
However, a few of the other founders living in the house took a different approach. Thanks to their having a venture-backed company, they hired one of the top creative agencies in the country at the time to create their brand identity. This agencies name was Sincerely Truman.
These guys weren’t cheap, but they were incredibly good at what they did. However, before signing on with Sincerely Truman, my friends’ company did their research and had conversations with a few other firms to test the waters.
Then one day three packages showed up on our doorstep. Each was addressed to one of the co-founders of the company. Inside was a wooden crate that contained a large bottle of a microbrewed beer called Seasoned Traveler – a brand which none of us had ever heard of.
However, the packaging was impressive, as was all the cool stuff that came with it.
Next to the bottle and all the fun extra swag was a full brand identity package. All designed and created by Sincerely Truman. There were handwritten notes to each of the founders thanking them for their consideration, and offering this free gift as a sign of their appreciation. There were no obligations or expectations. Just a warm thank you.
And some tasty looking beer.
Here’s the catch: These bottles of beer were SO well crafted and cool looking that nobody wanted to actually drink them. They instead sat on display in the house.
We had people in and out all the time, and had some larger events like a concert every few weeks. Like clockwork, people would inevitably ask about the really cool bottles of beer on display. The founders would then tell them about Sincerely Truman, the pleasant surprise of receiving them in the mail, and the whole story about their experience.
That’s what we call in the viral marketing biz a WIN.
This entire experience was deliberately built to showcase Sincerely Truman’s creative chops and get people talking. As a high-dollar creative firm, I don’t know how much business they got from this sort of offline word of mouth. But I know they got more than enough to offset the cost of creating the package. Overall, it’s the perfect example of offline viral word of mouth marketing done well and on purpose.
Online vs. Offline Word of Mouth
Many people think the word “viral” is interchangeable with “word of mouth.” (A belief that’s ironically driven by word of mouth.) At this point in your journey with Viral Hero (assuming you’ve gone step by step), you already know there’s much more to it than that.
While, yes, word of mouth is a type of viral marketing, it’s by no means the ONLY type – or most effective. That said, both offline and online viral word of mouth marketing can be incredibly effective if done well, and to scale.
But which type of viral word of mouth marketing should you focus on? Don’t be tempted to take a shortcut and give both offline and online an equal amount of focus. Select the one most appropriate for your company, and go all-in on executing it incredibly well.
How to Decide Which Word of Mouth Strategy is Best For You
Need a little help deciding whether to go with offline or online viral word of mouth marketing? Consider this:
- Do you have a high-dollar agency like Sincerely Truman? Or a remarkable product like the SOMA Water Pitcher that people will ask about every time they see it? Go with offline. People can see it and touch it and tell their friends about it. Especially if you provide some fuel for the fire (such as two free gift coupons for 20% off a SOMA for a friend).
- Do you have a publication like BuzzFeed, or a platform showcasing the latest and greatest startups like ProductHunt? Go with online. In one click, you can see higher viral branching through social media. You’ll also likely be catering to an audience that’s already active on a great many social networks and online communities. Which makes this even more effective.
Any type of word of mouth – whether it’s offline or online – always speaks to the quality, controversy, and value of your product as it relates to the interests of the user’s network. The more you connect with your niche and speak directly to them, the more word of mouth you’ll spark.
We’ve now covered 11 of the 12 types of viral marketing. You’re almost there!
As you’ve probably already figured out, there are a number of ways you can make your product more viral. However, I’ve saved one of my favorite forms for last.
What Did Zappos Become Famous For? It Wasn't Virality…or Was It?
Zappos is known for customer service. While there’s nothing all that remarkable about customer service at first glance, the way they approached it became a viral sensation that’s still talked about long after their $1B sale to Amazon. What they did is a prime example of the last type of viral marketing.
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