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You’ve either been tasked with designing a marketing strategy for the launch of a new product or you’ve been doing this for a long time and you want to see what else is out there.

First, a little background. What is viral marketing?

We’ll answer that by telling you what it’s not. To do this, we have to go back to December 22, 2008…to relay a message from Seth Godin. 

…viral marketing is getting a bad name, largely from clueless marketing agencies and clueless marketers. Here’s what they do: they get a lame product or a semi-lame product, and they don’t have enough time or money to run a nationwide ad campaign. So, instead, they slap some goofy viral thing on top of it and wait for it to spread.

Well, it won’t. And if it does, it may not work the next time.

Understanding Viral Marketing

It’s got nothing to do with being a content strategy expert. Even has less to do with beginners luck.

The simple idea behind viral marketing is to get people to spread your message for you. We are talking content that spreads like wildfire over the internet. 

Remember the #shareacoke campaign?

It was lit! Coca Cola basically replaced their logo with as many popular Nigerian names as they could. They gave ownership to people! The first thing you look for when you walked into the shopping mall is a coke bottle with your name on it. 

And of course, bragging on social media followed. Everyone was helping everyone else they knew to find their names. Everyone wanted everyone to know they had found their names. Even those who didn’t much care for the beverage bought theirs and kept in the home for display.

The Critical Element of Viral Marketing

It’s super simple. 

Virality has to be built in the product.  It was built into Hotmail and YouTube and the Coke bottles. The more people saw their names on bottles, the more the idea spread.

Build the viral into your product. That way you are marketing a product that spreads because you designed it that way.

We should also clarify, viral is NOT viral marketing.

For instance, if 50,000,000 people saw your explainers video and shared it. That’s great! That’s viral. But did it market you or your business in a tangible way?

We’ve seen clips of children after a dental visit go viral, we’ve seen mischievous dogs and grumpy cats. We’ve also seen Rihanna’s big bold and beautiful lingerie line.

So which one of this could be considered viral marketing? Rihanna’s lingerie line!

Why? Because each Rihanna’s video or graphic wants to tell you one thing: “buy my lingerie” The memes and videos have to lead to something tangible.

So there are two sets of questions you need to answer:

  1. Why should my users share this? What do they gain?
  2. What do I gain? How does this help my business?

Get your answers? Now let’s look at the tactics

Activate people’s competitive impulse

Robinhood is a stock trading tool and here’s how they launched with a bang!

They had people sign up to their waiting list and get their friends to sign up as well. The more people sign up through you, the higher up you are on the waiting list. With this tactic, they had over 350,000 people on their waiting list before launch!

They make it even more interesting by telling you exactly how many people are ahead of you on the waiting list.

We’ll provide you with more stats on how the gamification tactic helped brands meet their goals.

If you want to exceed your viral marketing goal…gamify it.

Use influencers strategically

A smart idea would be to get an influencer to publicly request access to your product or speak about your product…it is important that this goads your target market into doing something.

See tweet below

Pamilerin a Twitter influencer, tweets about saving N10,000 on Piggybank now Piggyvest daily. This sparked a conversation…people naturally do not want to believe this. The conversation is great, a trending hashtag where people are engaging? Even better. 

And then, of course, the influencer follows with proof that he does indeed save using this platform. With an image inviting his followers to join the community

This may or may not be intentional, however, 24 hours after the influence makes his tweet, Piggybank was a trending topic in Nigeria.

Another idea you can try especially if your product is invitation only is to give an access code to a major influencer in your space. They would publish that code and specify that it’s open for a limited timeframe. 

Want to try this? We can tell you, Influencers work.

Team up with unlikely partners

With this, you are going for the shock factor. Working with people outside your industry creates a buzz for both companies and gets them noticed by people who ordinarily wouldn’t bother.

For example, the TV show The Walking Dead wanted to create an online course on what a zombie apocalypse would be like.

Ordinarily, they could have marketed this to their followers alone. However, they teamed up with UC Irvine, which is a public research university located in California to create an open online course!

It was phenomenal. This was built to be shared over and over again!

There are many ways to generate buzz around your new product; a rule of thumb is to test different approaches to see what works for you. 

You can also combine the tactics discussed above and put your own spin on them.

Sound good? 

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2 CommentsClose Comments


  • Binjo
    Posted September 5, 2019 at 1:09 pm 0Likes

    Been reading your articles for a few years Oyinkan and I love how you make complex ideas simple. Also great that you mention that memes don’t bring much to a business if they don’t turn into conversions for the business. Many people often forget this

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Growth is the only essential thing you need to be a startup. Startups are created to grow fast. Everything else that happens within a startup is a derivative of growth.

Everything – ideation, product validation, product management, team building, fundraising – follows from growth. Without growth, early stage startup is just a small business losing money.

That is why founders are encouraged to focus on one metric – the one that matters. This is because, as a startup, your limited resources are a deterrent to wasting your time trying different things.

Depending on your type of business, growth will mean different things to different startups. And your one metric that matter changes over time. Getting rid of distractions enables you to focus your already limited resources – people, time, and money – on the one thing that moves the needle.

What is the one thing that signifies that your business is growing at a particular point in time?

In the beginning, growth for a lot of startups has more to do with user acquisition and engagement than revenue. The advantage of defining your growth metric is it tells you the most important thing about your startup and how should drive it.

You need to consider the followings when choosing your growth parameter.

1. Your business model

The way you monetize your product is an indication of the value that will be created by your business. It’s not always about the money, but revenue metrics provides a standard benchmark for growth metrics.

2. How you acquire your customers

The rate at which your products gets into the hands of users is a substantial measure of how scalable and successful your product can be. Inherent in the DNA of startups is the ability to build products that have the potential of being ubiquitous and viral within a short time frame.

That is why most startups are tech-enabled companies because technology enables innovation not just in the way products are made, but how they are distributed. You can measure your growth based on metrics such as unique web visits, page views, app downloads, partner signups, user signups, conversion rate, churn rate, etc.

3. The stage of your business

The stage of your company will determine what to focus on. Early stage business should be obsessed about metrics that validates their product-market fit more than mid or late stage companies.

In the beginning, your growth metric is based on time-based milestones you need to reach such as partnerships, signup at a particular time, user signup rate, number of feature releases, etc. It is important that you wrap this with specific numbers as much as possible to measure progress.

4. How you measure growth

Answering this question will help you make right decisions. Let’s assume you decide to measure your growth by the number of subscribers to your email list. First, you’ll have to optimise your product, website, app, content and every potential user interactions to grow this list.

You then measure the results of all your actions on a regular basis against this metric. You hold yourself and your team accountable with data and see whether you are making progress or not. You deep dive into all your acquisition channels to identify where you are getting the most number of subscribers. You look at the numbers every day and experiment with various tactics and tools to see how you can grow the subscription rate.

As you focus on a particular growth metric and optimise your products accordingly, magic happens. You identify particular big hairy destinations to drive your startup towards and you can measure the how and the rate at which you are getting there. And as you grow, your goal may change, and you redefine your growth metric.

You build, you measure, you learn.  And you continue the cycle until you reach your true north.