Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Marketing on the Web.

In the past, “viral marketing” meant relying on word of mouth to get your product known. But like so many other concepts, it’s been reinvented by the Internet. There are three levels of viral marketing on the Web.

The first is to embed your advertising message so deeply in your product or service that your customers hardly realize they’re passing it on. Hotmail, for example, was one of the first to provide free email. Each outgoing email message had the tagline, “Get Your Private, Free Email from MSN Hotmail at http://www.hotmail.com.” Today, Hotmail has more than 260 million users.

The second level involves making the content of your Web site so compelling that viewers want to share it with others. As comic strips, video clips and other attention grabbers are forwarded to friends, the marketing messages go along for the ride. The culinary site, Epicurious.com, allows visitors to email recipes from its database. The first few lines of the recipe provide a link to to the Epicorious site, describing the recipe database and offering information about ordering cooking supplier from one of its partners, Williams-Sonoma.com.

The third level offers viewers an incentive to hand over the email addresses of friends, family members and coworkers. Onvia.com, a B2B news and information site for entrepreneurs once offered a chance to win an Audi coupe just for sending in five email addresses. The benefits of viral marketing are increased recognition among a targeted audience for far less money than traditional marketing efforts. One of the pitfalls is that you lose control over the message and its distribution, but selectivity and proper targeting can minimize this.

For marketers, Web 2.0 offers a remarkable new opportunity to engage consumers. (See an excellent WSJ article by Parise, Guinan and Weinberg in The Journal Report, Monday, Dec 15th, 2008). Web 2.0 encompasses a set of tools that allow people to build social and business connections, share information and collaborate on projects online. That includes blogs, wikis, social-networking sites and other online communities, and virtual worlds. A growing number of marketers are using Web 2.0 tools to collaborate with consumers on product development, service enhancement and promotion.

For example, a leading greeting-card and gift company set up an online community - a site where it can talk to consumers and the consumers can talk to each other. The company solicits opinions on various aspects of greeting-card design and on ideas for gifts and their pricing. It also asks the consumers to talk about their lifestyles and to upload photos of themselves, so that it can better understand its market. A marketing manager at the company says that, as a way to obtain consumer feedback and ideas for product development, the online community is much faster and cheaper than the traditional focus groups and surveys used in the past. The conversations consumers have with each other result in many new and interesting insights, including gift ideas for specific occasions, such as a college graduation, and the prices consumers are willing to pay for different gifts.

Consumers have to have some incentive to share their thoughts, opinions and experiences. One way is to make sure they can use the online community to network among themselves on topics of their own choosing. That way, the site isn't all about the company, it's also about them. For instance, a toy company that created a community of hundreds of mothers to solicit their opinions and ideas on toys also enabled them to write their own blogs on the site, a feature that many used to discuss family issues.

1 comment:

Bruce Weinberg said...

Hi John,

Thanks for your complimentary comments about our WSJ article.