An indispensable item in the marketers arsenal, Seth Godin’s Unleashing the Ideavirus is a follow-up to his wildly successful Permission Marketing. Evangelizing the concept of marketing your products and services only to the consumers who have given you permission to do so, Unleashing the Ideavirus furnishes a solution to actually earning that permission in the first place.
Traditional interruption marketing relies on advertising to “interrupt people with unanticipated, impersonal, irrelevant ads and hope that they buy something.”
Ideaviruses do the opposite. An ideavirus avoids harassing consumers who are not interested, attracts the very demographic intended and earns permission along the way. An ideavirus builds “buzz”; it gets people talking amongst themselves, without the company or product needing it push it. A company that can master the art and science of the ideavirus early on, and rush to fill the vacuum of an unoccupied market, can brand itself a winner.
Six Factors in Building Buzz
"What’s an ideavirus? It’s a big idea that runs amok across the target audience. It’s a fashionable idea that propagates through a section of the population, teaching and changing and influencing everyone it touches. And in our rapidly/instantly changing world, the art and science of building, launching and profiting from ideaviruses is the next frontier."
Quoting some popular examples of ideaviruses, including Hotmail, Polaroid cameras, BlueMountain Online E-cards and Napster, Godin suggests that the success of an ideavirus is a function of a set of closely related, yet individually important factors that feed into its lifecycle. Godin argues that the ability of businesses to field successful ideaviruses depends on their ability to manage these various factors. How well (or how poorly) they do so will directly impact the lifecycle of the ideavirus.
The Velocity of a virus depends on its ability to spread quickly from person to person.
Smoothness is the metric of “share-ability”, the ease with which the ideavirus can be shared from consumer to consumer.
The spread of an ideavirus also involves the use of “sneezers” – people who wield tremendous power in their ability to influence the choices and preferences and shopping decisions of others.
The medium in which the ideavirus is encapsulated also affects the ease of its communicability, as does the persistence of the virus amongst members of your target consumer market (“hives”). (Effectively, how comfortable your intended audience is with the medium you choose, and how much value they get from the content)
And ultimately, the spread of the idea through the hive can be affected by its Vector; that is, whether the idea thrives as it trickles from person to person in the hive, down the path of least resistance – and quickest acceptance.
The Medium (Can be) the Message
"Viral marketing is a special case of an ideavirus. Viral marketing is an ideavirus in which the carrier of the virus IS the product."
In a world dominated by the social web, and key websites such as YouTube, Facebook and Twitter, the advent of viral phenomena flashing across the internet may be taken for granted. But when you read about it in a book written four years before the advent of the social web, its prophetic ability is simply staggering.
An effective viral marketing campaign builds its strength by encapsulating its very idea into the medium of the product itself, while also providing a means for the idea to be shared easily with others. Microsoft’s ubiquitous “Hotmail” grew in strength as a result of the little byline inserted at the bottom of each and every email sent (to this day, Microsoft still advertises with little messages at the bottom of every email sent from a hotmail account. Check it out for yourself – you must have a friend or two who uses Hotmail, no?) Hotmail dominated the free email account space for years by using their product to promote their product.
If you really want to turn your product, service or brand into a killer, make sure you practice what you preach and thread your idea into the fabric of the product itself. Even better, build in a mechanism that allows others to share your idea quickly and easily, with minimum effort. A YouTube video wouldn’t become a viral video as easily if it wasn’t for the “Share” bookmarklets peppering the websites that undergird the social web. By posting and reposting, sharing and commenting on videos that go viral, you add the weight of your endorsement to the reputation of the video, while granting the video maker the permission to market similar videos to you in the future. That’s the essence of permission marketing married to the concept of an ideavirus.
Bigger than Word of Mouth
"Ideaviruses give us increasing returns—word of mouth dies out, but ideaviruses get bigger."
Ideavirus marketing is not the same as word-of-mouth marketing. Word-of-mouth marketing is effectively “customer referrals”. You recommend your product to someone, they buy it, they personally connect with it and then, if it happens to come up in conversation, they promote it to someone else… from their own unique perspective, highlighting what they perceive to be the value. That new person needs to then seek out the product, be sold on its value and then buy it. The number of steps, and the fact that it requires explanation of a personal experience can easily lead to the buzz dying out rather quickly.
Au contraire, an ideavirus sells itself – and has the potential to endlessly propagate itself as a result. The secret? It relies on the strength and transference of the idea itself and is not limited to a localized, personalized experience in the case of word-of-mouth.
In fact, the only thing that stops the ideavirus from propagating itself endlessly are the limits built into the design of the ideavirus itself. That’s the difference. Unless the marketer wants or lets the ideavirus fizzle out and die on its own, the ideavirus can be made to linger in a market for an extended amount of time.
By presenting his ideas in the style of a pocket marketing handbook-cum-quick read, Godin manages to incorporate his very recommendations into his writing. Just as Niccolo Machiavelli’s The Prince influenced a whole generation of politicians and thinkers, Seth Godin’s Unleashing the Ideavirus stands to do the same for marketers – by opening their eyes to a newer, more effective marketing strategy relayed by one of the masters of the craft itself.
Let’s hear of some recent ideaviruses. How successful have they been in reflecting your paper goals?