The Downside to Viral Marketing

Much talk recently about how social media and viral marketing are changing the way things are advertised and sold. Done well, it has some real advantages for marketers. Nancy Arter on RRW Consulting’s Direct Marketing blog has a very interesting post on the subject. Here’s an excerpt of her view:

“The idea of customers selling on behalf of marketers is an idea whose time has come. Think of all of the time we spend trying to isolate that perfect consumer or business that may be willing to hear our message. Think about the hours of sleep lost over whether the DM campaign that’s hitting mailboxes in the next week will reap us a .5% or a 1.5% response rate — and the repercussions of either. With this shift, it’s all about the customers preferring our product, and preferring it so much that they discuss why they prefer it. What a concept!”

That’s the potential upside. Here’s the potential downside, courtesy of Roy Williams’ Monday Morning Memo:

“Word-of-Mouth is the new Mass Media. Video games and cable TV stripped our kids of their innocence at an early age, but the Technology that robbed them of idyllic childhood also empowered them with cell phones, blogs and blackberries.

Viral marketing wasn’t created by the advertising community. It’s simply the result of a horizontally-connected generation (1.) sharing their happy discoveries with each other and (2.) trying to protect one another from mistakes.

WHAT THIS MEANS TO BUSINESS: It’s no longer enough just to have great advertising. When your customers carry cell phones and can email all their friends with a single click, you need to be exceptionally good at what you do.”

Viral marketing only works if the consumers doing the viralizing (a word I believe I just made up) are happy with what they bought. If they’re not, they’ll take it out on you with blogs, forums, and Amazon’s Customer Reviews. If the product is shoddy or the service is poor, the chorus of consumer voices can quickly wipe out any gains an advertising campaign can make.



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6 thoughts on “The Downside to Viral Marketing

  1. It may seem obvious, but you have to be good at what you do to receive positive word of mouth.

    I love nothing better than receiving referrals from existing clients because existing clients are invested in the referral. They don’t want to send someone who is unprepared or not serious because it will reflect poorly on them. So, if I excel at my job, they return the favor by sending more “good” clients my way.

  2. I believe something original always works best when it comes to viral marketing. Years ago I cut defective copies of my first book The
    Art of Seeing Double or Better in Business
    in half and sent either the top half or bottom half to organizations with a creative sales
    letter. This resulted in great publicity and extra revenues of over $15,000.

    Lately I have used a variation of this original idea to market my book How to Retire Happy, Wild, and Free. I actually give away over half of the book – the top half – on my Creative Free E-books) webpage at the Real Success Resource Center.

    Of course, some people find this unique and forward the half-book to their friends, some of whom purchase the whole book.

    This viral marketing has helped How to Retire Happy, Wild, and Free to sell over 80,000 copies even though it was turned down
    by over 35 publishers and largely ignored by the media.

    Today if anyone types in “retirement” into’s search engine, How to Retire Happy, Wild, and Free comes in the number 1 position — out of over 175,000 books that Amazon puts in the retirement category.
    My latest marketing tool to promote How to Retire Happy, Wild, and Free is giving away my e-book The 237 Best Things Ever Said about Retirement on the The Retirement Gifts Cafe. Of course, this E-book is valuable enough for people to send to their clients and friends and has advertising in it about How to Retire Happy, Wild, and Free.

    Ernie Zelinski
    Author of: How to Retire Happy, Wild, and Free.
    (Over 80,000 copies Sold and Published in 7 Foreign Languages)
    The Joy of Not Working
    (Over 225,000 copies Sold and Published in 17 Languages)

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