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Articles > Marketing and Promotion


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Viral Marketing is it Fact or Fantasy?
By Norman Bartholomew -- December 6, 2000
To infect or not to infect? That is the question. We've all heard the hype about viral marketing, but how does the average marketer create a viral system that works?

For those unfamiliar with the term, viral marketing is where news spreads naturally from one person to another usually by email. It is one of the hottest and most effective ways of getting the word out.

Norman Bartholomew

When planning a viral campaign, ask yourself, "is your message infectious"?  Will it spread naturally of it own accord or do you need to get creative to help it along the way?

We all know the story of hotmail, the most successful viral campaign to date, a free web-based email service that spreads the word about itself with every email that is sent.  

Another example is the now famous "Wassup" TV commercial by Budweiser, which spread to Europe via the Internet and email weeks ahead of being seen on TV this side of the Atlantic.

These are great examples of how a virus spontaneously infects and spreads.  However, to ensure success, most of us need to get creative by developing a strong incentive to make it work. You also need to keep in mind the need for caution because viral marketing still attracts controversy and you don't want to be accused of spam!

This is how I've done it with Island Treasure, an online treasure hunt with a million pound prize. Treasure Hunters are encouraged to recommend their friends in return for extra clues to the treasure hunt. They fill in an online form, which sends a pre-designed email from THEM to their friends.

Of course, this sounds simple enough but there are 3 Critical points, which

you need to understand.

  1. People will only recommend your products and services if they totally believe in them.
  2. The incentive you give them must be really valuable and inspire them to action.
  3. You need to track the referral.

Island Treasure achieves point 1 because it is such a fun challenge, free to play, has great prizes and is based around an enthralling time-travel novel.

Point 2, is covered by providing valuable extra clues and a 25% share of the prize fund if the friend they recommend wins the competition, they also get 10% from 2nd tier referrals. Imagine recommending 10 friends who each recommend 10. That gives you 110 people trying to win you money!

Point 3, requires specialist tracking software, with Island Treasure we use in-house programmers.

A further point to consider is not to be too greedy, I recently saw a similar approach for free advertising after you recommend 10 people, finding 10 people online could prove difficult for many people.

Imagine if just 30% of all your subscribers recommends just 2 others, your business would continue to grow exponentially with NO ongoing marketing costs. WOW!

When we launched Island Treasure we had a one month pre-launch and we signed up a couple of hundred players following a press release to the local Newspaper.

We did no other marketing whatsoever and by the end of the month had grown to 600 players . . . Viral marketing works if you're prepared to be generous, careful, and above all creative.

Copyright © 2000
All Rights Reserved
Norman Bartholomew

About the Author
Norman Bartholomew is an International Marketing Consultant and Self-Empowerment Coach and is now the CEO of Island Treasure Ltd, the Free to Play #1Million online Treasure Hunt.

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