Building Viral into Product DNA

Viral or social marketing are the hot topics of the moment. The attraction is obvious, you can spread the word about your product or service to people at a low cost, through trusted channels, namely their friends and family, and get them to pay attention and act upon the referral more easily.

However viral marketing isn’t as easy as it looks. If you truly want to base your marketing on social, viral or word of ‘mouse’ you need your customers to be really engaged with your product, to truly love it and feel the need to tell people about it.

Skype is a great example of a truly viral product. Skype let ‘the whole world talk for free’ but in order for users to call their friends for free they had to tell them about Skype and convince them to visit the website and download it for themselves. That way the user won, their friend won and in the end of the day Skype also won with huge growth and tiny acquisition costs.

Also your user experience should be filled with viral hooks within the customer journey, points in the interaction with the product when it makes sense for the user to share the product with their friends and family.

Hotmail is one of the earliest examples of viral marketing, which in the 1990s allowed Hotmail to grow from nothing to 12 million users in 18 months. This was achieved by a clever combination of offering free email addresses, and a powerful viral hook included in each and every email sent from a hotmail address ‘Get your private, free email at’. In this way Hotmail ensured that users shared the product with everyone they communicated with using their Hotmail account.

For viral to work best marketing and product need to work together and encapsulate sharing in all aspects of the product from the very beginning. A great real world example of building viral into the product from the beginning is Graze. Graze is naturally viral and everything from the snacks themselves through to the packaging they arrive in is designed to have a Wow factor. People are naturally inclined to chat about Graze with their friends, show off the Graze box at the office and hand out trial coupons to others, spreading the word about Graze to their friends and family because they love the product.

Yes you can think about how you can help your customers to tell each other about the product and you can even reward your customers for spreading the word. However to truly harness the power of viral then you should be thinking about how to build a product that users will want to tell each other about or one that is different enough that people will naturally ask about it. Moo did a great job of designing a really different product that customers would naturally comment on when they launched their minicards. Mini cards were half the size of regular business cards making them a real talking point, helping minicard owners to stand out and ensuring that the word about Moo spread virally.

Viral isn’t something you can easily add retroactively, so to take best advantage of this powerful marketing channel think about it early and often and make it a part of your product’s DNA.