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Viral marketing is all the rage … again.

Affordable, easy to access and able to catch the mindshare of millions of
customers, viral marketing is quickly taking the place of traditional media.
With limited dollars to spend on advertising and marketing, many companies have
taken to developing and placing their own advertising. This is reflected in the
decline of ad revenue, the shrinking media industry, and the end of publication
of magazines, newspapers and some local television stations.

The definition of "viral marketing" is a campaign that spreads
through social networks, existing media channels and word of mouth to increase
awareness of a product or brand. You may have seen this in a variety of
products and services launched through YouTube, Facebook or MySpace. Oftentimes,
Web vehicles are the launch pad for the campaigns and, where budget allows,
traditional media is also used (think Super Bowl ads). The key advantage to
viral marketing is that it’s far less expensive.

It sounds easy enough, and you can probably think of three or four campaigns
that you have seen in the last six months. But for every successful campaign
there are tens of campaigns that did not succeed. Viral marketing is more than
just building a Flash-filled Web page or a campy YouTube video. While the
placement expense can be less, the same principals for successful advertising
campaigns apply.

Internet marketing is not right for every company or every product. Before
developing your next campaign here are some key points to consider:

Differentiate Your Company
Do you know what sets your company apart from your competitors in the mind of
your customers? It doesn’t matter what’s true and what’s false. Your customers’
perception is your company’s revenue reality. Never miss the opportunity to ask
your customers why they chose you and what you could do to improve. These two
simple questions can make all the difference in how you approach your next
competitive bid.

Define Your Objectives
Not every marketing campaign is the same. Some are built to increase awareness
of a product or a service. Others are designed to increase sales on a specific
offering, and others can be designed to share news of an upcoming change to
your business or a promotional event. Take the time to lay out clear objectives
and goals. Define clearly the goals you want to achieve: awareness, revenue,
incremental business (net new) or unit sales.

Test, Adjust and Try Again
Do not get so far into your campaign that by the time you launch you discover
that the messages don’t resonate with your target audience. Ask your most loyal
customers to evaluate your new campaign. Allowing customers to participate in
the development of a campaign can save you from making costly mistakes and kick
off your word-of-mouth drive.

Patience Is a Marketing Virtue
Very few campaigns have the success of YouTube sensations “Will It Blend?” by
Blendtec or the “Mentos & Diet Coke” scientists. Viral marketing by
definition takes time to grow and flourish. Allow your campaign time to develop
before you pull the plug. In a great viral campaign, you cannot pull the plug;
the campaign just continues to draw hits on the Internet while you get ready to
launch the next sensation.

Are you ready to try viral marketing and harness the full potential of
Internet campaigns but not sure if you can do this alone? Now is the time to
contact a professional. A penny spent on building a great campaign can make all
the difference between making a pound of money or losing both time and money.

Kathleen Martin is special projects
coordinator at Channel Insider.