Despite popular belief, the Internet is not the father of "viral marketing."

In fact, nothing could be farther from the truth.

Viral marketing, which is just a fancier name for word-of-mouth marketing, has been around for as long as people could communicate. The only contribution made by the Internet - as well as the printing press, the telephone, the ratio and the television - is that once the word is out, it can get around faster than ever before.

But getting the word out in the first place is something the majority of businesses - even many that claim to be viral marketing masters - simply don't know how to do. Others don't recognize its benefits, or feel that their product doesn't lend itself to a viral marketing campaign.

Whatever the case may be, one fact remains: Viral marketing campaigns have a greater return on investment than virtually any other promotion strategy - if you do it right.

WHAT IS VIRAL MARKETING?

Viral marketing is a promotion strategy that piggybacks on the consumer's penchant for passing the word. Where, say, a typical television commercial attempts to get the customer to buy the product, viral promotion inspires the customer to spread the word about your product, service or organization. In this way, a good viral marketing campaign gets the word out to an initial few in the hopes that the rumor mill will do the bulk of the promoting for them.

Viral tactics are carried out through virtually any marketing channel that has direct contact with the customer, including television, radio, film, the Internet, print media, fliers and in-store service. Other promotion strategies may rely on buying expensive airtime or assembling a sophisticated print ad in an effort to reach perhaps millions of customers. Viral marketing, however, can be extremely successful just by reaching a few initial customers and inspiring them to spread the word. It's no wonder that viral marketing efforts are often much more affordable than other promotions.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
image of C.W. Park

C. Whan Park is the Robert E. Brooker Professor of Marketing at USC's Marshall School of Business. He is co-author of a recent book on brand admiration, which blends years of best-practice thinking from academia with the real-world practice of marketing. He is internationally recognized as one of the most frequently cited researchers in the area of consumer behavior.