‘The British are coming! The British are coming!’ That's what William Dawes shouted as he took his midnight ride in 1775. But nobody paid much attention.
Jay Conrad Levinson
Jay Conrad Levinson is the author of the Guerrilla Marketing series of books, the most popular marketing series in history with 14 million sold, now in 39 languages. At his www.GuerrillaMarketingAssociation.com web site, you’ll ﬁnd a new source of proﬁt-producing ideas plus a list of 100 guerrilla marketing weapons. Join up for telephone and online access to the Father of Guerrilla Marketing.
WHEN PAUL REVERE took the same ride at the same time carrying the same message
as William Dawes, he mounted enough support to defeat the British in Concord
and begin the Revolutionary War. Why didn’t Dawes do what Revere did? Because
Paul Revere was a guerrilla—well-connected and known by all to be highly involved
in his community. Richard Dawes was a well-meaning, but ordinary guy. The word-of-mouth
epidemic guerrilla Paul Revere generated was a tipping-point that resulted in
a new nation, the land of the free and the home of the brave.
Trends, social behaviour, even ideas themselves, course through society like epidemics. That’s what Malcolm Gladwell says in his superb book, The Tipping Point: How Little Things Make a Big Difference. The book is about social epidemics and how ideas take root. The rise and fall of crime in New York, the sudden explosion of interest in Hush Puppy shoes and even the popularity of the children’s television show Blue’s Clues all conform to a set of principles. The same rules that govern the spread of Aids and spark a successful revolution are the same as those that determine the success of a product or service.
The principles teach us that little causes can have big effects. Changes do not happen gradually, but suddenly, when they reach a kind of critical mass called a tipping point. To illustrate tipping points, Gladwell shows how one of the key steps in reducing crime in New York was simply removing grafﬁti from subway cars. And that began right after Bernard Goetz, an urban guerrilla, shot four muggers on a subway car. He was arrested and he was wrong. But his actions were the epicentre of a tipping point.
Likewise, it turns out that a small decrease in inﬂuenza infections can cause a raging epidemic to expire almost overnight. Gladwell tells us that ideas and trends can be just as infectious as viruses. He takes the idea a step further with a fascinating theory about the personalities who transmit those viruses—the Typhoid Marys of social epidemics.
According to Gladwell, there are three personalities: ‘connectors’ collect friendships and acquaintances throughout their lives, and work deliberately to introduce people they know to one another. They carry a special power in spreading ideas. ‘Mavens’, on the other hand, know where to ﬁnd the cheapest rates for a plane ticket, are known for their expertise, and have a market function of transmitting critical information to everyone they can reach, regardless of relationship. Finally, the types that Gladwell calls ‘salesmen’ are those with an innate gift for infecting others with the passion of their ideas.
Paul Revere was a connector, a maven, and a salesman. Richard Dawes was a nice, quiet man. Because of the growth of viral marketing—customers and users passing on a message to other friends and users, Gladwell’s book has achieved critical mass.
The Tipping Point has been on the New York Times’ best seller list for several weeks and interest in his book continues to spread like a virus. As other reviewers have proposed, The Tipping Point has tipped and one of the main reasons for discovery by marketing people of viral marketing.
Viral marketing uses the communication networks of your site visitors or customers to spread the word about your site exponentially. Word-of-mouth, PR, and network marketing are ofﬂine models. The classic example of guerrilla viral marketing is the free email service, Hotmail. It includes a theme line about their service at the end of every message sent out. So friends tell friends, who tell friends who tell more friends. ‘The Free Email Is Coming!’—so to speak.
Already well past the buzzword stage, viral marketing gets its name not because any traditional viruses are involved, but because of the pattern of rapid adoption through word-of-mouth and word-of-mouse networks.
Hotmail grew a subscriber base more rapidly than any company in the history of the world—faster than any new online, internet or print publication ever. Today, Hotmail is the largest email provider in the world. In its ﬁrst one-and-a-half years, thanks to viral marketing, Hotmail signed up over 12 million subscribers.
Yet, from company launch to 12 million users, now 30 million, Hotmail spent less than $500,000 on marketing, advertising and promotion. This compares to over $20 million spent on advertising and brand promotion by Juno, Hotmail's closest competitor, with a fraction of the users.
Their marketing copy: ‘Get your free email at Hotmail.’
Every outbound message still conveyed an advertisement and a subtle implied endorsement by the sender. The recipients knew that the senders were Hotmail users, and that this new free email thing seemed to work for them. Each new user became a company salesperson, and the message spread organically, like a virus.
People typically send email to their associates and friends; many of them are geographically close, and others are scattered around with in areas of high internet connectivity. No marketing dollars required. Customers do the selling.
Viral marketing captures the essence of multi-level marketing and applies it to all customers. It's more powerful than many other marketing techniques that lack the implied endorsement from a friend. Hotmail had ‘Free email’ buttons on several other highly trafﬁcked web sites, but they generated negligible numbers of subscriptions.
Whenever a product involves people other than the purchaser, then there is an opportunity to market to potential new customers. Amazon encourages its customers to send a book as a gift to a friend. When the recipient receives the gift book, the packaging contains a ﬂyer for the Amazon.com service.
Because of guerrilla viral marketing—simple and inexpensive, sensible and almost obvious, ﬁrstest with the goodest—the Hotmail juggernaut just keeps on growing quietly and consistently on its own momentum.
Moral: the internet provides an unfair competitive advantage to nimble startup companies. A good idea can spread like wildﬁre if its business model is tailored to the medium. Guerrilla viral marketing is a good idea for good ideas. It can be a tipping point for your company. •