Seth Godin, one of the foremost Internet thinkers, coined the term “ideavirus” to connote the single secret of Internet marketing success. He first published his book Unleashing the Ideavirus: Stop Marketing AT People! Turn Your Ideas into Epidemics by Helping Your Customers Do the Marketing thing for You. in 2001, and many of the concepts he espoused in the book remain relevant even today.
According to Godin, the single secret of Internet marketing success is this: ideas that spread, win.
Every site that’s ever succeeded has done so not with Super Bowl ads or even banner ads, they’ve done it by creating an idea virus. Successful songs, brands, political campaigns, they all work because of the idea virus.
An idea virus is an idea that spreads with a power far greater than word of mouth. Aided by digital networks, an idea virus moves from person to person, reaching far more people than advertising ever could.
So how do you create and start an idea virus?
1. Make sure your idea is remarkable.
Boring ideas don’t get spread. Me-too products don’t get talked about. We’re now living in a world of fads and gimmicks and instant success. If your product isn’t remarkable, don’t even start.
2. Identify your hive.
A hive is a group of people who both share an interest AND talk with each other about it. If your remarkable product doesn’t overwhelm a specific hive of people, then it’s much harder to spread the idea. Napster was remarkable (free music!) and it was aimed at a specific hive: college students. Both elements were critical in the rapid growth of the idea.
3. Make it easy to spread.
I call it smoothness, and that’s the basic premise of any social media site. If you like a photo or a post, you’ll tell a friend. And if they want it, they can share it to their own friends, for free, in less than a minute. That’s smooth. Compare this to a product with a long, complicated URL, or a company that puts new customers on hold… the harder it is to tell your friends, the less likely you’ll do just that.
4. Make it persistent.
Once someone becomes a fan, can you keep them as one? Most marketers forget that the best way to grow is to have the people who are already fans keep telling people, as opposed to always trying to find new fans.
5. Understand sneezers.
Sneezers are the people who tell other people about what you’re doing. Some sneezers do it because they like the power that comes from finding and spreading cool new ideas. Some sneezers, on the other hand, do it for money. Don’t confuse the two types, and make sure you give each person what they need.
6. Make a souvenir.
If your product is digital, it’s awfully hard to charge a lot for it. But a souvenir; the t-shirt, the hardcopy book, the autograph, the live concert, the seminar, is priceless, and you can charge accordingly.
7. You’re not in charge.
Once you unleash an ideavirus, it’s going to move through the hive at the velocity it chooses, in the direction it chooses. You can influence, but you cannot demand.
8. Buy a lot of chips.
There are no guarantees. Plenty of ideavirus-worthy ideas never hit. No one knows why (yet). So be ready with innovative, noteworthy, remarkable products all the time.
9. Fill the vacuum.
What was the second brand of metal scooter? Everyone remembers the Razor. Being second is boring and it rarely leads to success. You’ve got to be first, to fill the vacuum.
10. Make good stuff.
I know I said this before in different words, but it’s worth repeating. The viruses that spread the best are the ones that deliver real benefits (I didn’t say morally redeeming, though… your product can be goofy but still be good.)
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