Viral Marketing Ideas

Recently I participated in a forum discussion about offline marketing – that
is using more traditional marketing offline to drive traffïc to your website
or blog. I can still remember the first time I saw a URL in a TV commercial
and how cool I thought that was.

The offline world has the constraint of geography, so the least expensive
forms of viral marketing are going to be geographically bound, which can be
challenging for some sites. Someone on the forum said that offline marketing
is a waste of time for most sites or blogs. I think that is a false
generalization. In fact, every site should practice some förm of offline
viral promotion. We call these efforts drive to web programs and they can be
very successful.

There are two important pieces to all promotion, and they become even more
important in promoting your site offline. Just like the online world, your
success at offline promotion is going to hinge on putting your message in
front of the prospect in the right context – meaning at the right time and
when they are in the right mood to perform the action you are looking for,
which in this case is a visit to your website.

You need two elements for each viral marketing idea – the hook and the
context. Once you figure out how you're going to do it, you need to
determine where you're going to do it. If the niche and scope of your
business won't lend itself well to local leads, passing out business cards
isn't going to work as a viral marketing idea. I think every site could
benefit from offline leads – it's just a matter of how much time and monëy
you want to throw at them.

So hëre are ten ideas with an explanation of hook and context for each:

1. Idea: Use your URL like your telephone number. Most people get it on
their business cards but leave it off many equally important items that
become marketing materials. Hëre are a few: letterheads, press releases,
yellow page ads, newspaper advertising, radio and TV ads, company vehicles,
brochures, sell sheets, the bottom of every page of your catalog. Wherever
there is a telephone number there should be both a URL and contact email
address that is generic (

Cost: Nothing. You're already paying for the materials anyway.

Context: Global, because all of your marketing materials travel all over the
place, and your ads should be seen and heard everywhere in the markets you

2. Idea: Webcards. You can get business cards pretty cheap these days.
Companies like DCP Print offer 250 frëe business cards with their ad on the
back (their own viral marketing) or $9.99 for 500 cards. They seem a little
thin, but they'll do. What you want to do is choose an attention-getting
color that fits with the image of your site (a nice sky blue or yellow), and
put your URL right in the middle in huge letters. Put a short description of
the site and maybe your email and/or telephone number, and give them out.

Cost: Minimal.

Context: More locally focused, because you are handing them out. But chëck
out the next idea.

3. Idea: Make every customer contact a viral marketing opportuníty. Remember
the webcards from the last idea? It's a no-brainer to hand them out directly
to customers, right? How about paper clipping a couple of them to an invoice
or statement or other correspondence with a small postit note personally
written by you asking them to keep one of the cards and give the other one
to someone who might be able to use it.

This will work with many of the ideas on this page.

If you spend enough time building relationships with your customers they
should be happy to help. Be sure to thank them for any referrals.

Cost: Minimal.

Context: Sort of a viral marketing meets chain letter idea that has
potential. Global in scope.

4. Idea: Referral Bribes. This is a terrific idea, because it works both
offline and online. For online you can send an email to your customers or
put a link on your pages. There are tools like refer-a-buddy for websites
and there are plenty of frëe refer this page to a friend scripts out there.

Offer your current customers an incentive to refer new customers. Maybe it's
a coupon for a percentage off their next order, or an entry into a prize
raffle or something else of value. This encourages people to tell you who
referred them so you can see who's helping you out.

For the offline equivalent, make up a coupon and hand it out to people to
hand out to other people.

Always send a thank you to people who refer other people, even if you bribe

Cost: A little to a lot, depending on the bribe.

Context: Global, if you combine offline with online.

5. Idea: Tchochkes. Tchochkes [choch-kez] are little gifts (knick knacks)
emblazoned with your URL that you give out to people. The webcard could
actually be considered a tchochke, but they usually are stuff we have on our
desk or around our house like paperweights, coffee cups, T-Shirts,
refrigerator magnets and other stuff.

At my wine shop we give out corkscrews with foil cutters that have our info
printed in gold on them. I nevër have them out where people can see them but
people often ask for them so I know they are getting around.

These can be very effective, but they can also be very expensive. If you
come up with a well-designed coffee cup or paperweight it will end up on the
desk of your customer, where everyone that comes into his office can see it.
Make sure the URL is prominent, and try to make it fun and unique.

Cost: Could get very expensive.

Context: Global, depending on where you send them.

6. Idea: Direct Mail with a personalized offer. I have done this
successfully many times, and your success is going to depend on how well you
target your prospects and the quality of your offer.

If you have a super-niche site, subscription-based site, or high ticket
niche item this idea is probably a wínner for you, though it may get
expensive. There are (snail mail) mailing lists for everything. I have used
a broker, Edith Roman for years. Put together a mailing list and a good
offer, like a tríal subscription or frëe gift or special coupon or frëe
knick knack or something like that.

Use a well designed, neat, personalized letter with a personalized URL (an
easy one), and send them off to redeem their offer. Use a personalized
splash page and a good offer.

Cost: Fairly expensive to very expensive.

Context: Global.

7. Idea: The World as Your Billboard. If there is opportuníty in a more
local focus for your drive to web program, you should figure out how to get
your URL in front of as many people as you can locally. Creative and unique
wins the day.

I've seen posters, yard signs, billboards, bumper stickers, pens and
pencils, car window signs. Think about it and come up with something good.

Don't clutter them with text. Use your URL and a few descriptive words:

Bígger is better

One person had bookmarks made up and inserted them into books at the local
bookstore (owned by a friend) in relevant categories. Brilliant. Another
person created PDF viral marketing kits for site fans to spread the word in
their town. Another brilliant idea.

Cost: Inexpensive.

Context: Local.

Always, always, always have business cards, web cards, brochures, tchochkes
or some viral marketing medium on you, because you nevër know when an
opportuníty to pass them out will arise.

I have a supply of business cards and brochures in the trunk of my car. I
even have a stack of cards in the saddlebag of my motorcycle.

All of these ideas are combinable, and you should be implementing at least
one or two of them. Matt DeAngelis


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