Top 9 of ’09 – #3 Viral’s Demise

For a couple years now, it seems that everybody has been trying to crack the viral code. It’s not uncommon to get requests to create viral content. The problem is that the phrase just doesn’t work. There is no such thing as viral content. Viral is a kind of action. It’s like trying to create gravity. Yes, it’s possible and happens every day. However, the credit is more due to the physical laws we all follow rather than the great ideas.

Viral is dependent on our connected nature. The fact that we have tools like Twitter, Facebook and YouTube enable this spread. Corporations have tried to create their own walled gardens with little success. It’s becoming clear that we now have to play in someone else’s yard. However, that doesn’t mean that we can’t bring the ball. Just because we don’t own the playing field doesn’t mean we can’t own the game.

In fact, viral marketing is not going away. 2009 will find the perceptions of viral changing. Several years ago, Duncan Watts pointed to the idea of Big Seed Marketing as a better alternative to viral. In the coming year, we will see this concept adapted and refined.

In brief, Big Seed Marketing capitalizes on the ability of information to spread without concern for its ultimate ending point. Where viral requires exponential growth, Big Seed Marketing requires spread to any degree.

Until now, marketing messages have been targeted to individuals or to everyone. Thus, viral messages have tried to gain broad appeal. 2009 will find these messages meeting in the middle. Messages will speak to individuals and allow spread to the like minded. The best marketers are now friends and family. Just because a message does not appeal to you in the near future does not mean that it won’t match to someone you know.

Think of the travel offers you receive. If you’re short on time, money or can’t get away, the message is often wasted. However, if it can appeal to someone you know – you’d likely pass it along.

Thus, viral marketing will begin to be replaced by Seed Marketing. Contrary to Watts idea of starting with a large group, even Small Seed Marketing can generate large returns. A single message sent to 100 individuals may result in sales of 5 people (5% conversion). However, allowing that message to be shared and spread may garner another 5 people. Combined with the availability of that message through Facebook groups, Twitter feeds, YouTube profiles and industry bloggers, the same message may ultimately reach many times the original group. While not viral, the effectiveness is usually much better than the single group.

Expect to see seed marketing begin to replace viral marketing for two reasons: reach and cost. Many times the original audience can be reached for the same cost. In these times, that proposition is often compelling enough.

Expect to see seed marketing succeed for one main reason: the messages will most often be coming from trusted sources that know the individual personally. Personalization doesn’t get much better than that now does it?


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