Viral Vines: Setting the Online Market Ablaze

Viral WinesOne of the most common misconceptions I hear as a web marketer is that an industry, product, or web site is just not viral material. That is to say, the content is so boring, so drab, that it would be impossible to muster up any kind of promotion that would harness the attention of the web. I laugh. I laugh because I want business owners to remember what it was like when they first started – that buzz, that , that creativity and excitement. It is still there, it has just been drowned by years of repetition, monotony and struggle.

The truth is, any site with the right spin can go viral. You will have to be creative. You will have to work. But there is always something interesting enough to drum up that can be turned into a fantastic windfall. We have never run a successful viral campaign that did not bring in so much traffic that the client’s site went down. Below, I go through a comparison of the pieces that make a viral campaign work in terms of starting a bonfire. The analogy bares out well, and provides some sage advice (if I must say so myself) in making a campaign truly work.

1. The Matches:
the initial spark
Without any doubt, this is the most important part of the campaign. Sink or swim, blaze or fizzle, your viral campaign needs substance. Luckily, you don’t have to put two sticks together and rub like crazy, there are plenty of ready-to-run themes that greatly increase the likelihood of a successful online viral campaign.

  1. Bad Customer Service
  2. Incredible Customer Service
  3. PopTechnology: Apple, Linux, Ipods, Ruby on Rails, Nintendo Wii, Gadgets
  4. Amazing Stories, Pictures, or Videos

The question for wineries is always how to include “primed-for-viral” topics into something drastically different from wineries and wine in general. Well, here are just a few grains to get you going

  1. Incredible Customer Service: Customer gets a bottle of your wine at a restaurant complains. Complaint makes it back to your winery. You contact the restaurant to find the customer information and send multiple free bottles to their house.
  2. PopTechnology: Include a Free Ipod Shuffle with a case of wine. The shuffle comes pre-recorded with tasting notes by the winemaker, recipes, and romantic music.
  3. Amazing Stories, Pictures, or Videos: The next time you get a cold storm that freezes some of your grapes and ruins them, run out there with camera and take some gorgeous shots of ice-covered grapes melting in the sun. Put those up on Flickr and watch the traffic come in.

The key here is value. Make your site something people want to see and read. Now that the ideas are rolling, lets start talking about turning that match into a bon-fire.

2. The Kindling: superficial burning that light the real flame.
Just like any fire, you can’t go straight to the logs. Well, you could, but your chances of success are greatly impeded. This is where the savvy of internet marketing companies really comes in handy. Here are some tips to help the fire get going…

  1. Profiles with Reputation. Most Web 2.0 communities value User reputation. Users who have been at the site and participated at the site for long periods of time are much more likely to be successful when posting stories than new accounts. Use an old, reputable account to post stories to sites like Digg, Reddit, Netscape, etc.
  2. Link to the Story. Make sure that visitors to your site who are reading the story know that they can vote on it at various web 2.0 sites. Remind them by putting buttons below or beside the story. This is always good for a few extra votes early in the running from your most loyal site readers.
  3. Friends. I am not going to say go get all your friends out there to sign up and start voting for your stories. I won’t even go so far as to say that you should tell friends already on the site to vote for the story. I am going to say that you should make friends on these sites (such as the “Friend” function on Digg) so that they will know when your stories are posted. Moreover, feel free to tell your friends about the story. Some of them may already have accounts at web 2.0 sites, and you have now earned an extra vote or two.

3. Firelogs: keep that fire burning long
The key to long-lasting virals is that they must be RESPONSIVE. While most viral campaigns at least leave up the comments section so that users can state their opinions, a truly responsive campaign will keep folks coming back for weeks. Let’s say that you are running a viral based on gorgeous photography you have of your vineyard. Make sure in your post that visitors know that “more pictures are coming soon”. Ask them if they know any tips for “taking nature shots without getting overwhelmed by the sun.” People need a reason to keep coming back, and setting up a responsive viral will accomplish just that.

4. Suffocation: Preventing your story from burning out fast.
The most common problem with a viral campaign is early suffocation. In the same way that not enough oxygen is getting to your bonfire for it to burn, a viral campaign needs steady or above-steady growth to sustain itself. Once it loses its edge, it becomes very difficult to push through. This leads to several very important, key factors in a successful viral.

  1. Keep your site up: Contact your webmaster / hosting company well in advance and let them know your intent on running a campaign. Figure how much it will costs to keep that web site up when the onslaught of traffic comes. Pay it. If your site is down for 2 hours in the middle of a viral, you can count all your precious efforts good bye.
  2. Don’t over do it: Don’t spam the web 2.0 site with multiple stories on the same thing – I haven’t found a business that could stand more than a viral a week, much less one or more daily. Your site can’t handle it, and users will catch on really fast.

5. Gasoline: Artificial ways to boost your viral campaign
Covering a bonfire in gasoline works. You will get huge flames. And third degree burns. And a felony conviction for starting a forest fire. In the same manner, you can purchase votes from sites, get your friends to all sign up and vote, you can do almost anything you want. You will get caught, it will get out of hand, and you will have huge PR clean up job to handle. Imagine those million potential customers turning into an angry mob. It’s kinda like that. No. It is exactly like that.

Hopefully this will put some ideas into your head about how to use viral marketing effectively for your winery. There is no easier, cost-effective method of developing brand recognition. It is time to join the revolution. Great wines, viral vines.

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Posted in Energy, Technology, Wine/11 | 11 Comments »

  • http://bigmarketing.wordpress.com Rajan Sodhi

    Excellent post, Russ! I agree – too often people look at a powerful medium like viral marketing and say, “That’s great but it won’t work for us.” That’s like saying word-of-mouth doesn’t work for us. And no business owner will make that claim. Viral is just another form of WoM or buzz, but online, which allows it to spread much faster to a much broader audience. In fact, the more standard (or dare I say commodity) a product industry is, the greater the opportunity to stand out and get yourself noticed virally, as your competitors remain too busy partaking in me-too promotions and marketing campaigns.

  • http://bigmarketing.wordpress.com Rajan Sodhi

    Excellent post, Russ! I agree – too often people look at a powerful medium like viral marketing and say, “That’s great but it won’t work for us.” That’s like saying word-of-mouth doesn’t work for us. And no business owner will make that claim. Viral is just another form of WoM or buzz, but online, which allows it to spread much faster to a much broader audience. In fact, the more standard (or dare I say commodity) a product industry is, the greater the opportunity to stand out and get yourself noticed virally, as your competitors remain too busy partaking in me-too promotions and marketing campaigns.

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  • http://conciant.com Mcgill

    What is wrong with Viral Marketing? The whole reason is it viral is because people enjoy watching it and send it on to others. This is how the whole system works?

    People often do realise that they are forwarding an advertisement but don’t really care because it is funny. I just wish more ads on TV were as funny as the viral ones we have 😀

  • http://conciant.com Mcgill

    What is wrong with Viral Marketing? The whole reason is it viral is because people enjoy watching it and send it on to others. This is how the whole system works?

    People often do realise that they are forwarding an advertisement but don’t really care because it is funny. I just wish more ads on TV were as funny as the viral ones we have 😀

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