My typical day begins with my Nokia 6150 beeping away at around 7.25 AM, in tandem with my Orpat Alarm Clock (which by the way has an additional crescendo effect, for good measure). Up from my bed, I groggily grab my Colgate accessories, rush into the bathroom hoping that both the elegant Parryware closet and the wash basin are free, in no particular order though.
I could go on and on about a typical day at IIM Indore, but that is not what this post is about. If most of you would have read the preceding paragraph carefully, you could have spotted at least 4 brands being mentioned, quite subliminally. This my friends, is Viral marketing happening, real time. So when I-rising, the online curtain raiser to IRIS, the management fest of IIM Indore, mentioned “Blogging and Viral Marketing” as a topic for their “Bloggers’ Park” I jumped up at the opportunity to share my views on the topic.
Viral marketing as understood by most of us refers to marketing which pretty much spreads like wild fire or like a virus, a la its name. This phenomenon does not need too much intervention by the marketer except for keeping track to ensure that it achieves most of its objectives, which in most cases is just to achieve the basic visibility for the product/service being publicised. For example, one of the most non-intrusive forms of viral marketing that most of us are exposed to in our everyday lives are e-mail service providers such as Yahoo! and Hotmail appending this line to all their mails – ‘Enjoy your Diwali with Y!India’ or ‘Try our new express mail services. Log in to http://www.hotmail.com for more details.’ etc. Now, this probably was the first time that marketers realised the power of the internet and harnessed it to its entire potential. Another classic example of online viral marketing in the e-mail domain would be the example of how Google launched its G-Mail. Still in its beta testing days, the only way anyone can get a G-Mail account would be if another G-Mail user sent him an invite. This method of marketing the service has been extremely successful in creating the buzz that Google intended to in the first place, and today G-Mail is probably the second most preferred mail service, second only to Yahoo! Mail.
Now that we have a reasonably clear understanding of what viral marketing is and how it works, I guess it is time to examine how blogs can be used for this. Blogs, short for web-logs are nothing more than free server space provided by blog service providers such as typepad.com, blogger.com and other such sites for registered users to publish anything and everything. Considering that these services are provided for free there is absolutely nothing that prevents registered users from using their blogs to publicise anything they want on their blogs. Nowadays, it is not uncommon to see blogs which publicise things such as pornography, counter cultures such as transvestites, election propoganda, corporate announcements, etc. Blogging, as a culture, has gained so much acceptance over the world, that today there are a substantial number of sites which have dedicated teams tracking blogs, ranking them, providing links to updated blogs with interesting posts, conducting award functions where bloggers are awarded based on the number of hits to their blogs, etc. Blogging nowadays, has become a powerful tool in the hands of marketers and slowly, but surely, they are learning how to use this to their advantage.
One of the earliest corporate blogs, which has been around since January 2005 would have to be the General Motors Fastlane Blog (http://fastlane.gmblogs.com) which discusses almost everything that impacts their business such as auto shows, cars and trucks, design of automobiles, etc. This blog has regular contributions not only from users of GM products, but also from key personnel such as design engineers, marketing personnel, and at times from top management personnel also. While this blog not only provides a intuitive interface between the company and the outside world, it also provides GM with an invaluable opportunity to engage in subliminal marketing on such a large scale which otherwise would have cost them a substantial amount of money.
Some other notable examples of how blogs are being used by corporates are the blogs maintained by Microsoft employees (http://blogs.msdn.com) and Google employees (http://googleblog.blogspot.com). Today, slowly but surely, companies are realising how potent a tool blogs have become, as they end up empowering more and more people to come out into the open with their opinions and viewpoints. Thus, it has become imperative for marketeers and companies to react to this radical change in the information dissemination system in the market place, and they have no other option but to embrace this change fully and explore options as to how to harness this to their advantage.
I would not be surprised if in the future, popular bloggers are approached by companies and asked to spread the word about their products and services. While this would not only provide these companies with much needed visibility, it would also have the effect of providing them with expert testimonial evidence from users, which ultimately is the true test of any product or service.