"Take Leo Burnett, David Ogilvy, Bill Bernbach and Mark Twain. Combine their brains and shave their heads. What's left? Seth Godin." -- Jay Levinson, author of Guerrilla Marketing
The Internet industry has been enamored of buzz-based marketing ever since venture capitalist Steve Jurvetson coined the phrase "viral marketing" in 1997 to describe Hotmail's strategy of tagging every e-mail message with a promotion for its service. The self-replicating promotion helped the company achieve an epidemic growth rate of zero to 12 million users in a mere 18 months. Since then, viral marketing has propelled everything from Napster to The Blair Witch Project to legendary success.
Even with all the buzz about buzz, though, many Internet companies still pour the bulk of their marketing budgets into ill-conceived TV advertising (who could forget January's orgy of dot-com expenditures on Super Bowl ads?) and other ineffective channels, like banner ads. Depending on whose numbers you use, last year online and offline companies spent $3.5 billion to $4.6 billion on Net ads. Yet, according to Nielsen NetRatings, average click-through rates for banner ads have fallen to a pitiful half a percent.
There has to be a better way. With investors increasingly focusing on profits, the time is right to do more than just talk about viral marketing. And here to lead the rally are two new primers on the subject - Seth Godin's flashy Unleashing the Ideavirus and Emanuel Rosen's more pedantic but meatier The Anatomy of Buzz.
Both agree on the basic tenets. Instead of blindly (and expensively) advertising to mass audiences, companies should focus on creating buzz among key potential customers - early adopters - and let them market to everybody else.
Godin, who fills his book with infectious analogies, calls these folks "sneezers," whereas Rosen dubs them "network hubs." They could be celebrities such as Oprah Winfrey, influential members of a particular industry or ordinary people involved in their neighborhoods, schools, church groups or companies who consciously and consistently spread the word about new things they encounter.