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Viral Marketing for B2B Lead Generation, Part 1: Viral Media

Viral marketing campaigns can be effective for B2B marketers—but they aren't easy to pull off. The next three posts here will offer some ideas about programs, promotion, and pitfalls to avoid that may help in developing successful B2B viral marketing campaigns, based both on my own experience and research by MarketingSherpa.

Most Popular Forms of Viral Media
  • Online video is the most popular viral medium for both B2C and B2B use. However, with the novelty of web video long since gone, your videos will either need to be really funny or really useful (e.g. the kind of content you could charge people for – but decide not to) in order to really go viral. Keep in mind that humor is more difficult to do well, and while a very amusing video may be widely shared, it may not pick up a lot of viewers who are actually qualified prospects. Videos that are targeted and focused on your industry, on the other hand, are likely to attract fewer but more targeted viewers.

  • Online games are also hot viral items and can be a lot of fun to develop. Ideally, the game should be unique, relevant to your industry, and neither too simple nor too difficult to play. A competent player should be able to finish a complete game in no more 15 minutes, preferably less. Themed variations of common game types (e.g., "whack-a-mole" or first-person shooter type games) have been pretty much done to death and are unlikely to spread wildly (unless you're able to devise a super-creative adaptation).

    Vodafone, for example, ran a "quite successful" viral game campaign promoting its mobile office solutions. At the game microsite, visitors could choose the type of desk they want to see destroyed, then press a large red “destruct” button to watch the desk get crushed.

    An interesting variant of online video games is industry-related trivia games, with prospect-qualifying questions mixed in. These are unlikely to get wide viral distribution, but more likely to appeal to people within your target market. In addition, these have multiple uses; for example, they can be used effectively at trade shows to attract booth traffic while also pre-qualifying your show leads.

  • Microsites are a third highly-rated viral tool. Studios use these for virtually every major film release; B2B marketers can do the same for key product areas. DMNews referred to microsites as "the next big thing in B2B" in this helpful article. Mark Walsh at MediaPost also provides some helpful advice on creating successful microsites in this interview; though his focus is on B2C sites, the same principles apply on the B2B side.

  • A corporate blog, if done well—that is, focused on industry issues and customer problems as opposed to company "news" and product pitches—can be an effective viral tool. As content grows over time, authors of related blogs will increasingly link to it, the blog's search engine rank will rise, and the blog's author(s) will become recognized as thought-leadership contributors within the industry. It's important to remember, however, that a blog will not "go viral" overnight; it takes time and consistent, high-quality content to build readership. To be successful as a blogger, an individual's position in the organization or functional area is far less important than writing skills and a strong grasp of what interests customers and prospects.

Other Viral Ideas
  • Audio files or podcasts; these generally aren't as successful as video campaigns, but can be effective, particularly if done by a “name” in the industry.

  • Online comic books; a light-hearted treatment of the real problems solved by a company's products or services are an easy and quick to read alternative to blogs or podcasts. However, they are also more expensive to produce and must be carefully designed to avoid campiness.

  • Finally, an emerging viral concept is incorporation of public online discussion forums or other Web 2.0 social media functionality on a company’s website or a microsite. This can be as simple as starting a blog or incorporating a wiki using free or commercial tools, or as complex as implementing a social media platform from a vendor such as or Awareness.

Next: Viral Promotion


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Terra Andersen said…
Great post! Viral marketing is quickly becoming the standard in marketing, especially for b2b. I'm excited at it's evolution and money-potential so far!
Tom Pick said…
Terra -

Thanks for the positive feedback. Viral marketing has a great deal of potential in B2B, but it's not easy to pull off. I hope this post and my next couple of related ones help.

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