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How to Go Viral: When Customers Sell For You

In viral marketing, the key ingredient to get people talking about your brand is what I call your “V-Factor” (viral-ness factor). Here's how to find yours.

Let’s face it, marketers never have enough money or time to do everything we’d like to do. So, we’re going to have to get the results we want with the marketing we can afford. So how do you clone yourself and your budget? You don’t. Instead, deploy your resources to enable your customers to do the selling for you.

When someone loves your product, you want them to tell someone else. But most people don’t like to be salesy or feel like they are pushing products on their friends. The easiest situation for sharing occurs when someone asks your customer, “Hey, where did you get that? How does it work? I would really love one of those right now.”

The concept of amplifying your marketing efforts by creating network effects or asking customers to share reviews has been around for a long time. So has the concept of “K-factor” to measure how viral your product or brand is. But neither will help you figure out what creates viral-ness in the first place. The key ingredient getting people talking about your brand is what I call your “V-Factor” (viral-ness factor).

Now, for all of you who ride Harleys, the V-Factor I’m referring to is not a motorcycle component. It’s the accelerant that is going to get people naturally talking about and sharing your brand. V-Factor taps into natural goodness which can develop word of mouth fast and encourage sharing by introducing the least amount of friction. The sooner you figure out what it is, the further ahead of your competition you will be.

So, how do you make this happen?

It will be different for each product or service. If you have a product or service which solves a problem people don’t want to talk about publicly, it gets even harder to find your V-Factor. The following steps outline what you can do to determine the V-Factor that will work for your business.


Viral Marketing: How to Identify and Cultivate V-Factors


1. Who are your most vocal, social customers?

They might not be your ideal customers, your best customers, or the ones who buy the most; they are the customers who are most willing to share the “brand love” with others. You can survey customers to find them, but the best way is to nurture customers who are already doing what you want them to do and get them to do more.


2. Can these customers experience your product benefits when prospects are present

These “social moments” are often the best way for others to appreciate the unique benefits of seeing or experiencing your product or service in action. Examples might include:

  • Exhibiting a paid app for free use at a children’s museum (with an automatic discount for the paid version).
  • Sampling a new brand of power protein shake with a group after a fitness class at the gym.
  • Sitting at an airport gate with a suitcase that can be used as a desk, a portable seat, and a charging station.


3. Can customers and prospects amplify their ‘social moments?’

Especially if your product or service isn’t naturally social, sharing “use case” moments on social platforms and tagging the brand name, with pictures, quotes, shoutouts, etc, can help get the awareness buzz going in a way that peaks curiosity and authentically brings new users to you. In addition, services professionals, as well as product brands, user requests for digitally shared public reviews/referrals, content marketing (articles/blogs), or sharing advice on social platforms to generate NPS, buzz, engagement, and social proof.


4. Does product or service use generate organic referrals?

If prospects need to sign up to see what customers share, your product or service has a “built-in” referral mechanism that can quickly grow your base organically. Many crowdsourcing sites where customers earn “use” credits by posting and sharing content or inviting friends to signup for free, also generate referrals in a behaviorally seamless way.

To develop a “built-in” referral mechanism for your company, brainstorm and discuss the following with your team:

  • Profile your ideal customer
  • Identify ways that they share information and ideas with friends
  • Determine how to become a natural part of that conversation
  • Think about ways to make your product/service an integral (or automated) part of the “conversation”


Key Considerations

At this point, you may have generated a healthy list of ideas to consider when identifying and developing your product/service V-Factor. As you filter, prioritize and test ideas, here are some considerations to keep in mind:

  • If you have a commoditized consumer product or a low-priced service, or you’ve developed a program that is too complicated to explain to your customers, takes too much staff time to manage, or can’t be effective without significant corporate support, your program might not be scalable or cost-effective in the long run.
  • If a program does not have the potential of achieving a K-Factor above 1, it may not be worth investing a significant amount of time, budget, or effort to scale. You could opt for a lower level of maintenance support instead.
  • Some industries or customer verticals are more social than others. Establish your brand beachhead with the group with V-Factor that will grow your revenue quickly, then expand to new verticals once awareness velocity gains momentum.
  • Will success be based on promo code uses, website inquiries, on-site purchases, newsletter signups, or something else? Be clear about how you are going to measure results.

Understanding the customer journey and the behaviors that demonstrate success, and setting up data-gathering mechanisms upfront, will ensure that you will be able to make timely decisions and pivot quickly.

The most efficient way to set a company up for rapid, cost-effective growth is to cultivate situations where customers will do the selling for you just by being your customers, and make it easy for them to share the love for your product, service, or brand. What’s your V-Factor?


Jennifer Apy is a Partner & CMO with Chief Outsiders, the nation’s largest and fastest-growing firm offering fractional Chief Marketing Officer services with Fortune 500 experience.


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