Viral marketing always seems like an impossible dream – a method of marketing so super-secret that if it doesn’t involve cat pictures on Facebook, it just won’t work for the average person.

Let’s look first at what viral marketing really is.

Viral marketing, stripped of its mystique, is any strategy that encourages content consumers to share the content they consume – allowing for an exponential growth in the reach of the content.

It’s called viral, because the exponential growth is reminiscent of the viral growth of bacteria – you know how it is during a zombie apocalypse when you feel that first horrifying bite being taken from your arm…

Of course, it has other names – marketing systems generally do, as each marketer tries to distinguish themselves in what they do or offer. “Buzz marketing” and “word of mouth marketing” are other terms you may have heard for the same thing.

However, none of these terms evoke quite as much emotion as “viral marketing” so that’s what we like to use when we talk about these strategies.

Let’s take a look at one of the most successful viral marketing campaigns on the planet – and it has nothing to do with cats, beer or hot babes. It was email.

Back in the day that Google were a mere search engine rather than the Great Overlord of the Web, they decided to start launching a new service to compete against established free email providers such as Hotmail. The idea was that by making Gmail a new and super secretive type of free web service that only allowed account sign ups by referral, users would have to ask others to send them an invitation to join.

What do we want to do when there’s a club we want to join but need to be invited into? We go out of our way to become a member. There’s something in our psyche that just won’t let us drop the ide until we have proven ourselves worthy to join the others in the secret club.

And so it was that Gmail became the ultimate email provider – by word of mouth. Of course, many businesses have learned from this and email is still a hugely effective method of viral marketing – why else do various pieces of software (such as browser extensions and antivirus software) insert a little signature into your email template, like “protected by Avast” or “sent with Mailtrack”. Even Apple and Windows 10 have got in on viral marketing via email.

So, what’s your message? For self-publishers Sterling & Stone, it began with an email signature that said “Like my writing? You might like to buy my book” with a link to their recently published book.

We email a lot of people through our daily interactions – having a well thought out email signature may just be the viral marketing strategy that works for you.


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