welcomes Mary Henderson the CEO of GeekIT Group. Before founding GeekIT,
Mary worked in senior business development, marketing and sales roles
at companies including Tech Pacific and Belkin. You can follow her
on Twitter here. Mary will be blogging fortnightly. 

I have a bit of a problem with the term viral to describe a piece of marketing communication passed from peer to peer.

It suggests that the goal of the campaign is simply the means of distribution in and of itself. I prefer to think of the piece of communication as the virus.

I cant comprehend what the viral campaign means if we haven’t established how were going to touch the consumer first.

And the reality is that you cant, or won’t, go viral until you have a virus thats worth catching.

A good understanding of online distribution channels is essential if you want your communication (or virus) to go viral.

Marketers are in completely the wrong headspace when they think that a brand can start a virus. From an online standpoint, a virus cant be created by a brand first. It can if its supported by massive mainstream advertising campaign, but thats not really happening in this environment of drastically slashed marketing budgets.

The virus is created by the consumer after theyve been able to learn from the product or service or idea, share it with their friends and create dialogue among their friends and family. And there are certain processes that one needs to go through and establish before a virus can take place.

We look at it from a reverse value chain perspective, in that customer comes first and then we take them to product. So, the question is:

“How are we going to get the customer to have an interest in the product, the service, or the idea?”

Apple is the great example of how to a brand can harness consumer-to-consumer communication for the health of the brand. Apple has done it brilliantly offline and online – as have other software and hardware vendors.

They understand their customer, and they go to their customer without waiting for their customer to come to them, and I really think that’s the key to the brand’s viral success.

Software and hardware vendors are great at this sort of communication because they have defined their distribution models and they inherently understand the way people communicate in an online environment.

Where marketers are getting lost is that theyre expecting old media consumption habits from new media like social networking sites. People don’t sit back and wait to be entertained by Facebook, MySpace, or Twitter. They make it happen themselves.

And of course, the internet gives consumers an entirely different interaction with a brand. They may not be your customer right now, but could be in 12 months time when theyve had a look at what you offer and have decided your brand is for them, so you can’t target them in the same way you do with a mainstream campaign.

Its a complex proposition to understand the way all the online distribution channels for a virus work, but that’s just what you have to do if you want to have any hope of creating a successful virus.

Next time, I’ll look at these online distribution channels in more detail.