You have probably heard the term. You may even know what it is. But do you know how viral marketing could help build your brand and increase business?

Any discussion of viral begins with an understanding that the web has changed. It is no longer a place for static information. Sites like Yahoo! have blurred the lines between news and entertainment. Now, if you truly want to battle for eyeballs, you have to entertain as well as inform.

That’s not to say every site needs interactive games with a You Tube video of a puppy sliding around on hardwood floors. But an interactive piece to your online puzzle could be beneficial. Today, online users expect a unique experience, not just a presentation of facts. Your job as a marketer is to decide what experience will bring about results for your business.

For instance, let’s think about Warner Brother’s summer blockbuster-in-waiting “The Dark Knight”, a sequel to 2005’s “Batman Begins.” Instead of relying on traditional advertising alone, they have partnered with 42 Entertainment to create an immersive experience. From websites for movie characters (;, to multi-city scavenger hunts orchestrated by the Joker himself, to a faux Gotham City newspaper sent through the mail, they are setting a new standard for out-of-the-box marketing.

With this, as any viral campaign, results are measured differently. The success or failure of one particular stunt is not as important as overall effectiveness. Viral is the sum of the parts. And the desired impact of the campaign: buzz. Buzz that is hard to quantify now, but will hopefully be cashed in for box office glory come July 18.

So what is there for a small business to learn from this? Warner Brother’s is a huge company marketing a global icon. How does that work for the carpet retailer with a regional draw?

It reminds us that mass appeal isn’t always the best approach. Batman has an incredible brand with a dedicated following. Wall-to-wall commercials on TV’s hottest shows would certainly attract interest. But why spend millions to speak to a segment, even a sizeable one, of the audience you are paying to reach?

Instead, a viral campaign targets those most likely interested in the product. In Batman’s case, males 14-30 with internet access and (perhaps too much) time on their hands. Defining your core audience is the same with Batman as it is in a bakery. And reaching those potential customers doesn’t have to be like fishing with dynamite. It can be a targeted, focused approach that yields a greater return on investment. Plus, viral campaigns tend to have low cost, a huge plus in soft market times like these.

So, the bottom line for viral marketing? Define your niche audience. Find ways to engage them that are entertaining and unique. Start judging the success of your marketing plan as a whole, not just individual parts.

And finally, dust off your thinking caps, because the new currency of the web is creativity.

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