8 Ways to Make Your Startup Message Contagious

Let's Get Viral

5. "To register your own e-mail account, click here." You just received one--now buy one yourself. From bouquets to "gifts for the golfer," "share-me" products give you the opportunity to spread your message inside what you sell. It's product as pitchman.

Case in point: Marketing maven Raj Khera of e-mail list management service Mailermailer LLCcan create a customized e-newsletter package that will spread your business message to target users, all through the Internet grapevine. Keep those customers loving your product, because they'll tell--and sell--others.

6. So pay it forward. Generate more sales. "Thanks so much for your business. Share this coupon with a friend, and she'll receive a complete facial at 20 percent off. To receive your free gift, please sign below." That's business author Jan Norman's magic; she just helped you land a customer you've never met, and reward another one to boot.

It's the business card in the bottom of the bag, and the "remember to tell your friends" when you close the sale--absurdly easy ways to boost sales. Offer something free for new names on your mailing list, and watch everyone join your sales force.

7. Because she'll tell two friends. And they'll tell two friends, and so on, and so on. But forget the fancy marketing theories; it works because I heard it from a friend who liked it, not from some pitchman who sells anything for a buck. That's validation--nontraditional advertising that retains the truth.

Here's an idea. Instead of that silent store display you once dreamed about--and where most products die a very lonely death--why not "Tupperware party" whatever you sell. Customers will tell each other, and your products will sell themselves.

8. So overcome their resistance. Your viral message will take time to take hold. Problem-solving guru Jordan Ayan points to persistence as the key ingredient to championing your business idea. Like that winter flu that some people don't contract until May, some customers will need many exposures before they'll "catch the bug" about what you sell--no matter how great your product may be. "Are you willing to ask for referrals again and again?" Jan Norman asks. "Because that's the way to build word-of-mouth."

And that's the gossip on viral marketing. Prepare for your outbreak. Of course, don't sizzle and then serve no steak; even the fanciest paint job blows when there's nothing under the hood. Remember that disappointing products, poor customer service or other business blunders create the opposite buzz--one that can kill your business. And anyone who spams (i.e., annoying/unsolicited product plugs/blanket e-mails) kills their business even faster.

But by now, I don't even need to remind you about that. Why? Because you already know it. How? I guess you heard it from someone. Yeah. And they knew their stuff. In fact, that advice was so good, you went out and told everyone. Must have told a hundred people...

Nick D'Alto is director of IEG Corp., where he helps startups create that epidemic of sales.

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This article was originally published in the November 2001 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: 8 Ways to Make Your Startup Message Contagious.

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