The talk of the Internet sometime ago was about "Melissa" (see http://www.melissavirus.com/). No, it's not an adult-oriented web site or some new software game but a virus (see http://www.cert.org). And the devious way that it works is that after opening the infected email attachment, it sends a virus-infected email to the first 50 people in your address book automatically.
While we're bombarded with anti-virus warnings telling us to never open an attachment from someone we don't know, how can we resist doing so when the email comes from someone we actually do know (since the virus uses personal address books to multiply itself)? In fact, Melissa uses Microsoft Outlook's mail merge command to actually incorporate the recipient's name within the body of the message, making the seemingly personalized -- and unsuspectingly harmful -- email to be instantly trusted. Because of this vulnerability, Melissa is reported to be the fastest-spreading virus to ever appear on the cyberscene.
Nevertheless and interestingly enough, we can certainly learn the way Melissa (and viruses in general) work and act -- and, in the same way, apply that process and strategy to online marketing. Also known as "viral" marketing, the concept is generally to proliferate the knowledge of your existence on the web through other people's efforts. Be it "word-of-eye," referrals, affiliates, joint ventures, and so on, it all comes down to that fundamental business process we call "networking." And according to Jill Griffin's wonderful book "Customer Loyalty: How to Earn it, How to Keep it," we are more open, trusting, and loyal when doing business with (or being marketed by) people we know.
Make Your Net Work
Online, networking is probably more important since cyberspace is dimensionless and expansive. It grants you the ability to reach corners untapped; areas that would have been unreachable otherwise. However, there's a caveat: There's a lot of hype lately about the benefits of networking, but I personally don't advocate traditional networking (the "I'm open for business" kind) because, in my experience, it hasn't brought me anything substantial in return.
While it can be a fantastic marketing tool, the way in which networking is conducted is often the reason why it does not produce any favorable results. When you're only networking, more often than not people will want something in return or else they will lose interest if you don't take the time to recognize their efforts. And if you don't, you will paradoxically need to network even more, which defeats the purpose.
A way to consistently reward your network is to turn your networking efforts into networking systems (in other words, developing strategic marketing alliances). If you and your alliance share a similar target market, you can effectively cross-promote or share markets with each other. And while there are as many different forms of systematized networking out there as there are businesses, one of them that is quite effective is what I call "info-networking."
An info-network is one in which information is exchanged in some form or another between parties. That information includes qualified leads that you can both share or information about each other that is promoted to each other's market or client base. As long as your alliance logically shares a same target market with you but without directly competing with your business, it can become a potentially rewarding relationship. This includes, for example, swapping ad space in e-zines, posting reciprocal links, co-advertising, submitting articles for publication, participating in discussion lists, etc.
But info-networking goes further. It also refers to mailing lists where you can swap each other's prospect or client lists -- particularly offline or "opt-in" lists. For example, many web sites and e-zine publishers have opt-in lists that range from 100 to 100,000 subscribers. Many cross-market their lists, such as offering "solo" ads or offers from other subscribers -- but of course, at a cost. However, if you publish your own e-zine or maintain your own opt-in lists, the obvious advantage is that you can swap "solo" ad space with each other.
Joint Ventures, Co-Ops, And Exclusive Offers
However, there's another form of networking that may be more effective, particularly for those of you who do not share your lists. I call it "auto-networking." This system goes beyond simply submitting your site to search engines, swapping your ad with others, or placing your offer on "free-for-all" links directories -- all with the hope that they will produce something in return. It means a process through which you are constantly and systematically exchanging leads with your strategic alliance. On the Internet, this technique is one in which a systematized method of cross-promotion between you and your alliance through a unique, joint marketing effort is created.
For example, this includes an exchange and coupling of complementary coupons or special offers that are exclusively marketed to the each other's clientele. Another is the process of amalgamating products, services, offers, or information that complement each other's portfolio. If your ally sells a product online, they can add to that particular purchase additional bonuses from your web site or business, which may include your special offer or one of your products that complements theirs.
You can even create an entirely new and distinct product, service, or information package from both companies and sold simultaneously from both sites. Here's an example: You sell cookware online. You can easily team up with a publisher specializing in cookbooks and throw a book in the mix. While you raise the price and split the profits with the publisher, you naturally and instantly raise the perceived value of the cookware through a co-branded or combined package of non-competing products or services. Best of all, you share in each other's traffic, market, lead-base, and referral-sources (i.e., network).
Here's another example: If you're a software programmer and you have created a program that, say, targets businesspeople, don't just give it away as shareware. Offer it to other sites that target businesspeople as well. While your program may not relate to your alliance's product, they both appeal to a same market and together make the offer more irresistible. In addition to the fact that your program makes your alliance look good or their offer more palatable, if your shareware is copyright-free you get your software to multiply itself -- especially within a market of much higher quality by virtue of the nature of your alliance's business.
Ultimately, you can create affiliations, alliances, referral-sources, and centers-of-influence that will help to propagate your online presence and, like a virus, multiply your online marketing punch.
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