How do you build virality into your product?


The classic marketing funnel and where virality helps

I’ve posted previously about the need to build virality into consumer products, for one simple reason: any other cost of customer acquisition is just too high. But how do you go about building virality into your product? Easier said than done! Everyone wants WOM (Word of Mouth) marketing but how do you go about obtaining it? The best guide I’ve seen yet is the article by Gabole Cselle on Medium entitled 9 Ways to Build Virality into your Product. He is a partner in Area 120, Google’s internal startup incubator and a very impressive bio.

The author and I are in violent agreement: “Consumer product startups have to bake a viral channel into their product from the get-go. They can’t merely glue it on later.”

I’m not going to repeat all of Gabole’s suggested techniques, but as usual I will just comment on a few of them. But if you plan to develop a consumer product I highly recommend you don’t just read the original article, but study it closely.

1. Two-Sided Reward

You need to have a product which lends itself to rewarding both your user and friends they invite. The example given is DropBox, which initially offered up to 500 mb of free storage space to both sides and created what Gabole calls a viral loop. A more generally available value is a store credit. That costs real money, as it requires the vendor to offer both a free item to the friend and cash value to the customer. Wonder why consumer companies raise hundreds of millions of dollars? It’s simple, for marketing and sales! I would steer towards DropBox’s model which doesn’t require cash out of pocket and is intimately tied into the product – enhancing its capacity – and avoid the double reward model used by delivery services – too expensive.

Here’s a twist for you: combine the freemium model with a two-sided reward: if your customer converts to paid from free give the them ability to gift a version of your membership or subscription to a friend. Perhaps in the case of a subscription for a limited time.

2. Appeal to Vanity

As I said years ago, social media is a place where voyeurs can watch exhibitionists. Likes on Facebook, connections on LinkedIn both enable users to show off. Can you enable some sort of feature, like a counter, in your product that enables your customers to show off as well?

3. Collaboration

Collaboration is one of the most powerful drivers of virality; based on Metcalfe’s Law, the value of a network grows as the square of its nodes. Slack, which just when public with a rare direct listing, is a great example of a collaboration product that has gone madly viral. One reason that Slack doesn’t tout is that it can be used within a company for non-business use cases, like groups who like to go out to lunch together or watch sci-fi films together. By making both personal connectivity and business connectivity very easy to setup, Slack created a very powerful viral marketing effect.

5. Artifacts Shared on Social

I would title this social sharing and it’s the backbone of apps like Instagram and Pinterest.

For user-generated content (UGC) products, there exists an even more powerful viral channel than embeddable content: social sharing. If your product creates uniquely interesting content, users can be encouraged to share it on their social networks, thus spreading knowledge of your product to their network. The most successful examples in this genre is auto-shared content onto other networks.

The key phrase here is user-generated content, which is virtually free (you will have a moderation cost to keep out violent, pornographic, or other extreme anti-social content).

9. Highly Visible Hardware

This is a special case, but it’s a worthwhile one: a hardware product that is set in a highly visible location that is exposed to potential customers. The example given is Square, the store point of sale terminal.

Keep in mind, virality is not cosmetic, it’s not something you can just slather on your completed product. It must be built-in from the get-go. And be wary of viral methods like the two-sided reward which can drain your capital resources. I highly encourage developers to study all nine ways to build virality into their products well before they write the first line of code. Without built-in virality the cost of customer acquisition in the consumer market will in all likelihood sink your company.

Author: Mentorphile

Mentor, coach, and advisor to entrepreneurs, small businesses, and non-profit organizations. General manager with significant experience in both for-profit and non-profit organizations. Focus on media and information. On founding team of four venture-backed companies. Currently Chairman of Popsleuth, Inc., maker of the Endorfyn app for keeping fans updated on new stuff from their favorite artists.

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