The blogosphere is buzzing with posts about viral marketing. No surprise there. The whole marketing world is undergoing profound reconfiguration. Every part of the equation is changing, often 180 degrees. The changing complexion of marketing reflects larger changes in culture, connectivity, media and technology. Welcome to Web 2.0.
We've reached that disruptive moment when a new technology actually creates tectonic movement, displacing traditional topographies with entirely new landscapes. Wow. Bloggers are riding the crest of the wave, and I must say it is certainly exhilarating. At the same time, traditional media and information providers are in serious decline. Network television is loosing viewers to YouTube and IPTV; metropolitan daily papers with very famous names are hemorrhaging subscribers; glossy monthly magazines are in decline, and the very future of broadcast radio is in doubt. Now that's a sea change.
Many observers have identified the bottom-up, inside-out dynamic involved in this ongoing process. For marketeers, that is a key concern as well. Marketing has traditionally been a top-down proposition; driven by display advertising, radio and television spots, direct mail and public relations. Now, marketing is all about bulletins and buzz; instant messaging and "friending" practices; and consumer participation. I'm particularly impressed with the musings of social network marketing maven (and web Vamp) Danah Boyd - who pens apophenia - on bulletins and buzz.
These new marketing and consumer context development techniques are often referred to as "Viral Marketing." With respect to my colleague Mack Collier at "The Viral Garden," one of my favorite business blogs, I think we're better served by viewing the new market as "neural." Viruses, from my recollections of pathobiology, have only their DNA in common with their point of origin. Sure, there is a network of infecting vectors, but the connections aren't very permanent and it's difficult to talk infrastructure around the viral construct.
I think the nervous system model works so much better for visualizing the challenges and opportunities ahead. Nerves can create semi-permanent pathways that are strengthened by use and can interact in complex ways with surrounding systems and topographies. And nerves have trigger thresholds that are useful metaphors for creating and measuring the effects of buzz. When a key nerve nexus is engaged and fires, it sends impulses (bulletins) to all of its system connections ("friends"). Nerve pathways loose strength and system-wide relevance with disuse. The human brain is a content aggregator that does a remarkable job of tagging, weighting, organizing and storing data. These assets are made available to the rest of the body's systems not only on-demand, but in anticipation of need. Turns out the body doesn't have a rigid hierarchical structure with a top-down design and central authority - it is, rather, a collaborative cooperative. That's what web 2.0 marketing will look like, IMO.
I've had a few decades - on corporate and agency sides - to develop sensitivities to change in this arena. Since a lot of those years were spent in high-technology settings with latest-and-greatest products, I feel qualified to offer some observations and opinions.
I'm currently using some of the new tools, employing a number of web-based strategies and working in social networking spaces for a major project destined for PBS. As executive producer for operations and promotion, my day-job includes hours of online work, research, contact and tracking. Producer Mark DuMond recently interviewed me for a two-part podcast about emerging new marketing models and techniques. You can listen to part one and then part two for about a half-an-hour overview from my perspective.