Unleashing the Idea Virus

Seth Godin

Seth Godin, the author of the NY Times Bestseller, Permission Marketing, may be the most successful author of website marketing ideas. He says that the main question readers of his Permission Marketing ask is, “How do we get the buyer’s attention to ask for permission in the first place?” His Unleashing the Idea Virus (UIV), he says, answers that question. His basic point in UIV is that information spreads most swiftly from customer-to-customer, rather that from businesses to customers. Launching an “ideavirus” is the goal, and he suggests doing it by word-of-mouth or mouse or email through customers whom he calls “sneezers, hives, a clear vector” and others who spread the word. Word-of-mouth dies off too soon, however, unless continuously re-stimulated.

Epinions.com is a site that posts reviews on anything you can conceive, and reviewers are clearly identified and ranked. The most highly ranked ones carry the most weight, regardless of their compensation scheme. Referrals.com pays nice commissions to people who help their friends find jobs. Alladvantage.com is one of the fastest growing website; it created a multi-level marketing organization where each member was paid for ads they saw and, more importantly, for ads seen by people they had recruited. Alladvantage had five million users in 2001; then, they lowered their commission rates, and negative sneezers seriously damaged the webstie.

Whatever the site/idea is, it has to “so much wow, be so cool, so neat and so productive, that the user tells five or more friends. Then, products and services become idea viruses and market themselves.

Put a button by every good idea on your website: “Send this page to a friend.”

Every idea, Godin says, “is a manifesto” (a declaration of principles or intentions) and could lead to an ideavirus (IV). He gives an example of Eric Raymond, who wrote an essay explaining that open-source coding (like Linux) made sense. Instead of having a magazine or book publisher market it, Raymond gave the essay away Online. After tens of thousands of people had read it, he published in a book, with many of his other essays, and the book became an instant bestseller.

So what need you do? (1) The hardest part is creating an idea that’s so compelling, so “wow” that it can be spread easily, converting most everyone in its path. This likely means that you win by trying and failing, and trying again, and testing, and failing, and improving, and trying, repeating and persisting until you succeed. Google just reads the links to other sites. What an idea, what an idea virus. (2) Choose a “hive” (area) that you’re capable of dominating, not one that’s too large. (3) Make sure that the site has a “wow factor”. (4) Identify the “vector” or path that we want sneezers to move in. (5) Find powerful sneezers in that area and how to contact them. (6) Reward sneezers sufficiently to get them on board. (7) Growing a virus slowly is best, as it gives you time to perfect your model.

Know that few viruses last forever. Embrace the lifecycle and plan for an encore. In time, less people will give permission and less will be willing to sneeze. Better and better ideas will be needed. The race goes to the swift – and to the most persistent and creative.

Interruption marketing is doomed.

Clearly, Godin has a new way of thinking that warrants careful study.