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I admit to being a bit skeptical, even after a second reading, of the Viral Loop marketing strategy as some universal rule for start up marketing. Adam Penenberg's best seller on the subject certainly has a lot of compelling stories about the "to use it, you have to spread it" philosophy that has built some great American businesses, most notably Facebook and YouTube. After all, everyone needs an audience for their postings of the most intimate details of their lives, including real-time photos and videos.
But let's think about some variations of the viral loop theme and see how related marketing strategies might just work a lot better for your start up:
- "Let others do the heavy lifting" strategy--here, you set up a platform to serve a relevant subgroup, like people wanting to stay fit, with all sorts of tools related to fitness. Then you offer personal trainers the right to upload a unique exercise video, which is basically an ad for their services as well as a a good way to build up those pecs, for example. Thousands of personal trainers take up the offer, then tell their existing students about the site and voila, you have over 500K users before you know it. DailyBurn and HealthGuru are excellent examples of how to execute such a marketing strategy.
- "I want to emulate your lifestyle" strategy--Mommy Blogs, for example, have morphed into lifestyle websites where all the aspects of raising a baby in Manhattan or some other city are presented, including products bought, services utilized and kid-friendly locations, among numerous other bits of vital information. Developing a platform where people can explore different types of lifestyles is an obvious next play. The web sites are well developed, have a strong following (what does that say about individuality in the world...) and content updated daily. Just bring a bunch of them togther and provide the tools to search for stuff/lifestyles you like. A new start up in NYC, fav&co, is doing just that. Full disclosure: the entrepeneurs work at Control Group, of which I am Board Chairman.
- "I write the reviews and you charge me to look at them" strategy--One of my all-time favorites. You review a restaurant on Zagat and then you have to pay to see reviews you or others have written. Oh, but you give me badges, such as jetsetter, if I complete certain tasks, like reviewing European restaurants. Big deal. The motivation is that you want to be known as a foodie, or for doing cute reviews (there is a monetary reward every so often for review creativity)
- "Stealth" strategies--my portfolio companies are working on some interesting variations on the viral loop, including some tried and true "pay someone for bringing on new customers". More on those later as they prove themselves out.