Enter the Viral Marketing Matrix: Exploring the Template to Motivate Your Word-of-Mouth Revolution


Before you present a consumer with your viral marketing program, you have to consider your impact on their social capital and craft your strategy accordingly. You need to understand what’s going to motivate people to spread the word, and use the right tactics for your situation. Failing to do so can spell disaster.

There are two key dimensions to the viral marketing space: personal appeal and social appeal. I’ll go over the dimensions one at a time, then discuss the best tactics in each area of the matrix.

Dimension #1: Personal Appeal

How much do I want, need, or believe in your product, service, or cause? This can range from “it’s absolutely essential to my continued survival” to “it pains me to be near this.” Likewise, “appeal” can refer to real physical needs or simply my desire to own or be associated with something. Ratings will vary from consumer to consumer — what I regard as “essential” my wife regularly regards as “useless” — so take the time to look at each of your market segments and understand your personal appeal.

There are entire fields of study on this subject, but we’re going to simplify it down to two choices: high personal appeal (things I want) or low personal appeal (things I don’t want).

Dimension #2: Social Appeal

Will being associated with this product, service, or cause win the approval of my peers, or could it cause embarrassment? Remember, this is independent from whether consumers desire or purchase your product — it’s about whether it’s something they want to show off or hide in their closet.

Cool gadgets and popular causes generally have high social appeal: regardless of your personal opinion, you’ll gain a social advantage simply by association. The opposite is true for products and services that traditionally carry a social stigma, such as those make you appear unhealthy (rash cream), or imply social awkwardness (dating services).

Look honestly at whether your product carries a social benefit or a social stigma. Again, this will depend on who you’re marketing to. A 13-year old girl may gain social status by owning an autographed poster of Vanessa Hudgens. That may not be the case for a different demographic.

Social appeal is a complex subject, but again, we’ll collapse it down to two choices: high social appeal (the product carries a social benefit) or low social appeal (it carries a social stigma).


No matter what position you occupy in the viral marketing matrix, you can create a successful viral program. Here’s the trick: no matter how consumers feel about engaging with your product, you can help them feel personally motivated and socially comfortable engaging with your word-of-mouth program.

Messaging and motivators are two key tools at your disposal. I’ve talked about the importance of focus and framing in past columns: today, I’ll discuss tactics that marketers in each position of the matrix can use to increase social and personal appeal.

People often ask what I think about using incentives to motivate word of mouth. For some marketers, “incentive” is a dirty word; for others, incentives are as essential to the offer as the toy surprise in a box of Cracker Jacks. True, incentives can obscure your brand message — but they can also be the crucial ice-breaker that gives people an excuse to talk about you. Whether to incentivize, and what kind of incentive to use, depends on your position in the viral marketing matrix.


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