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Monday, July 28th, 2014

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1:22p
An oldie, but still a goodie ...
As regular readers of this space will recognize, I've read a lot of Seth Godin's stuff … I'm about a dozen books in, but, frankly, that doesn't even qualify as most, as he's got 2-3 dozen books out at this point. Unleashing the Ideavirus: Stop Marketing AT People! Turn Your Ideas into Epidemics by Helping Your Customers Do the Marketing thing for You is another one that's been around for quite a while, having initially come out in 2000, but it, oddly, does not have the “dated” feel that other books (his included) that hail from the dawn of the “social media/marketing” era have hanging over them. I'm guessing that this is because Ideavirus is more of a book on theory than one based on case studies (although it illustrates various points with concrete examples, and nearly half the page count is taken up by the “Case Studies and Riffs” section). Plus, his spiels on “permission marketing”, etc. are pretty much evergreen in the current environment – which owes a lot to his vision of these trends.

Admittedly, Godin tries in this book to seed a new vocabulary for the spread of ideas, and this may be “patient zero” for the concept of message virality, but it's probably just as well that his terms like “sneezers” and “hives” (or “word of mouse” - which is “word of mouth augmented by the power of online communication”) didn't catch on … although they are conceptually valid, and part of a complex of ideas that he defines as “the eight underlying variables in the ideavirus formula” (this latter is rather complex, and I'll spare you the details), which are: Sneezers, Hive, Velocity, Vector, Medium, Smoothness, Persistence, and Amplifier.

Obviously, he'd sought to come up with a formula for creating “viral” content, but if you've got eight variables in play it becomes pretty unwieldy fast (admittedly he does say “No, I don't think you'll use it. But understanding the co-efficients makes it easier to see what's important and what's not.”), with a process that goes “multiply these five factors”, “divide by the sum of these two factors”, and “then multiply that by the product of these four factors” … sheesh! He does go on to pick apart he “dynamics” of these elements, so while it's very complicated, it's not unclear.

Again, much of this cycles back to the “Permission Marketing” premise and “the sad decline of interruption marketing”:

Unless you find a more cost-effective way to get your message out, your business is doomed. You can no longer survive by interrupting strangers with a message they don't want to hear, about a product they've never heard of, using methods that annoy them.”
...although I suspect that he might have imagined that “interruption marketing” (standard advertising modalities) would have faded more in the decade and a half since he wrote this than they have.

That's brings me to one of the key dichotomies here, I think that history has shown that making something “go viral” is a lot more slippery proposition than Godin presents in Unleashing the Ideavirus. Perhaps if one was able to effectively manipulate the 8 variables of his “ideavirus formula” (in their assorted permutations of mathematical massage), one might be able to posit creating at least a low-level “infection” on a regular basis, but we've seen so many companies (and individuals) throw a lot of time, money, effort, and intent at creating “viral” messages, that I suspect there's a lot more luck (and/or accidental superpositioning of campaigns with random elements in the cultural zeitgeist – which is a more plausible explanation for everything from “Pet Rocks” in the 70's to “Gangnam Style” more recently, than any marketing brilliance) involved.

On the other hand … this is one of those inspirational reads, that makes the reader (assuming, I suppose, that the reader is of the “marketing” persuasion) want to gear up for a major project of getting Sneezers of various sorts to sneeze the viral message across the Hive, etc., etc., etc. And even the case studies (at this point being pretty close to “ancient history” in some cases) bring value, as they're here to illustrate dynamics of the whole Ideavirus concept, rather than as examples of things that might be copyable in today's economy.

At the end of the book Godin produces a list of “tactics” for generating “ideavirus” programs. He goes into more detail on each of these, but I thought the list was useful to give an idea of how he was envisioning this concept being put into action (on, I'm guessing, the agency level):
  • Make it virusworthy. {it needs to be “worth talking about”}

  • Expose the idea. {even if you have to pay the target influencers/“sneezers”}

  • Figure out what you want the sneezers to say. {controlling the message is important}

  • Give the sneezers the tools they need to spread the virus. {make it easy to disperse}

  • Once the consumer has volunteered his attention, get permission. {that's the name of the game, right?}

  • Amaze your audience so that they will reinforce the virus and keep it growing. {nurture your attention}

  • Admit that few viruses last forever. Embrace the lifecycle of the virus. {here again, I think the “zeitgeist” has a lot of influence of what works when}
As noted, Unleashing the Ideavirus has been out a long time, but it is still in print, and could very well have earned itself a slot on the shelves of your local brick-and-mortar book vendor. However, you can also get a “very good” used copy for as little as 1¢ (plus $3.99 shipping) via the on-line big boys' new/used vendors (which is where I got mine), if you're wanting to be frugal. I really enjoyed this one, and if you're into marketing, communications, social media, etc., you'll likely find good stuff in here as well.


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