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How to Multiply Your Marketing like a Virus

By Michel Fortin
Posted Wednesday, August 25, 2004

As you probably know, the big talk on the Internet these days is about "Melissa" and its copycat versions (see ( No, it's not an adult oriented Web site or some new software game but a virus. And the devious (or perhaps even brilliant) way it works is that, after opening the email attachment, it sends more virus-infected emails to the first fifty people in your address book without your knowledge.

While we are bombarded with anti-virus warnings telling us to never open an attachment from an unknown person, how can we not resist doing so when the email comes from someone we actually do know (since the virus uses personal address books to multiply itself)? In fact, Melissa uses Microsoft Outlook's mail merge command to actually incorporate the recipient's name within the body of the message, making the seemingly personalized -- and unsuspectingly harmful -- email to be instantly trusted. Because of that vulnerability, Melissa has been purported to be the fastest-spreading virus to ever appear on the cyberscene.

Nevertheless, we can certainly learn the way Melissa (and viruses in general) work and act -- and, in the same way, apply that process to online marketing strategy. Also known as "viral marketing," the concept is generally to proliferate the knowledge of your existence on the web through other people's efforts. Be it word-of-eye advertising, referrals, affiliate programs, joint ventures and so on, it all comes down to that fundamental business process called networking. And according to Jill Griffin's wonderful book "Customer Loyalty: How to Earn it, How to Keep it," we are more open, trusting, and loyal when doing business with or being marketed by people we know -- and we certainly refer them to others more often as well.

Make Your Net Work
Online, networking is probably more important if not essential since the web is dimensionless and expansive. It grants you the ability to reach corners untapped -- areas that would have been unreachable otherwise. However, there's a lot of hype lately about the benefits of networking, but I personally don't advocate traditional networking (the "I'm open for business" kind) because, in my experience, it hasn't brought me anything substantial in return.

While it can be a fantastic marketing tool, the way in which networking is conducted is often the reason why it does not produce any favorable results. When you're only networking for instance, more often than not people will want something in return -- otherwise, they will lose interest or stop sending referrals if you don't take the time to recognize their efforts. And if you don't, you will paradoxically need to network even more, which defeats the purpose altogether.

As I previously discussed (see (, a way to consistently reward others is to turn your networking efforts into networking systems -- in other words, to develop strategic marketing alliances. If you and your alliance share a same target market, you can effectively cross-promote or share markets with each other. While there are as many different forms of systematized networking systems out there as there are businesses, one of them that has been quite effective for me is what I call "info-networking."

An info-network is one in which information is exchanged in some form or another between parties. It includes qualified leads that you can both share, or information about each other that is promoted to each other's market, subscribers, or client-base. As long as your alliance logically shares a same target market with you but without directly competing with you, it can become a potentially rewarding relationship. For example, this includes swapping ad space in ezines, posting reciprocal links, exchanging banners, co-advertising, promoting exclusive offers, submitting articles for publication, participating in discussion lists, and so on.

But info-networking goes further. It also refers to mailing lists where you can swap each other's prospect or client lists. While privacy online is becoming an increasingly important issue, it doesn't mean that there has to be an actual sharing of such lists. For example, web site owners and ezine publishers have opt-in lists that range from 100 to 100,000 people. Many cross-market their lists, such as offering single mailing "solo ads" (of course, at a cost). But if you publish your own ezine or maintain opt-in lists, the obvious advantage is that you can swap ads, "solo" mailings, or listowner-endorsed exclusive offers with each other.

Joint Ventures, Affiliate Programs, and Exclusive Offers
However, there's another form of networking that may be more effective, particularly for those who do not share or cross-market their lists. I call it "auto-networking," which goes beyond simply submitting your site to search engines or placing your offer on "free-for-all" links directories -- all with the hope that they will produce something in return. It means a process through which you are constantly and systematically exchanging leads with your strategic alliance. On the Internet, this technique is one in which a systematized method of cross-promotion between you and your alliance through a unique, joint marketing effort is created.

For example, this includes the coupling of complementary coupons or special offers that are exclusively marketed to each other's market. While different, these offers are combined and marketed under the banner of a single promotion. Another is the process of amalgamating products, services, or offers that complement each other's portfolio. If your alliance sells a product online, they can add to their offer additional bonuses, products, or services from your business, which may include an exclusive special offer for one of your products.

You can even create an entirely distinct product, service, or information package from both companies and sold simultaneously from both sites. For example, you sell cookware online. You can easily team up with a publisher specializing in cookbooks and throw a book in the mix. While you raise the price and split the profits with the publisher, you instantly raise the perceived value of the cookware through a co-branded or combined package of non-competing products or services. Best of all, you each market the "new" product separately while sharing in each other's traffic, market, lead-base, and referral-sources (i.e., network).

Here's another: If you're a software programmer and you have created a program that, say, targets businesspeople, don't just give it away as shareware. Offer it to other sites that target businesspeople and let them offer it. While your program may not relate to your alliance's product, they both appeal to a same market and together make the offer more irresistible. In addition to the fact that your program makes your alliance's offer more palatable, if your shareware is copyright-free you get your software to multiply itself rapidly -- especially within a market of much higher quality by virtue of the nature of your alliance's business.

Ultimately, you can create affiliations, alliances, referral-sources, and centers-of-influence that can help propagate the knowledge of your existence on the web and, like a virus, multiply your online marketing punch. Focus on building a successful business using some of these effective strategies and the knowledge of your existence will spread like wildfire.

About the Author
Michel Fortin is an author, speaker and Internet marketing consultant dedicated to turning businesses into powerful magnets. Visit ( He is also the editor of the "Internet Marketing Chronicles" ezine delivered weekly to 100,000 subscribers -- subscribe free at (