Word of Mouth vs. Viral Marketing

A chalk board drawing of people and social media
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What is the difference? In this article, we will discuss the difference between word-of-mouth marketing and viral marketing, While the two are similar as you'll see they are not the same.

The Same but Different

Word-of-mouth marketing is when a business does something, and their consumer tells five to ten friends. Word-of-mouth marketing has an echo effect. The initial sound is loud, and then it fades into the background.

Viral marketing, unlike word-of-mouth marketing, has a compounding effect. A consumer tells five to ten people, and then those five to ten people tell another five to ten people. The driving force behind most viral campaigns is the passion a consumer carries. It's like a virus that continuously infects more people and spreads without requiring any more marketing effort.

Word-of-mouth marketing is a key component to the growth of a small business. It's often word-of-mouth marketing that keeps small businesses running in the early days of operation when there is little to no marketing budget. The consumer shares their experience with your products or services, and they share it with their family and friends. It increases your consumer base and increases your sales.

Viral marketing is more about reaching out and touching the passion point of your consumer so that the passion drives the message and the message continues to reach the masses without assistance from you. You can orchestrate a viral campaign, but very seldom are viral campaigns that are orchestrated as successful as those that are just driven by the passion of a consumer. For it to reach a level of success your consumer must feel they have a personal stake and investment in the success of your campaign.

It's important also to realize that the success of a viral campaign depends on the vehicles used to transmit the message. There are companies that are more virally equipped than others. To create a strong viral link, the message must be able to transport from television advertising to radio and other extended means of broadcasting to the power of the Internet.

Let's take a look at a few examples:

Word of Mouth Marketing Examples 

Starbucks depends on word of mouth for their marketing; you will find that they avoid the transactional advertising in favor of word of mouth marketing.   They invest in their social media programs to further the word of mouth push and encourage customers to comments and share.

Red Bull
You'll see very little when it comes to advertising when it comes to Red Bull, they focus more on driving word of mouth through event marketing.  One prime event that does well for them is the Red Bull Wings Team.  This group drives around in Red Bull brand vehicles sharing samples of Red Bull.

Remember the HillTop ad that Coca-Cola did? If not, perhaps the lyrics will spark a memory - "I'd Like to Buy the World a Coke."  Is the song stuck in your head?  This jingle had the whole world singing, and if that weren't enough, it was recently revisited on the Mad Man series that had everyone humming it again.  The song spoke of unity and tolerance, and as consumers, we gravitated to it and shared it.

Viral Marketing Examples 

Mad Men Yourself
Speaking of Mad Men during the third season of Mad Men they worked to create buzz through an application called Mad Men Yourself.  The application as an avatar creator that helped you to create an avatar that made a 60s stylized version of yourself.  The site received over half a million visitors the first week. After five years you can still use the application, and it's going strong.

Dove – Choose the Beautiful
This was a campaign that showed a viral video of a woman walking through a revolving door that said either "average" or "beautiful."  This campaign appealed to the emotion of women, it was relatable, and women shared it.  In the process, it taught the meaning of "true beauty." It wasn't about advertising product; it was about sharing a message everyone could relate to.

In conclusion, the major difference between word-of-mouth marketing and viral is that word-of-mouth is often driven by you the marketer or business owner and viral marketing driven by the passion of your consumers and its success does not depend on you.