viral marketing

Viral Marketing: A Double-Edged Sword for Startups

Marketing and growing your brand are two of the biggest challenges when running a startup. In the earliest stages of your company, you don’t have a lot of money, can barely say you have a customer base, and may not even know what your brand should look like in the long term.

Viral marketing can help you solve all of those problems and more. However, while viral marketing can be highly effective and budget-friendly, it can also lead your startup into a worse position than it began. Let’s look at how viral marketing can act as a double-edged sword for startups like yours.

Viral marketing: what is it?

Viral marketing is a marketing strategy that relies on word-of-mouth or social media spread to either:

  • Drive visitor engagement to a specific product or service.
  • Bolster brand awareness among your target audience members.

For example, say that you release a new product to your core consumer base. A few of your buyers are also influencers on social media platforms like Instagram and TikTok. In a matter of weeks, practically everyone in your customer base is looking to try out your new product, all thanks to how viral it has become.

The reality in marketing can also apply to specific marketing materials. Say that you put together a top-tier YouTube ad about Bitcoin wallets that really speaks to your target audience about the security that wallets offer to protect their crypto assets. It’s also witty, well-designed and has excellent production value. Because it includes a catchy song, it goes viral. Then even people in the general audience who never would have heard of your brand are humming along to the tune seen in your company advertisement.

Bottom line: Viral marketing means using the power of advertising virality to your advantage.

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Benefits of viral marketing

As you might expect, there are several big potential benefits of implementing viral marketing in your overall marketing strategy.

Massive return on marketing investment

For starters, viral marketing can lead to a substantial return on your marketing investments. In the above advertisement example, creating an online ad might only cost a couple of thousand dollars. But if it goes viral, you could see thousands or hundreds of thousands of dollars in returns from product sales, brand awareness boosts, and more.

In this way, viral marketing is attractive to startup executives because it holds the potential promise of a disproportionate return on their advertising investments. You can bet a little but win big.

Consumer insights into your brand

Next, viral marketing allows you to gain new consumer insights into your brand. By looking at how people react to a viral ad, product, or other marketing material, you learn more about:

  • How those customers think of your company.
  • What they expect from your brand.
  • Whether those customers were even aware of your brand by the time they interacted with the viral advertisement, etc.

New insights into customer behavior can provide many long-term advantages for your company. Your startup can then take this information and:

  • Use it to develop even more targeted marketing materials for your core audience members.
  • Figure out what your target audience wants from your company.

Direction for future brand development

Viral marketing can give your startup brand some direction for its future development. Let’s face it: Many startups don’t have much of a brand identity in the beginning. If they do, it might be something relatively safe and generic, with a repetitive mission statement or a generalized goal to “give their customers what they need to succeed.”

For a lot of consumers, that’s pretty boring. But if any of your marketing materials go viral, you can incorporate those materials into your future brand growth.

Say you have a viral video post that goes wild on social media. Everyone reposts it thanks to its stellar production value and its informative content. You can take those elements and:

  • Make your brand well-known for the quality of its videos.
  • Double-down on providing informative, high-authority content to your target audience members.

This benefit can be invaluable for first-time startup entrepreneurs who may not know how to grow or develop a brand from scratch.

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Market research boosts

More generally, viral marketing can provide important market research boosts, as mentioned above. As people interact with viral marketing content, you’ll better understand them, your company and what you should provide to maintain market domination in the future.

Potential downsides of viral marketing

Even though viral marketing can be highly beneficial, there are some potential downsides to keep in mind. After all, viral marketing is a double-edged sword for small startups and large businesses alike.

Unreliable at best

Viral marketing, by its very nature, is unreliable. You can try to invest hundreds or thousands of marketing dollars into producing viral advertisements, blog posts or social media memes. But if you aren’t fortunate, none of them will go viral, and you’ll essentially waste all that money.

Because you can’t rely on viral marketing to fulfill your marketing goals or grow your brand, it may not be wise to pursue it directly. Instead, you will likely be better off marketing through traditional means like advertisements, blog posts and a focused social media campaign to reach your target audience.

If one of your marketing ads goes viral, great. If not, you can at least rest assured that you haven’t put all of your marketing eggs into one proverbial basket.

Impossible without a community

On top of that, viral marketing is practically impossible if you don’t already have a community of people who follow your brand. Viral marketing requires people to spread the word about your brand. If barely anyone listens to you or is aware of your brand, this will be much easier said than done!

Because of this, viral marketing might be a better tactic (or stroke of luck) for companies with a small but devoted consumer base. For instance, if you have a few hundred people who are already fans of your products and are early adopters of your brand, that might be enough to make an advertisement go viral.

If, on the other hand, you haven’t made a single sale, don’t count on viral marketing to bring you any revenue dollars.

Is viral marketing a wise idea for your startup?

As a startup entrepreneur, you have to decide whether viral marketing is something you should pursue. Most startup executives know that viral marketing is nice when it happens, but it is so fickle and luck-based that they’re better off advertising through more solid strategies.

Should one of your ads go viral, take full advantage of it! However, do not rely on viral marketing to grow your brand for you. Create a dedicated brand growth and awareness campaign, continue marketing as usual, but pay attention to signs of virality so you can jump on the opportunity to double down on the effectiveness of a viral marketing event with as many resources as you can. 

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