Stop trying to go viral and start being symbiotic

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Think about what going viral means to you in the marketing sense.


Now think about what the most successful viruses have in common in the biology world.

1. They’re ubiquitous. The most common viruses are rhinoviruses, which cause the common cold. At any given time, there’s a cold going around.

So far, so good. Marketers like ubiquity.

2. They’re easily transmitted. Most rhinoviruses spread through aerosol transmission – tiny droplets of liquid that are airborne and can take hold in a new host simply through breathing.

Marketers like transmissibility.

3. They’re mostly harmless. For example, the herpes simplex virus (the virus that causes cold sores) is one of the most successful viruses ever, because it does very little harm to its host organism, which ensures it a lifelong infection. If you think about it for a bit, a dead host can no longer support the virus, so the ideal virus does almost no harm at all, or does so over an exceptionally long period of time.

That’s actually fairly contrary to what a lot of marketers want. Most marketers want something very hard hitting and impactful, not something that’s “mostly harmless” and nearly invisible.

Or is it? If you’re thinking strategically and very long term (which most people don’t), you actually do want marketing that’s mostly harmless. If you give more than you ask for, if you willingly turn down the “BUY BUY BUY” dial to the lowest setting that can still sustain your business while providing value over the long term, then you’re not “killing the host” in the sense that they no longer want your marketing. They won’t tune you out, and indeed may even welcome you, in which case your relationship with the host changes from being parasitic to symbiotic.

For example, in the biology world, Lactobacillus Acidophilus bacteria lives inside your guts, literally, and helps not only to kill off the more harmful Escherischia coli (e. coli) bacteria, but also helps to metabolize vitamin K and lactase. How successful is the acidophilus bacteria, biologically?

Stonyfield Farm, NH

That’s right. Healthy symbiosis has managed to get a simple bacteria to be part of major corporate marketing campaigns. A life form incapable of sentience is getting sentient lifeforms to not only willingly consume it, but to sell it to others. Now that’s some serious influence.

Stop trying to go viral with short-term thinking and short-term campaigning in your marketing, and start thinking about how to behave symbiotically, giving more than you take. You might just find that your prospects and customers will want to consume more than ever from you.

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2 responses to “Stop trying to go viral and start being symbiotic”

  1. I would also submit another interpretation of the “mostly harmless” aspect or maybe another “it’s flexible” bullet point. Things that go viral have some sort of broader appeal–you may be sharing a video promoting a cause that also includes a popular song and some cats. You can then share that video with people who already support the cause, as well as people who like the popular song, and the people who like cats. Flexibility and harmlessness give it longer legs.

  2. Hey Christopher, I like your idea of establishing symbiotic relationships. What suggestions do you have for doing so? I submit your ads should encourage interaction to build collaboration and ultimately relationship, be it on social media or a blog or your newsletter. What do you think?

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