Google urges firms to embrace viral marketing

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Google urges firms to embrace viral marketing

Google's UK managing director believes that companies need to go further than just having a website to truly embrace the internet, and must consider innovative ways to promote themselves online.

Mark Howe said that businesses increasingly need to use blogs and sites such as YouTube as marketing tools, and should be using TV campaigns more often to drive customers to their sites.

Howe claimed that around 63 per cent of people who search for a product online, and go on to buy it, do so in a physical store.

Some 17 per cent will buy it there and then and the rest will return later to buy it online. So engaging a company's potential audience online in new ways is becoming ever more important.

"It can go horribly wrong if you do not engage with the end user," said Howe, citing the example of H&M's launch of a Stella McCartney clothing range which resulted in a huge increase in Google searches for the designer, but not the retail outlet.

When the first video of Coca Cola exploding from its bottle after being mixed with Mentos appeared on YouTube, the drinks company distanced itself from the clip and the copycat videos that quickly followed.

Mentos, on the other hand, saw it as a promotional opportunity and posted the video on its site. It then encouraged people to make more videos by starting a competition.

The confectionery company told the Wall Street Journal that the online videos freely made by members of the public were worth $10m in extra revenue.

Coca Cola eventually had a change of heart and sponsored Experiment 214, the now famous dominos clip.

In this way, Coca Cola and Mentos used online viral marketing and video to push their products, and did so with humour.

Coke exploding from bottles became an online sensation and a quick search on YouTube for Coke and Mentos now returns over 8,000 videos, all of it free publicity for both companies.

Innovative TV campaigns have resulted in a number of online videos and, if approached correctly, will enhance a company's brand and core values, according to Howe.

After Sony made its Bravia ad of 250,000 coloured balls bouncing down a San Francisco hill, people began blogging about it, many asking if it was real or computer generated.

Locals began uploading 'making of the advert' clips they had shot, until eventually Sony joined in with a film explaining the idea behind the ad and how it was done.

Howe believes that spotting opportunities to use the internet to subtly push a product in innovative ways, often at very low cost, is the future for promoting brands.

In the Bravia case, other companies quickly saw that they could parody the ad, the funniest being Tango which threw fruit down a street in Swansea. Although pushing Tango, it is obvious which ad it apes, creating yet more buzz for Sony.

Sony learned from the bouncing balls experience, and seeded blogs and YouTube for the follow-up ad of paint exploding over high rise flats in Scotland.

Again, Sony did not dissuade internet users from making some very funny spoofs because it all helped promote Bravia TVs.

Online viral marketing, according to Howe, is an "interesting way to expand your brand".

Mashups, where two technologies are merged online, have also started playing a greater role in helping companies better promote themselves.

Good examples include British Airways using Google Earth to show locations and then sell flights, hotels and other services to users.

Multimap has taken a similar approach with its new street maps so that Wi-Fi hotspots, hotels and even eBay sellers near to a location will be shown on the maps.

The internet is no longer a static experience, where people go to a site, read information and leave.

As was clear from the stands exhibiting at Internet World, companies need to look at ways to build online communities around their brands, providing the means to interact with customers and interested parties via tools such as forums, audio and video.

But it also means that companies need to embrace innovative viral methods of promoting products and services or risk being left behind.
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