Archive for May, 2009

Viral Marketing: Today’s Sensation or Yesterday’s News?

Posted on: May 27th, 2009 by Simon Carter & Daniel Darwood

Today we discuss viral marketing and it’s impact on the restaurant world, we also analyse the potential role of such techniques in the future.

In 1997 the unfortunately named term “viral” marketing was (according to Wikipedia) coined by Harvard Business School graduate Tim Draper when referring to the style of advertising practice used by hotmail.

In this case when a hotmail user emailed their friends an advert was automatically appended that, for example, promoted the use of hotmail. So when users emailed their friends and their friends emailed their friends, the advert spread exponentially “like a virus.”

The definition has been broadened over the years to cover all forms of word of mouth or word by technology enthusiasm or “buzz” generated through exploitation of Social Networking Potential.

The Nike promotion “Touch of Gold” can be considered, in the broadest sense, one of the early truly global viral marketing successes. The advert, placed on You Tube, involved the then world footballer of the year Ronaldinho, receiving a new pair of Nike boots which he then used to perform extraordinary tricks. The clip was viewed over 25 million times world-wide.

A more recent example of the same concept might be the buzz generated about the singer Susan Boyle. Within a few days, a four minute song video clip, again on You Tube, had gone around the world enjoying approximately 100 million views in the process. Susan shot to overnight stardom and was appearing on US chat shows within the week.

The rise of Facebook and Twitter on the internet has provided vehicles which are more closely aligned to the purity of the original viral marketing definition. They both offer clearly defined, natural platforms for marketers to exploit pre-developed and ever expanding social networking structures.

What is Twitter? Well quite loosely it can be described as micro-blogging meets social networking; where the internet watchwords of interactiveness and responsiveness are taken to an extreme.

On the face of it the apparently vain and frivolous activity of writing 140 characters about “what are you doing?” at any given time doesn’t hold much water. However when a plethora of celebrities (A to Z list) are participating the “buzz” becomes quite irresistible, with individuals and importantly, companies, developing their own bands of followers.

finediningguide started a Twitter page in April 2009 – relatively late to the game by early adopter standards! The objective of the finediningguide page was to provide message alerts in real time of upcoming features on the website as well as bulletins on matters such as technical time outs: An example being the brief time out experienced by the podcast series on iTunes.

Within a couple of weeks the site had a hundred or so followers, two weeks later approaching three hundred. During these early weeks it was noted that many Twitter participants were promoting their websites or blogs. After consideration it was decided to introduce a “viral marketing” experiment.

In 2004, when finediningguide began, the site was looking for content and a piece was written called “The forty perils.”

The article took a humorous look at forty things that a fine dining restaurant might do that they really shouldn’t and likewise forty things customers may do that infuriate restaurants.

As with any site in its early days any page views are gratefully received and sure enough, as a google listing emerged, a small trickle of visitors had a look at the pages.

In the mists of time the feature had faded into the background and not been viewed in any numbers for years.

Today, among the steady 25,000 or so page views a month that the site enjoys, the Michelin home page, the home page itself and the Bib Gourmand pages are the most popularly viewed on an on-going basis.

So an entry was made on Twitter promoting the forty perils pages. For one day and one day only those pages were the most viewed pages across the well established two hundred plus page site.

The previous example of such a spike was the appearance of chef Alan Murchison (of Michelin Starred L’ Ortolan and La Becasse) appearing on the BBC TV programme Great British Menu. Alan appeared for half an hour every evening at 6.30pm for a week. The programme enjoyed three million viewers per night. The 2005 interview the site conducted with Alan became the most popular page on the site for one week and one week only.

The fascinating thing was that both spikes were of equal measure – in marketing collateral terms can three million TV viewers equate to three hundred Twitter followers?! Well it’s an unfair comparison but the result is interesting nonetheless, as it clearly highlights the marketing potential of social networking on the internet.

What can restaurants do to take advantage? Well as an example, Andy Lynes wrote an interesting article for BigHospitality that focused on the excellent use made of Twitter by the Michelin restaurant Galvin at Windows.

The “Windows” site has a strong personal resonance: As a child my father took me up “the fastest lift in London” (as he put it) to the top floor of the Park Lane Hilton to admire the views and have a drink in the bar. I gazed in wonderment through the doors of the restaurant at all the important and slightly frightening gathering of diners.

As an adult I have always taken visiting relatives from abroad (Australia and the US) to Windows for lunch. Regardless of the food, the views are spectacular – Hyde Park and Knightsbridge on one side and Buckingham Palace on the other. Currently in the hands of Chef Galvin, the site enjoys the Michelin recognition it deserves.

As with all fine dining restaurants, Windows is not immune to the recession and innovative marketing techniques to put bums on seats have been explored. Andy Lynes’ article quoted the general manager of Galvin’ s Fred Sirieix as stating that the restaurant enjoyed an average of a booking a day thanks to their Twitter presence.

Given the ephemeral nature of the “buzz” generated by Twitter, perhaps a marketing strategy might revolve around placing a promotion on a Tuesday evening for a 20% discount for bookings on the Wednesday evening or lunch time. You can see how this technique could apply to all sorts of businesses but this is perhaps the best solution for restaurants.

The dangers are two fold. The first is that 80-90% of Twitter content suffers (in marketing terms) from the email plague of spam. Messages can get lost in the mix. The second is that as these social networking platforms mature messages are lost in the mix for a different reason – everyone becomes a me too! No doubt Twitter, like Facebook, will naturally develop into common interest groups (that can only aid marketing) however saturation may soon follow.

At the turn on May 2009 it was reported on one of the satellite US News Channels that the “Twitter Craze” had peaked and was fading – people had got bored. This is quite ironic; in an age of immediate consumption, satisfaction and disposal it is like the vast majority of those that ‘Tweet on Twitter’ getting bored with being bored.

No doubt however, in the medium term, one can expect the restaurant scene, particularly in these economic times where marketing creativity is an essential ingredient for pure survival, to be exploring all such avenues to reach our palates.