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Week 13: Memetic Marketing, Part 2 of 2: Building a Memetic

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Part 1 of this two-part series explained how to set up your site to send an email message. Part 2 expands on that discussion by showing you how to let users send part of your content to a friend or associate, in essence recruiting other users for you.
Web business engineering expert Nick V. Flor is the creator of Web Business Engineering.com, a Web business content forum, and the author of Web Business Engineering: Using Offline Activities to Drive Internet Strategies (Addison-Wesley, 2001, ISBN 0-201-60468-X). Professor Flor is a regular contributor to InformIT on Web business topics.

In this article, we explore how to use email to promote your site as part of a memetic marketing strategy. But first, the "Hacker Phrase of the Week."

Hacker Phrase of the Week

"You've never worked in the private sector...they expect results."

Origin: The film Ghostbusters

Usage: Whenever a coworker whines about his or her job and threatens to quit.



I hate working for Mr. Slate crushing these darn rocks every day. I think I'm going to go work for Mr. Marblehead over at Marble Industries.


Fred, you've never worked in the private sector...they expect results.


A search engine is a passive marketing tool—you must wait for users to find you. To drive large volumes of traffic to your personal web business, more proactive marketing instruments are needed. Traditional advertising via magazine, radio, and television ads is proactive, but it's also very expensive. What you need are low-cost, proactive ways of promoting your site. Unfortunately, many people believe that email spam is the solution. (Sometimes "spam" is jokingly referred to as the abbreviation for simple proactive marketing.) The owners of such sites collect email addresses from Usenet newsgroups, or purchase thousands to millions of email addresses for some low price, and then send an email advertisement to these sites. But spam is annoying, illegal in some areas, and most importantly ineffective compared to response rates for true proactive marketing techniques.

What I propose as an alternative to spam is memetic marketing. Memetic marketing (see the dashed lines in Figure 1) is a low-cost, proactive marketing technique in which you get your site's users (C) to advertise your site (W) to their friends and associates (N). As with autonomous content—and in line with the basic theme of the autonomous business model—your role as a content provider (P) is minimal. You simply develop the online technologies that help your users promote (:promo) the site to their friends. Such technologies are known as memetics—a specific implementation of a memetic marketing strategy. Now, you've probably already seen a memetic but didn't know it. For example, at InformIT, each article has a link that allows you to email the article to someone else (Email this to a Friend). That link is the simplest kind of memetic.

Figure 1 Marketing component of the autonomous business model.

Although memetics and spam may share the same promotional medium (email), there are big differences between the two. With spam, the recipient receives an unrequested advertisement from an anonymous source. With a memetic, the recipient typically receives interesting content from a friend—although the friend may choose to be anonymous. More significantly, spam gets less than a 1% response rate. In my experience and that of my students, a good memetic can get a 10–20% response rate. Finally, although email is currently the preferred promotional medium for a memetic, in the future, technologies like instant messaging may be more prevalent.

This article shows you how to develop the simplest kind of memetic—one that uses email to send your site's content to a friend. Such a memetic isn't very effective, but it teaches you the basic concepts and technical skills you need to develop more complex memetics. This article assumes that you've read Part 1, which showed you how to send a hard-coded email message using Active Server Pages (ASP). In this article, I'll show you how to replacing the hard-coded values with ones related to your memetic marketing strategy.

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