viral transaction marketing

[NOTE: This is the seventh installment in my series examining the 12 different types of viral marketing. The goal is to help you find the ones that will work best for your company. So be sure to check out our previous installments to learn how you can be just like Viral Panda above and become a Viral Hero.]

Endorsement Through Achievement


When users take certain actions by using a product or service, those actions are often seen as “achievements” to those around them. Our eighth type of viral marketing – viral transaction marketing – showcases this achievement publicly, without overtly forcing it down anyone’s throat. The result is a positive brand image and explosive growth.

To understand the basic driving force behind viral transaction marketing, ask yourself this:

  • How did you discover your favorite restaurants?
  • How did you first hear about your favorite new band?
  • What sparked you to travel to your most recent vacation destination?

More than likely you’ve gotten some sort of a recommendation or review. Based off those, you probably also received enough confidence (or desire) to try something yourself. These endorsements, whether from a friend or online, serve as ways to “derisk” ourselves because we trust the judgment of others. (Will trying the new sushi place around the corner be enjoyable, or a huge disappointment? Yelp to the rescue!)

Most of us are followers in this way. Not because we can’t make our own decisions, but because we simply don’t have the time or ability to make well-informed decisions about every product or experience out there.

These referrals and recommendations act as a filter. The bad experiences are shared with us and we avoid them like the plague. The good ones rise to the top and we end up eating some really delicious spicy tuna rolls.

Connect with Referrals


To a degree, all viral marketing stems from referrals. Viral transaction marketing however took things to a whole new level once social media came along.

Take music for example. Have you ever felt an odd sense of pride when you play a song you really love for a friend that they’ve never heard before? How do you feel when they absolutely love it? Probably pretty good.

But what if they hate it? Do you find yourself trying to convince them they’re wrong by playing other tracks by the same artist until they have no choice but to admit you’re a musical wizard.

Most of us have felt this way at some point. (At least in one form or another.) And it all stems back to our desire to feel like a tastemaker or trendsetter.

Thanks to social media, we can now amaze a whole lot more than one friend with our impressive tastes. Which is exactly what the digital music service Spotify took advantage of on their way to becoming a viral powerhouse.

How Spotify Turned Users Into Tastemakers


In the early days of Spotify, users logged into the service with Facebook. As they listened to new music, they could broadcast what they were listening to on Spotify to their Facebook newsfeed. Friends could then check out what one another were listening to, and get on Spotify to hear it themselves.

In a single click, Spotify got permission from users to post WHAT they were doing AS they were doing it to their Facebook friends. Everyone was fine with this because they loved being seen as music aficionados. The more friends who “liked” what you were listening to, the more you felt like you were an “in-the-know” tastemaker. And since this broadcast was a wall post, the branching factor was HUGE.

For all this to work well, Spotify was wisely transparent about what it was doing. In the past certain black hat sites and apps used to find ways to auto-post for users, or auto-invite a user’s friends, without being forthcoming or honest about it. While you might be able get some short term benefits by being shady like this, the bad perception you generate about your brand is hardly ever worth it. So it’s better to follow Spotify’s lead.

How Spotify Became the Pied Piper of Viral  


You know the Pied Piper? That guy who induces others to follow him by enticingly playing his musical pipe. Spotify works kind of like that, only on a much more engaging scale. And those being induced by the music also end up sharing their own music as well, creating a massive network of people both simultaneously following and leading one another.

Discovering new music that you love is a very unique and satisfying feeling. Especially when you do so on the recommendation of a trusted friend. As a result, Spotify broadcasts received an absurdly high viral conversion rate. Users trusted the social broadcasts were authentic, and they didn’t feel manipulated or pressured to engage. Especially since there was no push to try Spotify, just listen to some bangin’ beats. (Or pipe playing.)

Through Spotify, friends were merely sharing some of the music they enjoyed in a way that sparked curiosity, and a click through.

And that’s where a new viral loop began. 

Spotify’s viral loop blends very well with their retention loop and revenue model:

  • A user visits Spotify to see what music their friends are listening to.
  • Since those friends often have similar tastes, the user listens to the same songs as well.
  • The user then sticks around for more songs by the same artist. Then different artists. Then different playlists. And so on.
  • Soon a whole new world of musical entertainment opens up right there on their screen.
  • The user is now a tastemaker, and the process repeats as their friends visit Spotify to see what music they’re now listening to.

So what did Spotify do here?

They effectively leveraged viral transaction marketing by playing one heck of a captivating pipe.

Good Feelings Act as Fuel


The perfect time to present an opportunity for a user to enter your viral transaction loop is right when they acquire a positive feeling of accomplishment or achievement from your product. Not because using your product is so important, but because as a result of using your product they achieved something of note. (Like finding a great new song.)

Your loop’s call to action should never be seen as spam or forcibly induced. Instead, you’re giving users a quick and easy opportunity to show off an accomplishment or experience they’re proud of. They should WANT to take this action because you’re making it about them, not about you. They did NOT start using your product to become your sales rep. They signed up to get value, and you’re providing them with a medium to share that value.

Most often (and easily) this is executed amidst networks on social media, but it can be done offline as well.

Take Tough Mudder, the endurance event series where participants attempt obstacle courses that test their mental and physical strength. Upon successfully completing a course, the participants receive an orange headband. This is an excellent example of offline viral transaction marketing. The headbands can’t be bought, and are instead earned by those who complete the obstacle races hosted by the company.

The headbands are then seen by others as an achievement, or badge of honor. Those who wear them are riding high on the good times of having accomplished something awesome. This in turn fuels others to want to do the same (i.e. participate in future Tough Mudder events).

Tough Mudder Orange Headband - Viral Transaction Marketing

New users are always more inclined to join or sign-up because of the value they see one of their peers get through an action. But it’s the result, not the action itself, that is the key here. Your product, service, and brightly colored headbands simply fuel the means to achieve through action.

More Examples of Viral Transactional Marketing Done Right


MapMyRun is a great example of showcasing achievement through action. When users complete a run, MapMyRun is NOT asking users to share MapMyRun. They’re providing them with a voluntary way to share their achievement – which in this case is the run they just completed.

MapMyRun - Viral Transaction Marketing

This method also helps create user-generated benefit-driven sales copy, which can be helpful to get the maximum benefit from this type of viral marketing. Sharing the achievement motivates others to use the tool to achieve similar feats.

Another good example is Kickstarter.

People love a good underdog story. Many of those people also get intrinsic satisfaction by being the benefactor of those stories. When they make a decision to financially back a new founder, Kickstarter prompts users to share the project with their own social network while they’re still riding the high of having backed the campaign.

Not only does this promote their accomplishment, but posits them as an in-the-know trendsetter.

These broadcasts then act as a form of social proof.

Wow, Melinda backed this campaign? It must be awesome . . . I’ll check it out.

Because Melinda’s friends dig her taste in clothing, or know she’s always on the cutting edge of new technology or art, they’ll take a look. Then Kickstarter’s viral loop kicks in, and many of these people will back the project as well.

Whats Next?

While social proof is a big foundation of viral transaction marketing, it’s even MORE a foundation of our next type of viral marketing. In fact, it’s the primary driver of brands like Rolls Royce, Gibson and RED.


Virality Through Branding? It's Absolutely Possible. Want to Know How?

Not every brand can use our next form of viral marketing, but it’s the engine of choice for many of the best. Find out if your brand fits the mold in our next chapter.


Travis Steffen
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