Have you ever had the feeling that you are just trying too hard? Looking around, have you noticed other companies and organizations successfully utilizing the Internet to build brands, attract customers, and/or promote their ideas without investing the significant amount of capital that your company has (without achieving nearly as good results)? In all likelihood, you have – and then you began to ponder what they are doing that you are not. The answer is simple, but quite revolutionary from the marketer’s perspective.

Unlike all other major forms of media, the Internet is truly participative. The most successful marketing programs are organic, driven by the audience itself – not advertising, promotions, or other traditional marketing tactics. Thinking metaphorically, the magic of the Internet is like the magic of childbirth. You are certainly involved in the conception and bringing it to term, but once it has been delivered, it assumes a life of its own. It grows, develops and becomes something different and more amazing than you could have ever imagined. If you try to exercise absolute control of your marketing on the Internet, it becomes robot-like in contrast.

Sharing is a fundamental part of all functional societies. When an event occurs, good or bad, a normal human being (i.e. a non-sociopath) has an almost uncontrollable urge to share it with someone else. So, when your customer or message target is surfing the Web and stumbles upon your site, message, or product, and it is something interesting, useful, or entertaining, they just have to send an instant message or e-mail to members of their personal network. In theory, if your offering is of sufficient utility, that one point of contact leads to many new contacts, and in a cascading effect, those contacts lead to more contacts that lead to even more contacts. It runs through and across social networks like a highly communicable disease. Most importantly, when an initial point of contact with a company, organization, or product is made through a friend rather than a direct company-driven communication, it carries more weight – the source instantly falls into the “reliable” and “trustworthy” categories.

Ownership is also a powerful, primitive human motivator, and this is readily evident on the Internet. When someone finds an interesting new site or great product online, they tell their friends and family about it (often via e-mail). By doing so, they have taken ownership of the promotion process, and psychologically they are now tied to the success and popularity of that site or product. If someone sends an e-mail back to them and says how horrible it is, the individual will feel attacked and will proceed to try to convince the other person that it is indeed worthy of their admiration and patronage. After all, if they like it, it must be good – and when someone tells them that it is not, the implication is that they have poor taste or judgment.

How can this help interactive marketers plan better campaigns? First of all, it is important to focus on contact quality, not quantity. Intelligent online marketing should be focused on making high quality first contact. Rather than casting a broad net and trying to drag in everybody at once, concentrate on making a strong connection with a select audience. If possible, that audience should be selected based upon their propensity to identify and distribute valuable pieces of information across social networks (i.e. the nodes and primary connectors).

The second conclusion is that whatever you are marketing, be it a product, company, person, idea, etc., it must also be of true utility to your target audience. While this is true of all marketing (you cannot make someone buy something that they really do not want or need), it is especially evident in interactive marketing as the results are far easier to track and quantify. Without utility, you are dead in the water.

In short, interactive marketing dollars are best spent on developing high-quality first contact with network connectors, making sure that your offer provides utility, and most importantly, it APPEARS to provide utility. You will find that these things may require better research and more planning, but the capital outlay on actual advertising, PR, promotions, etc. will be far less.