So, You’ve Given Them a Cold. Are They Sick Yet?

Getting Really Sick

So I previously wrote about the way in which people get infected with the love of a product. Now, what about them spreading the love?

One very important use of a biological model of infection as a tool to understand marketing of tech products is that it reminds us that traffic and discussion between people who are already infected with a love of our product does not, of itself, drive new users. The product has to be taken up and used for that to happen. We are mostly concerned with how we actually drive the stage of uptake, ensuring a productive infection passes  from existing users to uninfected users. I'm not ignoring the vital need for potential customers to be exposed to communication about the product, but so much is written about that that I hardly need bother. But very few writers have dealt with the need for someone to actually take the plunge and download, use and pay for our products. (side note: I suspect that this is because Marcoms execs love to write about themselves more than they love actually selling anything….)

Ten Factors

For an infected individual, there are approximately ten important factors that will go on to influence the spread of the virus that they carry, we only need to consider four or five of these for now (and I have a bike that wants me to go out and ride it instead of sitting in here typing):

Infective Window – this is the period of time between the onset of infectivity (when the user starts telling others about the product and effectively attempts to pass the disease on to them) and the point at which they recover (and are no longer infectious to others). The trick here is to make that window really long – keep them interested.

Incubation period – incubation is normally described as the time after the host has been exposed to the virus and before the host shows signs of active disease, and it is important to realise that in biological systems active signs of the disease imply that the host immune system is attempting to destroy the virus.  Therefore the onset of the disease symptoms usually marks the end of the period during which the host is spreading copies of the virus.  We can have people who pass on their love of the product without really using it much themselves (the well discussed “sneezers” of many marketing books)

Time to recovery / Time to lethality – there comes a point in all diseases where the host has either destroyed all the virus in its corpus, or has died. Obviously we do not wish to kill off users!  What we do know is that all products have a life cycle in the hands of their user, and we must expect that the users will effectively recover from using our product after a period of time. The longest lived infections effectively become symbiotic with their host, in that the host cannot thrive without the disease organism.  We need to ensure that creative stuff that our customers simply cannot live without!

In our case we should consider that someone who is no longer active life for, no longer talking about our product, or is spreading negative comments in other forums (horror of horrors!), has reached the end of the incubation period and is no longer actively spreading our product but may still have a passion for our product (may still be using our product personally). Of additional note in the concept of incubation is the fact that somebody who is seen to be obviously disease will be excluded by the rest of an intelligent population for fear of infection.  A practical application of this in marketing is that it does not pay to be too reliant on rabidly enthusiastic evangelists as many groups will actively seek to exclude or reject them simply because they are overly enthusiastic and obviously “infected”.

By the way, just like with Typhoid Mary – we can have people who show no outbound signs of infection and still users. Their reputation for impartiality may even help them promote products.

Time to infectivity – this is the time between initial exposure to the virus (in this case exposure to our product) and when the host begins to spread our product to others. In all diseases it is critical that the virus reduces the time to infectivity to the lowest possible, in order to maximise its chances of spreading prior to a reaction from the immune system. This is an easy one to influence – just reduce the time and clicks between seeing your product mentioned and having it working for the new user. Sorry, did I say easy? I meant to say that this was just about the hardest thing in software engineering and marketing. Hope you weren't overly excited or expecting some simple answer that would multiply your sales many times over.


Some people think we can judge Infectivity in statistical terms using Segment Needs And Performance analyses (“SNAP”) and Net Promotor Score (“NPS”) – in a modified form.  SNAP is a way of measuring how closely the product which we have delivered matches the requirements set by users in each of a large number of categories. Is simply a way of measuring how likely somebody is to recommend what we do to another user. Combining these two measurements systems using freely available online questionnaire systems and focus group testing might enable us to assess whether somebody is truly infected with the “love of our product” disease and also help to determine whether the product/disease meets the requirements to infect another person. Not all agree, but the basic elements appear to be there and are easy to use.

NPS enables us to quickly see if we are likely to get referrals. Fred Reichheld, in his book The Ultimate Question, believes that he has uncovered that very magic pill. In his view, the answer to a single question – How likely are you to recommend this product to a friend or colleague? – is the only thing that business operators need to know from their customers. The result, marketed as the Net Promoter Score (NPS), has received a lot of attention (and is loved and hated in equal measure). The premise of NPS is simplicity itself. Responses to the likelihood to recommend question are solicited on a 0-10 scale, with 0 meaning the least likely to recommend and 10 meaning the most likely to recommend. Responses are then grouped in the following (simplified) manner:

•    Customers with responses of 9-10 are categorized as Promoters.
•    Customers with responses of 7-8 are categorized as Neutral or Passive.
•    Customers with responses of 0-6 are categorized as Detractors.

The theory is that “Promoters” are satisfied and loyal customers who will keep buying from a company, and are most likely to suggest that friends and acquaintances do the same. “Passives” are somewhat satisfied but generally unenthusiastic customers who aren’t particularly motivated to offer a referral, either positive or negative. “Detractors” are dissatisfied customers, quite possibly trapped in a bad relationship, probably seeking alternatives and assumed to be unafraid, perhaps even eager, to share their experience with others.

Reichheld has devised a simple mathematical formula to summarize scores – he takes the percentage of customers who are Promoters, and subtracts the percentage of customers who are Detractors. (Note that Neutral customers are assigned a value of zero and left out of the equation.) The result is the Net Promoter Score, which the author claims is the only metric a company needs to predict growth. Among the attractive aspects of NPS is that it’s simple, easy to understand and can be disseminated across an organization with relative ease. Common sense tells us that if a high percentage of customers indicate an unhesitating propensity to recommend a company or product, that company’s sales force enjoys a built-in extension of its efforts. And, in today’s complex business world, being able to rally the troops around a single metric is appealing. OK, we know it is not quite as simple as that , but, with limited time and limited resources the NPS Score and a quick track of the questions “WILL you recommend MY PRODUCT, and if so, to how many people?” is all we really need to get started in measuring our infectivity. We can modify the formula as we learn and adopt tighter metrics as we gain experience.


We can also steal from the ACCTTO principles again here, since that first T stands for Transmissibility:

Transmissibility – the easier it is to distribute the product, or to obtain the product, as a consumer, the more rapidly and widely the product would penetrate the market and the lower the costs of distribution.

Specifically for our product, Moviestorm we noted a few months ago that it was a relatively large (300 MB) downloadable and installable package.  Moviestorm movies are relatively large high-quality movies (50 MB or larger).  Moviestorm requires the user to preregister prior to downloading and using the software. All of those were barriers to transmission

So we made it our priority to massively reduce the size of the download (with a target of 30 MB), enable users to send the downloadable application to each other, permit the installer to be distributed through all standards software distribution sites (TuCows, Freeware, etc). Parallel to this was a process of ensuring that all movies are rendered out in a low resolution preview, Flash9, on our site so more people could see good movies. Finally we moved much of our site traffic to YouTube so even more people could see movies made in Moviestorm

We saw a steady rise in uptake, and a rise that is still rising, IYSWIM, from just those steps.

No product should seek to create barriers to downloading or sharing the application or promotional material between users at any point. This includes initial barriers of price, installation, registration, language, or hardware requirement.

Remove the barriers = transmission goes up

So, we have an infected cohort (remember Part 1 of this blog series?) and we have a product that can be transmitted. What next? Shall we deal with the speed of infection or maintaining the infection? I’ll take a vote and come back to you when I next can….