How to create the ultimate viral product, scientifically

11 years ago, (in early 2005 to be exact), a British student at the University of Nottingham was mulling over a problem most of us have:

How to make money?

Not more money, nor multiplying what he already had but instead, to make enough to pay for his 3 years of school.

Eventually Alex decided to sell real estate, — just not the housing kind.

He decided to sell pixels on a website he created for $1 per pop. They would only be sold in blocks of 10x10 — the minimum price to buy some of this virtual real estate was $100.

But would anyone buy pixels?

Well lots of people did. The last 1000 pixels were auctioned off on eBay and fetched $38,100.

That brought the total to $1,037,100 in gross income.

This is in right now. Please note the subtle pitch for T-shirts as well!

How did he do it?

Runaway success stories like the Million Dollar Homepage offers so much for us to learn because they generally have a couple or more components that they have done really well.

For Tew, it was novelty and virality.

When he launched, it was a pretty cool idea that went viral.

But the world’s a lot more different now.

The e-commerce landscape is a lot more crowded than it was in 2005. Novel ideas aren’t so easy to come by anymore because everyone has already been there and done that.

But there is a counter argument to be made here — while the field is definitely more crowded and tougher, the tools you have are also sharper and better.

So how do you do it?

We think that viral products can be created scientifically.

The key ingredients are 2 really important ideas that we’ve tested out in our explorations in the e-commerce space:

  1. Outliers can teach us valuable lessons
  2. The tools available to you in e-commerce are much better now, enabling you to try out different strategies on segments of your customers, effectively A/B testing your strategy

Let’s expound on this a bit:

Why are outliers important?

Nassim Nicholas Taleb, in his seminal 2007 book, “The Black Swan” (no relation to the Natalie Portman movie) explained the power of highly improbable events in effecting massive changes in the ecosystem, both positive and negative.

not Natalie Portman

These eponymously named “Black Swans”, have 3 distinct characteristics:

  1. They’re outliers lying outside the realm of regular expressions
  2. They carry extreme impact
  3. In spite of their outlier status, human nature makes us concoct explanations for its occurrence, after its occurrence

The power and impact of outliers lie in the fact that they are extremely unexpected, or unpredictable.

For example, if Hitler’s rise was expected, there would be a lot more programs in place to ensure disaffected landscape artists are accepted readily into art school. Unfortunately that was not the case.

This same rule applies to e-commerce. If the recipe to making a viral product was easily available, the very concept of a viral product wouldn’t exist.

So, how would you go about creating a viral product?

Here’s our second premise:

Modern e-commerce has the data and the tools necessary to predict, discover and exploit outliers

The key to finding and predicting outliers is to do it before anyone else does it. Often times that means wading through mountains of data to find interesting trends. In e-commerce terms, that means analyzing your customers.

Yes, that’s right. Your own customers are your own best source of insights

Modern e-commerce has the best tools available to collect, analyze and understand your customer data.

There’s a huge ecosystem of startups like Heap, Mixpanel, and Semantics3 Analytics that help you pull your data and visualize it in interesting ways.

That’s important, because if you can analyze your own data, you may be able to spot patterns or trends that may not be readily available to other users — and potentially spot an outlier before it sparks a “black swan” event!

So, now that you’ve covered both premises, let’s check out two ways to scientifically create a viral product with outliers and good data:

1. Make Magic by Testing

Alex Tew didn’t offer to sell a pixel for $1 on a website that will never change.


He said:

Own a piece of internet history!

How tantalizing does that sound? Which company would miss up an opportunity to be immortalised for a mere 100 dollars.

That’s the magic right there.

Tew promised them that the website would remain online and exactly the same for at least five years and it is actually still online! While only the advertisers can confirm that they got their money’s worth from the mass un-targeted traffic, this was a much cheaper option that most advertising channels and certainly worth a shot.

How do I find this magic phrase that just seems to work?

Tim Ferris from The 4-Hour Work Week actually talks about choosing the aforementioned name for his book after testing out over 10 variants on Adwords. This was the one that was the most catchy and so he went with it! So while Alex Tew was lucky that his tagline worked, Tim Ferris had a new tool to help him reduce that element of luck. Do what he did but one better.

Test out your messaging with multiple homogenous groups.

Use an analytics tool that helps your segment your customers by broad characteristics and then split this segment into 3–4 groups. Send them a mail each with a separate heading or messaging.

This needn’t even be part of a deliberate A/B testing strategy, it would just be a variation on your weekly newsletters that go out — but this time with a slight tweak. The most important part here is to ensure that you create segments which have meaningful distinctions, e.g. all the people who bought only formal wear, or all the people who have placed more than 3 orders on your store.

2. Find your Power Segment and Amplify Growth

Black Milk Clothing started as a leggings brand in a kitchen in Brisbane, Australia and now has an enviable cult following and does over $100 million in revenue. And they claim to have $0 marketing budget. How did they do it?

They found the niche that loved them and turned these happy customers into their spokespersons and marketers.

A great example of this is their product pages which feature customers who have styled that particular product and tagged them on Instagram. What a great way to offer your customers some recognition and show potential customers stylish social proof!

So I should…?

Well the first step would be to find your best customers as well.

Know your loyal fans, biggest spenders and missing regulars. Once you know this stuff the rest is a relative cakewalk.

You could:

  1. Send out personalized emails to lure back people who haven’t visited in more than a month
  2. Invite people who have placed more than 3 orders to participate as a group moderator on social channels
  3. Offer your biggest spenders coupons to show them some love.

The possibilities are endless here!

But, there’s a slight problem here.

Using data with such ease and flexibility requires some work.

The stats from BuiltWith show that nearly 30 million websites have Google Analytics, the most commonly used analytics tool, installed.

In addition, there are also sites like Heap Analytics, RJ Metrics, MixPanel and so on that just add on the complexity of tracking and using data.

To top it all of you can’t really get customer level data.

So what’s the point if you don’t know who your returning visitors are?

So we decided to make analytics simple.Tailored for e-commerce.
Set-up with one click. Layered with User data.

We built Semantics3 Analytics

Semantics3 Analytics is an e-commerce business intelligence tool that matches individual visitors and behavioral data (for e.g. users who abandoned carts), enabling you to identify highly profitable segments of your customers and make better business decisions.

Yes, that would be us.

Tracking Pixel

Unlike most analytics solutions which need set-up we can track all your relevant events because we know that specific events are important to an e-commerce business. So we track product views, product add-to-carts, product buys, time on page, number of sessions, orders placed, order values, pages visited. And the best part?

This is personalized data

You can know if your customer, Laura, viewed 3 products and then left the site, came back two days later viewed a product again and finally purchased it. If she didn’t buy if you can choose to send her an email through MailChimp or whichever email marketing service you use.

Once you install us..

We start tracking all events on your Shopify store:

  • Sessions
  • Order value
  • Product views
  • Browser
  • Referrer
  • Device
  • Lost Revenue
  • Cart abandonment by product
  • Views by product
  • Product views by collection
  • Last visit
  • Customers created
  • Customer updates
  • Products created
  • Product updated
  • Products deleted
  • Collections created
  • Collections updated
  • Cart creation
  • Cart update
  • Orders created
  • Orders updated
  • Orders cancelled

Segments — Converting Bulk Data into Digestible Insights

So that is a lot of data that we are constantly tracking on a real time basis but a lot of data can also get very confusing. Which is why we created Segments. Segments is the most powerful tab on our dashboard. With 15 filters for your customer groups and 9 filters for your products, the segments tool allows you to slice your data in a thousand different ways:

  • Check what percentage of your customers have spent above a $100
  • See the size of your repeat customer base
  • Products that have been viewed more than a 5000 times but purchased less than 50 times

And much more.

Let us take care of the data while you take care of the store.
Install Semantics3 Analytics on your Shopify Store now!Join the discussion over at our Product Hunt Launch