Parasitic Marketing

Parasite DC

(Par-a-site) n. 1.  An organism that grows, feeds, and is sheltered on or in a different organism while contributing nothing to the survival of its host.

Fill a need. Position accordingly. Profit.

It’s that simple. Parasites do this better then anyone. They fill holes in a product and in turn leverage that product’s popularity to spur on their own development.

Why then do parasitic business models fail so often? After all, in the animal kingdom these creatures are the epitome of efficiency and survival. Granted they aren’t the most loved…

Simple: They are at the mercy of their host. For an example of this, see the recent decision of Twitter to ban 3rd party ad platforms from their service.

Parasitic business models are a calculated risk. It often comes down to timing and the quality of product that you provide. Tweetie is a success story. Ad.ly is probably toast. They easily could have switched places.

Parasitic marketing on the other hand? Could not be  more successful  in the right hands (given that a proper code of conduct is observed). The key is co-opting an existent platform and adding additional information and functionality to it.

Filling a Niche

The best marketing solves a problem. Whether this problem is branding, positioning or business-related, it has to serve as a utility for pre-existing need in order to be valid.

Thus, you need to think more about what you can make first, and then concentrate on the emotion you can create. Then, building solutions to problems is far more effective.

Parasitic marketing isn’t right for every situation. For example, you don’t want to intercept and reshape a message. Nor do you want to deceive or mislead. However, you do want to provide valuable information or products where relevant and appropriate.

Crashing the Conversation

Twitter has popularized this phenomenon. Marketers often sit on key terms and relevant subjects to which they contribute. This phenomenon has also started happening on Facebook with the introduction of tagging various pages in individual posts.

Example:

 

The key isn’t to crash, it’s to listen, position and provide helpful, relevant information when needed. Most people are receptive to your message if you are filling a need. Thus, if you approach your marketing this way, you will be far more effective.

Augmented Reality: Ultimate Parasitic Marketing

Stickybits. Springpad. Foursquare. All represent the evolution of augmented reality, yet none could exist without the understanding that they were building upon pre-existing infrastructure. Twitter and Facebook are approaching Google-type importance. Thus, in order to leverage these services in the most efficient way possible, you need to connect to them via one of these 3rd party apps.

Augmented reality is just that. Reality with a helpful parasite gleaning information, context and chipping in helpful advice. It will be exciting to see what further developments occur over the next year.

A Helpful Parasite

Before engaging and actively seeking out platforms to augment, you need to ask yourself these five questions:

1. What are you adding to the conversation around the product?

2. Are you interrupting the natural sales cycle?

3. Are you respecting the rights of the community you are operating within and being a good citizen?

4. Do you have an open line of communication with your host/product?

5. Does your contribution/marketing make the original product better?

If your answer to any of these questions is in the negative? Stop what you are doing. You’re spamming. It’s a fine line, but you need to maintain it in order to be successful.

Parasitic marketing always needs to augment the platform/product, not detract from it.

Image Source: Richard Wyatt

6 thoughts on “Parasitic Marketing

  • Recently heard someone say “Never start a business that's a feature”. The way they meant it was to not create something that a bigger site in the same space could easily add to their own platform as a feature, and wipe you out.

    It can also be applied here though. When your business is essentially a feature (or parasite) off twitter, you're at the mercy of their discretion.

    David, Scribnia

  • Recently heard someone say “Never start a business that's a feature”. The way they meant it was to not create something that a bigger site in the same space could easily add to their own platform as a feature, and wipe you out.

    It can also be applied here though. When your business is essentially a feature (or parasite) off twitter, you're at the mercy of their discretion.

    David, Scribnia

  • This is a good post, because I actually came back and read it a second time (on a Saturday no less). While much of what you say is true, you also touch on the deeper dynamic between *platforms* and the *businesses* that float upon them.

    Twitter, like Google Search or cable television, has evolved into a platform that enables other business-customer relationships to grow. The parasite idea is a bit negative and perhaps incorrect, since a platform really becomes an *ecosystem* that enables communication. Microsoft Office is also a platform/ecosystem; is my business a parasite because we use Outlook to schedule meetings and Word/Excel/Powerpoint to structure deliverables for our clients? Of course not. We are obviously at the mercy of Microsoft; if it could somehow pull the plug on its platform tomorrow, rendering all Powerpoint obsolete, as much as I hate struggling with the layout in the damn thing a lot of business knowledge would disappear.

    So beyond “adding to the conservation” and “respecting rights,” another approach for businesses is to carefully evaluate the stability of the new platform, and how using it as a communication thread could benefit in sales, customer loyalty, vs. hurt if misfired or shut down. Your “helpful parasite” idea is a noble list of positive things businesses could do, but I propose the real intent of any business is to target customers likely to respond to sales. Platforms can enable this without building community. Advertising, after all, is providing information that helps supply and demand meet. It is noble to suggest that all add-ons must carefully add value; but if the real intent is to share data to build sales, the only question is how stable the platform.

    Thanks for provoking the thought.

  • Hey, great post and great insight. There will always be such parasites, people/companies piggy-backing off of the success of others. I think, as you mentioned it’s often very beneficial when it fills a need and fits neatly in its own niche. But, often times, I think these parasites can flood a platform (look at all of the apps, games, pages, etc. on Facebook!) and that can often times become detrimental. In the case of Facebook, their privacy settings allow you to block such parasites which is, as you mentioned, companies “pulling the plug” without actually having to do so, they let the user! Great stuff, I enjoyed the read!

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