Going Viral The Low Tech Way: InCoWriMo

Image of correspondence with fountain pen and glasses, as an example of a low tech networking

If you know me, or have been to more than a few of my classes, you’ll probably know I rather like low-tech, analog things such as fountain pens, fine paper, and so forth. Recently, while I was catching up on back episodes of a newly-discovered podcast for pen addicts, I heard them mention InCoWriMo. I loved it twice over. First, it had to do with those analog things I love, and second, they were marketing it in a genius way that combined the low-tech with some of the things that make something go viral in the high-tech world.

What is InCoWriMo?

InCoWriMo is short for International Correspondence Writing Month.  Like its better known cousin, NaNoWriMo (“National Novel Writing Month”), the idea is that during the appointed month–February, in this case–participants endeavor to write a letter (or postcard, or greeting card, etc.) by hand to someone each day of the month, and either mail or personally deliver them.

Of course, I get excited by that idea just because it gives me an excuse to use my fountain pens and various pieces of cool stationery I’ve picked up over the years.

How Do They Market That?

They publicize the International Correspondence Writing Month with, of course, a website.  There are the prerequisite FAQs (Yes, they must be hand written, but no, you don’t have to quit if you miss a day–just write two the next day), a participation map, a contest to win a very nice fountain pen (now long past the deadline for 2015), and so forth.  There’s even a video about how to write a letter, for those who may never have done such a thing.

But the most brilliant piece of the marketing is a page called, “These 29 People Would Love to Receive your InCoWriMo Correspondence (2015)”  Since participation requires writing notes to people, even though these can be delivered in person or left secretly for patrons at a coffee shop or whatever, the organizers did not want you to be stopped by the excuse that you had nobody to send a note to.

The list begins with the promise, “All of the names on this list are real, live people. I’ve spoken to each personally (trust me) and while they may not be able to respond to the flood of letters that InCoWriMo provokes, they each confess, proclaim, and affirm that they crave your correspondence.”

Then come the names and addresses.  These are not just randomly chosen former participants of InCoWriMo.  Well, some might be–for example, there’s a student in Bangalore on the list.  But many of the people are folks like Ellen DeGeneres, His Holiness Pope Francis, Bill Gates, His Holiness the Dalai Lama, George Lucas, Google CEO Larry Paige, Jon Stewart, and Neil deGrasse Tyson.

Why is this genius?  Because these people have influence.  And that’s important for two reasons.

They’re Not Going To Read My Letter…Are They?

The first reason it’s useful to have these influencers on the list has nothing to do with whether or not they really have time to read your letter.  Or any given letter.  But imagine the person who is considering whether or not to participate in InCoWriMo.  There is likely someone on that list of 29 people who they’d be a little star-struck to meet.  Whether you’re totally into comedy (Ellen, Jon Stewart), are religious (the Pope or the Dalai Lama), or a technology and science geek (Gates, Paige, Tyson), or interested in the entertainment industry (Lucas), there’s probably at least one person there that is intriguing.  And, having read the ‘disclaimer’ at the beginning, ostensibly they are welcoming your letter.  Not welcoming–they crave your letter.  That might just tip you over the edge into participating in InCoWriMo.  After all, he might even write back, and how cool would that be?

So the potential for connection with a celebrity, in a particularly personal and individualized way, nudges people into participation.  I can imagine that most of the 1.2 billion Catholics would be at least a little intrigued by the possibility of getting a letter from the Pope.  Therefore, you’ve got more people pulled into the activity.

Why Have I Not Heard of This Before?

The other reason the celebrity mailing addresses are useful is because of the other end of the equation.  Imagine now that you’re the celebrity.  For my example, I’ll pick Neil deGrasse Tyson.  So you’re Neil DeGrasse Tyson, astrophysicist and science educator.  Someone asks, “Do you confess, proclaim, and affirm that you crave receiving hand-written correspondence?”  Of course you say you do, because who doesn’t like getting a nice letter in the mail?

Now imagine hundreds of letters showing up in your mailbox in February.  Or, since you probably do get a good deal of mail, hundreds of extra letters.  That’s notable.

So notable, in fact, that you might mention it.

The mention of a celebrity is so powerful that companies pay huge sums to get celebrities to endorse their products.  It’s so powerful that consumers still buy into it even though they know the celebrities are paid to say those things.  Think how powerful a celebrity endorsement is when it’s genuine and unsolicited.

If Ellen mentions InCoWriMo on her show, or Neil DeGrasse Tyson talks about it in an interview, that one mention is worth potentially millions of individual word-of-mouth shares, as well as potentially millions of dollars of advertising.  Of course, it would be free.  It’s not guaranteed, but it would be very valuable and free, from the point of view of InCoWriMo.

In short, celebrities can spread the idea further and wider and faster than most individuals, and the more people send them mail, the more likely they will.

Okay, So What?

The point is that you don’t strictly need technology to go viral.  The technology part is just a tool that might make things go a little easier.  You do, however, need to understand the mindset and psychology of the people you’re trying to reach.  If you recognize the motivations of your target audience, you can come up with marketing approaches that naturally nudge people into sharing or spreading the word.  And that’s what makes something go viral.  No technology required.

(By the way, if you want to correspond with me, you can send a letter to Michael J. Coffey, PO Box 30632, Seattle, WA 98113.  Even if it’s not February.  I’d even write back.)

Image credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/brightmeadow/281659324/

Posted by Michael J. Coffey  |  0 Comment  |  in General Marketing

About Michael J. Coffey

Michael started learning about online marketing as the web store manager for a scrappy little game retailer during the "dot com bubble" of the 1990s. Since then he's helped fitness companies, tea wholesalers and retailers, lawyers, clothing designers, restaurateurs, and entrepreneurs in many other fields. In his spare time he drinks very high quality tea, writes letters with a fountain pen, and reads literature.

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