Zoonotic - Spread Your Business as a Virus

How to build viral campaigns? How to go viral with your event? Carole Lamarque has written a third book: Zoonotic. And she's here to tell you all about it.

Kevin Van der Straeten
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Hi Carole, welcome to the studio.

Hi Kevin, thanks for having me.

It's actually the third time you've been here. First of all with your book, Unfair advantage and your other book, Influencers. But now, your third book: Zoonotic. Do I pronounce that correctly?

Exactly. Zoonotic is perfect.

What's it about?

It's a fairly - Zoo - animal title.

Yes, I do like animals, Kevin. So, yes, it's clear.

Well, it's a response to an obsession I have for a while now. So, better to come out into the open with all your obsessions, isn't it?

I'm a marketeer. Of course, we, as marketeers, we use the word "going viral" often. But actually it's a concept that we borrow from nature. It's a scientific event which we see in nature all the time. And one of those types of viral, pandemic versions is zoonotic. Being when a virus skips from an animal to a human or in between humans. So the shift from one animal to another which lived next to each other, peacefully, before. Well, they jump over and that's what zoonotic in nature is all about.

And of course I try, as an obsessed marketeer, to think about new solutions, all the time, for upcoming challenges. And I saw, in nature, what we all need is new formulas to solve new problems. And that's when I looked into the zoonotic approach in nature. I saw a solution for marketing problems. We have a need for exponential growth. Now more than ever. And going viral is exactly what exponential growth is all about. And so, in the book, I explain how people can follow a certain pattern. Can follow certain steps. Like in my previous books I always try to not only describe a concept but also to give you a do-it-yourself approach. So you can try it on your own if you are more a smaller company.

I admit that if you have a complex international approach or you have large objectives in your mindset, then doing everything alone and in a do-it-yourself book of let's say thirty euros will not do the thing. But a lot of entrepreneurs need to find solutions on their own. And so I'm very proud to be able to also help out solopreneurs. And give some corporate ideas to big managers.

If you're talking about going viral, is it then stuff like, for example, the ALS ice-bucket challenge I need to think about? Or something totally different?

Well, that's the last step in the book. So the fun part is always at the end.

But we start with the strategy. The strategy being: do I have everything lined up to go viral? Do I have a right product? Is it built in a certain way, that it can go viral? Do I understand the strategic approach on going viral? That's the first part. That's what I would say is a little bit like the architecture of your idea.

Sorry to interrupt. Because you're already saying something very important. You need to build a product that is able to go viral. But does that mean that...

Is the other way around also true? That some products or services can't go viral.

I think yes. To put every success on your side, every option on your side to go viral, it's important to even start with the product. And to have in mind that you want to go viral with it.


But if we look at the ALS-example. The ALS-organization as such may not be that likely to go viral. But they invented a campaign that was perfect.

Yes, in the end. Exactly. That's a good cause. So it’s hard to compare it to a corporate customer.

Yes, that's true.

Or with a commercial objective. But if you have a commercial objective, then you start with a strategy. You follow up with the right kind of leadership. If you don't...

I believe that you also have to have a certain mindset. That you need to manage your people in a different way.

Kevin, we worked together in the past. When we were much younger. Remember?

It's been a while, yes.

Yes, it's been a while.

And we have been working in company cultures that have the right spirit to go viral. You can imagine that it wasn't that way everywhere else. So I try, also, to...

These learnings and other examples in the world.

You can imagine that a company like the Elon Musk companies, that they have a certain spirit. A certain leadership. And especially also certain teams. The composition. The way they interact. The way they collaborate. The way they think. How fast they go and so on and so on. So this is equally important.

It's not that having a product and then, on the other hand, having a right communication plan will do the trick. You also need the right people. So those are the three elements I hope to offer. The right strategy. The right team and leadership skills. And then, in the end, a nice communication campaign like the epic split by Jean-Claude Van Damme and Volvo trucks. Which is also a schoolbook example of how to go viral. So I gave a lot of cases in the book. Structures, patterns, frameworks you see. When campaigns or products go viral, what seems to be the red line? The constant things that always come back. And I even put it in exercises. I try to give you, like a coach, the steps, the training you need to go through. On your own or with your team. In order to build, slowly but surely, this mindset and not to forget any steps, in order to get there.

But to go really viral with a message: you have the product, you have the leadership, you have the good campaign. And then sometimes, but maybe I'm wrong in that...

But sometimes, then, it appears to work like magic and other times nothing happens. Isn't there a...

Yes, it's magic to us. But it is hard work. It's thought through. There is nothing like magic. I wish it was, it's romantic. But in economics just magic will not do the thing. It's like...

They sometimes say: hope is a bad strategy. So you only hope that your ideas and your approach are magic. But it would be safer to follow a plan. And of course I don't think that all the viral strategies were built on a plan like I'm describing in the book. Sometimes people follow a hard, strict approach. They have a certain work ethic. Which made them do those things right. But it is meant to be shared with other people that want to learn. And that they can't just hope that they have the right attitude and hope that they're doing things right. But that they get a guideline on how to do it.


On some occasions, and I don't know whether or not that matters a lot, you see, like, accelerators or maybe, to keep it in terms of viruses and going viral, a  super spreader. Or some well-known person, a Hollywood star or whatever, who starts spreading it and you can use that as an accelerator.

Yes, you do. The first one you mentioned, the  super spreader, is mandatory. In my book I describe that you need something really unique and a combination of two unique products or concepts. That already lived for a hundred years. Combining them could give you something really special. But that will not guarantee the exponential growth. Putting, in between those two concepts, a  super spreader will guarantee that you will have this pandemic approach towards the launch of your product. So this  super spreader...

I give...

I guess it's a little bit of a zoo and animals. I hope these metaphors help you remember and to spread the approach in your company. But if you have two, like,...

Let's give you...

The secret sauce of the book is: I found the idea in nature. It's not that I invented it myself. Zoonotic is a scientific event. So if you have, let's say, a bird, which has the bird-flue. Which is a pandemic that has been there for a hundred years. On the other side you have the human flue. Which also is very successful in nature and we know all about it by now. The classic flue has been existing for a couple of hundred years. Separately from each other they can't meet and they can't do anything, They can't combine, the bird-flue and the human flue. But then, if you put a  super spreader in between, things become pandemic. In this case it was the pig. This funny little pig took both viruses. Which were pretty unique on their own. And they spread like a pandemic. Thanks to the  super spreader. So you always need one.

In our digital world it's often a digital platform that gives you this  super spreader. But it's not always the case. Often it's the smartphone. Which, like Waze or Über, gives you this  super spreader. But even the human beings can be  super spreaders. So it's not always a technological approach. It's often the case, let's be honest. But it's not always.

Let's give you an example that has nothing to do with technology. So you have the beauty business which is a billion dollar business. Even the lotions, which we like to put on our face every day, is a billion dollar business. On the other hand, plastic surgery is also a billion dollar business. They live on their own. They have their unfair advantages, for sure. That's why they create millions in the market.

But when, in 2002, Botox came around, it was like a combination. Of a lotion, which is in the syringe, and a minor, less intrusive way, than a plastic surgery. So it was also a combination. But only this would not have made it spread like Botox does, still today. People, let's say, in general, cliché, Kevin: women. They put this in their faces. Like millions of women do. And they become the  super spreader of the product. Because they show the world what the results are. And I'm not a fan. That's not what I'm trying to say. But they do spread the message. Like what Botox does for them. And so the face of millions of people, men and women...

And often really ugly versions of consequences of their obsessive use of this product. But then again: it still spreads. So if you can use something, that the user is portraying the offer to the world, that's just excellent. The user is the product. Even in digital environments you see that. Like Waze. We all use it. We are the product. By using it we improve the information for other users. So that's an excellent element in spreading a product. It is that your users become the offer. Even Facebook is like that. Facebook is just a platform. It's empty. It's like a UX with empty frameworks in it. It's only because we populate it, every second of the day, with content that we make the product. So that's something which is very...

We all know this. But the thing is: try to think about those basics when going to your drawing board.

And wanting to have a huge success all over the world? Then just use the ingredients that have been proven to be right. So many times, over and over again.

From your experience...

If you make the link to the event industry. Could viral marketing be used to promote events?

Or, even further, can events be part of the viral marketing approach?

Both, yes. So I think there are a lot of examples.

Let's take something everybody will know, internationally, like Tomorrowland. I didn't use the case in the book. I didn't really go through the case. But you feel, intuitively, that Tomorrowland does a lot of things right from a viral perspective. So this is a very good example on how to make sure everybody knows your event is there.

But of course, in the last part, on the communication element, of the book, making an event part of a pandemic approach is something you really should consider. We classically use YouTube or tv-advertising. But putting it in an event perspective adds to the magic, if I may refer to your words. Because events tend to have this fear of missing out-element in them. And so you're present or you're not. And this element of time pressure is one of the key-elements in going viral. So events are, by design, an excellent way to make your idea go viral.

One example I immediately think about is the Apple-keynotes. It's a great example of spreading your

word across the globe, I think.

Yes and the time pressure element is important. You can't just...

It's like watching a football game or a soccer game. You need to be there. You can't see this in retrospective. It's not that important anymore. You want to be on the first row. And a lot of good events or strong events, tend to have this time pressure. It's always limited in time. And this time pressure is key to going viral. If people can choose whenever they do so, that doesn't add to the speed. It's not by accident that I still use the metaphor of the cheetah in my book. Speed is of the essence in everything that we do today. And especially if you want to go viral.

The only thing with events is that you will need to be careful: when do you put this on your agenda? In the timeline of your project you will have to choose, very carefully, when you want to put this. Because going viral also has a certain aspect of staying below the radar for a while. If you think about how viruses work, you, by now, know that for a while they stay below the radar.

Yes, create some suspense before actually breaking through.

Breaking through. Breaking out.

Everything that's trending on Google Trends has this approach of going like this for a while in the Savannah. And then going exponential. So the hockey-stick effect. You already, visually, see that there is a part of your story that remains below the radar. And that's why people think it's magic. Because then, suddenly, it's there. But that's not the way it works. It has been there for a long while. Making itself strong. Spreading over your geographic area. And then coming out when the time is right. When you're sufficiently spread that your competitors don't have any type of effective response to you being everywhere. That's the point in time when it seems like everybody has it. That's when the curve of the exponential growth is visible to everybody.


Okay Carol, your book Zoonotic is an absolute must-read. It will be available in English and in Dutch. I assume on Amazon.com and all other webshops alike, it will be available.

Yes, you can reserve it already today. I don't know when this will air. But I'm kind of excited because today, officially, the book is prepped. So I already have my first fans ordering the book. And so I'm waiting, any moment now, that somebody's going to show me my book before I saw it myself.

Yes, I'm also still waiting for it. I only got the pdf press-version. But not the physical one yet. So, very curious about that.

Its' on air. It's in the nature as of today. So I wonder who's going to be the first person showing me my own book. And sending me a selfie. I'm looking forward to it.

Because I wrote, like you said, two books already. And my first writing skills are from 2016. Because then you have to wait weeks and months before it comes out. But I wrote like all of 2016 my first book. And still today, if anybody shows me a picture of my book, it's like a little child.

It is really stupid. But I am very thankful to all the readers. So the buyers of my previous book. I already have six thousand people who made the effort to order my books. So I'm very honoured. It's making me very humble. I never ever thought that I could say to my mother: mom, I wrote a book. It's really impressive.

Yes, congratulations on that Carole. And thank you very much for sharing these insights today.

My pleasure. Hope that you have a lot of viral ideas when you read my book, thank you.

And you, at home, thank you for watching our show. I hope to see you next week.