Why I Research Viral Marketing
Brent Coker’s Story
Be the person you admire
I was born in a small village in New Zealand, into a working class family. I began my working career in the Southern Alps as a snow safety officer, rescuing injured people and blowing up snow to remove avalanche danger.
Unfortunately, I was involved in an avalanche tragedy, and so I quit my job and found myself working as a ski instructor in Japan. The only English TV we had was CNN. It was the height of the dot-com era, and it seemed like every second story was about someone who had just made a few million dollars on the new ‘Internet’. I wanted to be like them, so I borrowed some money to buy a computer and taught myself how to code. I built a dot-com called Fernland – an English school and homestay agency.
This was the beginning of my lifelong quest to understand the impact of digital connectedness on business and society.
Success is inversely proportional to failure. When you accept this, you’ll start to view disappointment in a different light
Fernland seemed like a good idea at the time, and if I knew then what I know now I probably could have made it work. But after 18 months of struggle, I pulled the plug. This was the first lesson I learnt when it comes to running a business online: Trust is the most important factor and pre-requisite for success. I had no idea how to build strong lasting relationships with customers. Like so many other businesses at the time, the costs of customer acquisition combined with insufficient efforts to build a strong brand presence sank the boat.
The dot-com bubble burst in March 2000. I remember the day clearly, because I had just enrolled into Victoria University in New Zealand to study how to make my next move into e-commerce a success. The Professor came into the room, looking pale, and said: “How many of you regret enrolling into this course?” Half the class put their hand up. Seems unbelievable nowadays, but at the time many people still questioned whether online retailing was a passing fad.
No-one who is great at something was always great at it
I persevered. After completing a degree in e-commerce, I stayed for a year to do an honours research project. I made a fairly revolutionary finding at the time explaining how e-commerce could be best integrated into multi-channel retail models. To my surprise, it won best research paper at the Association of Information Systems Annual conference. On the back of that I ended up staying for another three years to complete a PhD in online consumer psychology.
Doing a PhD is tough, especially when you have a family like I did. The mental strain I could deal with, but the financial strain began to take its toll. I needed a way to make money on the side, that would let me continue working on my PhD without being a too much of a distraction. So I started my second dot com – AussieThink.com. The idea was simple –people would sign-up to participate in market research, and in return I would let them earn points redeemable for cash. Meanwhile I was selling data collection services to market research agencies at a much cheaper price than they could get through their traditional channels. At the time the idea was still relatively new, and it was a success in keeping my family afloat while I finished my PhD.
When you look into someone else’s bowl, make sure it is to see if they have enough, not to compare what they have that you don’t
Soon after graduating with a PhD in online consumer psychology, I was offered a lecturing position at the University of Melbourne. When I was hired I found they didn’t teach Digital Marketing there, but it didn’t take me long to convince them that it was an important subject they should have on their portfolio. Today I still teach Digital Marketing there at Undergraduate, Postgraduate, and Executive Education levels. It’s such a privilege to be able to teach something I am so passionate about.
I have done several important things since becoming a consumer psychologist, including developing the Webreep Model –a set of algorithms that explains and predicts website satisfaction, the Branded Viral Movie Production (BVMP) algorithm that explains and predicts viral content, writing ‘Going Viral’. But what keeps me at University is my passion helping people, and my passion for discovering new knowledge.
I love to share my knowledge with others, and I’m fascinated by business success. Thank you for your interest in me.