About Brent

Author of Going Viral, Researcher of Consumer Psychology, & Teacher of Digital Marketing.

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Dr Brent Coker is a researcher and lecturer of Marketing at the University of Melbourne. He has a PhD in electronic commerce (“Predicting Internet Purchase Intention”), and has been teaching Digital Marketing to Undergrads, Post grads, and Executives since 2009.

He has spent the past decade studying Viral Marketing, and is author of the WH Smith Heathrow chart topping book “Going Viral”, which is the culmination of a seven year study on psychology of building a strong brand and customer engagement.

Brent founded the dot-com “Fernland” in 1998, and is currently founding director of Deloosh Pty Ltd – a technology and market research company. He is also inventor of the web analytics tool “webreep”  which was the first web app to detect and measure website dissatisfaction, and the ‘Bump’ algorithm which was designed to explain and predict viral content.

Brent was awarded “best entrepreneurial educator of the year” by the business and higher education round table in 2012, and from 2012-2013 wrote a monthly column for Business Solutions magazine. His more scholarly research has been published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, Journal of Retailing, Journal of Economic Psychology, to name a few.

Brent is content producer and presenter of the Masterclass series “Virology” – an insightful series that explains the science behind word-of-mouth and the psychology of consumer engagement.

He lives with his four daughters in Melbourne, Australia, where he rides his bicycle for fitness, and his motorcycle for fun.

Why I Research Viral Marketing

I woke up to my phone ringing. It was David.

“Brent! Where have you been!? Goddammit, I’ve been trying to get in contact with you—check your emails!”

Argh. I grabbed my notebook from the side table and flipped it open.

“I’m ah… Wait. What’s happened?” David was still jabbering, while I stared at my screen. I had a never-ending stream of new emails from people I had never heard of, and they were still loading. Some of them were reporters requesting an interview, others were office workers thanking me for my study, people with questions, and academics congratulating me.

I tuned back in to David “Your study is in the New York Times and it’s trending on Twitter!”

I crawled back under my covers in disbelief. This was gonna be a long day.

The University had put out a press release on my “Freedom to Surf” study, and it had gone viral. For the next few days my phone didn’t stop ringing. I gave radio station and media interviews from USA to Europe, and fielded what seemed like a never-ending barrage of emails. The press were reporting that a new study had found that surfing the internet at work was good for productivity. For some reason people couldn’t stop talking about it.

I had my 15 minutes of fame as they say. But what really intrigued me about what had happened was why my story had spread so wide and far, and so quickly.

And so begun my next research interest: why things go viral.

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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.


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