The flu is rampant this winter. Each week, at least a couple of people in my personal and work lives take to their beds. The lost productivity this season must be incredible.But this posting isn't about human viruses. It's about viral marketing. Specifically, I'm wondering if viral marketing is catching — much less catching on — in the world of professional services? Are buttoned-up service professionals resistant to this strain of promotion?

An article in BtoB magazine describes the viral marketing campaigns (in this case, games) of several B2B companies. One of the companies, QAS reported a 4% click-through rate to the game, but the bottom-line conversions were negligible. The other companies were content with building brand awareness. They didn't report any measurable ROI.

Do professionals respond to broad-based viral marketing? I doubt it. Seth Godin observed that before a viral idea can spread, a recipient has to “trust or respect the sender enough to invest the time.” In most professional firms, time is currency. Time is precious. Non-relevant email is counter-productive. No matter how entertaining they may be, viral campaigns waste time–and that's a painful pinch in a professional's bottom line.

There are exceptions. In 2006, Morsekode — a small Minneapolis marketing agency — targeted a single prospect, software giant SAP, with a viral campaign. The agency wrote and produced a humorous but relevant song about SAP. They sent the link to 20 people at SAP. Within a month, the song had been played 14,000 times. And within days, the agency was receiving calls from SAP marketing managers and Morsekode was hired for a number of projects (including producing another song).

While this viral exercise hardly resulted in a pandemic, wide distribution was never Morsekode's intent. They got exactly what they wanted — broad awareness within their target. And they got hired, to boot. That's impressive, and Morsekode's SAP campaign is a perfect model for delivering a viral message in the professional services marketplace.

Forget about wide distribution. Professionals simply don't have time to deal with something that's not relevant to their work. Instead, take the hypodermic approach: formulate a customized viral message and inject it into a specific target audience. This audience could be a single prospect or a vertical market segment. If the message is specific, relevant and engaging it's going to resonate and generate a lot of interest.