It’s a big idea that runs amok across the target audience. It’s a fashionable idea that propagates through a section of the population, teaching and changing and influencing everyone it touches. And in our rapidly/instantly changing world, the art and science of building, launching and profiting from ideaviruses is the next frontier, the new currency.

Have you ever heard of gmail? Ever used it? If so, it’s not because gmail ran a lot of TV ads (they didn’t). It’s because the manifesto of free email got to you. It turned into an ideavirus. Someone you know and trust infected you with it. What about a Polaroid camera… was your first exposure (no pun intended!) in a TV ad, or did you discover it when a friend showed you how cool the idea of an instant photo was?

Sometimes it seems like everyone is watching the same TV show as you, or reading the same book, or talking about the same movie or website. How does that happen? It usually occurs because the idea spreads on its own, through an accidental ideavirus, not because the company behind the product spent a ton of money advertising it or a lot of time orchestrating a virus. And how the idea spreads, and how to make it spread faster, that’s the idea behind unleashing an ideavirus.

Word of mouth is not new, it’s just different now. There were always ideaviruses, gossip or ideas or politics that spread like wildfire from person to person. Without running an ad or buying a billboard.

Today, though, ideaviruses are more important and more powerful than ever. Ideaviruses are easier to launch and more effective. Ideaviruses are critical because they are fast, and speed wins and speed kills, brands and products just don’t have the time to develop the old way. Ideaviruses give us increasing returns, word of mouth dies out, but ideaviruses get bigger. And finally, ideaviruses are the currency of the future. While ideaviruses are not new, they are important because we are obsessed with the new, and an ideavirus is always about the new.

How does an ideavirus manifest itself? Where does it live? What does it look like? It’s useful to think of ideas of every sort as being similar. I call them manifestos. An idea manifesto is a powerful, logical “essay” that assembles a bunch of existing ideas and creates a new one. Sometimes a manifesto is a written essay. But it can be an image, a song, a cool product or process… the medium does not matter. The message does. By lumping all sorts of ideas, regardless of format, into the same category (manifestos) it’s much easier to think of them as versions of the same thing. As long as you can use your manifesto to change the way people think, talk or act… you can create value

Not only is this an essay about ideas and ideaviruses…it’s also a manifesto striving to become an ideavirus! If this manifesto changes your mind about entrepreneurship, marketing and ideas, maybe you will share it with a friend. Or two. Or with your entire company. If that happens, this idea will become an ideavirus, and spread and gain in value.

We live in a world where consumers actively resist marketing. So it’s imperative to stop marketing at people. The idea is to create an environment where consumers will market to each other.

Is an ideavirus a form of marketing? Sure it is. And today, marketing is all there is. You do not win with better distribution or manufacturing or accounts payable. You win with better marketing, because marketing is about spreading ideas, and ideas are all you have got left to compete with.

The future belongs to the people who unleash ideaviruses.

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