So you have a product or service that people are willing to buy. But is your company something that people are excited to talk about? Do you have customer evangelists who will naturally create a buzz?

Virgin Airlines is one example of a culture that has, in a sense, gone viral. The company came into the travel market at a time when major airlines were dedicated to nothing more than staying in business, which resulted in cramped, no-frills travel for consumers. And that was no fun.

Virgin introduced itself as the airline dedicated to making travel fun again. Who wouldn't want that? As years went by the airline offered powerful incentives to gain attention from travelers, which further improved their visibility and reputation. For example, on the ninth anniversary of its maiden voyage, Virgin Blue gave away 1,000 plane tickets for $9 each through Twitter.

The campaign went off without a hitch--and because it generated such buzz it kept on giving, well beyond the initial 1,000 tickets. What's better than pleasing those customers who recieved ultra-discounted tickets is the impact of a campaign like that. It lasts and lasts.

Not every company can engage in campaigns of this magnitude, but it demonstrates the importance of being radical and creative if you want to get attention. However, before you invest in your marketing campaign you need a foundation that fits the viral formula. Answer these questions to see if your foundation is in place.

1. Does your company generate organic buzz?

Your product has to be something that's easy for people to talk about. Most every traveler will complain about the lack of leg-room on an airplane. We all talk about our vacations and business travel--so when we experience the luxury of an airline like Virgin it's perfectly natural to tell the world. What makes people want to share the word about your company?

2. Do you provide your consumers with a simple, compelling marketing message?

Have you ever experienced something cool and, in telling the story, you get so tongue-tied that you end up saying something along the lines of, "well, you just have to experience it for yourself?" That marketing message certainly won't go viral! Make it easy to share your message by giving your customers the language to put to the experience.

3. How do you reward your customers?

Consumers want to feel special and valued. There is a certain altruistic value in being the first person in your crowd to know about a really cool product.  But you can add rewards to motivate your customer further. These can be "soft" rewards or perks like a free membership that gives them advance access to discounts and fun news. Social rewards recognize customers publically. You can highlight a testimonial publically or simply connect with customers on twitter or Facebook to help them feel like an important part of your community. I recall once being thanked on twitter for my feedback on a product website. Since I'd included my name publicly, no privacy issues were raised and I felt kinda special when I received their tweet. I even retweeted it, giving them exposure to my treasured community.

4. Do you really, really know your target customer and where to reach them?

A grassroots campaign depends on community. Where do your customers hang out online (and in person)? National organizations, community groups, high-profile blogs and online communities are important to your campaign. Get your networks in place well before launching your company or a new product. Find your evangelists and give them a reason to generate buzz. Invite them to test the product or service for free. Ask them for feedback and reward them for it with further incentives and recognition. If they feel like valued insiders they are likely to tell the world about you and your product.

5. Are you giving your customers a reason to keep coming back?

New products, exciting sales, fun contests, and novel marketing campaigns make people want to return for more. Your audience will naturally generate buzz if you give them a reason to talk about you, offer them a good laugh with a fun video, or touch their hearts through a program that gives back. If you stand above the rest you will create a crowd of supporters--and loyal consumers.

With these foundational pieces in place your company has a greater likelihood of joining the elite list of viral communities. Marketing is hard work; why not let your customers do most of it for you?