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Setting the Grapevine Alight with Email

Setting the Grapevine Alight with Email Liza Virissimo

Over the past 10 years, email marketing has developed a powerful range of tools organizations can use to drum up new leads and build their client bases. One tool that is becoming increasingly popular is viral marketing, also known as "Refer-a-Friend" (RAF) campaigning.


RAF marketing is still sometimes seen as the pyramid scheming of email marketing, but it is powerful if it is used wisely and correctly as part of a sound marketing strategy. RAF can very quickly reach your target audience, increase brand awareness and leads, and ultimately deliver a high return on a relatively small investment.


However, there are some basic rules a marketer needs to keep in mind to produce positive and sometimes astounding results from RAF. For example, study your client base -- know who your customers are, what they do, where they are and what their key interests are. It would not be wise, for example, to market a line of designer clothing to a bunch of 50-something agriculturists.


Also, the promotion has to be enticing. If the offer is almost too good to be true, it will make your customer enthusiastic enough to want to pass on your information to friends or acquaintances with similar interests.


So how does email marketing fit into the picture once you have a sound marketing strategy in place and know who your potential customers are (what their habits are and how they match your demographic target)?


RAF email marketing allows the user to send a message that is triggered using real time messaging to one or multiple "Friends" email addresses. These messages can be personalized and the "Friend" can be told who the referrer was. RAF marketing can also advise the original user whether the "Friend" they referred the message to also signed up or opted-in to the offer.


This can all be done quite easily using a custom solution:


1. Email is sent out to a group of users (either an existing client database or group, or through an online signup process) that encourages them to signup for a special offer or competition. Offering an additional incentive will encourage them to refer friends to your offer.


2. The friends receive the mail (using RTM -- real-time messaging), stating that they have been referred to the company by the original email user in the above example. They can then subscribe and opt-in and refer additional friends.


3. An automatically triggered message informs the original user that his or her friends have also signed up or opted-in.


RTM or triggered messaging is a great feature used to keep the original user updated on the progress of their referees, thereby maintaining constant contact with your clients and developing a relationship with them.


Online validation of email address provided by the original user can be used to ensure that you have a higher percentage of valid leads. However, the product or service has to be advertised or marketed in a way that your existing customers or potential new customers will want to share information with their networks rather than filling your forms in with invalid email addresses.


Demographics should also be factored into viral campaigns. Viral email marketing needs to be focused on an initial group of people who are internet or email savvy. For example, marketing to home users who may only check their email once every week will not produce as fast and dramatic results as marketing to a group of potential customers who access the internet every day.


The period of time over which the campaign is run is also an essential element to consider. Running a campaign over a five-day period will produce less impressive results than a campaign run over a number of weeks. Viral marketing is a grapevine marketing tool -- the longer the news is out there the more it will spread itself around.


Providing measurable benchmarks and statistics on viral marketing campaigns is not easily done since they vary from industry to industry, consumer group to consumer group, and product to product, but successful results have been seen in a number of market segments worldwide. 


To measure whether the campaign is successful, a number of metrics can be used -- for example, you could measure the primary cost per lead of your initial campaign from the number of leads generated from your original lead or seed list. The take-up rate of referrals can be measured against the number of referred leads and the “cost-per-referral-lead.” With RAF, the best result would be to have a high percentage of converted valid leads, achieving a low cost-per-lead.


How exciting or valuable your product or service offering is will determine how successful your campaign will be. Finding the correct target audience, along with a sound marketing strategy, is key to achieving great results. The results can be truly astounding. After all, word-of-mouth has always been a great marketing tool, and refer-a-friend email marketing is simply about giving your customers an easier way of spreading your news.


Additional resources:


In May, the FTC issued a notice that proposes some significant changes to CAN-SPAM rules, including an interpretation of CAN-SPAM relating to forward-to-a-friend email programs.


Liza Virissimo is director of ad operations at Acceleration. Read full bio.

As Acceleration's Director of Ad Operations, Liza Virissimo helps clients to maximize their online ROI through 3rd Party Ad Serving. Virissimo joined Acceleration in October 2004 with experience in corporate marketing and Web site production earned...

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