The New Customer Carnival

With its boutique-style jewelry and accessories, available exclusively through lively in-home trunk shows and via personalized e-commerce sites for post-party purchases, Stella & Dot has tapped a tried-and-true marketing model -- the "tupperware party" -- and updated it for the digital age.

Today's brands continue to look for creative ways to acquire loyal customers. While the core marketing techniques have not changed dramatically over the years, companies like Stella & Dot are finding new ways to boost brand reach and drive sales through the social Internet. Here are four social marketing approaches that savvy brands are using.

1. Turn it into a game

Gamification, which applies popular gaming techniques to non-gaming environments, has become a huge buzzword among marketers. And with reason: the popularity of social games on Facebook and other platforms has skyrocketed, and many consumers are familiar with the concepts of collecting points or achieving different status levels in exchange for watching ads, taking surveys, or engaging with a brand in some way.



Companies are increasingly incorporating these elements into Web sites and ads to engage consumers and drive business objectives. Universal Music Group's Interscope Records, for example, has introduced “gamified” fan loyalty programs. For example, fans of LMFAO, the LA duo behind the chart-topping hit Party Rock Anthem, can sign up on the band's Web site to earn points. Following the band on Twitter, visiting the band's Web site, sharing songs with friends, or purchasing concert tickets allows fans to accrue points and improves their status on the artists’ leaderboard. A certain number of points allows fans to unlock a badge, which they can display on their profile. Such techniques significantly increase social sharing time spent on-site and the amount of user-generated content.

Gamification can be used to influence people to more than just buy things. Recyclebank, for example, awards consumers points and give discounts from local and national businesses like Target for taking “green” actions, such as recycling shoes.

2. Incentivize attention

While gamification rewards those who take a specific action to engage with a brand or campaign, the “value exchange” approach focuses on rewarding consumers for their attention. With this strategy, consumers who choose to engage with an ad may be offered access to walled-off content, virtual currency for a social game, or a day pass to a subscription-only site, for example.

Carmaker Kia used the value-exchange approach in a recent ad campaign. Working with SocialVibe, Kia launched a digital "extension" of its Super Bowl TV commercial. The campaign for its Optima car consisted of an interactive video ad that encouraged users to watch the video and click on different images that appeared within the ad creative. Consumers who watched the ad received virtual currency for social games in exchange for their attention. Coupled with the ad’s interactive features and compelling creative, consumer response was impressive -- hundreds of thousands of people spent over two minutes with the ad, and 18 percent visited the brand’s Web site to learn more about the Kia Optima.

3. Let them share

Smartphones and social networks have made sharing information on your whereabouts, interests, and thoughts commonplace. People easily share photos, video clips, product or restaurant recommendations, and they are increasingly more willing to share. The runaway success of online photo-sharing company Instagram, snapped up by Facebook for $1 billion, is a testament to how important sharing has become to consumers. Savvy brands -- particularly in the retail space -- are taking advantage of consumers’ willingness to share their buying habits and preferences, turning sharing into a marketing opportunity.  

Large retail brands like Target invite consumers to share their purchase habits, preferences and opinions on social media, and then analyze the ripple effect this sharing has on sales. They also optimize marketing campaigns, product design, and merchandising based on their findings.

Smaller retailers are also encouraging customers to share their shopping experiences with friends. Social commerce company Payvment says more than 150,000 small and medium-sized retailers use its Facebook shopping mall. Through Payvment's platform, people can click “Want” and “Own” buttons that let them tell their friends which products they have purchased and those they desire, further driving purchasing from within Facebook.

4. Reward for referrals

Social referrals continue to be a mainstay in influencing behavior. For example, wireless hi-fi system maker Sonos offers brand advocates $10 iTunes gift cards for each friend they refer who makes a purchase. The friend who is referred also benefits, getting a free wireless setup with their purchase.

Marketing is no longer a one-way street, where brands blast out a message and hope it sticks with millions of consumers. In today's social age, the savviest brands are embracing social dynamics to interact with existing customers, acquire new ones, and boost long-term sales.

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