Marketers Still Struggling With Viral Strategies

SCOTTSDALE, ARIZ.--Major marketers are still coming to grips with viral marketing, it became clear over the first two days of MediaPost's E-mail Insider Summit. In part that's simply because viral marketing hasn't yet produced a large enough return on investment to get execs' attention.

It's not for a lack of metrics, according to Syd Jones, senior manager of worldwide demand generation e-marketing for IBM: "One of our marketers has patented a viral marketing method that includes tracking of forwards to the second, the third, the fourth [recipient], that's actually quite powerful." Nonetheless, Jones said, "right now it's a bit of an education among our campaign owners and campaign shapers, because unfortunately it's still relatively new to them."

In the same vein, Tim Dolan, vice president of marketing for Return Path, noted: "One of the things we as an organization have struggled with is the potential of 'tell a friend,' versus its actual value." Dolan went on: "'Tell a friend' is one of those things where everyone has aspired to achieve great results, but I don't know how many people actually see that... We're still working on that."



Other speakers were even more blunt. For example, during his Monday break-out session, John Tomlinson, president of AVI Communications, confided: "We talk to people about how to do data capture to build a productive business community, and viral marketing is probably the least effective of the group that we use."

Content is still a key stumbling block, a point noted by Karen McKenna, associate marketing manager for Unilever, recalling a Unilever e-mail campaign on the racy theme "What happens in your refrigerator after the lights go out?" Recalling that the campaign fared very poorly among conservative, religious American women, McKenna concluded: "You have to be very selective when you pick your campaigns."

On that note, execs were still bullish on viral marketing overall-- as long as some basic guidelines are observed. Dolan, seconding McKenna's opinion, advised "being very strategic and selective about which e-mails have potential to become something you pass along to a friend at work." Likewise, Tomlinson also pointed to the importance of content: "We think it's going to be getting better, because the more creative the pieces that they get, the more they're going to want to send them on."

But the most innovative suggestion may have come from Andy Goldman, associate director of e-mail marketing for Ogilvy Worldwide, who pondered the possibility of recruiting enthusiasts to be viral "advocates": "I want to see if this is the kind of person who's interested in being an advocate, and maybe we can start seeing preference centers with sub-"opt-ins" to be an advocate... when they're going to put something on the table, saying 'I'm going to trust you...' that may be the time to say, 'Well we may want to trust you that much as well, and have you go out and be an advocate for our brand.'"

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