by Lolita Carrico, Wednesday, June 17, 2009, 1:00 PM
Good ol' fashioned sampling campaigns -- which put products directly in the hands of influencers for feedback and buzz -- have made a resurgence, thanks to savvy, new methods that target consumers via online communities, social media agencies and dedicated services. Even in a dismal advertising climate, eMarketer expects social media and word-of-mouth spending to increase by 17% in 2009 because such tactics can prove ROI friendly with greater engagement and reach than traditional media.
Programs like Psst, VocalPoint and ModernMom.com's Mom Tested empower consumers to try products and share their feedback -- whether negative or positive -- for their peers to consult before making a purchase.
So, why would a marketer take the chance of being panned by an influential target market in a mass forum? One word: authenticity. According to a recent eMarketer report, 50% of moms find online reviews from "others like me" to be a valuable source of information. One glowing review or a slew of positive comments lacks substance while, a majority of honest compliments among a few criticisms brings authenticity and is worth the risk.
Glenn Williams, a manager for P&G's Mr. Clean brand has gladly offered products for review to online users. "The reason we did it," he said, "is that we look at products like our Mr. Clean Magic Eraser and we know that the best influencer for the purchase of that is a peer. We wanted to get mom peers talking about the product."
So, how do marketers get involved in effective sampling and word of mouth campaigns? Some pointers:
1. Target the recipients of your product: You know your product best and who should test it. Determine a clear set of demographics and psychographics to fine tune your sample list against. Deploy a custom survey to further fine tune recipients if necessary. The key here is not to control the group, but place the product in hands of likely consumers. Target wisely: Don't send cheeseburger offers to vegans.
2. Look for a partner with an engaged community: Sites that offer reviews but lack consistent repeat traffic for other content and community lack engagement. Ideally, you want to look for readers who are connected to their peers and trust their opinions within a community that they are active in.
3. Continue to engage with your influencers: Consider making some consumers from these tests your product evangelists -- whether they offer feedback to you directly on occasion, or participate consistently on your brand site or continue to spread the word to potential consumers. "Real" consumers who believe in your product and can offer an honest voice -- though careful to disclose any relationships or compensation -- can prove to be highly effective.
Word of mouth strategies are effective on many levels. The key is to be authentic in your outreach and expect authentic feedback in return.
How did P&G's Williams feel about a few negative reviews of the Mr. Clean Magic Eraser product?
"I was not disappointed that a small percentage of reviews were less than favorable," he says. "It only adds credibility. If all of them were favorable, well, that's not the real world."