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Targeting the Evangelist

  |  December 16, 2003   |  Comments

A little evangelism goes a long way -- especially when budgets are tight.

"Turn loyalists into evangelists."

That's what we say when we try to generate some sort of viral distribution of our client's message.

It's a simple notion. Get those who are predisposed to use your client's product or service to speak highly of it to their friends, family, or peer group. The result should be increased product or service use based on an endorsement from a trusted source.

Lately, however, we've been thinking of ways to simplify our efforts by going straight to the evangelists themselves.

Viral marketing is hardly a new idea. I think the recording industry probably started the whole thing. Record companies placed a new record or single into the hands of a hot nightclub spinner or a top DJ on a major market radio station in the hope the minions following that individual would think it was cool -- and buy voraciously.

Good idea.

Marketers have embraced viral marketing over the years and commercialized the approach to the extent that most viral efforts have become quite contrived.

Bad idea.

Recently, we came up with some ideas that marry viral marketing with smart marketing. They may just work. Why? Because they allow us to be obvious and contrived -- without spoiling the message.

Targeting the Influencers

Targeting influencers isn't a new idea, either. But when asked how we'd get several million people aware of a health plan's new online resource and drive a small percentage of those millions to actually pay incrementally for the content, our wheels began spinning. Out came the idea to speak directly to the human resource managers at the companies participating in the health plan. After all, who better to talk up the new resource than the person to whom we turn with all our health plan questions?

When open enrollment time rolls around, our HR manager walks the entire organization through the pros and cons of each option and plan. So why not send HR managers across the country a password with which they can access a custom version of the online resource? It allows them to demonstrate for everyone, right then and there, the value of the new content offering. Our level of trust in those people is sure to translate into a few percentage of employees signing up for the service.

Create an Informed Subculture

When you think about the evangelists, you typically think of the coolest of the cool within a given group. Those who know the trend first; who say the cool thing to say first; who, for some reason, are generally more plugged in than their peers. It's hard, if not impossible, to find those people. But they can be created!

We're considering ways to reach out to people within our target audience and allow them to become "insiders" of sorts. We can offer such things as influence on new product development; incentives for current products; access to behind-the-velvet-rope activities inside the company; and so forth. These situations allow us to empower these people. As a result, they're sure to become known as the empowered within their circle of friends or peers. That, in turn, will drive those friends or peers to act on their recommendations.

The influence of these empowered people on their circle creates the positive undercurrent that's the goal in any viral marketing program. However, this approach isn't constrained by the need to keep our efforts from appearing branded or random. Rather, we can be very upfront with our group of insiders. Their endorsements to their friends and peers will drive our desired results.

The attraction of these approaches is largely budget driven. The two above examples can be executed for far less than targeting all those who will ultimately be influenced. It's likely results will be better, too.

Next time you're obliged to be extremely efficient yet still drive big-budget results, consider narrowing your target audience and putting them in a position of power.

Until next time, have a great holiday, whatever you celebrate.

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Mark Redetzke Mark Redetzke is vice president of online media for Zentropy Partners, a unit of MRM (McCann Relationship Marketing). He's led Zentropy's Minneapolis online media department since 1999, where he develops integrated online contact strategies and oversees all planning and buying. Current clients include Nestle Purina, General Mills, H&R Block, Microsoft, Overture and Sprint. Earlier, Mark planned traditional and online media for Campbell-Mithun. He's a frequent guest lecturer at conferences and graduate advertising and communications courses at St. Thomas University; the University of Minnesota; Minneapolis School of Communication Arts & Design and the 4A's.

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