BzzAgent Tries Standardizing Word-of-Mouth Campaigns

Word-of-mouth (WOM) marketing firm BzzAgent is courting agencies with a new service aimed at simplifying and standardizing campaign planning elements into a “media channel.” The aim is to make buying space for a WOM campaign as easy as buying space in other media.

Under the new program, agency partners are able to control the campaign strategy, creative and messaging of a campaign. BzzAgent provides access to the consumers and supplies the technology platform to implement, manage and measure the campaign.

Advertising, marketing and public relations agencies will be able to buy space on the network based on the number of consumer volunteers engaged in a campaign. Those needing additional services, such as creative, production and client services, can purchase them separately from BzzAgent.

In the past, BzzAgent and agencies would share in the responsibilities for all areas of a campaign, which made the process more complex, and slowed down the campaign-creation process, according to Dave Balter, founder and CEO of BzzAgent.

“This will benefit agencies, and allow us both to do what we do best. Agencies are used to charging their clients for creative services and strategy. Under yesterday’s model, when we would do everything, agencies were not able to bill for their services,” Balter said.

For agencies, having a kind of rate card for a WOM campaign creates a baseline of both deliverables and costs, according to Jamie Tedford, SVP of marketing & media innovation at Arnold, one of the first agencies involved in the program.

“There’s no question that ‘rate carding’ of WOM will help it find its way into more marketing and media budgets. That is both symbolically as well as practically important,” Tedford told ClickZ News. “Symbolically, because the first time I saw ‘Word Of Mouth’ as its own line item in a media budget, it made it feel very real. But practically speaking, I’ve seen WOM being funded out of discretionary or experimental budgets over the last few years, having its own line item will help marketers plan for WOM in conjunction with ‘traditional’ tactics.”

It will also help address the needs of its growing number of “agents,” consumers who sign up to participate in WOM campaigns. According to Balter, there are not enough campaigns running to provide space for all of the interested agents.

“Our dedicated agents are eager to join more word-of-mouth campaigns,” Balter said. “Allowing agencies to run campaigns on our system will help us accomplish our goal of making participation in the BzzAgent community a very satisfying consumer experience.”

In order to utilize the media channel service, agencies must first join BzzAgent’s Agency Partner Program, which launched in January. Havas’ Arnold and Starcom MediaVest’s Reverb practice are the first two agencies to participate in that program. Arnold is developing a product sampling campaign for Hershey Foods that will launch in March, and Reverb is developing multiple campaigns that are expected to launch in coming months.

BzzAgent expects to choose eight agencies for the program this year, in order to test various strategies and develop the program. The number of campaigns run with BzzAgent through agencies will therefore be limited at first, but Balter expects that to change in coming years.

“Our agency partners share our vision for word-of-mouth becoming an integrated component of an effective media mix,” Balter said.

This program is the first big initiative for BzzAgent since receiving $13.8 in VC funding in December. The costs of changes in its operational structure from an agency to a media model were part of the reason the company looked outside for investment, Balter said.

The company expects to grow from 47 to 80 employees this year and double its revenue growth. Amidst these changes, Balter decided to launch a pet project called 90 Days of BzzAgent. Balter has invited author John Butman to “imbed” himself at BzzAgent for 3 months to chronicle the effects of growth on a small business.

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