Create (and Measure) Buzz

Carpe diem!

Marketers can’t afford to wait for the next big idea. They must create opportunities and nurture them. By leveraging the Internet to entertain, communicate with, and involve consumers, you can build buzz cost-effectively. As with 2004’s most memorable online campaigns, you can create a “tipping point,” that moment when an idea begins to virally spread.

Burger King’s Subservient Chicken, named one of 2004’s best marketing campaigns by the Wall Street Journal, attracted over 12.7 million unique visitors. Giving orders to a man in a chicken suit engaged users so deeply, they stayed on the site an average seven minutes.

Challenging people to create ads focused on the Bush administration’s policy failures,’s Voter Fund contest used buzz effectively. received submissions of over 1,000 ads. These were rated by over 2.9 million viewers on The winning ad ran on national TV, coinciding with 2004’s State of the Union address.

When a Yoo-hoo delivery truck was stolen in 2003, Peter Shankman, CEO of The Geek Factory, issued a mock APB offering a two-year supply of Yoo-hoo. The company received substantial TV, radio, and print coverage. Shankman was mentioned in the Wall Street Journal. He attributes the campaign’s success to management support and quick turnaround. The total promotional cost was $500 to post a press release on Business Wire.

Creating buzz requires a good idea, quick turnaround time, and an effective use of resources. According to Shankman, “You need to think, ‘What would get me excited enough to tell five people about it?'” The more the promotion is like a full-blown campaign, the less likely it will work. Make the campaign appear spur-of-the-moment (even if it’s not).

Three Quick Steps to Cost Effectively Build Buzz

  1. Find a promotional hook. Examine your offering with an eye toward creative ways to increase interest. Consider alternate uses for your products or segments that may interest consumers. If you’re not the market leader, niches can be fruitful. Consider how to involve consumers with your products based on their interests. When brainstorming potential ideas, involve a broad cross section of employees, as well as core enthusiasts who are involved with your offering.

    Recently, a homemade Apple ad, developed by California high-school teacher George Masters, received over 37,000 hits, as well as a flood of media and blog attention. Talk about being involved with a product!

  2. Engage potential customers with a call to action that gets them to interact with your site. Run a contest or survey on a topic your target market views as fun, for example. To collect customers’ email addresses, I recommended a client run a contest to gather product-related comments. In addition to increasing the email list over 25 percent, using those comments in a promotional piece increased revenues 25 percent. For Sleepy’s, Shankman used a $50 survey titled, “How Does New York Sleep?” A posting on craigslist generated 700 completed surveys, resulting in a full-page New York Daily News story.
  3. Maximize effect. Consider ways to integrate the promotion with other aspects of your marketing plan, such adding a PS to your email signatures or linking to the microsite from your home page. Remember, if your aim is to appear spontaneous, you may need to keep such tactics under wraps until initial buzz builds.

    Consider other outlets and partners. If you run a survey, for example, perhaps you can partner with another company that would benefit from the information gathered.

Tracking factors to consider:

  • Employ a URL that links to your main site and helps track results.

  • Use outside server capacity to ensure your servers don’t crash due to high traffic if the promotion takes off.
  • Link back to your main site so visitors can learn more about your products.
  • Include ways to collect email addresses and create a way for visitors to email you. Address collection must be CAN-SPAM compliant and double opt-in. Your aim is to build your brand as well as your list.

Measuring Buzz Success

  • Determine the number of new or incremental unique users, email registrants, and average time spent on your site. A unique URL and landing page aids measurement. (Note: These methods don’t track brand awareness, which should increase.) If you use your main home page, as Yoo-hoo did, measure results for the current period against a comparable timeframe.

    For example, if your site averages 1 million unique visitors per month and during your buzz campaign unique visitors increases to 1.25 million, your campaign increased visitors 0.25 million, or 25 percent. If you use a separate URL or landing page, check your primary site’s metrics to determine whether the campaign increased that traffic as well.

  • Measure promotional costs, including all the campaign components. These should be relatively low if the campaign leverages existing resources. If you use external resources, costs may be higher. Subservient Chicken was handled by an ad agency, for example.
  • Calculate cost per unique visitor and per new registrant. (Note: If you look at incremental costs, analyze incremental visitors and registrants to keep metrics consistent.) In general, this cost should be lower than your average acquisition costs.

    Cost per action = incremental promotion cost/number of new users, where “new users” are the incremental unique visitors or new registrants.

  • Track placements across media. Consider posting these stories on the media or news section of your site.

With a creative approach and fast implementation, you can create buzz that yields measurable results without depleting your budget. Work with the opportunities fate puts in your path. The necessity of using limited resources under tight deadlines really can yield strong results.

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