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Mar 10, 2009
How To

How to Combine WOM & Email to Create Powerful Brand Advocates: 7 Tactics

SUMMARY: Tapping into the powerful word-of-mouth potential of engaged email subscribers takes time and energy, but it’s well worth the effort.

Find out how one marketer combines WOM and email to:
o Get prospects to try new and existing products and services
o Get a new audience of email subscribers to opt-in
o Create and maintain a group of brand advocates
o Reach sales goals
Ever notice that certain email subscribers are more engaged than others? When subscribers consistently open emails, enter contests, and provide feedback, they have the potential to become advocates, those who spread positive messages about a brand to others.

And though that kind of behavior is hard to track, it’s undeniably beneficial when as many as 90,000 loyal email subscribers sign up to become part of a WOM program. That’s what happened when Dreamfields, a pasta company, started combining WOM and email to attract brand advocates, says Dan Heimbrock, President and CEO of HyperDrive Interactive.

Heimbrock will be sharing a Case Study at MarketingSherpa's Email Summit '09
His presentation will outline ways to use email and WOM marketing in tandem to build an army of brand advocates.

We asked Heimbrock to impart a few proven tactics as a prequel to his presentation. Here’s what he had to say.

Top 7 tactics for combining WOM and email marketing

Tactic #1. Define the WOM aspect

People talk. They talk about brands whether or not they’re being nudged by companies to relay positive messages to friends, family, coworkers, or even strangers.

Before encouraging positive word of mouth through email, it’s important to find out what people are saying about the brand. That will lead to the discovery of the brand’s WOM aspect.

EXAMPLE: When Heimbrock started working with Dreamfields, he discovered that the WOM aspect of the product – a special kind of pasta – was its low carbohydrate qualities. Low carbs made the pasta healthy for diabetics to eat. After years of giving up pasta, diabetics discovered that they could eat it again. Their excitement about the product made them ideal prospects to spread the word to more diabetics and/or low-carb dieters.

Finding the WOM aspect got Heimbrock thinking about how to create email messages that would inspire subscribers to spread the word about the new healthy pasta option.

TIP: The key is to start with a remarkable product or service, one that is different from the competitors’ offerings, and/or is something that people really care about.

Tactic #2. Create a highly portable message

WOM email messages must be portable enough to easily pass along from one email subscriber to the next.

Some tactics that work include:

-Announcing that you are looking for people to request free samples, try the product, and then provide feedback. Heimbrock’s team sent an email request like this to a few hundred early opt-ins for a new kind of a household cleaner. Within a week, they had 30,000 requests for free samples.

-Introducing an online game to launch a new product. Heimbrock’s team introduced an online game through email to a subscriber list of about 35,000. The game involved conquering four levels to get a free sample. About 350,000 people played the game within 72 hours of the email send, which was the game’s only promotion. The opt-in rate quadrupled.

-Introducing a widget that allows subscribers to get free products or services they’re interested in (e.g., free music downloads). Heimbrock’s team introduced a widget for a music group’s new album. The widget allowed subscribers to download music from the new album and mix a track of their own to submit to the group. The email introducing the widget helped the group reach its sales goal for pre-album-release packages.

Tactic #3. Build context around “Forward to a Friend” buttons

“Forward to a Friend” is the most basic tool to foster word of mouth between subscribers and their family and friends. It allows subscribers to pass along emails of interest with the click of a button.

But Heimbrock finds that subscribers need context. They need an incentive to actually forward an email. If the “Forward to a Friend” button is positioned in the margins of the email creative with no attention drawn to it, it will be overlooked. A very low percentage of those emails get passed on, Heimbrock says.

Some tactics proven to encourage subscribers to use the “Forward to a Friend” button include:

-Creating an email for the primary purpose of getting subscribers to forward it (i.e., the “Forward to a Friend” button and messaging around it are the main focus of the email)

-Creating messaging around the “Forward to a Friend” button that says, “Tell your friend about this [online coupon, special deal] and you’ll be entered to win [x, y, z].”

-Creating a “Forward to a Friend” option that allows senders to add a personal message along with the forwarded email

“All of those things make it more powerful than just relaying: ‘Here’s a button you can press if you feel like it,’” Heimbrock says.

Tactic #4. Ask an open-ended question

Invite email subscribers to talk about the brand by asking open-ended questions. Create an email with an embedded text box that makes it easy for them to type a few words and click send. Ask them to tell you how they discovered the brand, what they tell other people about the brand. Take advantage of special occasions and holidays, such as Valentine’s Day, to ask them why they love the brand.

“Open-ended questions are extremely easy for someone to take a few minutes and dash down their experience,” Heimbrock says adding that his team has found 35% to 40% of subscribers who open those emails answer the question.

The answers can be used in the following ways:
o To provide fodder for the customer-review section of a website
o To help segment the most enthusiastic subscribers from the rest

An ancillary benefit of asking subscribers to write about their interaction with a brand is to encourage their thinking about it, therefore increasing the likelihood that they will share their brand experience with someone else.

Tactic #5. Segment based on enthusiasm

Email subscribers with the most potential to become brand advocates display the following behaviors:

o They rave about the brand when asked open-ended questions about how they interact with the brand
o They use the “Forward to a Friend” option frequently
o They participate in every contest, provide feedback often

Segmenting an email list by enthusiastic behavior can be tedious, Heimbrock says.

“But if you believe that having a customer activated to go advocate your brand in the marketplace has value … then the investment of time to do that analysis is definitely worth it,” he says.

Tactic #6. Invite enthusiastic subscribers to join WOM programs

Once you’ve segmented a list of highly enthusiastic subscribers, it’s time to invite them to do a little more than provide feedback and forward emails to friends.

Heimbrock’s team sends an email inviting them to join a program that encourages an even greater amount of WOM about the brand.

EXAMPLE: Dreamfields’ WOM program, called Taste and Tell, invites highly engaged subscribers to join by entering their name, contact info, mailing address, and answering a series of questions, such as:
-How long have you been using the brand?
-Who do you talk to about the brand?
-Who do you want to talk to about the brand?

As soon as subscribers join, usually within eight to 10 days of receiving the invitation, Heimbrock’s team mails a package including:
-One sample of the product (e.g., a box of pasta)
-One stack of coupon fliers to be distributed to friends and family
-One recipe
-A brief story about the brand
-One card displaying talking points about the product

The purpose is to entice subscribers to cook the pasta, have people taste it, and then disseminate talking points, including, “It’s only five grams of carbs” and “It’s double the fiber of other pasta.”

A couple of weeks after mailing the package, the team sends a follow-up email asking subscribers to report what happened. About 70% of them respond.

Tactic #7. Use a genuine, transparent approach

Often, just blatantly asking email subscribers for help in spreading the word about a brand is a successful tactic, Heimbrock says. Subscribers with some level of commitment to the brand will respond.

TIP: It’s important to give them insiders’ privileges. Make them feel exclusive by providing updates or news about upcoming products, features, and programs before the press release goes out.

Just remember that, after opening the door for subscribers to become insiders, it’s important to be responsive to them, Heimbrock says. When they ask a question, it must be answered. When they have a complaint, it must be handled with care.

Useful links related to this article

Want more email strategies?
Get the latest email research, Case Studies and best practices
Sherpa's Email Summit, Miami, March 15-17
Full agenda here:

Creative sample from Dreamfields:


HyperDrive Interactive:

See Also:

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