January 06, 2009

Ride Nonstop Viral Buzz to Triple-Digit Revenue Growth: 7 Strategies

SUMMARY: Viral marketing can get your customers to refer like-minded people to your company. But how do you keep the buzz going?

Listen to a marketer for an online marketplace that spreads the word almost entirely with viral buzz. Discover the tips she used to keep their members referring peers to the site.
Beth Ferreira, VP of Operations, Etsy, and her team consistently ride a wave of viral buzz about the marketplace for handmade goods. They run a low-advertising, high-effort marketing strategy that has kept interest booming among buyers and sellers.

Ferreira works closely with Etsy sellers, sticking to core values and promoting discussion among them. Etsy has grown more than 200% annually in their sales and member base since their 2005 inception, Ferreira says. Revenue in 2008 may quadruple from the number a year earlier.

7 Strategies to Riding a Wave of Viral Buzz

Strategy #1: Stay true to core values

Etsy’s sellers and buyers share a strong affinity for handmade goods. The company strives to maintain those core values in all of their marketing efforts. This builds strong ties with members, who suggest the service to like-minded peers.

Striving for creativity also makes Etsy interesting and easier to talk about. Their unique applications for organizing products and presenting them to buyers help to boost their buzz.

Strategy #2: Approach challenges differently

Selling products and promoting an event through best practices gives your company a solid foundation -- but nothing is cast in stone. Etsy takes risks in their creative approaches to marketing, especially their merchandising.

Many of Etsy’s 2.4 million handmade products are one-of-a-kind. “Most people that come to the site don’t really know what they’re looking for, which poses a challenge,” Ferreira says. To combat that issue, in addition to standard categories and search features, Etsy offers highly visual ways to browse products.

- Shop by color: Shoppers can use an interactive color palette to view products with desired colors. The palette is a grid of multi-colored dots that expand and gradually fade when moused over, creating a visual experience. After a color is selected, a pile--not a list--of products appears.

- Time machine: Images of the most recently purchased products are organized into a vortex-like spiral. Clicking and dragging the images pulls them into view and reveals when they were sold. There is also another time machine, organized into a grid, that reveals the products most recently uploaded and soon to expire.

- Treasuries: Users can organize a treasury of select items they like. Other users can comment on treasuries and offer suggestions.

- Geo locator: An interactive globe highlights the location of the 100 most recently purchased items. When clicked, the globe reveals the items’ images.

Strategy #3: Get more from your resources

Etsy collects fees when products are listed and when they are sold, making their sellers a vital resource. Ferreira and her team provide tools for sellers to further their craft and their business. This is a service that, in turn, helps Etsy.

- Virtual labs: The labs provide live workshops and online classes on topics, such as store management and presentation. The lab also works as an interactive space where members can set up events, get their store critiqued by experts and stream live video how-tos.

- Resources: Etsy provides an array of images members can use to spruce up their stores and profiles. Images informing the visitors that the store owner is “on vacation” or that there is a “sale today” help with promotion. There are also printable flyers for promoting offline, and a directory of business-related links.

- Teams: Members can collaborate on marketing, events, creation, promotion and more.

- Cooperative advertising: Ferreira and her team do not buy much print advertising. When they do, they sell half of the ad to their sellers. For example, if they buy a full-page ad in a magazine, half of the ad will feature 30 spots for sellers to display their goods for about $50 to $100 a spot. The other half promotes Etsy as a marketplace.

Strategy #4: Use external and internal social networks -- no preference

Esty fans organize themselves on social networks, such as Facebook and Ning, Ferreira says. They’re particularly fond of the social image site Flickr, due to its visual nature.

Etsy also has ways for users to interact on their own site, such as:
- Chats
- Forums
- Teams: Members can have profile pages, send messages to each other and organize meetings
- Virtual labs

Rather than focusing on either external or internal social networks, Etsy encourages their members to gather where they prefer. While Ferreira and her team provide plenty of tools to interact on their site, they’re happy if members connect elsewhere.

Strategy #5: Give them something to talk about

Etsy’s creative features are great for attracting new members. Ferreira and her team have several ways to keep the conversation going:
- Regularly updated, high-quality blog
- 5 email newsletters
- Partnerships with other blogs to trade content
- Buying online ads from blogs

Blogs typically attract and host more conversations than traditional publications. When Ferriera and her team want to promote an event on their site, they’ll buy display ads on blogs related to the topic and crafts in general. They buy ads only to promote events, and do not continually run ads, Ferreira says.

Strategy #6: Go where the audience is

Etsy’s core members regularly attend craft fairs. Ferriera and her team do the same – they travel across the county to introduce their service to new sellers and buyers, and to maintain their presence in the industry.

Keeping to Etsy’s core values, Ferriera and her team hand out handmade tote bags, lip balms and other goodies to their craft-fair booth’s visitors. They also bring sellers to the fairs to talk to people about their goods and experiences with Etsy. Their signs are handmade.

“The challenge is that we don’t have consistent branding, but everyone does notice that ‘Hey, there’s Etsy, and they’re authentic and this is what they stand for.’ It makes it pretty clear.”

Strategy #7: Go for publicity

Free press is great for generating buzz. This is the situation Ferreira and her team find themselves in.

Etsy’s approach and values make an interesting story and their products are visually stimulating. Their pictures look great in print and their products look great on TV. They’ve been featured in a host of publications and television programs.

Useful Links related to this article:

Etsy Creative Samples

‘Pimped-Out’ Microsite Triggers Viral Explosion

Viral Email Nets 100% Response from Brand Champs

New York Times: Handmade 2.0


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