Tag Archives | Word Of Mouth

Ambassador Program Turns Customers Into Salespeople

Few companies realize the value of their most passionate customers. They occasionally acknowledge them with frequent buyer programs or other discounts, but it’s rare for a company to really empower their customers to share their passion for the company and its products or services with others.

Most companies rely on salespeople to position the benefits of their products or services to potential customers. Good salespeople do this in a way that excites customers about the possibilities and potential of using what they’re selling, but their ‘passion’ for the product is motivated by the paycheck they get for selling it, not by the product itself.

However, if you give your passionate customers the tools they need to share their passion for your product or service with others, and reward them for doing so, you can create an army of great ‘salespeople’ who will do more for your company than any high paid salesperson ever could.

That’s the beauty of a well executed ambassador program. With a small investment in materials, it becomes a formalized, simplified, and easy to maintain word of mouth marketing campaign that the company itself can participate in.

Bose Curtosey Card

The Bose Courtesy Card set the standard for a well executed ambassador program. Customers who were using (and loving) their Quiet Comfort headphones while flying would get asked about them by other passengers, and instead of disrupting the quiet zone that the headphones created, the customer could simply hand the person a Courtesy Card and let them check out Bose on their own time.

It was simple and easy for the customer to do (not to mention unique and ‘cool’) and it also gave Bose control over the message that potential customers received.

Fishing

If you think of sales as fishing for customers, then Bose provided the bait, and just asked that current customers set the hook. After the initial interaction, potential customers would come to Bose, and all Bose had to do was reel them in.

iPod Silhouette

The hype that Apple generated with their white headphones is well known, and an Ambassador Program is like a whole army of white headphone wearers, but ones who have been given the tools necessary to help convert that initial interest and opportunity into additional sales.

Surprisingly, I haven’t seen many companies follow in the footsteps of Bose, which is why I was intrigued by Foursquare’s announcement of their Ambassador Program.

Foursquare Ambassador Card

Foursquare users love the deals they get from participating venues, but venues can’t provide deals if they don’t know about the service, so Foursquare created the Ambassador Program to help users spread the word. As long as you’re a “creative and excited evangelist”, Foursquare will send you a pack of Foursquare Ambassador Cards that are custom-printed with your name on them for you to hand out to the businesses that you frequent. Assuming that the businesses use the cards to sign up, Foursquare says that “the businesses get details about their foot traffic and loyal customers, and you and your fellow foursquare users will see more Specials at your favorite places.”

With the Ambassador Cards, Foursquare rewards users by crediting them with the creation of the location, and users get additional rewards when their favorite locations sign up and start offering deals and discounts. It’s a win-win, and Foursquare is simply enabling and encouraging their most passionate users do the selling for them.

One of the main reasons businesses get involved in social media is that they want to support the word of mouth marketing that customers are doing online. With a well planned ambassador program, you can get those same benefits offline as well with a small investment in materials and a way to thank those customers who are out there doing your work for you.

Foursquare Ambassador Program

Experience Prizes Keep Contests Alive

Contests, giveaways and sweepstakes have always been a great way to get a brand in front of a large number of people, but interest in the campaign usually wanes as soon as the winner is announced. To combat that trend, many contests have turned into hunts for the next online cewebrity, where the winner gets a chance to extend their 15 minutes of fame through the sponsor’s social channels (and on the sponsor’s dime) in exchange for extending the life of the campaign in the process.

The formula is simple: Mix one part love of contests with one part love of ‘reality’ entertainment, add a heaping spoonful of social media and you’ll end up with what I’m calling the ‘Experience Prize’.

Fiesta Movement

Ford was one of the first brands to experiment with adding the social media spotlight to their prize with the Fiesta Movement. In the Fiesta Movement, 100 winners (they called them ‘agents’) were selected from more than 4,000 applicants, and each was given a brand new Fiesta to drive for six months. Then, each month Ford would send the agents on themed missions, and the agents would complete, and then lifestream those missions with blog posts, photos, videos and status updates. Thus, the agents didn’t just win a car for six months; they won an experience prize that included ongoing interaction with the brand, and a series of unique trips and adventures in exchange for their willingness to share the experience with the world.

Queensland, Australia was the next to integrate social media into their prize, with one lucky winner spending six months as the caretaker of an island in what they called The Best Job In The World. During those six months, the winner explored the islands of the Great Barrier Reef, and the world followed along through a regularly updated blog, YouTube videos and Twitter posts. Instead of just a trip, this experience prize included a job title, roles and responsibilities, and the jealousy of thousands of people around the world.

Live Off Groupon

Groupon took the concept of the experience prize and evolved it into something else entirely, as their experience prize is more like an experience challenge. The contest, called “Live Off Groupon”, challenges one person to attempt to survive for one year with nothing but a laptop, a cellphone and an unlimited supply of Groupons. If he can last for twelve months, he wins $100,000, and if he can’t, he still gets to take home a pretty good chunk of Internet fame as a consolation prize.

Old Spice Internship Challenge

Lastly, Old Spice added sex appeal and competition to the formula for their experience prize, with Gretchen Bleiler and Anastasia Ashley hosting an Internship Challenge. While the two women act as ‘internship mentors’, the two winners get to go to Switzerland or Fiji, where they will compete with one another in various challenges spread out over five days. Each challenge gets documented with photo and/or video evidence that is then uploaded to the Old Spice blog and Facebook Page, where a winner will be selected by those following along to receive an extra $1000 per challenge.

The key benefit of the experience prize is that it finds people who are likely to be loud, far reaching and influential voices online, and then gives them the tools and the exposure they need to amplify their voice even further. This turns the winners into mini cewebrities, or enhances their current cewebrity status, and lets them use that status to promote the brand (and themselves) for an extended period of time.

In addition, another benefit of the experience prize is that the world can follow along as the winner essentially test-drives the sponsor for an extended period of time. Whether it’s an actual test drive, as in the case of the Fiesta Movement, or a test drive of the benefits of a service, like the Groupon challenge, it’s a chance for the rest of the world to watch as the winner uses the service in excruciating detail, and then shares that experience in the most entertaining way possible.

So what are the challenges that a brand faces when putting on a contest with an experience prize?

For one, the prize needs to be worth the effort required to enter, win and then use it. If the goal is to find an online personality that will engage others and be worth watching for an extended period of time, then you need to fish with the right bait. If the prize is too small, you either won’t receive many entries, or the entries that you do receive won’t be from the right type of people. Large prizes also tend to spread via word of mouth, as one person tells the next about the great prize that they can win by just entering a contest, and the result is that you can keep your promotion costs relatively low while still reaching a large audience.

The second challenge is that it can be difficult to transition the success of an experience prize campaign into the success of other social efforts. Unlike an online ad buy, which can drive traffic to a social channel that can then be used for a number of promotions, an Experience Prize often lives on its own microsite, and is not integrated into a larger social effort. While this can be mitigated by hosting part of the contest on a channel like Facebook, it’s important to remember that a few extra YouTube videos and tweets from the entrants aren’t suddenly going to turn your brand into an ongoing social media success story.

Lastly, there needs to be a concentrated effort to build buzz and excitement around the contest before the entries are due, because the quality of the entries will determine the quality of the content that the campaign creates. Whether it’s with voting, targeted ad buys, YouTube videos entries or a full blown social media bombardment, word of mouth is key, and the campaign must be easy enough to share that entrants will willingly help to promote it to their friends.

Despite the challenges, a well-run contest with a unique and interesting experience prize can generate a ton of buzz for a brand, and can keep the excitement alive for months after the announcement of the winner.

Hidden ASCII Art Generates Buzz For Dante’s Inferno

Dante's Inferno ASCII Art

When the team behind the Dante’s Inferno video game hid ASCII art in the source code of many popular websites and then waited for that art to get discovered, they were taking a huge risk, but sometimes big rewards can only come to those that are willing to take equally big risks. The risk was mitigated by the fact that their campaign was innovative and well targeted, but there was still the chance that their idea was going to fall flat, or that consumers were not going to be receptive to the idea of hunting for what essentially boils down to fancy looking banner ads.

Hell Is Closer Than You Think

Before we dive into the campaign however, let’s do a quick history lesson: ASCII art, or art made with text, has been around since the early days of the computer. Back when printers weren’t able to make graphics, someone figured out that various characters could be combined to simulate them instead, and ASCII art was born. Because of its lengthy history and quirky nature, ASCII art has remained popular in the geek crowd for many years, and coders are even known to hide ASCII art in the source code of their websites so that other geeks will stumble across it and discover the hidden art while looking under the hood of another coder’s site. This type of ‘hidden reward’ is also found in video games, where coders will hide objects or inside jokes in hard to reach places or behind lengthy button combinations in what’s affectionately referred to as an Easter Egg. The goal for both is to reward users that dig into a website or explore in a video game beyond what the typical user would do, so that whether it’s hidden code in a website or a hidden Easter Egg in a video game, those that discover it feel like they have earned access to some sort of exclusive content or reward.

With that history lesson out of the way, lets look at how Dante’s Inferno combined the geek’s love of ASCII art with the gamer’s love of Easter Eggs into a unique and innovative ad campaign that generated a ton of buzz for their upcoming release.

Dante's Inferno ASCII Art - Death

The campaign featured six pieces of ASCII art that were hidden in the source code of various video game and technology websites. One of the first of these sites to get discovered was Digg (by Brent Csutoras) with the initial discovery leading to a large scale search that uncovered a number of other pieces of art scattered across the Internet in places like IGN, GameSpot, Daily Motion, Games Radar, and WWE. One site, Kotaku, even discovered art hidden in their own source code after a reader tipped them off to the campaign, which the editors claimed to have no knowledge of. In addition to the art itself, each hidden ‘ad’ also contained a URL and a password to a secret site, and by collecting all six of these passwords, users could visit that website and unlock a special bundle of content that included music, wallpapers, posters, concept art and more from the upcoming game.

Reap Your Earthly Rewards

What’s interesting about this campaign is that it was very risky, since the ads could have sat unnoticed for a lengthy period of time before being discovered, and even then, they would have to be almost exclusively passed around by word of mouth, since there is no way to view them except by manually selecting to view the source code of a website. Thus, the campaign would have been dead in the water if it had not generated the buzz that its creators were hoping for. In addition, there is no way to track who views the source code of a website or the traffic generated from those views, except through a very rudimentary URL tracking system that uses custom URLs to track the source of visits. Thus, the only way to judge the results of this campaign is to track how many users download the special bundle, and what kind of buzz the campaign generates. (It’s interesting to note that Dante’s Inferno decided not to track what sites users were grabbing their codes from, since the same URL was used across all sites, and secret codes were shared among sites as well.) Another challenge is that while bundle downloads do indicate the total number of people exposed to the campaign, they can’t differentiate between a user that actually viewed the ASCII art in the source code of a website, and a user that simply found or was given the six passwords on a gaming forum or other less involved medium and then used them to unlock the bundle.

The result of these challenges is that for a campaign like this to work well, it has to be used for the right product at the right time and with just enough luck thrown in to capture the interest of the right audience long enough to make an impression. Judging by the blog reactions and user comments about the campaign however, this seems to have struck just that balance, with comments ranging from “I am pretty impressed by this campaign” and “it is an advertising campaign and quite a clever one if I must say so myself” to “The latest stunt is eerie, and gets bonus points for both creativity and giving the fans some fun bonuses.” Even Digg’s Chas Edwards, Digg Publisher and Chief Revenue Officer was quoted as saying, “Since Digg’s early days, ASCII art has been ingrained in our site’s culture. We’re thrilled with the opportunity presented by our partnership with Electronic Arts and the Dante’s Inferno team — incorporating ASCII art into advertising on Digg, while providing the 40 million users in the Digg Community first access to the promotion code.”

Gluttony

Hiding an ad in the source code of a website is a great example of a company that’s willing to think outside the banner, but does the success of the Dante’s Inferno campaign mean that hidden ASCII art is a viable option for other ad campaigns as well? In this case, I don’t think that you could duplicate the results of this campaign in the near term, as the success was due in such large part to the combination of right place, right time to the right audience for the right product. However, if enough time goes by and users once again forget about a company’s ability to hide ads in places as remote as the source code of a website, I think we could see another campaign or two reach a similar level of success by using a similar idea.

So why can’t companies just start hiding ads in the source code of all of their favorite websites and then wait for people to find them?

  1. There is a very small percentage of people that even know how to view the source code of a website, and even then, it’s not a guarantee that they will like ASCII art.
  2. Much of the buzz around the Dante’s Inferno campaign was driven by the novelty of the idea, so each subsequent implementation will have substantially less buzz as people get accustomed to seeing ads hidden in source code.
  3. If people don’t care enough about a product to go searching for hidden art with secret codes and mystery websites in exchange for exclusive content, then the campaign will never get seen by more than a handful of consumers who accidentally stumble across it.

The take away from this campaign is that it’s important to always keep your eyes open for new and innovative ideas, and to be willing to take a risk on a new format that might drive a lot of interest in a product, even if that format can’t be directly tied to traffic or sales. In addition, because the lack of direct tracking means you will never know the exact impact of a risky or non-conventional campaign, you must find a new way of defining your reward (besides just traffic and clicks) so that you will know if the risks were worth it, and if the campaign was a success.

The Good:

  • Unique and innovative campaign generated a massive amount of buzz.
  • Exclusive content motivated users to seek out additional pieces of hidden art and pass along the campaign to others.

The Bad:

  • Results would be difficult to duplicate, as much of the buzz was driven by how innovative the idea was.
  • Limited tracking means the success of the campaign is based on a single number (in this case, bundle downloads) and that the awareness generated by the ads themselves, separate from clicks, was all but impossible to track.

The Future:

  • Unique ad formats that reward the viewer are sought out by consumers, rather than needing to be forced upon them.

Hell Is Nigh